Are air fryers healthy? We trial the best air fryers in the UK 2021 to see if they are any good

They’re oh-so-popular right now, but what use are air fryers? Do they make tasty food -and is it healthier?

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This past year, they’ve been selling like hotcakes: an air fryer is the must-have for every fashionable kitchen. But why? And is it worth the kitchen space to buy another gadget?

What do air fryers do?

You can make everything from freezer snacks to healthy haute cuisine in these worktop gadgets – essentially they are like mini ovens, using convection heat and fans to force hot air around trays or baskets of food, baking and crisping faster than

Using less energy, air fryers are a great choice for solo cooks who feel that one solitary ready meal in a full-size oven is wasteful. They’re quick to heat up, easy to use and can reduce oven cooking times by up to half.

Teens and students love them for their snacking possibilities (cheese toasties, pakora, spicy wedges, nuggets, etc) and we love the safety aspect – no deep frying, splashing fat or forgotten oven trays. All the models here will cut off after cook time is up and make it easy to check on dishes’ progress using little or no added oil to crisp things up.

Will it cook tasty food – and is it healthier?

Because the convection fan forces heat around your food much faster and more forcefully than a conventional oven, items cooked in a convection oven crisp up much better than any oven-baked item will. You’ll end up with crisper, more evenly cooked food. We found the food cooked in our air fryers suitably tasty.

We would, however, ensure that  you use a small amount of fat or oil for cooking, just for flavour’s sake. For example, oven chips are well served by a quick spray of oil before being cooked. This will avoid the dreaded blandness of no-fat food while still maintaining the desired lower-fat effect. A standard serving of oven chips cooked in an air fryer will be pleasantly crisp at only 5 grams of fat of serving – while a deep-fried, same-sized portion will have 18 grams. It’s a great way of reducing saturated fat in your daily diet.

Are they simple to use?

Honestly - it couldn’t be easier to use an air fryer. Plug them in, place your food in the tray, set the time and the temperature - and walk away. So simple.

Clean up is easy, with all of our featured models having removable trays and baskets that are dishwasher friendly.

What are the best available?

We tested a range of air fryers with single cooks, families and couples and all our testers – even the most cynical amongst them – agreed an air fryer was a great addition to their kitchen. Trying a range of models out for making snacks, meals and to supplement their oven cooking for the Sunday roast there were lots of new fans willing to eat their words – and just a few more crispy oven chips.

Best for: an adventurous cook

Key specs – Capacity: 5.7l; Dimensions 27x39x41cm; Maximum temperature: 260c; Power: 2460W; Accessories included: ceramic-coated plate and cooking pot, crisper basket, probe, cleaning brush; Functions: grill, air fry, roast, bake, dehydrate, reheat; Manufacturer warranty: 1 year

Fancy an air fryer that will cook the most perfect chargrilled steak to go along with those crunchy wedges? This is a revelation – not only does it make a sirloin to die for, you can walk away and leave it to cook thanks to the temperature probe, which ensures your meat is done to order.

There’s serious heat and power here but we found the filtration on this model good – any smoke produced was well contained, and smells were kept down too.

This is a serious contender if you’re adventurous in the kitchen rather than a tv-dinner ‘heat and eat’ cook. Duck breasts, roasted cauli steaks, sweet potato wedges… they were all done to a t, with excess fat drained away and no need to flip the food mid-cook.

Best for: pre-set controls

Key specs – Capacity: Dimensions: 26x32x35cm; Maximum temperature: 200c; Power: 1350W; Accessories included: cooking basket; Functions: air fry; fish, seafood, steak, chicken, pizza, baked goods; Manufacturer warranty: 3 year

There are some great time-saving pre-set controls on this Lakeland model, so you’re one touch away from fish, seafood, frozen or fresh fries, steak, chicken, pizza and baked goods like cupcakes or pie.

Our tester liked the smaller footprint of this cylindrical model as it took up less space in her tiny kitchen. The digital controls were easy to negotiate, and it’s easy to gauge cooking times as it cooks by simply pressing pause and pulling the basket out for a check.

Home made chips on the pre-set needed a further 5 minutes to get to our preferred levels of crispiness, but overall, this is a good value machine that’s easy to clean and use.

Best for: style

Key specs – Capacity: 6l; Dimensions 29x40x35cm; Maximum temperature: 200c; Power: 1350W; Accessories included: cooking tray; Functions: air fry; Manufacturer warranty: 2 year

This retro-styled fryer looks great on the countertop and you can match it to other multi-coloured kitchen accessories from Swan such as toasters and kettles.

So it looks good, but does it do the job well? Short answer: yes, but there aren’t any fancy functions or gimmicks with this air fryer. The wind up timer and sliding temperature knobs are basic, but we’ve found with all our models that you’ll usually want to go back mid-cook to check on progress, so it’s easy enough to boost or reduce cooking time at any stage.

The non-stick basket insert on this fryer was easy to clean and a real hit with junior cooks in the family who found it easy to use (under supervision of course; like all models here, the casing got hot with prolonged use.)

Best for: saving energy when cooking

Key specs – Capacity: Dimensions: 36 x 45 x 31cm; Maximum temperature: 220c; Power: 1500W; Accessories included: crumb tray, wire shelf, drip tray, mesh air fry rack; Functions: air fry, bake, grill, toast, keep warm; Manufacturer warranty: 3 year

There’s more to this mini oven than just air frying – you can also bake, grill, warm and use it for everything you would normally fire up the big guns for.

Our tester often used it when cooking solo rather than use her main oven and loved the fast pre-heating and ‘warm’ control for keeping things ready and waiting to eat.

We also liked the wide, open mesh tray that slid in with a full layer of potato wedges that cooked evenly when we turned them a couple of times during their 22 minute air fry. It was great to be able to keep an eye on everything through the large glass door, but we’d have preferred more accurate, digital controls.

A great energy saver, using less than half the average full-sized oven, it’s an all-round great buy.

Best for: great recipes on the accompanying app

Key specs – Capacity: 1.7kg; Dimensions 26 x 33x 48cm; Maximum temperature: 220c; Power: 1500W; Accessories included: ceramic-coated plate and cooking pot, crisper basket, probe, cleaning brush; Functions: grill, air fry, roast, bake, dehydrate, reheat; Manufacturer warranty: 2 years

Tefal’s best-selling air fryer is certainly a talking point with its space-age looks. The donut shaped tray sits inside the dome, with a paddle that moves the food around as it cooks. This means the contents are constantly being moved and cook evenly, with hardly any oil being used.

This model has an extra tray that sits on top, meaning you can also cook more delicate pieces of fish or meat simultaneously. This clever machine will adapt the cooking time, temperature, and the hot air circulation.

With great auto settings and speedy cooking times, we loved trying out recipe ideas on the MyActiFry phone app, too. A fast and healthy way to get adventurous in the kitchen.

Best for: a great performing all-rounder

Key specs – Capacity: 5.7l; Dimensions 32x38x33cm; Maximum temperature: 200c; Power: 1450-1700W; Accessories included: cooking tray; Functions: air fry, roast, bake, reheat; Manufacturer warranty: 2 year

The perfect accompaniment to an Instant Pot pressure cooker, this large-capacity fryer is big enough to be able to handle a whole chicken.

There are some great controls – air fry, roast, reheat and bake, as well as a handy pre-heat function; we also loved how it beeped to remind us to turn food.

We tried everything from baking an apple pie to perfecting crunchy fish goujons. With a dishwasher-safe pull-put basket and its digital touch controls and timer/temp dial, this is a great all-rounder for hungry families.

Best for: a budget option

Key specs – Capacity: 4.5l; Dimensions: 33x27x32cm; Maximum temperature: 200c; Power: 1300W; Accessories included: cooking basket; Functions: air fry; chips, meat, seafood, cake, chicken, steak, fish; Manufacturer warranty: 3 year

You may wonder whether you would use an air fryer and if it’s worth sacrificing valuable worktop space for yet another gadget that doesn’t get much use.

Happily, our tester went the opposite way – with three teenage kids she wondered how she survived this long without one.

A total of seven pre-sets worked well for anything from steak to seafood, with the obligatory chips button being most-used, of course.

This budget choice tackled mostly freezer snacks and potato in all its forms and performed as well as far more expensive models we looked at.

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