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What is an air fryer? Top rated air fryers, recipes, plus pre-Black Friday sales happening now

Man cooking with an air fryer
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Air fryers are so hot right now. Hot as in popular, that is: The handy countertop kitchen gadget is now a staple in millions of American kitchens.

In 2020, nearly 40 percent of U.S. households owned one, with sales surging over the pandemic as more people began cooking at home, according to NPD Group. Air fryers are popular holiday gifts too, in part because they're typically Black Friday sale items.

What exactly is an air fryer, how do they work, what types of fried foods can you cook in them and which brand should you put on your Christmas or Hanukkah list? CBS Essentials answers all of your air fryer questions. 

What is an air fryer?

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Similar to a countertop convection oven, an air fryer is a portable cooking device with a variety of functions. However, unlike a convection oven, an air fryer offers an alternative approach to deep frying. Instead of engulfing food in a pool of fat, it circulates hot air to achieve a similar result, using only the oils on the food's surface.

How does an air fryer work?

Most air fryers feature a fan and heating mechanism, responsible for circulating air and cooking food. While every model varies, most of them feature adjustable timers and temperatures with suggestions for popular foods. Many air fryers require preheating prior to cooking. 

Food is generally placed in some sort of basket at the bottom of the appliance, usually resembling a fryer basket. The hot air begins circulating and heating the existing (or added) oils on food, resulting in a crisping effect. Depending on the recipe, you might need to flip food sometime during the cooking process. 

What types of air fryers are there? 

Over the course of the decade, the air fryer market has rapidly expanded with nearly every major appliance brand (including Ninja, Instant Pot, Cuisinart, Cosori, NuWave, Chefman and Philips) offering their own version. Many consumers opt for hybrid air fryers, which combine various cooking functions into one gadget, saving counter space and the need for multiple machines. Air fryer toaster ovens, air fryer pressure cookers, air fryer microwave ovens, air fryer countertop ovens and even full-size ovens that double as air fryers are some of the most popular options. 

Chefman TurboFry air fryer


A highly rated and popular model, Chefman's 2-quart air fryer costs significantly less than most. Controls are limited to manually adjustable temperature and 60-minute timer, but Amazon reviewers love its portable size (making it a great option for small kitchens) and easy-to-operate functionality, rating it 4.6 stars.

Chefman TurboFry air fryer, $35

Power XL air fryer

Power XL/Amazon

Available in 4- and 8-quart sizes, the Power XL air fryer offers convenient presets (variable with size) enabling you to air fry, bake, broil, roast or reheat food with up to 400 degrees of heated air. With an easy-to-clean fry basket, Amazon reviewers say it offers a lot of bang for the buck. 

Power XL air fryer, $120

Ninja air fryer


While famous for their multi-functioning hybrid air fryers, this budget-friendly model is Ninja's best selling on Amazon with thousands of positive reviews. The 4-quart gadget air fries and dehydrates and includes an easy-to-clean and dishwasher-safe basket, crisper plate and multi-layer rack.

Ninja air fryer, $100

Cuisinart air fryer, convection and toaster oven


Shaped more like a small countertop toaster oven, Cuisinart's entry-level model works as an air fryer, convection and toaster oven. It is 2.9 cubic feet in size, and can hold 2.5 pounds of food.

Cuisinart air fryer, convection and toaster oven, $100 

Cosori air fryer


With a 4.7-star rating on Amazon based on more than 5,800 reviews, the lightweight Cosori is popular air fryer. It's available in four colors and 3.7- and 5.8-quart sizes, with 11 one-touch presets and 13 cooking functions. 

Cosori air fryer, $110

NuWave Brio air fryer


Another air fryer that's popular with Amazon shoppers, the NuWave Brio comes in 6- and 15-quart sizes. It air fries, broils, roasts, grills, bakes, reheats and dehydrates, featuring an easy interface with a menu of 100 preprogrammed recipes.

NuWave Brio air fryer, $110

Philips Essential Airfryer Compact


Here's a good air fryer for those with smaller kitchens. The updated and compact version of the original gadget introduced in 2010, Philips Essential Airfryer grills, roasts, bakes, reheats and air fries, featuring a digital touchscreen with seven presets for simplified cooking.

Philips Essential Airfryer Compact, $150

Emeril Lagasse power air fryer

Emeril Lagasse/Amazon

Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse's countertop convection oven offers many of the same functions as other countertop air fryers, but manages to "kick it up a notch," in his signature fashion, by adding a rotisserie to the mix. It offers 12 functions on its LCD digital display -- air fry, bake, rotisserie, dehydrate, toast, reheat, roast, broil, bagel, pizza, slow cook and warm/reheat -- and comes with a crisper tray, rotisserie spit, pizza rack, baking pan, drip tray and cookbook filled with Emeril's own recipes. 

Emeril Lagasse power air fryer, $173

Ninja Foodi 9-in-1 extra large air fryer 


Ninja Foodi's multicooking air fryer gadgets dominate the high-end market. One of their most highly rated models, the family-friendly, 9-in-1, extra-large air fryer, offers an 8-quart pot that holds up to a 7-pound chicken or 8 breasts. It can pressure- and slow cook, air fry and crisp, steam, sear, sauté, roast, broil, dehydrate and make yogurt.

Ninja Foodi 9-in-1 extra large air fryer, $220 

Instant Pot Omni Plus toaster oven 240 (plus air fryer)


Best known for its Instant Pot pressure cookers, Instant also offers multi cookers with air fryer functionality, such as its Omni Plus toaster oven. The sleek-looking gadget boasts 10-in-1 functionality (air fry, broil, bake, roast, dehydrate, reheat, rotisserie, toast, warm and convection oven) with enough space for a large chicken or 12-inch pizza. Amazon reviewers rate it 4.5 stars, giving it high marks for its easy-to-operate digital interface and stainless steel exterior. 

Instant Pot Omni Plus 240 toaster oven, $200 (reduced from $250) 

What recipes can you make in an air fryer?

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Air fryers are commonly used to cook both fresh or frozen foods, including chicken wings, chicken breasts, chicken nuggets, french fries, pork chops, salmon, chicken tenders, bacon, potatoes, baked potato and chicken thighs. Some people even use air fryers to make cakes and other desserts.

Want inspiration for your first air fryer dish? We especially like this tasty recipe for crispy brussel sprouts with roasted garlic aioli, and this one for crispy air fryer chicken.

Air fryer recipes are wildly popular on Pinterest, and cookbooks serve as much-needed companions to air fryers. In addition to diet-specific air fryer cookbooks and general recipes, Ninja, Cuisinart and Instant Pot all have cookbooks catering to their models.

Here are some popular air fryer cookbooks you can buy on Amazon.

America's Test Kitchen Air Fryer Perfection

Air Fryer Cookbook

The Skinnytaste Air Fryer Cookbook 

The Complete Air Fryer Cookbook

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