How we test air fryers: the Real Homes review process explained

A detailed breakdown of how we test air fryers, both in the Future Plc test kitchen and at home.

An assortment of the best air fryers in Reading test kitchen
(Image credit: Future)

How we test air fryers is both an art and a science. Reviewing these small kitchen appliances requires consistent methodology, which is why we have developed a rigorous testing process to make sure that all of the products we review can be compared directly. This is how we choose which appliances to feature in our buying guide, and how we decide which models are the top choice for certain buyers.

We've been reviewing air fryers both at home and in our dedicated testing lab for nearly three years now, and as a result, we've landed on our top favorites. That's not to say that this will never change, of course. We also review brand-new air fryers, as they are released or sometimes just before. Either way: we will always have hands-on experience with an air fryer before we recommend it. 

All of our air fryer reviews are conducted either by team members or in the case that we have no more space left on our kitchen worktops, by a freelance reviewer. Whilst thinking about who is the best person to test which air fryer, we always consider our writers' living situation.

This means that the best air fryers we can recommend have been put through their paces to check that they can cope everywhere from a busy family home to a single household with a tiny kitchen and every other situation in between. We always try to use these air fryers for at least a month before coming to a decision, and in some cases, we might review air fryers in batches or have two going at one time, as this makes it easier to compare different models for our key criteria. 

Air fryer experts

Customer advisor badge

(Image credit: Future)

We use a rigorous five-stage process to become a Customer Advisor. Customer Advisors are proven experts, with hands-on, long-term experience of industry-leading products and the ability to compare between major brands to help you make the best choices for your home. Our acting head of ecommerce, Christina Chrysostomou, is our current in-house air fryer Customer Advisor. 

The process is as follows:

  1. Home user: We own a market-leading option, and use it in our home or garden on a regular basis. This means we see how the top products hold up over time, and compare new releases to our top choice. 
  2. Industry expert: We know the market leaders, and stay up to date on their latest releases to make sure we're always in the know. 
  3. Behind the scenes: We've been to a factory or showroom to see how products are made and experienced the behind-the-scenes of how new products are tested and developed. 
  4. Technical know-how: It's one thing to test a product, but the key to being a customer advisor is knowing how it works. We understand the inner workings of a product and can explain exactly what makes it satisfactory (or unsatisfactory). 
  5. Reader awareness: We answer to our readers. Ask us questions, request new product releases, or just let us know what your favorite products are! We want to understand how you shop so we can help with your purchasing decision.
Christina Chrysostomou selfie
Christina Chrysostomou

Christina balances her time sitting behind a desk and getting hands-on with some of the best air fryers on the market — including her Ninja AF101 air fryer. Though reviewing these appliances is fun, she appreciates that removing bits of food, grease, and debris can be a chore. She has been invited to the SharkNinja HQ to see the launch of the Ninja Speedi, invited to De'Longhi's factory in Treviso, Italy, and attends seasonal food workshops at the Smeg London Flagship Store. Before joining the Future Plc family, Christina worked for Media 10, including on events such as the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs Live, Eat & Drink Festival where many products featured in a show home or kitchen scheme. She also produced digital content for Good Homes and Grand Designs Magazine.

Millie Fender, Head of reviews headshot
Millie Fender

Millie has reviewed dozens of air fryers for Real Homes from her own kitchen in London. She has also passed our five-step Customer Advisor criteria for air fryers, meaning she's a true expert. Millie has been to see the latest in cooking appliance technology at SharkNinja HQ and can tell you all the differences between popular air fryer models.

Head shot of Camryn Rabideau
Camryn Rabideau

Camryn is a freelance contributing editor and product tester for Real Homes, and to date, I’ve tested close to a dozen air fryers, as well as lots of other kitchen gadgets, from juicers to toasters and everything in between. While I initially resisted buying an air fryer, it’s quickly become a must-have gadget in my kitchen. I use it to cook meals multiple times a week, and I’m firm in my belief that it’s the best way to reheat leftovers.

Helen McCue headshot
Helen McCue

Helen McCue is a freelance contributor who trained as a home economist. After starting her career in the food industry, she moved into home appliance reviews, utilizing her cooking skills and experience to put all kinds of products to the test, and over the years has reviewed hundreds of home and kitchen appliances for a variety of publications. Having completely renovated her current house, Helen reviews kitchen appliances from her open-plan kitchen at home in a beautiful Berkshire village. When she’s not working, Helen can be found enjoying the local countryside or dreaming about her next house renovation project.

Alexandra Pamias headshot
Alexandra Pamias

Alexandra is a contributing editor to Real Homes and our sister publication, Homes & Gardens, where she reviews household products to make your life easier at home, whether it’s cooking, cleaning, or sleeping.

Louise Oliphant author image
Louise Oliphant

Louise is our former e-commerce editor at Real Homes and has tested her fair share of appliances. Currently, she's been lucky enough to try out some of the best energy-efficient buys, including low-cost air fryers. Being a renter and flat sharer in a small three-bed apartment, she's always keen to find small-sized products that are great value for money. And if they claim to save on the energy bill, then it's undoubtedly worth the scope out. 

How we test air fryers

While air fryers have been around for over five years, for a lot of people an air fryer is still a new concept, and their purchase at the moment will likely be their first. This is why we make sure to include plenty of photos of our testing process and advise how to get the most out of each product when we review them.

We do like to add some objective measures to our reviews, tracking how long it takes an air fryer to cook certain foods, and measuring noise levels while the air fryer is on. But more on that later.

Even the most outstanding air fryer might not be the right fit for your kitchen or lifestyle, which is why we always test an air fryer in our own home, to help you decide if a product is right for yours. This enables us to figure out how a product slots into day-to-day life, for example, how easy an air fryer is to clean, if an alarm noise can get a bit annoying over time, or if a small air fryer can easily fit into a kitchen cupboard to hide it away.

How we decide which products to review

Our reviews are always completely impartial and never paid for. Brands will often send us air fryers free of charge to give us the opportunity to review them. We are often allowed to keep them, which means we can add to our reviews over the months (and even years!) to note how well the product has fared after consistent use. 

When we're not allowed to keep a product we try to hang onto it for at least three or four weeks to make sure that the product is put through its paces before we send it back to the company. This means we rarely miss a new launch and are constantly reviewing new air fryers back-to-back, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Some brands are trickier to get hold of than others, but we're always striving to include as many different products as possible, with different price points and designs to suit any space or budget. We're genuine air fryer enthusiasts, so if someone launches a new product with an interesting feature, we'll be first in line to try it out. You can find our 'Review in progress' badge on the air fryers we are currently testing. 

Why we bother with unboxing

Bailey Cain unboxing the Beautiful by Drew Barrymore 6-quart air fryer in lavender

(Image credit: Future / Bailey Cain)

First impressions are everything — so how the air fryer arrives is important to us. While things like a battered cardboard box can happen in transit, having something stable that you can carry home or get delivered without the packaging getting too damaged is essential.

Many of our Real Homes reviewers live and commute into the city, so we also have to think about lugging boxes on public transport. What's more, many of us rent apartments so more often than not have to shuffle stuff through lifts or carry these small kitchen appliances up sets of stairs.

We are all for sustainability packing too. So even if the air fryer comes in 100 percent FSC cardboard — the box should be appropriately sized. Inside, some plastic is fine (for example plug protectors) but we would prefer it to be kept to a minimum. We'll always state where a product arrives with excess packaging that's harsh on the environment, as this is very important to us.

And, no one needs a forest's worth of instruction manuals and bits of paper, too, so where a PDF or page can be found online or kept to one sheet with a QR code, we're happy to scan this on our smartphone to find extra information.

Our standard testing procedures

Functionality tests

Air fryers tend to (generally) fall into two camps: manual/analog or touchscreen. When operating a manual air fryer, you are instructed to move the dial to the desired temperature and time. Whereas, with a digital screen, you simply press an illuminated screen to set degrees and cooking duration.

We don't have a bias on which is necessarily better as it all comes down to the overall experience. Yes, dials can sometimes be clunky, but if you're too light or heavy-handed with an LED interface, the user experience can be equally irritating.

It's also worth noting that some air fryers have pre-programmed settings that are supposed to make cooking popular foods simple. Times and temps may vary from model to model as the manufacturers may have taken into account the wattage and capacity of the device. 

Outside of its convection-oven abilities, the air fryer may serve as a multicooker meaning it can act as a rotisserie, cook rice, make yogurt, charbroil, and even steam. So to be fair, we'll try and compare like-for-like models against each other.

After the cooking process is complete, most air fryers will make a noise to alert you. This may range from a short ping to a sequence of bleeps. While it's not the be-all and end-all of making a purchasing decision, if you're hypersensitive to noise (or want a late-night snack without disturbing family or roommates), a celebratory announcement at midnight is the last thing you want.

Cooking tests

When testing an air fryer, our first step is to cook a selection of standard air fryer recipes. There are four we use with every air fryer, but we will add some depending on the range of features offered. These are:

  • Chunky fries
  • Frozen food
  • Streaky bacon
  • Meditteranean vegetables

1. Air frying fries

Homemade fries in Cosori Lite air fryer

(Image credit: Future / Christina Chrysostomou)

The first recipe we'll always do is french fries, of course. The ability to make speedy and delicious fries is one of the main selling points of an air fryer — after all, they are designed to replicate that deep-fried taste but without as much fat, so fries are a must-try. It's good to note at this point that some ultra-processed foods will have been cooked in oil before we reheat them. So although you may question how healthy air fryers actually are, you only have to look in the bottom of the basket to see the pool of fat that drips off your food. 

The recipe we use in every test involves taking whole potatoes, chopping them into chunky, half-inch wedges, and letting them soak for a few minutes to remove any starchiness. We then dry them off and toss the fries in a drizzle of neutral-tasting oil and some seasoning.

In a conventional, pre-heated oven, these would take around 25–35 minutes to cook, but some of our air fryers have crisped up our homemade fries in as little as 12 minutes. We measure how long this takes each air fryer, check for the consistency of cooking across the different fries, and do our all-important taste test. 

2. Air frying frozen foods

Real Homes eCommerce editor Christina Chrysostomou cooking fish fingers in Lakeland Digital Crisp Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)

Air fryers also work well with frozen food, so we make sure to cook something from frozen in every air fryer we test. This is usually some kind of breaded chicken fillet, nugget, fish finger or goujon, and we use this test to see if it can crisp out the exterior of frozen food on the exterior without drying out the middle. We also, where we can, will test things like hash browns, fish fingers, and more frozen foods in our air fryer, however, this won't be a standard requirement for every review.

Unless the reviewer has a particular dietary requirement, such as veggie, vegan or gluten-free, coatings are typically wheat-flour based and we usually test with meat. But, foods will be chosen by the reviewer based on what they want to eat and what they can eat, to avoid any unnecessary food waste.

Real Homes Head of Reviews cooking thick-cut fries in Instant Pot Air fryer

(Image credit: Future)

We've recently introduced frozen fries into the catalog of testing; simply because we know that it's a popular choice with our audience. Our objective is to keep the product consistent when testing, so we'd never compare a thick-cut fry to a skinnier French fry for example. Ultimately, we're looking for a crisp exterior with a fluffy center.  

3. Air frying bacon

Christina Chrysostomou cooking Jolly Hog bacon in Cosori Lite air fryer kitchen appliance

(Image credit: Future / Christina Chrysostomou)

Another important test we always carry out is cooking bacon. Air fryers can do this in as little as a few minutes, and it is a great way of seeing how evenly an air fryer can cook. In some air fryers, we have found that the fat renders on some of the bacon but not all of it, which is a sign of inconsistent cooking. In other air fryers, the fan has been so powerful that the bacon has been blown around the inside of the air fryer and lost its shape completely; curling on itself in the process. 

Of course, there are different cuts of pork including thick cut, back, and streaky which all cook at various rates with differing results. So where possible, we will aim to use the same type each time for comparison. Whether the product has been smoked or cured in a particular way (e.g: using nitrates) can also affect the flavor, color, and water content, so again, these variables will be taken into account when cooking. And, it goes without saying, if any of our reviewers have any dietary/religious requirements, we will always seek to accommodate by allowing them to test, for example: a turkey-based, halal or kosher alternative.

4. Air frying vegetables

Chunky mediterranean style vegetables in white bowl with feta cheese and pomegranate molasses

(Image credit: Future)

Our final standardized test is a bake or roast test. Many air fryers come with settings to bake or roast vegetables, meat, or other foods you may not want to air fry. Others come with dedicated vegetable pre-set modes which we use in our tests. As vegetables have a high moisture content, this is a good way of seeing how well an air fryer can remove this moisture from the cooking basket. It also helps to get some greens on our plate after all of the fries and frozen chicken!

Aside from the more exotic-looking Mediterranean vegetables, we've tried local produce closer to home and will try and source veg that is in season. For example, baked Tenderstem® broccoli and air-fried asparagus go down well in our test kitchen.

Cleaning tests

Christina Chrysostomou cleaning outside of Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven

(Image credit: Future)

After we've made the food and assessed the cooking quality — it's time to clean the air fryer

Christina Chrysostomou cleaning the Cuisinart Air Fryer Toaster Oven metal basket

(Image credit: Future)

There are, of course, a few variables that might affect how easy or difficult this task is. So when getting rid of grease, crumbs, and sticky sauces, we ask ourselves:

  • Is the air fryer basket dishwasher safe?
  • How easy is it to clean the outside of the air fryer; can it be wiped clean?
  • How easy is it to clean the air fryer cavity?
  • If the parts are not dishwasher safe, can they be hand-washed with dish soap?
  • Does the air fryer have any other accessories —  how do these scrub up?

How we test at home

Beautiful Air Fryer by Drew Barrymore in Bailey Cain's kitchen

(Image credit: Future / Bailey Cain)

An air fryer slots easily into everyday life, so we will always use an air fryer for at least a few weeks before completing our review. This helps us to notice any issues that we may have missed in our initial testing, and it will help us observe how well an air fryer slots into day-to-day life.

When testing air fryers at home we obviously use them to cook our four standardized testing foods, otherwise, we also use the air fryer for the occasional lunch or dinner meal, and we have even air-fried the odd sweet treat (such as a cake, cookie, or reheated pastry) as part of this testing. After the standardized testing, we won't force ourselves to use this air fryer so that we can truly comment on if we found that it made our lives easier or not. 

We will review how much kitchen counter space it takes up, how long the connecting cable is, and how easy it is to clean the product by hand, or in the dishwasher, too. It's also worth noting that we will look at the wattage of an appliance, not only just to see how powerful it is (and how that affects cooking results), but also what impact it will have on your energy bills. We will often calculate the cost to run an air fryer by the hour using Sust-it. Typically, our results range between 20-30 cents.

Our air fryer reviews

5 star air fryers

These reviews have been given our gold badge and are considered to be the top-rated models we've tested.

4.5 star air fryers

4 star air fryers

3.5 star air fryers 

Christina Chrysostomou
Former acting head ecommerce editor

Hi, I'm the former acting head ecommerce editor at Real Homes. Prior to working for the Future plc family, I've worked on a number of consumer events including the Ideal Home Show, Grand Designs Live, and Good Homes Magazine. With a first class degree from Keele University, and a plethora of experience in digital marketing, editorial, and social media, I have an eye for what should be in your shopping basket and have gone through the internal customer advisor accreditation process.

With contributions from