If you'd asked me if the Ninja AF101 was a "good" convection oven a year ago, I probs would have said no. Now, hear me out as I was naive AF. Yes, I knew that SharkNinja produced some of the top air fryers, but I used to think bigger was better and nothing could compete with their golden child, AKA the DualZone.
A few months down the line, I recognized that not everyone could fit an all-singing, all-dancing, two-drawer appliance on their kitchen counter... regardless if it's the industry-standard air fryer. In fact, small air fryers like the Ninja AF101 are one way to get a highly-rated small kitchen appliance in your cook space, without paying a hefty amount and giving up a bunch of precious countertop space. I tested this small four-quart air fryer, using it to cook everything from sweet potato fries to fish sticks. If our 4.5-star rating hadn't already given it away, I was impressed, to say the least. So, if you're hunting for a tiny model that's equipped with every feature you need, then look no further.
Regularly priced at $99.99 (but keep your eyes peeled for it to go on sale), this well-designed model is great for small apartments and dorms. It's not a matter of David and Goliath. Or sibling rivalry. Instead, I'd see the two as models made for different people. Keep reading to see if it's the right air fryer for you...
TLDR: What I thought of the Ninja AF101 air fryer
If you're looking to adopt healthier habits without giving up your fave foods then look no further than the Ninja AF101. Having gone to SharkNinja's HQ myself and seen their research and development first-hand, I can tell you that there are some smart cookies cooking up the hottest products (including air fryers of course).
This machine cooks signature staples you've grown up with using air (and up to 75% less fat). The round shape is aesthetically pleasing, it's got that recognizable bleep you might have heard from others who own a Ninja product and some say it's the best appliance since the microwave was invented.
Experience-wise, it doesn't matter whether you're a loud-and-proud lazy cook or a cheffy type that needs more oven space, the control panel is incredibly intuitive, and the AF101 provides excellent results.
My one critique is that it is powerful, so you may need to shave a few minutes off the suggested conventional oven cooking time. Thankfully, some manufacturers have clocked on to how popular these devices are and therefore have a section dedicated to pre-heating, temperature, and cooking times. Some even prompt you to shake the basket mid-way.
Oh, and if I'm being super picky, I do prefer the Cosori Lite's soft square basket shape which makes it easier to lay strips of bacon (without having to cut them). You can see what I mean by reading my Cosori Lite air fryer review.
Testing the Ninja AF101 air fryer
Christina is our ecommerce editor and has tested dozens of small kitchen appliances, including air fryers. She intensively reviewed this air fryer for a day in our test kitchen in Reading, UK, as well as at home. This product was provided directly from the brand and she was allowed to keep the product for further testing throughout the year.
If there's one brand that's got kudos from me when it comes to packaging, it's Ninja. Inside this outer carton, was literally the branded box you'd find on the shelf, and within that, molded paper pulp packaging to protect the air fryer.
The techy bits
- Dimensions (in): 8.5 x 12.1 x 11
- Capacity: 4 quarts
- Weight: 10.58 lbs
- Wattage: 1550 watts
- Voltage: 110 volts
Cooking with the Ninja AF101 air fryer
Cooking sweet potato fries in the Ninja AF101 air fryer
I know they're not, but sweet potato fries feel healthier than their beige buds. So if you're unashamedly virtue signaling health on a daily basis (like me), you have to pop a few of these orange fries in your shopping (and cooking basket).
Instructions on the pack said 356F for 20-23 minutes, but I'll be honest. The first time I cooked them up... girl, I'm not even going to post that photo for all to see. They were burnt to a crisp. The second time around, I popped them in (at the same temp) for ten minutes. No pun intended, but this was the "sweet" spot.
Cooking bacon in the Ninja AF101 air fryer
Ninja claims that you can air fry with up to 75 percent less fat than traditional frying methods. I guess what they're talking about is pan-frying here. But I also don't like when my fave pork product "sits" in the lard when I stick it under the broiler too.
I like my bacon on the crispy side, so I took three strips (cutting them to size to fit inside the basket) and set the machine to 392°F for ten minutes. To ensure even cooking, I used the pause button at half-time and flipped each piece over for consistent browning. Out of all the "tests", this was my favorite. The lean meat was juicy and the fat was crispy as hot pork rinds.
Cooking veggies in the Ninja AF101 air fryer
I love an In-and-Out burger as much as the next girl, but to keep my skin glowing, I try to get those veggies in where I can. One of the easiest (and most colorful) ways I like to do this is to pick up a bag of Mediterranean veggies in the store. The mix of zucchini, peppers, butternut squash, and red onion reminds me of vacations in Cyprus where it's served with halloumi and chargrilled kebobs.
In our Reading testing suite
I coated the mixed veg with a li'l oil (read: little — I know it's in our air fryer dos and don'ts guidance but it's my personal preference). I then seasoned the selection using traditional herbs you'd find on this Greek island. Oregano and mint are two of my faves... You should give it a go! I set the temperature at 356°F for eight minutes and as expected, the coins of zucchini were beautifully blistered with a nice color. Of course, the slithers of pepper and onion, and cubes of squash are thinner so of course, we have to account that the smaller surface area means they cook quicker.
I repeated this test (sans butternut squash) using a chunkier pack from a more up-market store. Using the same temperature and timings, I found that the larger pieces were more evenly cooked and retained more of a (palatable) bite.
Cooking fish sticks in the Ninja AF101 air fryer
Despite watching episode after episode of MasterChef, you wouldn't catch me slicing fresh fish in my shared apartment. So in line with "acceptable" shared apartment etiquette, the closest convenience food available is, of course, fish sticks.
These battered fingers (made from cod/pollock), usually take 12-15 minutes in a conventional fan oven. But, knowing what I know, I reduced the time by 30% which resulted in perfectly piping-hot results. The thin batter crackled and the center was firm-fleshed but tender.
Cleaning the Ninja AF101 air fryer
Having reviewed a number of small kitchen appliances, I know my way around cleaning an air fryer. The Ninja AF101 is no different from any other one-basket convection oven I've used before.
Simply remove the basket and remove the silicon-footed crisper. You can then clean both with a sponge and some dishwashing soap. Alternatively, the basket and crisper plate does fit in the dishwasher in our test kitchen and my own.
FYI — Ninja or not, you should ideally clean your air fryer as often as any other model. It doesn't have any magical self-cleaning, or pyrolytic features (but we'll pass on your feedback).
If you don't fancy getting all scrubby, invest in some air fryer liners from Amazon. You can either grab some disposable ones made from parchment paper. Or go down the eco-friendly route with some silicone sheets instead.
Is this air fryer right for you?
The Ninja AF101 offers a great return on investment, not only for your wallet but also for your health (on the assumption that you're not loading it up with tater tots and other battered goods on the regular).
Air fryers cost cents to run, and without added oil, air fryers are a healthy alternative to submerging your savories in deep fryer fat. Plus it won't leave your kitchen, hair, or clothes smelling like grease.
What I've learned is that, if the Ninja AF101 is hot enough to sear veggies, then I've no doubt it'll create crispy chicken wings to rival Buffalo Wild Wings. Extra hot sauce for me pls!
How we test
While you might assume that I gorge on fries for a living — it's a li'l more complicated than that. Our air fryer testing methodology ensures that you can make the right buying decision and that you're happy with your purchase for years to come.
We'll track everything from delivery to clean-up (being completely transparent in the process). And don't think that unboxing is pretty as the TikTok/Insta videos you see. If there's too much plastic, or if a box has been dented in transit... we'll show you.
An awkward-shaped box is hard enough to get into a large home, let alone a shoebox-sized apartment. So we'll also share our thoughts on packaging (and we're pretty blunt when it comes to boxes that could've been better designed).
One of the main reasons to buy an air fryer is that it's less fussy (and energy-consuming) than a traditional oven. So we'll assess how suitable the size of the model is for a small apartment kitchen, and if it's powerful enough to cook quickly and safely. Because no one is #teamsalmonella.
To keep things fair when comparing air fryers, we'll tend to cook the same foods each time, sticking to the same air fryer recipes so we can keep the variables consistent. Of course, if you fancy being a bit more experimental (outside of bacon, fries, and fish sticks), do check out our piece on what foods you can cook in an air fryer. This includes boiled eggs (without using water!)