One of the quickest and easiest ways to make tasty, crispy food without the mess and calories of a deep fryer is to use an air fryer.
The problem is that there are hundreds of models, and all of them say they are the best.
I’ve been cooking in professional kitchens for over 10 years, so I know which cooking tools are just for show and which are helpful.
So, after spending hours researching the options and comparing the features and cooking results, I’ve come up with the three best air fryers for under $100. All these are great ways to join the air fryer trend without spending a lot of money.
1. Best Overall: Ninja AF101 4-Quart Air Fryer
Whether this is your first air fryer or an upgrade, the Ninja AF101 is an excellent choice. It’s reliable and consistent, and air fryer fans love it.
The Ninja air fryer has a simple, easy-to-use control panel with few buttons. That makes it quick and easy to use since you don’t have to figure out too many symbols and settings.
Plus, it might be the best-looking air fryer out there, and it fits in well if you already have any of Ninja’s other countertop appliances.
Even though the controls are simple, this machine can do a lot. There are four automatic settings: air fry, roast, reheat, and dehydrate. Each takes advantage of the machine’s wide temperature range from 105 F to 400 F.
The build quality is also the best on this list of inexpensive items. The main basket and crisper plate are coated with ceramic to help heat transfer and make cleaning easier. And it comes with a multilayer rack that is great for making larger batches of dehydrated snacks.
With a 4-quart capacity, the Ninja air fryer is a good size for two or three people. If you’ll cook for a big group, consider my next suggestion. Or, if you want to spend a little more, check out Ninja’s 8-quart sibling, one of our top picks for the best large air fryers.
2. Best For Large Families Or Groups: Big Boss 16-Quart Air Fryer
As its name says, Big Boss is huge. If you are only cooking for two people, this might be too much. But if you have a big group, this is hard to beat.
The Big Boss looks and feels very different from most of the other options you’ll find. The large cooking bowl is made of solid ceramic glass throughout.
The best thing about this glass design is that you can always watch your food cook. This can be done without taking out a drawer and stopping cooking, which is how most models work. Also, the glass bowl is easy to use as a serving piece on the table.
The controls for The Big Boss couldn’t be more accessible. Two dials do everything—one for time and one for temperature.
The high max temperature of 482 F is another thing that stands out. Most other models can only go to 400 or 450 F. But because the Big Boss has a higher setting, you can even sear steaks and chops well.
3. Best For Small Spaces: Dash Compact 2-Quart Air Fryer
Dash has put an air fryer’s ease of use and crispiness (is that a word?) into a small, cheap, and, dare I say it, cute package.
But don’t be fooled by how small it is. Thanks to AirCrisp technology, this little machine can make crisps just as well as the big ones. This is just their way of ensuring that air gets to all sides of the food.
One knob sets the cooking time, and another sets the temperature.
The range starts at 170 F and goes up to 400 F. You can do most things in the kitchen. But the temperature knob only has a few marks, making it hard to dial the right temperature.
This air fryer is best for 1 or 2 people because its basket holds 2 quarts. And because it’s small, it’s great for dorm rooms, apartments, offices, or traveling in a camper or RV.
Buyers Guide: Choosing The Best Air Fryer Under $100
Size And Cooking Capacity
Countertop air fryers come in many different shapes and sizes. When deciding which option is best for you, consider how many people you’ll cook for regularly.
This site might not be enough for someone with a big appetite. Two-quart models are small and can only serve one or two people. About a half pound of french fries or 6 chicken wings will fit.
On the other end of the spectrum, extensive options range from about 10 to 20 quarts. These extra-large machines take up a lot of counter space, but they can be helpful if you have a big family or host many parties.
Between 4 and 8 quarts will be the sweet spot for most people. Unless you live in a small space, those sizes are small enough to always live on the counter. And they have enough space to cook enough food for a family of four.
Temperature Control: Wider Temperature Range = More Versatility
Most of the time, temperatures between 350 and 400 F are used for air frying. That’s the range of temperatures where you can get GBD food (golden brown and delicious).
You can do that with almost any air fryer. But models that cook at shallow and very high temperatures can give you even more cooking methods.
You have a perfect food dehydrator if you have a machine that can keep the temperature below 150 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, if you plan to cook a lot of meat in your air fryer, temperatures between 400 and 500 F can give you a good sear.
Controls & Presets: Keep It Simple
When it comes to kitchen tools, simple is often better. Even when I have a lot of presets to choose from, I often use manual settings to get the best results when cooking.
For example, an air fryer’s fish setting won’t know what kind of fish you’re cooking, how thick it is, or how well you like it cooked.
You should be fine as long as you can set the time and the temperature. So, the simple ones with two knobs will do the job. But an excellent digital display looks good and lets you change the fan’s speed.
Air fryers are great not only because they can make food crispy but also because they cook quickly.
One thing about air fryers is that they heat up very quickly. I’m talking about just a few minutes to reach about 400 F.
So, most of the time, you can put the food in the air fryer before you even turn it on, so you don’t have to wait around.
Also, because the cooking area of an air fryer is small, the heat is very effectively focused on your food. Together with a lot of airflows, this makes things cook quickly.
Most leftovers can be heated up in less than 5 minutes, and raw potatoes can be turned into french fries in less than 15 minutes.
Cleaning & Maintenance
Just like you clean a pot or pan after cooking, you should clean your air fryer basket every time you use it.
Most models are made with parts that can be cleaned in a dishwasher. And that’s a good thing since baskets and crisping trays often have a lot of nooks, crannies, and air holes that can be hard to clean. Also, checking the fan is a good idea since food can get stuck there.
Just wipe down the outside of your air fryer often so that oil and dirt don’t build up.
Warranty And Common Issues
Most Air Fryers on the market have a warranty of one year. That is true for these models that cost less than $100 and many other options that cost $200 or more.
Even though air fryers are improving, many cheaper ones will last only a few years. You should generally be able to use it for 2 to 3 years. But that will always depend on how often you use your machine and how well you clean and take care of it.
Even though it doesn’t happen often, some air fryers have melted while being used. It only happens sometimes, but watching your machine while cooking is a good idea. After all, most of them are made mostly of plastic parts that are wrapped around a boiling heating unit.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is An Air Fryer And How Does It Work?
An air fryer is like a small oven with a fan built right in. There is no accurate frying going on inside. Instead, the fan moves hot air around, which helps dry the food’s surface by evaporating moisture.
By letting the water in the food evaporate while it cooks, you can speed up the cooking time and make the food brown and crisp up much better. In a convection oven, the same thing happens, but in a smaller and more confined space.
What Are The Main Benefits Of Using An Air Fryer?
Air fryers are great for cooking food quickly and making it crispy outside. Most models are petite and take up less space than a microwave or toaster oven.
The name of these machines comes from the fact that you can make food that is crunchy and fried-like. But, unlike a regular deep fryer, you can use less fat for cooking with this one. So, you can get a crunchy texture in a healthier way that is almost the same.
Air Fryer Vs. Toaster Oven Vs. Convection Oven: Which Is Better?
When it comes to convenience, air fryers are the best. But they can only be used for some things because they are small.
A toaster oven is great for making toast and melting cheese and can also hold a lot of food. But toaster ovens that don’t have fans tend to heat unevenly and can’t crisp or brown food as well as an air fryer can.
The best of both worlds is what you get with a convection oven. When you think about it, an air fryer is just a convection oven in a smaller size.
This one can be used the most often. It can be used with or without airflow and are big enough to cook much more food. Some models cost less than $100, but one of these countertop convection ovens will give you a lot more for your money.
Is There Such A Thing As A “Bad” Air Fryer?
About the same way is how all air fryers work. They have a heating element and a fan that moves hot air around the room.
I wouldn’t say there are “bad” air fryers, but some more expensive ones tend to last longer. If you want to get the most out of your air fryer, you should choose a model that is the right size.
With so many air fryers on the market, it’s important to choose models that have been used and have a good track record. Also, make sure to choose a size that is big enough for you to get the most use out of it. After all, you will get good results if you use your air fryer once it’s packed every time.
The Big Boss is an excellent choice if you want to use your air fryer for cooking for a big family. It may not look as high-tech as some other models, but I love how durable it is, how easy it is to clean, and how the large glass bowl gives me a great view.
But the Ninja is the best choice for most people. It is easy to use and has a setting for the lowest temperature, which is great for drying things out. Also, it looks nice enough to leave out all the time.