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15 top-rated air fryers that'll inspire you to cook easier, healthier meals

Cooking, meal prepping and snacking all just got easier.
TODAY Illustration / Walmart / Target / Best Buy

January is often the time where people are committed to turning over a new leaf when it comes to health goals — or, as one dietician puts it, making "unresolutions" for longer-term success. Much of that change happens to occur in your kitchen, which means you may require a few new tools and gadgets to inspire you to cook consciously (and deliciously).

But sometimes cooking and get messy and, most importantly, time consuming. But what if there was one device that would make meal prepping — and the following cleanup — a breeze?

It may sound too good to be true, but that's exactly what air fryer lovers say their favorite gadget can do. The appliance has been showing up on kitchen countertops across the board, providing a quick way to make crispy, satisfying fried food without all the fatty oils.

But according to Urvashi Pitre, author of "Air Fryer Revolution," you could be missing out if you only think of it as a way to make fried chicken and tater tots. She uses hers to char vegetables, cook steak, "hard-boil" eggs and so much more. We broke down everything you need to know about the handy gadget, plus some bestsellers and new options to consider.

How do air fryers work?

Air fryers use convection heat technology to cook food, says Meredith Laurence, chef and author of "Air Fry Everything." Each one has a fan directly in front of the heater that will blow the hot air onto and around the food for a speedy and efficient cooking process that won't dry out what's inside. "You end up with crispy, brown exteriors and juicy, tender interiors," she said.

Are air fryers healthier?

Air fryers tend to be healthier than conventional fried food because they use less oil, says Frances Largeman-Roth, a registered dietitian and TODAY contributor. But while it may be healthier, not everything you prepare in the gadget is going to be healthy. Many of the recipes still suggest adding a little oil, so you may not save a significant number of calories during your meal, she said.

Since it's so easy to use, it may help people get more creative with their "fried" options, thinking outside of the typical french fries and chicken wings. When used to fry vegetables like Brussels sprouts, zucchini and carrots, it could help you up your daily veggie intake. "[It] makes veggies crisp, making them much more enjoyable for folks — adults and kids alike," Roth says. "Whatever we can do to make vegetables more craveable is a huge plus in my book."

What to look for in an air fryer

When it comes to choosing the perfect air fryer for your kitchen, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Price: They can range from under $100 to up to $500. The more expensive options come with more features like grilling or pressure cooking, so you may end up saving on other kitchen appliances in the long run.
  2. Style: The two most common types of air fryers are the oven-style and basket-style, Laurence says. The oven tends to take up more counter space, but has more features and can handle larger amounts of food. The basket drawer-style allows you to shake the food to redistribute it rather than turn it over, but it usually has fewer functions. Looks matter too, Laurence adds, so you want to make sure you grab a color and style that matches your aesthetic.
  3. Size: While the size of air fryer you choose will depend on how much counter space you have, it's also important to consider how many people you'll be cooking for. Stacking food in the fryer can lead to uneven cooking, Pitre says, so you want everything in an even layer, just like when you're using a conventional oven. If you're cooking for multiple people, you want something with a larger surface area (AKA one of the square or rectangular options).
  4. Cleaning: Hate doing dishes? Go with one of the smaller basket options, Pitre suggests, as there are fewer parts to wash and they are super simple to clean. "I fill it with hot, soapy water, put it in the sink, then walk away and go eat dinner or have a glass of wine," she says. "20 minutes later, I come back and everything comes straight off."

Best air fryers

Rise by Dash Compact Air Fryer

This petite fryer from Dash's new Walmart line is perfect for snacks or individual portions. Plus, the sleek design and bright color options will look great on any countertop.

Gourmia 8-Quart Digital Air Fryer

A dozen one-touch functions will help you make any meal perfectly with just one tap. The digital display even shows guided cooking prompts that will alert you when it's time to add and turn over food. You can also use it to dehydrate fruit!

Chefman Multifunctional Digital Air Fryer

Whether you're entertaining a bunch of last-minute guests or just have a big family, this multilevel, multifunctional air fryer will make dinner time a breeze. It has three racks inside so you can make an entire meal at once! It also acts as a rotisserie, dehydrator and convection oven.

Oster DiamondForce 5-Quart Digital Air Fryer

This XL nonstick air fryer is dishwasher-safe and has eight preset cooking functions, making it perfect for easy family meals. It also has a scratch-resistant surface that will keep it looking sleek and clean.

NuWave Brio 6-Quart Digital Air Fryer

The NuWave Brio has over 9,000 verified five-star ratings on Amazon and uses super-heated air and a specially designed cooking chamber to quickly cook all your favorite foods. The drawer and food basket are also dishwasher-safe, making for easy cleanup.

Ninja Foodi 6-in-1 8-Quart 2-Basket Air Fryer

Cut your cooking time in half with this air fryer from Ninja. Unlike a traditional single-basket air fryer, this pick allows you to cook in two baskets at the same time, even while using different settings, making it perfect for larger groups.

Chefman TurboFry Air Fryer

This large air fryer has an eight-quart capacity, which makes it the perfect choice for whipping up bites for small parties or family dinners. It also has helpful preset buttons for fries, chicken and fish. The best part? It's currently on sale at multiple retailers.

Beautiful Quart Touchscreen Air Fryer

This air fryer from Drew Barrymore's kitchenware collection, Beautiful, will not only will it look great on your countertop, but it has an easy-to-use touch screen interface and adjustable temperature controls. The air fryer sold out within 24 hours of its debut, and the sage green and white icing colors are often out of stock.

Elite Gourmet Personal 2.1 Quart Compact Electric Hot Air Fryer

This compact option won't take up too much space on your counter. Plus, it will easily fit in a cupboard for storage. It's a great pick for college students or anyone who lives in a small apartment.

Cosori Smart Wi-Fi Air Fryer 5.8-Quart

This air fryer has over 17,000 verified five-star ratings and is Amazon's bestselling Commercial Oven. Preset options will help you cook steak, chicken, seafood, frozen food, vegetables and more with the push of a button. Plus, the Wi-Fi-enabled gadget can be controlled and monitored with an app (or even Alexa!).

GoWISE USA 1700-Watt 5.8-Quart 8-in-1 Digital Air Fryer

This pick may be one of the more affordable options on this list, but its features are as high quality as it comes. The touch screen menu is user-friendly and the fryer comes with a book of 50 recipes for you to try!

Cuisinart Convection Toaster Oven Air Fryer

While this one may take up more counter space than others, you can use it as an air fryer, toaster and oven all in one. The larger surface area will also ensure your food cooks more evenly if you're making multiple portions.

PowerXL Grill Air Fryer Combo

Another all-in-one option, this fryer has a dozen cooking presets so you can fry, bake, grill, simmer, sous vide and so much more. Use it as a grill, slow cooker or air fryer to prepare all your favorite foods, from stews to steaks.

Ninja 5.5-Quart Air Fryer Max XL

This easy-to-use gadget features seven preset cooking options. It's a full quart larger than Ninja's other popular fryer, so you'll be able to make more at once.

Instant Vortex Plus Air Fryer Oven 10-Quart

Instant Pot isn't just known for its pressure and slow cookers. This air fryer from the company allows you to put two trays in at once, so you can make enough for the whole family. Everything included with the appliance is dishwasher-safe for easier cleaning.

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