Air Fryer vs Instant Pot: Which is best?

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I don’t usually like to clutter up my kitchen with lots of gadgets, and I reserve my limited storage space for tools that are versatile, functional, and worth the cost. Instead of buying every trendy kitchen gadget each year, I research which ones will actually fit into my lifestyle and make cooking easier, faster, and healthier.

In this article, I’ll be reviewing the air fryer vs Instant Pot to see which one most deserves the prime real estate on your kitchen counter. Find out which handy kitchen cooker is best for you below.

At A Glance

Let’s take a look at the main differences between air fryers and slow cookers to help you decide which is ideal for your home.

Instant Pot vs Air Fryer

What is an Instant Pot?

Technically called a multicooker; Instant Pots are a unique combination of an electric pressure cooker and slow cookers. Most of these cookers are considered 6-in-1 (or more) tools because they can do a multitude of pressure cooking functions.

Instant Pots are an excellent choice for home cooks that want to cook food and a wide variety of meals quickly and easily. Its versatility makes it an excellent choice for home cooks.

What is an Air Fryer?

Long gone are the days when air fryers are used only for crisping french fries and making chicken wings. Today’s air fryers are more than just a glorified toaster oven; they can bake, roast, broil, and even dehydrate. 

These gadgets are great for cooks who feel like they’re constantly waiting for their oven to preheat and love to cook a range of meal components quickly using little to no oil. 

Is there an Instant Pot Air Fryer?

Yes.  Effectively it is a normal Instant Pot with a unique lid that turns it into an air fryer. It can do everything an Instant Pot and everything an Air Fryer can do.  Yet, it costs more as a result.

Instant Pot vs Air Fryer: What’s the Main Difference?

While helpful for quick and easy meals, these two kitchen tools have a few fundamental differences in how they cook food.

Instant Pots are pressure to cook foods quickly. It is more often used for things like soups, stews, or foods requiring liquid to cook.

In air fryers, hot air circulates to cook foods, and it is essentially a healthier alternative to frying and crisping food with minimal oil. 

Keep reading to find out more about how each of these tools works and which one is best for your kitchen.

How an Air Fryer Works

As mentioned, air fryers work by using heat and a powerful fan to cook food and healthier meals without the added oil. The biggest perk to an air fryer is its compact size, which heats up quickly. You won’t be wasting precious pre-dinner prep time waiting for your oven to preheat.

Beatriz looking at camera next to a Ninja Air Fryer

By cooking in such a small space and using hot air circulation, home cooks can enjoy crispy, home-cooked meals and fried foods quickly, without the mess and unhealthy effects of deep frying with oil. 

Who Should Buy an Air Fryer?

Air Fried French Fries

The small and convenient air fryer is a perfect solution for families who love to eat crispy fried food like veggie tots and fries, grilled cheese, chicken wings, nachos, and fried chicken. Plus, most parts in an air fryer are also dishwasher safe, so you’ll avoid the dreaded cleanup that typically accompanies deep frying.

That said, if your family consumes more soups and stews, rice, shredded meats, or steamed veggies, an Instant Pot might be a better purchase for your home. 

How an Instant Pot Works

An Instant Pot is essentially a type of electric pressure cooker. They use the steam from liquid in the pressure cooking process to create high pressure in a small space, cooking a variety of food very quickly. 

The biggest selling point of an Instant Pot or multicooker is its versatility. These multicookers can handle up to 9 jobs in the kitchen. This includes searing or browning, slow cooking, steaming. They can even work as a yogurt maker.

Who Should Buy an Instant Pot?

Pressure Cooked Stewed Tomatoes

When shopping for Instant Pots, consider the meals you make most often and choose a model that can cover all your needs. If you use it most often to cook meat quickly, you’ll want to ensure it has a browning or searing function. 

If you plan on sticking to common foods like soups and stews, you may not need as many functions and can save money by buying a less feature-heavy model.

For families who enjoy quick meals like soups, rice dishes, and chilis, an Instant Pot is an excellent kitchen counter addition.

Air Fryer vs Instant Pot

Both air fryers and Instant Pot have some distinct advantages and disadvantages when it comes to cooking meals for your family.

Versatility

Due to my lack of counter space, a huge selling point for me is the versatility of any kitchen tool. The more you can do with a single item, the more likely I am to want it in my home.

Depending on the Instant Pot model you get, it can usually tackle at least 6 and up to 9 kitchen cooking tasks with one single machine. Things like pressure cooking, slow cooking, searing, steaming, and even sous vide are possible with this countertop gadget.

The Versatility Winner

For me, Instant Pots are the more versatile of the two for my lifestyle. I cook a lot of rice, meats, and pasta for my family and find most air fryers better for snack food. 

Functionality

As mentioned earlier, Instant Pots are essentially electric pressure cookers with multiple functions.

Air frying is similar to cooking with an oven, but its small size and powerful fan to circulate heat make foods air fry quickly and crisp like no other tool.

The Functional Winner

The air fryer wins in the functionality category for me. With easy-to-clean parts, a compact size, and simple instructions, this is a practical and convenient addition to your kitchen appliances.

Healthy Cooking

Healthy Bean Stew

While most air fryers are frequently sold as a healthier way to cook, it really depends on what you’re cooking. 

Air frying is absolutely a healthier alternative when compared to making crispy foods in a deep fryer, but compared to an Instant Pot, it truly depends on the menu. 

The Instant Pot can steam foods like vegetables and chicken breasts, keeping the nutrients and healthy ingredients intact. 

With a bit of practice, air frying works with foods like eggs and vegetables, but for the most part, an air fryer makes crispy foods like french fries or fried chicken.

The Healthy Winner

The versatility component of the Instant Pot makes it a healthier option for me. You can cook a wider variety of healthy options more easily than you can with the air fryer. 

Speed

quick fried food

The speed of these cookers also depends on what you’re making, but for the most part, the air fryer is going to be speedier as it really only has one function; crisping with hot air. 

The Instant Pot will produce steam to pressure cook things quickly, which can take more cooking time. Using it as a slow cooker obviously will take even more time. 

The Speed Winner

In the case of Instant Pot vs air fryer, the versatility of the Instant Pot makes it less speedy than the air fryer. If you’re looking for something to speed up weeknight meals, learning to air fry will be worth your while.

Product Reviews

Let’s dig into some specific models to get a better sense of the Instant Pot vs air fryer. Below are two particular models that I think are worth checking out, but always consider your personal needs and cooking style before making a purchase.

Ninja AF101 Air Fryer

This Ninja Air Fryer has a 4-quart capacity, and the non-stick, ceramic frying basket can go in the dishwasher, so cleanup is quick and easy.

The body of the Ninja air fryer takes up less space than a stand mixer, and it is lightweight and easy to use. It heats up in no time, even quicker than a toaster oven, and cooking times are cut down significantly as well.

Use the air fryer function for french fries; the roast function is perfect for lean meats, make homemade apple chips with the dehydrate function, or reheat and crisp leftover pizza with one handy countertop tool. 

If you’re used to cooking in an oven, it may take some time to get adjusted to just how quickly an air fryer cooks to fry food. It could take a couple of tries to get the timing just right, but the learning curve is worth it. Also, beware that there are reports of plastic odors while using it to fry food, but most customers did not have this problem.

A note that the fryer basket is non-stick, and while it is dishwasher safe, if you want it to last longer, it would be worth your time to hand wash it with a soft sponge. 

Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-1 Pressure Cooker

This Instant Pot Duo does most of the cooking options you’ll get out of any multicooker. It functions as an electric pressure cooker, slow cooker, saute pan, rice cooker, sous vide, and more. If that sounds like a lot to handle, there are one-touch cooking programs so you can set it and forget it.  

With an 8-quart cooking pot, it’s surprisingly not that much larger than the air fryer and could easily be stored in a large pantry. But it is heavier, more than twice as heavy, so keep that in mind if you don’t want to keep it on display on your countertop.

The versatility of the Instant Pot Duo makes up for any counter space it uses. Home cooks can make the usual rice dishes and stews, but you can also make small cakes, ribs, lasagna, whole chickens, and more. 

The heat up time and pressure release can be time consuming and isn’t as “instant” as the name implies. It can take up to 30 minutes to pressurize before it begins to cook. Even with the heat up and release times, meals that would normally take 2-3 hours in the oven or on the stove, take less than an hour in the Instant Pot.

Alternative

If you still can’t decide between an Instant Pot and an air fryer, I’ve found an alternative that works as a pressure cooker and an air fryer! While it won’t save money, it will save you on counter space if you want the functionality of both tools and can’t decide which is best for you.

Instant Pot Pro Crisp Pressure Cooker with Air Fryer

This handy contraption is essentially a great Instant Pot that comes with two lids. One functions as a pressure cooker and the other functions as an air fryer with a heating element right in the lid. 

With a twist and a click, this 11-in-1 powerhouse gives you the best of both gadgets in one single tool. It is a few inches bigger than both the Ninja Air Fryer and the Instant Pot Duo, but the added inches are worth the added versatility.

Pros

  • The inner pot of the Instant Pot is stainless so it does not scratch with cleaning or metal utensils.
  • Smaller and more lightweight than other brands of pressure cookers and air fryer models 
  • Large pressure cooker size accommodates whole chickens and small turkeys.

Cons

  • The air fryer basket, while non-stick and easy to clean, can scratch easily. It is also smaller than expected.
  • The air fryer lid is large and awkward in size due to the heating element, making it hard to store for some.
  • The manual has frustrated some users, as not all functions and programs are detailed.

Instant Pot vs. Air Fryer: The Winner

Best Overall

To me, the overall winner between these two handy appliances is the Instant Pot. Versatility is the most important feature to me, and the Instant Pot does more in the kitchen. I like that I can quickly make many dishes with extra for leftovers.

Best for Quick Weeknight Meals and Fried Foods

For me, time isn’t as important as versatility, but if your lifestyle revolves around quick meals, the air fryer will be your new best friend. The air fryer heats up in no time, cooks crispy snacks and fried foods quickly, and cleans up with no effort in the dishwasher.

Best for One-Pot Dinners

Since the Instant Pot offers so many cooking options, you can easily sear and cook meat, make a delicious gravy, and cook vegetables all in one pot and in under an hour for most recipes. 

And if you still can’t decide, don’t forget my alternative that does both! While it is bigger and you’ll need space for an extra lid, you still get the best of both worlds in one great appliance.