For the past year, an Instant Pot versus air fryer debate has been raging. While both small appliances offer big possibilities for home cooking, Jessie Van Amburg, Well+Good's senior food editor, and I simply cannot agree which kitchen gadget reigns supreme. I have even argued my case publicly. To know where I stand, just read Ode to My Air Fryer, a 1,000-word essay of adoration. Meanwhile, Jessie feels strongly that the Instant Pot is a superior tool.
In order to settle the score once and for all, we conducted a side-by-side comparison of the kitchen appliances, considering price, pros and cons, functionality, and plenty of unsolicited personal opinions. Hopefully, by the end you'll be able to decide which device is right for you (or you just might decide to buy both).
Instant Pot vs Air Fryer: Once and for all, which one is better?
Functionality: It makes stews and soups, slow cooks meat, makes effortless casseroles, and prepares eggs.
Pros: It holds large amounts of food for bulk batching and meal-prepping, can easily be cleaned, and can tackle any meal of the day from breakfast until dinner. It also gives at-home chefs the opportunity sharpen their cooking skills with more difficult recipes like desserts.
Cons: It comes with a learning curve: you have to learn how to use it before you can really appreciate it. It requires understanding many settings and can be intimidating to use.
Jessie says: "I think it has this reputation of being just for soup and while yes, it makes a damn fine soup, I’ve been able to make a ton of different things with it. It also has a reputation for being very meat-focused, but I think it’s a great tool for vegetarians and vegans, too. There are literally entire vegan instant pot cookbooks that prove my point."
Kells says: "I don’t love the fact that anything you make in an Instant pot really requires a recipe. With other devices, like say, my precious air fryer, you can make items with nothing more than olive oil and spices and you’re set to jet."
Functionality: It fries vegetables, proteins, and more in less than 20 minutes.
Pros: It's easy to use, prepares food quickly, and ensures whatever goes inside comes out crispy.
Cons: Recipes are somewhat limited to dinner and lunch, and everything comes out the same crunchy consistency so there's not very much variability in texture. It's also very difficult to clean.
Jessie says: "It feels like having to clean your oven racks every time."
Kells says: "I think the main point is that the air fryer makes it SO easy to add veggies to any meal. Like, you don’t have to wait for the oven to pre-heat, you don’t have to wait forever for 'golden brown' to happen. Fifteen minutes and you’ve got a side of veggies that actually taste good."
The great Instant Pot verses air fryer debate really comes down to the difference between someone who likes to cook their meals well in advance and feel ready for dinner/lunch/whatever (Team Instant Pot) verses someone who just wants dinner on the table quickly without having to put forth effort well beforehand (Team Air Fryer).
Jessie points out that our preferences separate those who are patient from those who aren't. "The air fryer could be a good entry point for someone into healthy eating and easier cooking, whereas the Instant Pot is perhaps a bit more of a commitment but also worth it in its own way," she says.
The takeaway here is that neither device is better or worse than the other. Really, it's all about choosing what kind of at-home chef you are and owning it with your gadget of choice. Either way, dinner will be on the dinner way faster than if you stick with your oven and stovetop.
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