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Air Fryer vs Instant Pot: Which Is the Superior Choice?

By Luna Regina | Updated
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The advent of smart kitchen appliances like the air fryer and the multi-cooker has made a lasting impact on the market. Affordable, easy to use, and more convenient than anything that came before, these small appliances are rapidly becoming more popular.

But between an air fryer and a multi-cooker (otherwise known as an Instant Pot), which is the better choice to equip your kitchen with?

In this detailed buying guide, we will settle the air fryer vs Instant Pot multi-cooker debate once and for all.

Instant Pot vs Air Fryer: What Are the Differences?

What Is an Air Fryer?

An air fryer is not designed like your typical deep fryer. Think of it like a more sophisticated, healthier alternative. It can “fry” your food using very little or sometimes even no oil at all.

Air Fryer Oil Free

That might sound a little bit dubious, but it is true. Fried recipes like french fries or fried chicken can gain the same crispy texture inside of an air fryer that they do in a deep fryer. The difference is, when air-fried, they won’t come out of the fryer dripping or glossy with excess oil. Thus, an air fryer is a recommended purchase if you want to have a healthier diet with less oil.

This is made possible by the air fryer acting like a convection oven. Heat is produced by a cooking element. Then, a series of fans circulate the hot air in every direction throughout the cooking chamber. During the process, the hot air cooks the food that is placed in a perforated basket at the center of the cooking chamber. The hot air cooks the food from the outside in, just like an oven or deep fryer.

All air fryers found on the market today are equipped with a smart microprocessor, which directly controls the cooking process. All you really have to do is push a few buttons and wait for the timer to beep.

That’s not the sole advancement in today’s air fryers, though.

Many recent models have done away with the “one-trick pony” image and have begun to offer extra cooking functions besides air frying. You can find plenty of air fryers nowadays that can also handle broiling, baking, and grilling.

Multi Mode Air Fryer

The number of cooking modes that a multi-functional air fryer has may not be as high as a multi-cooker. Still, it proves that air fryers can be just as versatile and useful as an Instant Pot.

What Is an Instant Pot Multi-cooker?

Unlike the term “air fryer”, Instant Pot isn’t a type of kitchen appliance. Rather, it is a brand name. But Instant Pot has grown to become such a dominant business in the market segment that it has become synonymous with what it really is: an electric multi-cooker.

The biggest advantage to owning an Instant Pot multi-cooker is the versatility. You can use it as a slow cooker, a sauté pan, a rice cooker, a yogurt maker, a steamer, and more. An Instant Pot multi-cooker can fulfill up to a dozen different functionalities, depending on the model.

What Is the Difference Between a Pressure Cooker and an Instant Pot Multi-cooker?

The most popular use of an Instant Pot cooker by far is as a pressure cooker.

There is virtually no difference between an Instant Pot multi-cooker cooker and a full-fledged pressure cooker. They do the same job with pretty much the same efficiency.

Instant Pot Vs Pressure Cooker

This is the biggest reason why people are opting for an Instant Pot instead of a standalone pressure cooker. You get more value for your money thanks to all the additional features.

When tuned into pressure cooking mode, the Instant Pot cooker generates steam from the bottom of the machine. As steam builds inside of the machine, pressure also increases. The heightened pressure allows food to cook quicker.

Besides cooking food faster, the high pressure environment also forces more moisture into the food. Therefore, pressure-cooked meat is usually more tender and juicier compared to other methods of cooking.

Pressure cooking, like air frying, is a healthier alternative than traditional cooking methods too. According to research, high-pressure cooking can maintain the original flavor and nutrients of food better than most other cooking methods.

Compared to other cooking methods like boiling or frying, Vitamin C is better preserved in a high pressure environment. The healthy polyphenols in vegetables are better released when pressure-cooked. Last but not least, natural pigments inside of vegetables like chlorophyll are better maintained. So food looks and tastes great, as well as being all the more healthful.

Air Fryer vs Instant Pot Multi-cooker: What Can You Cook With Them?

Cooker Air Fryer Recipe

To learn what kind of appliance is best for you, try to think of the kinds of food that you typically prepare at home.

For example, if you often prepare recipes that are dry and oil-loaded like french fries and Kentucky-style chicken, the air fryer is a no-brainer. You can get the same taste and texture as deep frying. But this time, not only is it far more convenient, but the food will also contain less fat, helping you to improve your diet.

On the other hand, if you often prepare liquid recipes like soups and stews, an Instant Pot cooker is going to be a better choice.

Here is a small table to help you visualize.

RecipesAir FryerInstant Pot Multi-cooker
Friesx
Casserolesxx
Vegetablesxx
Eggsxx
Ricex
Soupx
Stewx
Meatx
Fishx
Yogurtx
Oatmealx

It’s clear that the Instant Pot is a far more versatile appliance and can deal with a much more diverse range of foods. Many of the recipes that the air fryer can prepare, the Instant Pot can also perform.

Nonetheless, when it comes to fried recipes, that is the specialty of the fryer alone, the Instant Pot doesn’t even get a look in.

Most people’s cooking needs are going to be met by the Instant Pot. On the other hand, the air fryer — while more specialized —can help with the occasional fried dishes.

Therefore, if possible, we recommend having both in the house at the same time to provide all functions in your kitchen. Fortunately, both are quite affordable, so it doesn’t have to be very costly to own both. For most people it would be more a question of space but both are relatively compact too, so take a look and see what you think.

There is no shortage of great models on the market in either category. Here are a handful of them to get you started.

Are Air Fryer - Multi-cooker Hybrids Worth Buying?

Fortunately, there is an alternative to choosing one of the two incredibly helpful appliances. If you want to have the capabilities of both an air fryer and an Instant Pot multi-cooker, you should consider hybrids.

Hybrids are appliances that can function as a normal multi-cooker, but when needed, it can be converted into an air fryer. You basically get a 2-in-1 with these.

Typically, air fryer - multi-cooker hybrids like the Instant Pot Duo Crisp come with two lids.

One is a pressure-cooking lid for when you need it to perform as a multi-cooker. It is designed and performed exactly like the lid of a normal Instant Pot.

Where the magic comes in is in the other lid, called an air fryer lid. This lid contains its own heating element and blowing fan to create a convection effect. Put it on your multi-cooker and you can fry away.

As for food quality, hybrids can produce food with comparable quality to a full-on air fryer or multi-cooker.

Although hybrids are typically a little bit more expensive, it will be worth the extra investment.

Best Pressure Cooker Air Fryer Combo in 2021

NameHeating ElementIntegrated DesignCapacity
Instant Pot Vortex 6 Quart Air Fryer1,500W4-in-16-quart
Instant Pot Duo Crisp Pressure Cooker1,500W11-in-18-quart
Ninja Foodi 9-in-1 OP3011,400W9-in-16.5-quart

Instant Pot with Air Fryer Combo: Instant Pot Vortex 4-in-1, 6 Quart Air Fryer

Instant Pot doesn’t just operate in the electric multi-cooker corner of the market. With the Instant Pot Vortex series, the company has expanded into the air fryer market too. The company’s efforts culminate in the Instant Pot Vortex 4-in-1, 6 quart air fryer.

Instant Pot Vortex 4-in-1 Air Fryer
  • Decent heating element

  • 4-in-1 integrated design

  • Small and compact

  • Large capacity basket

  • Easy to maintain

  • Limited selection of cooking modes

  • Doesn’t allow direct wattage control

Despite being the “budget” option, the Instant Pot Vortex Plus has many excellent qualities. It comes with high performance and versatility, good design, and an agreeable price tag. So it is not very surprising that it turns out to be the model that sells the best in the Instant Pot Vortex line-up.

How Does It Perform?

Unlike the NuWave Brio, the Instant Pot Vortex doesn’t allow you to take control of the heating element’s wattage. Instead, through an adjustable knob at the front of the unit, you can change the set temperature. The on-board microprocessor will automatically handle the rest.

The heating element can output 1,500 watts.

It makes for a less exacting cooking process, but this can be a good thing for casual users. The sole temperature control knob makes approaching and using the air fryer less complex.

4-in-1 Design

The Instant Pot Vortex is marketed as a 4-in-1 air fryer. Next to air frying, it can also handle roasting, baking, and reheating. The selection of functions is fairly limited but it is still the superior choice compared to a standard one-function air fryer.

Design

Overall Design

While it is considered the budget model, the design of the Instant Pot Vortex looks anything but budget. The all-black construction, albeit made of plastic, really invokes a sense of expensiveness to the product.

Instant Pot Vortex Premium

The air fryer is fairly small and compact, so it won’t take up a lot of space on your countertop, and could easily be placed in a cupboard

The control panel is much less sophisticated than that of the NuWave Brio. It only consists of eight touch buttons.

Two small LCD windows are right in the middle of the panel to display the cooking time and temperature.

Instant Pot Vortex Design

Arranged around the LCD windows are four function buttons to set the air fryer to one of four available cooking modes: air fry, bake, roast, or reheat.

Underneath are two setting buttons. You can use these to set up the temperature and the cooking time.

Last but not least, there are the “Cancel” and “Start” buttons. They’re helpfully portrayed in red and green respectively for easier distinguishing.

The centerpiece of the control panel is the large metallic adjustment knob. You can use it to control the temperature.

Capacity & Maintenance

The capacity of the Instant Pot Vortex is equal to that of the NuWave Brio at 6 quarts. You can cook 2 pounds of fries or around 3.5 pounds of chicken with this air fryer.

The food basket can be cleaned and maintained fairly easily.

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Instant Pot with Air Fryer Hybrid: Instant Pot Duo Crisp Pressure Cooker

The Instant Pot Duo Crisp pressure cooker is a standard multi-cooker in virtually all aspects. However, the thing that sets it apart from other models is that it is also capable of air frying.

Instant Pot Duo Crisp 11 in 1 Electric Pressure Cooker
  • Powerful heating element

  • Hybrid design (multi-cooker/air fryer)

  • Large selection of cooking modes

  • Premium design

  • Familiar, easy-to-use control panel

  • Easy to maintain

  • Large capacity may lead to wastage

If you want the versatility of a multi-cooker but also want the ability to air fry, then this hybrid will serve you well.

How Does It Perform?

The DuoCrisp comes with a 1,500-watt primary heating element located at the bottom of the cooker.

This is the same component that can be found on every other multi-cooker. It’s the one in charge of performing standard cooking functions like pressure cooking, steaming, sautéing, and others.

What’s special here is the air fryer lid.

This lid is basically a self-contained air fryer. It is designed to rectify all that is stopping a multi-cooker from air frying.

First, it has its own heating element positioned at the bottom of the lid. The wattage rating of this heating element is equal to the pot’s heating element (1,500 watts). That is about the same as most standard air fryers, so you can expect the same level of performance with the Duo Crisp as with any other fully-fledged air fryer.

The second component of the lid is a fan, which circulates the hot air that the lid’s heating element produces. This circulating flow of hot air is how the Duo Crisp is going to air fry your food.

Built into the lid is a male power and sensor connector. It will connect to the cooker’s female port and draw power to the lid.

For pressure cooking, the Instant Pot Duo Crisp still comes with a pressure controller. You can select between a Low Pressure setting (5-7 PSI) and a High Pressure setting (10-11 PSI), depending on the recipe you’re preparing.

11-in-1 Design

With the standard pressure cooking lid, the Instant Pot Duo Crisp can perform six functions:

  • Pressure cooking
  • Sautéing
  • Steaming
  • Slow cooking
  • Sous vides
  • Warming

When the pressure cooking lid is switched out for the air fryer lid, you can perform a set of five extra functions. These functions are:

  • Air frying
  • Roasting
  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Dehydrating

In total, you get 11 different functions in a single multi-cooker, five of which cannot be done with an ordinary multi-cooker.

Design

Overall Design

Because the Instant Pot Duo Crisp is considered a premium cooker, the design is excellent. It has a stainless steel body with the top portion and bottom made from black plastic. Although it would have been nice for the entire cooker to be cast out of stainless steel, the aesthetic is pleasant enough. Plus, the stainless steel body alone bolsters its durability significantly.

As for the lids, the pressure cooking lid is composed mostly of heat-resistant plastic along with a glass top. Meanwhile, the air fryer lid has a distinctive cone-shaped design. The outer shell of the lid is made entirely of plastic.

The control panel is situated at the front of the cooker. If you have ever used a pressure cooker before, it won’t take you long to get used to the panel’s arrangement.

All of the buttons are neatly arranged on the panel with clear labels to denote their function. A small LED screen panel sits in the center for displaying temperature, pressure, timing, and other important data.

Capacity & Maintenance

The Instant Pot Duo Crisp has a capacity of 8 quarts —the largest that Instant Pot offers. Unlike the basic Instant Pot Duo, there aren’t additional capacity options. This can be an issue if you don’t need such a large cooker, so think carefully before you purchase.

Maintenance of the Instant Pot Duo Crisp is going to be more complicated than a normal cooker. After all, beside the cooker itself, you also have the air fryer lid to clean.

The stainless steel inner pot, the pressure cooker lid, and all accessories (the steam rack, air fryer basket base, etc.) are all dishwasher safe. As a result, cleaning these components is very straightforward.

What isn’t so simple is cleaning the air fryer lid and the cooker base. Because they contain the heating elements and important electronics, they must not be cleaned in a dishwasher. Instead, use a damp cloth to give them a wipe every now and then.

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Pressure Cooker Air Fryer Combo Hybrid: Ninja Foodi 9-in-1 Cooker & Air Fryer OP301

The Ninja Foodi 9-in-1 Cooker & Air Fryer (OP301) is Ninja Foodi’s entry into the multi-cooker/air fryer hybrid market space. It is a direct competitor with the Instant Pot Duo Crisp, among others.

Ninja Foodi 9-in-1 Pressure Cooker
  • Decent heating element

  • Hybrid design (multi-cooker/air fryer)

  • Premium design with convenient lid hinge

  • Acceptable capacity

  • Easy-to-use control panel

  • Most parts must be cleaned manually

For the price, the Ninja Foodi OP301 gives you a 6.5-quart, 9-in-1 cooker. Thanks to a special air frying lid, you will also be able to air fry with this model. Despite being a little bit more affordable than the Instant Pot Duo Crisp, the Ninja Foodi OP301 looks and feels just as premium and durable.

This model is going to be a good choice if you need something smaller and more affordable than the Instant Pot Duo Crisp.

How Does It Perform?

The Ninja Foodi OP301’s heating element has a lower wattage rating than the Instant Pot Duo Crisp at 1,400 watts. This is adequate for the cooker’s medium-size 6.5-quart cooking chamber.

Similar to the Instant Pot Duo Crisp, the Ninja Foodi OP301 can be converted into an air fryer by using a special air frying lid. The lid has its own heating element facing downward as well as a fan to help circulate the hot air that it produces.

The heating element found in the lid is identical to the one in the pot with a wattage rating of 1,400 watts.

The Ninja Foodi OP301’s pressure controller is able to produce either a low (5-7 PSI) or high pressure (10-11 PSI) environment when you pressure cook. In this respect, the pressure controller of this hybrid is the same as the previously-introduced Instant Pots.

9-in-1 Design

You get nine functions with the OP301, including:

  • Pressure cooking
  • Steaming
  • Slow cooking
  • Sear/Sauté
  • Air frying
  • Baking/Roasting
  • Broiling

You can perform the first four functions using the standard pressure cooking lid. For the latter three functions, the air frying lid must be used.

Design

Overall Design

The Ninja Foodi OP301 has a fairly impressive design with an all-black plastic enclosure. Yet, it would have been far more preferable if the cooker had metal details or body instead. Not only would the cooker look and feel better to use, it would be more durable too.

Its most interesting feature is the air frying lid hinge built into the side of the unit. When it is not in use, the hinge makes the entire lid stand vertically.

Ninja Foodi Cooking Capacity

Albeit simple, there are two huge advantages to this unconventional design. The first is that it makes storage much less of a hassle; you don’t have to find a separate place to store the lid.

The second is convenience. Once the lid is in the vertical position, it is completely out of the way. If you need to switch to pressure cooking, you can place the pressure cooking lid on top of the pot and begin immediately. No need to fiddle around with the two lids.

The control panel sits prominently at the front of the unit. It is clearly divided into three different sections: adjustment, presets, and power.

All in all, the arrangement and design of the control panel are great. New users won’t find it very difficult to find the correct button to press.

Capacity & Maintenance

As we mentioned earlier, the Ninja Foodi OP301 has a 6.5-quart cooking chamber. At this size, the cooker can prepare food for a small family of three to four with relative ease.

Ninja Foodi Lid Hinge

In terms of maintenance, most parts of the Ninja Foodi OP301 must be hand-washed. Only the inner cooking pot and accessories (cooking rack, basket, etc.) are dishwasher safe. For all of the other parts like the cooker’s base, the lids, valves, and caps, they must be cleaned by hand.

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Conclusion

As you can see, there are clear advantages to owning either a pressure cooker or an air fryer. Depending on what you like to prepare and eat most of the time, you can take your pick. It shouldn’t be too difficult to decide which side to take in the air fryer vs Instant Pot debate. After all, their functions and the foods they can prepare have some clear differences.

But ideally, though, you should have both in your kitchen. Thankfully, this is easier than ever now that there are plenty of multi-cooker/air fryer hybrids on the market. So pick a side or go with a hybrid, the choice is yours.

We hope this buying guide has served you well in your search.

Luna Regina

A writer and entrepreneur, Luna’s day doesn’t start at the computer keyboard, but in the kitchen. Half of her working hours are spent on mixing ingredients for her recipes. The other half involve working with the tech team to research and test the tools and appliances that promise to make kitchen work effortless and mess-free. From a kitchen knife or water filter to the Instant Pot, if it can help save time and effort for the home cook, Luna and her team are on it. Luna’s extracurricular pastimes include camping, travel, and photography.