Sure, there are loads of things you can cook in an air fryer. But when it comes to crowd-pleasing dinners, a plate loaded with hot, crisp and golden chips will always be a fan favourite.
If you're serious about your chips, which type or brand of air fryer should you buy to give you the most golden, crunchy results that won't leave you feeling salty?
We selflessly cooked up batches of frozen chips in different air fryers to find out – it's all part of the rigorous testing we conduct in the CHOICE labs to discover which are the best air fryers, and which are the low-fliers.
And are chips really better cooked in an air fryer? Or will your old-faithful conventional oven deliver the goods just as well – if not better?
Are frozen chips cooked in an air fryer 'healthy'?
Firstly, let's address the myth that air fryers make food healthier. A frozen chip cooked in an air fryer is still a frozen chip and isn't going to win any healthy eating awards.
"Cooking frozen chips in an air fryer is exactly the same, nutrition-wise, as cooking them in an oven," says CHOICE home economist Fiona Mair.
"An air fryer 'bakes' your food in the same way an oven does. So while it's better for you than deep-frying them in more oil, an air fryer has no nutritional advantages over an oven."
What makes the perfect air fryer hot chip?
Our expert testers rate each air fryer on how well it cooks store-bought frozen thick-cut chips.
Some air fryers score a lofty 100% in the chip test, while other machines (such as the Kmart Anko Twin Air Fryer) score as low as 40%.
We want our chips to be perfectly crisp and browned on the outside with a fluffy centre. Evenly cooked and golden chips are a big plus, while pale, limp, patchy coloured or burnt chips get the thumbs down from our testers.
"When we assess each air fryer on how well it cooks hot chips, we follow the cooking instructions specified for that machine, if any are provided, and use the pre-programmed setting if there is one," says Fiona.
"Once cooked, we assess the chips on how evenly they are cooked and browned, with deductions for sogginess, burnt areas or undercooked insides. The perfect hot chip should have an even golden colour and crispness."
We assess the chips on how evenly they are cooked and browned, with deductions for sogginess, burnt areas or undercooked insides.
Which air fryer makes the best chips?
Two air fryers we've tested in the CHOICE kitchen labs scored a perfect 100% on chip cooking performance:
- the Ninja Foodi multi cooker $500 (used in air fryer mode)
- the Instant Pot Duo Crisp Multi Use Pressure Cooker and Air Fryer $299
Though chip lovers may protest, there is of course more to consider when buying an air fryer beyond how well it cooks chips.
In our kitchen labs, we also test each air fryer on how well it cooks crumbed chicken, marinated chicken and roast pork. We also look at factors such as how easy they are to use and clean, and how much they cost to run. Read our latest reviews and find out more about how we test.
But, if you're here solely because you're a serious chip champion, we get it. So read on as we delve into how some other air fryers compare on their chip cooking performance, including whether you're better off just cooking chips in a standard oven, and some tips to help you achieve chip perfection.
Air fryer vs oven: Which makes the best hot chips?
All power to you if you're happy to drop $300 or $500 on an air fryer that produces the perfect chip, but what if your budget is a little tighter, and you're not necessarily seeking perfection? Will a less chip-tastic air fryer give you better hot chips than your conventional oven?
We picked a couple of air fryers that are new to the market, received good to very good chip scores in our latest test, and use two different methods of cooking – one with a basket and the other a drawer.
And then we cooked another batch of McCain Superfries Straight Cut frozen chips, this time throwing into the mix a standard conventional oven.
- The Kmart Anko 3 in 1 Airfryer Oven ($119) has a rotating basket accessory and a pre-programmed setting for cooking chips, which we used. This setting specified cooking the chips for 18 minutes at 200°C.
- The Russell Hobbs SatisFry 8L air fryer ($200) has a standard drawer and we used the pre-programmed setting for chips, which specified 18 minutes of cooking at 203°C. It prompted us halfway through cooking to shake the basket.
- For the oven, we followed the cooking instructions on the back of the packet, which directed that we spread chips on a baking tray and cook in a preheated oven at 210°C fan-forced for 10 minutes, then turn and continue cooking for a further 8–12 minutes.
When we test air fryers, we give them a score for how well they cook chips. For this test, we added oven-cooked chips as well.
The benefits of a rotating basket
When it came to the crunch, the clear winner out of this trio is… the Kmart Anko 3 in 1 oven air fryer! The chips are evenly golden, crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. We gave this model 85% on its chip cooking performance.
"The reason these chips are the best out of these three is likely due to the rotating basket," says Fiona. "Rather than manually shaking or tossing the chips like you have to do in a standard air fryer or oven, the rotating basket does it for you, ensuring uniform cooking and even goldenness."
Second place goes to the oven chips. Although they're fairly evenly cooked, they're not quite as golden as the Kmart air fryer chips, and they took longer to get there (bad news if you have a chip craving that needs sorting out fast).
Once you take into account the preheat time (about 10 minutes) plus the longer cooking time of 22 minutes, the oven-cooked chips took over half an hour to cook, compared with the 18 minutes the Kmart air fryer chips took (no preheating required).
The oven-cooked chips took over half an hour to cook, compared with the 18 minutes the Kmart air fryer chips took
We think with a bit more cooking (and turning), these chips could have reached the same standard as the Kmart air fryer chips, which is great if you have the time to spare, but not if you need dinner in a hurry.
Fiona points out though that in an oven you can cook a much larger batch of chips on multiple shelves – probably a better option if you plan to cook for a larger crowd.
In last place were our chips cooked in the Russell Hobbs air fryer. They were slightly unevenly browned – dark golden brown in some places and paler in others. This model scored 75% for hot chips in our review.
The take away
So what did we learn from this experiment?
An air fryer doesn't need to score top marks in our chip test to still turn out better fries than your regular oven. But your regular oven will still do a better job than some air fryer models, and as long as no one's in too much of a hurry to eat, it's probably better for a large amount of chips that all need to be on the table at the same time.
How to make the best air fryer chips
"The key to hot chip perfection is how well the air fryer circulates the heat around the food, and the shaking or rotating of the food during cooking," says Fiona. To get the perfect air fryer hot chips:
- Buy an air fryer with a pre-programmed chip setting and one that either has a rotating basket that will turn the chips for you during cooking, or sounds an alert to remind you to shake the food during cooking.
- If you're using an air fryer with a pull-out basket, shaking the basket is essential otherwise your chips will be unevenly cooked.
- Don't crowd chips in the basket – give them enough space to crisp nicely.
- If your model requires it, make sure your air fryer is preheated correctly.
Can you make your own air fryer chips?
As a healthier alternative to store-bought frozen chips, you can cut your own potatoes into fries or chunky chips to cook in the air fryer.
Soak them in water for about 10 minutes, then pat dry with paper towel.
Toss in a small amount of olive oil and salt, then cook in your air fryer using the preprogrammed settings or for about 18 minutes at 200C.
If they're still a bit pale or soggy, cook for a bit longer until they reach your desired crispiness.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.