Air Fryer Vs. Instant Pot: What Are The Major Differences?

Kirstin Harrington
by Kirstin Harrington

Over the past several decades, more and more kitchen appliances are surfacing. At one point, the coolest new thing to hit the shelves was the salad spinner. Now, the latest kitchen gadgets and gizmos have a lot more features than a simple spinning device.

By far, two of the most popular kitchen appliances in the last few years have been air fryers and instant pots. These devices are very similar, and some even claim they’re interchangeable. Today we’re going to put these two head-to-head to find out which one really comes out on top.

If you’re considering purchasing one or the other, this guide will help you find out which is best for your needs. We’ll dive into how each product works, what to look for when shopping around, and what they cook best. Don’t add anything to your cart before you read the rest of this guide.

Also, we recently wrote a guide comparing air fryers to microwaves. You’d be amazed about the difference in health benefits, how air fryers work, and the amazing meals you can make with them!

How Does an Air Fryer Work?

It surprises some people to learn that air fryers cook food much differently than instant pots. You don’t need to use any liquid base or oil when using an air fryer. As you can guess by the name, the product uses hot air to give the food a fried texture.

So, if you’re trying to make chili, soup, or a roast, an air fryer wouldn’t be the best option for you. What it does give is a healthier alternative to foods that are less than ideal in a standard diet. An air fryer supplies a perfect crunch to just about any food without needing to drown it in high-fat oils.

Out of the millions of things for sale on Amazon, air fryers have stayed as one of the top-selling items for the past few years. It seems like everyone wants one or at least wants to try food from one.

The Outside of an Air Fryer

On the outside of the air fryer, you may find two knobs or several buttons. It depends on the specific unit you have. The air fryer I have has a knob to set a temperature and one to set the time.

There is a large vent on the back of the machine that draws out air. It’s suggested not to place an air fryer right up against a wall or backsplash for safety purposes. There is also a power cord in the back and a frying basket in the front.

On some machines, you might find specific buttons that we’ll talk about in detail later. More expensive machines will give several “one-push” features for commonly fried foods. This makes your prep time in the kitchen decrease, so you can focus on eating delicious food.

Inside of an Air Fryer

The main component of an air fryer is the basket. This is where you place anything you want to cook. I can’t speak for all air fryers, but mine has a rack that fits snug on the bottom that easily pulls out for cleaning.

There is a heating coil above the basket built directly into the unit. Once you turn the machine on, the heating element begins to warm up, and the heat is blown all around the inside. After a short period of time, you’ll have perfectly fried food for any snack or meal.

How Does an Instant Pot Work?

The other kitchen appliance battling for the crown is the instant pot. This is a popular option for good reason. You can cook just about anything in one and make larger amounts than you would in an air fryer.

It essentially works as an electric pressure cooker. There are plenty of safety features added in that make it safe and straightforward to use for the whole family. A reason people use an instant pot instead of a traditional cooking method is how fast they cook.

You can convert slow cooker recipes to make delightful meals in an instant pot. Many of them will have features on the exterior that are shortcuts for popular meals. We’ll dive more into that later but first want to touch on what exactly you can cook in each of these appliances.

What Can You Cook in Each?

After a lot of trial and error, here is what I’ve found cooks the best in each appliance. You can cook far more foods than what’s listed below; these are just the most popular options. Next, we’ll find out in detail what the air fryer and instant pot were designed to cook.

Food Air FryerInstant Pot
Entire chickenNoYes
Vegetables YesYes
“Fried” chicken YesNo

Instant Pot Foods

Because an instant pot uses water or brother to create steam, it’s perfect for soups and stews. The steam created from the temperature is used for cooking food at ultra-fast speeds without depleting the food of nutrients.

Thanks to this technology, you can cook a wide variety of foods in an instant pot. There are pre-set meals listed on most units, and that’s the best place for beginners to start. Once you get a handle on an instant pot, you can go wild with recipes.

Here are the most commonly cooked foods using an instant pot cooker.

  • Beef
  • Vegetables
  • Bread
  • Chicken
  • Soups
  • Yogurt
  • Cakes
  • Beans 
  • Eggs
  • Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Noodles

Air Fryer Foods

While the main reason to use an air fryer is to fry food, you can use one for many dishes instead of the stove or oven. The best part is saving calories and bad fats from having to use less oil. Let’s take a look at the most commonly cooked foods in an air fryer.

  • Cakes
  • Egg rolls
  • Bacon
  • Vegetables
  • Omelets
  • Baked potatoes
  • Fish
  • French fries
  • Hash Browns
  • Muffins
  • Seeds
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Casseroles
  • Chips
  • Fried Chicken
  • Reheating fried fast food 

Pros and Cons of Air Fryers

Now that you know what you can make in an air fryer let’s talk about the pros and cons. This will give you a good idea of whether or not spending your hard-earned money will be worth it. Air fryers come at a variety of different price points and can be purchased almost anywhere.


Versatility: Easily one of the best things about air fryers is how versatile they are. You might think they’re only good for frying, but you can do a lot more than that. Many air fryers will come with a small cookbook filled with all the different things you can make!

Healthier: Compared to traditional ways of cooking, air fryers are much healthier. When you make french fries at home, you usually place cut up potatoes in a pot of boiling oil. Oil is full of trans fats and is dense in calories.

When using an air fryer, you can shake the fries in a tablespoon of oil or skip it altogether. This saves you from having to hit the gym for an extra hour or feel guilty about some delicious potatoes.

Easy to Clean: Air fryers are incredibly easy to clean. The outside can be wiped down with clean spray or soap and water. The interior basket can be tossed in the dishwasher or soaked with hot soapy water.

Savings: Since you’re not using a ton of oil or butter, you end up saving ingredients. The more ingredients you save, the more money in your pocket. It might seem like a few bucks here and there, but it will add up in the long run.


Electricity Use: Believe it or not, air fryers use more power than most other fryers. The average person may not notice the increase on an electric bill. If you use your air fryer every day, you could see it hurting your wallet.

Pros and Cons of Instant Pots

Just like air fryers, instant pots come with plenty of pros and cons. Below we’ll discuss just what you can expect before purchasing one for yourself. Here are some of the best things about using this type of appliance.


Energy Savings: The heat source in an instant pot is electronic, similar to a pressure cooking. This means you won’t have to use the gas on your stove or heat up an entire oven. Because it’s self-regulating, it’s much safer to use.

Programmable Features: A fan-favorite when it comes to instant pots is the programmable features. The brand makes it easy to cook just about anything you want at the push of a button. Commonly cooked things like soups, yogurt, and oatmeal are all pre-programmed on most instant pot cookers.

Time-Saving: In comparison to cooking on the stove or in the oven, instant pots are a true time-saver. As you can tell by the name, they make food a lot faster than traditional methods. Things that would take seven hours in your oven could take an hour in an instant pot.

This can come in handy during the holidays if you’re hosting. It’s also a lifesaver for big households that cook one meal for multiple people.

They’re Durable: Because the interior of an instant pot is made of stainless steel, it’s incredibly durable. There aren’t any non-stick areas made of things like Teflon. The steel is easy to clean and will keep your food warmer for longer.


Difficult to Get the Hang Of: One of my main concerns with an instant pot is they can come with a fierce learning curve. While every new device takes some getting used to, this appliance takes the cake. You may get frustrated the first few times you use it, but it gets easier over time.

Safety: What it boils down to is that instant pots are essentially pressure cookers. They’re a lot safer than the outdated appliance, but that doesn’t make them fool-proof. The steam released can burn you, and it’s best to keep it away from small kids or pets.

Price Point: Another reason people shy away from instant pots is the price. The cost upfront can cost you well over $100. It can end up saving you money in the long run by replacing some of your other cookware.

The Differences Between Air Fryers and Instant Pots

By now, you know that the main difference between these two is that an instant pot can fry your food. You can saute your food in one, but some people are really looking for that crunch. Other than what you’ve read already, I wanted to show you which one was the best for specific categories.

You might be looking for something that’s incredibly versatile, while another reader is wanting something extremely safe. Here’s where each machine really shines.

Instant Pot

Instant pots absolutely smash the competition when it comes to versatility. Even though they can’t fry food, they can do just about everything else. Think of a meal, and you can likely make it in an instant pot.

It’s an appliance that can make a savory casserole for dinner, meanwhile also having the ability to make a cheesecake for dessert. Surprisingly, the other area where instant pots win is in safety.

Yes, there are precautions to take, just like anything else in the kitchen. Because air fryers are so new to consumers, we still don’t know exactly what they’re capable of in terms of safety. Instant pots have been around a lot longer, and we know more about what users can expect.

Air Fryer

If you’re looking for something simple, an air fryer is for you. They’re incredibly simple to use, and many of them have just two dials on them. You can easily set the temperature and a cook time, and viola!

There’s not really a learning curve when it comes to air fryers. The machines are self-explanatory and easy for even the most novice kitchen cook. The other thing that makes air fryers amazing is the size variety.

You can get a mini one that can cook a handful of french fries or an extra-large one that can take on a whole meal. They can easily be stored in cupboards, pantries, or storage shelves. Air fryers don’t take up a ton of counter space, making them great permanent additions to your kitchen.

Buying Guides

Here are some things you should consider when buying either of these products. It’s a good idea to compare one item to another to ensure you’re getting the best appliance for your money.

Air Fryer

  • Capacity 
  • Presets
  • Additional features 
  • Price

Instant Pot

  • Size 
  • Functions
  • Price
  • Ease of Use 
  • Brand
  • Accessories 

Related Questions

Can you put aluminum foil in an instant pot?

Unlike a microwave, you can put aluminum foil in an instant pot. It’s important not to use cheap foil. These have a habit of breaking down due to high temperatures. Grab a trusted name brand and use it as much as you need. This can help your food cook more evenly and won’t be negatively affected by heat. 

Can I leave my instant pot unattended?

Many people love instant pots because they’re fairly hands-off. Unlike slow cookers, you shouldn’t leave instant pots unattended. You never know when an unexpected safety issue could occur. I don’t think you have to stay in the kitchen the entire time, but take precautions. Don’t leave your house or stay outdoors for an extended period of time. Check-in on the instant pot every 20 minutes just to be safe. 

Can you put popcorn in an air fryer?

You can absolutely put popcorn in an air fryer. You can buy plain kernels and add them to the basket. Spray them with your favorite cooking oil and line the sides with aluminum foil. Check on it often to ensure the kernels aren’t burning or getting stuck near the heat source. Feel free to add any butter or other fun toppings after it’s cooked. This will keep the air fryer from getting too dirty and makes for a tastier final dish. 

Kirstin Harrington
Kirstin Harrington

Kirstin is a passionate writer who loves helping people learn new things when it comes to home improvement. When she's not behind a keyboard, she enjoys DIY projects, crafts, spending time with her pets, and making videos. She hopes that with all she writes, someone is finding a solution to their home improvement needs.

More by Kirstin Harrington