We Tried The Cheapest Air Fryer On Amazon. Here's How It Went

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Air fryers might be the ultimate "have your cake and eat it, too" device. The opportunity to enjoy freshly-fried food made in the comfort of your own home ... without the messy, splattering, artery-clogging oil that usually comes with it? Sign us up! Yet that too-good-to-be-true notion (and the largely negligible differences between an air fryer and a convection oven) is why some continue to question the claims of air fryer fanatics. After all, we may not be chemists, but the idea of hot, circulating air producing anything remotely close to deep frying is hard to swallow.

If you remain on the fence — but still want to check out the hullabaloo — a smaller, less expensive air fryer may be the best option. Considering there are an estimated 163.5 million Amazon Prime subscribers in the U.S. as of 2022, a good portion of consumers are likely to seek out an inexpensive option from the online marketplace.

For anyone curious whether the least pricey option is worth purchasing (and how effective a low-cost air fryer may be), we tried the cheapest air fryer on Amazon. Here's what we thought of the Chefman Small Compact Air Fryer.

The Chefman Small Compact Air Fryer overview

For starters, though the Chefman Small Compact air fryer is listed at $49.99 on Amazon, it was available for $36.99 as of August 2022 (plus $5.99 for standard delivery). The device is made of shiny black plastic, and is roughly the size, shape, and heft of a standard Keurig coffee maker. The appliance consists of the air fryer itself, a cooking basket, and a cooking tray. In addition to the instruction manual, our box contained a package of 10 parchment liners to use while cooking (which we did not try).

Frankly, the air fryer was fairly straightforward and simple to use — even without the instruction manual's guidance. It comes fully assembled, and is operated by two simple dials. There's the temperature gauge on top (ranging from 200 – 400 degrees), and the timer dial, in front, that can be set up to 60 minutes. A pair of light indicators alert users when the air fryer is on, as well as when it's fully heated.

There's no power switch, as the Chefman Small Compact air fryer only operates when the time dial is set. Frankly, the plug-and-turn operating system seems fairly foolproof and appears designed for safety purposes to reduce the risk of an accident.

How well does it cook?

As we noted before, it was almost shockingly simple to use the Chefman Compact Small air fryer. There's nothing to do, in regards to working the appliance, other than set the temperature, turn the timer, and let the air fryer do its magic. Now, according to the product's Amazon description, it promises "perfect fried results with little or even no oil ... (and) a healthy, crispy, fried finish," which is the barometer we used to judge the food.

For this review, we cooked and sampled three types of food, each of which seemed indicative of popular air fryer dishes: frozen, uncooked chicken nuggets; frozen, precooked French fries; and a potato and carrot medley with raw, uncooked vegetables. Each food came out more or less as we expected, as the air fryer produced a more evenly-cooked product than a regular or convection oven ... but it was nothing like actual fried food.

To be clear, the food was tasty. The chicken nuggets were nice and crispy, as were the frozen French fries. Having baked both products numerous times, we can say the air fryer was easier, quicker, and less messy than other cooking techniques. The previously-raw potatoes and carrots, which had been lightly tossed in olive oil, weren't as crispy as we'd have liked. But they were less oily than oven-roasting, so it seemed to be a push.

Overall, the air fryer worked as we expected. But was it akin to deep frying? Unfortunately, it was not.

Is this air fryer a good buy?

To be perfectly honest, the question comes down to whether or not you're interested in owning an air fryer. If you're determined to add the trendy appliance to your kitchen, and don't generally cook for more than one or two people, the Chefman Small Compact air fryer is a great buy. It's as cheap as any other air fryer on the market, cooked the sampled items well (we didn't truly expect oil-less fried food, after all), and is incredibly easy to clean, with the basket and tray both being dishwasher-safe.

Additionally, it was faster and easier than many other cooking devices and techniques we've used in the past — so, again, it comes down to your preference for owning the appliance. We can't say for sure we'd recommend air fryers in general. But when it comes to cost-effective options for the trendy appliance, if you don't have a large contingent to cook for? You can't go wrong with the Chefman Small Compact air fryer.

How could it be improved?

There aren't many specific improvements we'd recommend to improve the Chefman Small Compact air fryer. After all, discounting the general misconception (or misrepresentation?) of what an air fryer produces, the appliance did exactly what it promised: conveniently cooked both frozen and fresh foods in a simple, easy-to-use manner.

Of course, if there's one area where the air fryer could be improved, it may be its operating system aesthetic. Sure, the presence of two dials — one for temperature, the other for timing — makes the process incredibly easy. But we couldn't help but get an odd, dorm room-style George Foreman Grill vibe from the almost overly simplistic turning devices.

To be honest, though, we're nitpicking a bit here. That's not to say the Chefman Small Compact air fryer is a perfect product by any means, but it clearly does what's expected of it — and seemed to do it well. Frankly, given the inherent limitations of an air fryer's abilities, that may be as good as it gets.