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Air Fryers vs. Instant Pots

It’s a simple fact that life can get very busy. Most of us have experienced times when we need to get a meal cooked quickly, yet providing wholesome, healthy food for our families is a value seen by many. Small appliances, like air fryers and Instant Pots, make fast, healthy cooking possible, so it’s no wonder they’ve become quite popular in American kitchens today. A recent study explores attitudes towards both appliances and adds greater insight into these newer cooking trends.

Chef Lola’s Kitchen surveyed 1,155 U.S. adults (ages 18+) using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Prolific. We examined how frequently Americans use air fryers and/or Instant Pots, which features they’re relying on the most, and the types of meals that simply fell flat. 

Key Findings

  • More than one-third of adults own both an air fryer and an Instant Pot; however, most of them favor air frying (70%) over pressure cooking (29%).
  • 43% of men are very comfortable using an Instant Pot while only 24% of women feel the same way about these multi-cookers.
  • Surprisingly, chicken dishes landed on the most and least successful meal lists for both appliances.
  • Nearly one-third of Instant Pot owners admitted to “rarely” or “never” cleaning their sealing ring and anti-block shield.
  • Younger generations tend to use and like air fryers more than older Americans, with over 3 in 5 Millennials cooking in this appliance weekly.

Air Fryer and Instant Pot Habits

Although they share the same goal of cooking food quicker than more traditional methods, air fryers and Instant Pots work quite differently. An air fryer rapidly circulates hot air around your food to mimic the crispiness achieved by deep-frying. You only need to use a little oil to crisp your food in an air fryer. Certain recipes are even oil-free, further reducing the fat and calorie content.

The Instant Pot, on the other hand, is a more versatile multi-cooker that enables pressure cooking, slow cooking, steaming, and more (depending on the model). Some Instant Pots can also function as an air fryer when outfitted with a special lid.

Though an Instant Pot has more functions to offer a home cook, our study results showed that most people clearly preferred cooking with an air fryer. More than one-third of adults own both of these appliances, yet we saw a large favoritism towards air frying over pressure cooking among this group. While 70% of adults preferred air frying, only 29% preferred pressure cooking.

We also asked men and women how comfortable they feel when using the different functions of their Instant Pot. Only 24% of women were “very comfortable” using this appliance, while 43% of men reported the same feelings. Pressure cooking may make some home cooks nervous as you need to be extra cautious in order to avoid a kitchen catastrophe. For example, if you release the hot steam incorrectly, you could burn yourself.

For adults who own an Instant Pot, pressure cooking, slow cooking, and rice cooking were among the most commonly used features. This appliance is often used to cook meat hot and fast, so you can have a tender protein ready in a fraction of the time it would take in a slow cooker or oven. You can also use an Instant Pot to keep food warm, saute vegetables, and make yogurt. Deluxe versions feature canning, sterilization, and sous vide options, too.

What’s Everyone Cooking?

We next wanted to discover how people cook with these appliances. Most air fryer users (62%) admitted to tweaking existing recipes to achieve deliciously crispy food. Instant Pot users, however, preferred to use new recipes designed specifically for the multi-cooker (66%). Perhaps Instant Pot users are more adventurous and like to try new things. Or, maybe they’re just less familiar with pressure cooking and want to make sure their food turns out right with a tried-and-true recipe.

Survey respondents were then asked about the types of food they’ve prepared with an air fryer and/or Instant Pot. Chicken dishes were among the most successful meals made in both air fryers and Instant Pots; however, chicken was surprisingly also reported as one of the least successful meals. Chicken is a versatile protein and much of a recipe’s success depends on the cut of meat plus the way it’s seasoned and cooked. For example, air frying bone-in chicken will result in crispy skin and tender juicy meat, but air frying a plain boneless, skinless cut of chicken could dry the meat out. Other popular air-fried dishes include potatoes, fish, and frozen appetizers.

A Cookbook Revolution 

Though new appliances tend to come with their own recipe books, many people get their air fryer and Instant Pot recipes from social media. YouTube videos and Pinterest posts strongly influence what people are likely to cook with an air fryer or Instant Pot, according to our survey. Cookbooks, Facebook groups, and internet recipe searches are other methods people use to find new Instant Pot and air fryer recipes.

Quick Workday Recipes

Quick workday recipes are perfect for when you don’t have a lot of time to devote to cooking breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all of the above. For example, air frying frozen salmon is a fast and easy way to cook a healthy protein in about 15 minutes. The Instant Pot is also a great way to make or keep warm soups and stews or delectable meat recipes like roast beef or pulled pork/chicken. The warm feature is especially useful if not everyone will be eating the meal at the same time.

Meal Prepping for Beginners

Another way to get your meals ready faster is to start doing meal prep. Meal prepping for beginners can be as simple as making a dinner plan and shopping for the entire week in advance. When you get your groceries home (or delivered) take time to thoroughly wash and store your produce. If you have extra time and it’s something that will keep well in the fridge, you can prepare the produce by cutting or chopping it and storing in airtight containers. Otherwise, doing this step the night before you’ll need it works, too.

Cooking large batches of grains in your Instant Pot is another meal prep tip you may find useful if you need them for your weekly recipes. The same goes for cooking meats ahead of time and then using the cuts or shreds in multiple recipes throughout the week. Prepping helps you get a meal together more quickly when time is of the essence.

Kitchen Tool Maintenance and Care

Cleaning up after cooking isn’t something that most people look forward to, but single- and multi-purpose kitchen tools require regular maintenance and care to perform at their best. Nearly one-third (28%) of Instant Pot users admitted to “rarely” or “never” cleaning their sealing ring and anti-block shield. Improper care can lead to odor buildup and poor functioning, so be sure to always clean your appliances after each use.

Forty-three percent of air fryer users said they always clean their baskets and drawers after making food, which is essential to keeping oils from building up. It also turns out that men have more trouble caring for their appliances than women, as men were less likely than women (29% vs. 45%) to clean their air fryer after each use.

Future Outlook for Air Frying and Pressure Cooking

As with any trend, air fryers and Instant Pots may lose popularity over time; however, our research suggests that the younger generations are the biggest air fryer enthusiasts overall. If preparing food in an air fryer becomes a regular habit for older age groups, this cooking method may be here to stay for good. 

At the moment, slightly more than 3 out of 5 Millennials use an air fryer weekly. We also noted a trend that habitual use and positive views of air fryers increases in progressively younger generations.

For Gen Z, the debate between air fryers vs. Instant Pots is over. More than 80% of respondents within this young age group preferred air fryers. Our research also showed a distinct dropoff in the frequency of Instant Pot usage across younger generations. One plausible cause for this could be that younger adults don’t need to make larger meals to feed a family. Air fryers are better suited for making smaller dishes unless you cook in batches or upgrade to a larger appliance.

Conclusion

Air fryers and Instant Pots are popular small kitchen appliances found nationwide today. Younger generations prefer air fryers and tend to use them on a weekly basis. Cooking your meals in an air fryer or Instant Pot can be healthier (perhaps guilt-free) when compared to more traditional cooking methods. This of course depends on the recipe and ingredients. Maintaining these appliances should become more of a priority for most users in order to keep achieving delicious results.

Methodology

Chef Lola’s Kitchen surveyed 1,155 U.S. adults (ages 18+) using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Prolific. For the analysis, we defined baby boomers as respondents born between 1946 and 1964, Generation X as respondents born between 1965 and 1980, millennials as respondents born between 1981 to 1996, and Generation Z as respondents born after 1996.