Deep fryers offer restaurant-style cooking at home
Onion rings. French fries. Chicken wings. These are a few of everyone's favorite things, but cooks are often challenged to get that classic, restaurant-quality deep-fried texture and flavor at home. The good news is that today's home deep fryers perform almost as well as the professional models used in restaurants, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars on restaurant food -- not to mention tips, gas and time.
The best deep fryers are easy to use and clean, come up to the right temperature within a reasonable time (although some large oil fryers can take up to 30 minutes), and quickly come back to that temperature after the food is lowered into the oil, to crisp the outside of the food, without the inside becoming soggy or absorbing too much oil. As for oil-less fryers -- the best give you that fried-in-oil taste and texture, without the hassle of dealing with oil.
Capacity is one of the main considerations when buying a deep fryer. Most standard models have a capacity of 2 to 9 cups, while some larger fryers can cook up to 12 cups of food at a time. Families of three to four people generally prefer larger-capacity fryers so they don't have to prepare multiple, consecutive batches, which can make recovery time -- how quickly the fryer can return to the proper cooking temperature after foods are introduced -- an issue.
Types of deep fryers
Electric deep fryers are a convenient alternative to the old-fashioned method of using a large pot filled with oil on the stovetop. The best electric deep fryers have enclosed heating elements that are safer than using a substantial amount of oil over an open flame, and many electric deep fryers come with lids that prevent splatters from creating a mess and causing burns. Most of the home deep fryers in this report are electric models.
Propane deep fryers are meant to be used outdoors. They either have a dedicated propane hook-up that can be used with a tank or natural gas line, or they are meant to be used over a propane stove. The latter type are merely large stockpots that include fryer kits -- usually a thermometer, poultry rack and lid.
Oil-less deep fryers can be powered by electricity or propane. This type of home deep fryer is a versatile cooking unit designed to produce the same restaurant-style fried taste without the hassle, expense and mess of dealing with large amounts of cooking oil. Many of these also steam or perform other cooking tasks, like stir-frying.
About turkey deep fryers
Deep frying has become a popular way to cook turkeys, particularly for large holiday gatherings when the stove and oven are filled to capacity with side dishes and desserts. Turkey deep fryers come in all configurations -- electric or propane, oil or oil-less. The only difference between a turkey deep fryer and other home deep fryers is that you need to have the interior capacity for a large bird. However, many people don't like to deep fry a large turkey, even if the manufacturer says the deep fryer has the ability to do so; they prefer frying two smaller birds of about 10 to 12 pounds, saying they get better results.
Many turkey fryers must be used outside, but we found a great indoor turkey fryer as well. The prices for turkey fryers have come down in recent years, and won't bust a hole in your wallet; however, if you're using oil, be sure to budget for that.
Finding the best deep fryers
There aren't many professional tests of deep fryers; those done by editors at ConsumerReports.com and TheSweetHome.com are very limited in scope, though we did find one helpful roundup of nine models at Saveur.com. Because of that, we turned to retail sites such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com and ChefsCatalog.com, to name a few, analyzing thousands of reviews for long-term, real-world experiences with home deep fryers. Owners tend to be passionate about their cookers, and the reviews we read were detailed -- some were even updated after several years of the owner using his or her deep fryer. The result of that research is our recommendations for the home deep fryers with the best combination of performance, ease of use and durability.
The best deep fryers
If you don't plan to deep-fry a lot of food or you need just a side dish for a couple of people, the Presto 05442 CoolDaddy Deep Fryer (Est. $45) has a 6-cup capacity that owners say generally satisfies about two people, depending on your serving size preferences. With 1,600 watts of power, this small deep fryer heats up quickly and recovers fast after foods are added, resulting in crisp, evenly cooked foods.
The Presto CoolDaddy has a useful feature that eliminates the annoying -- and sometimes painful -- grease splatters that are common when adding foods to a heated pot of oil. The basket has an exterior handle that's used to lower the basket into the oil with the lid closed, which then prevents grease from splattering outside the unit when it comes in contact with cold or frozen foods. The lid also contains a charcoal air filter, which reduces the unpleasant frying odors that tend to infiltrate kitchens where deep fryers are used.
There are no fancy digital controls on the CoolDaddy, just a simple knob to adjust the desired oil temperature up to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. The non-stick interior pot is removable for cleaning, although it's not dishwasher-safe. Overall, reviewers are pleased with this home deep fryer's performance, noting that it doesn't take up a lot of storage space, but serves the purpose when they have a craving for fried food. We review the black model here, but the CoolDaddy 05443 (Est. $36) is the same fryer with a white finish. However, owners say it stains more easily and is harder to clean. This deep fryer is backed by a one-year warranty.
The Presto 05462 Digital ProFry (Est. $50) offers a slightly larger capacity than the Presto 05442 CoolDaddy Cool-touch Deep Fryer. It's also a bit more powerful for faster cooking with a 1,800-watt heating element. The heating element and pot both remove for easy cleaning but must be hand-washed.
If you need even less capacity than the 6-cup Presto 05442, the 4-cup Presto 05420 (Est. $25) earns solid owner feedback on consumer review sites. A few users say this deep fryer is basically a glorified pan of oil, but some features make it more convenient than that, such as a snap on lid that enables you to refrigerate the oil right in the pot to reuse later -- just be sure the oil has cooled first. One thing owners like is that the basket can be lowered with the lid in place from outside the pot, eliminating messy grease splatters. The nonstick pot removes for easy cleaning, but it's not dishwasher-safe.
If you want an oil-free alternative to deep-frying but don't want to give up the authentic deep-fried taste, the T-fal FZ7002 ActiFry (Est. $180) is more expensive but well worth it, users say, if you're trying to cut back on your fat consumption or just don't want the hassle of dealing with large quantities of cooking oil. This versatile deep fryer can cook more than just fried foods; you can use it to create risotto, stir-fry dishes and more. Its paddle automatically stirs food and a digital timer buzzes to alert you when time is up, so cooking is practically hands-free.
The ActiFry generally requires about 1 tablespoon of oil to moisten foods and reduce sticking, but users say it produces great-tasting French fries and many other foods. In fact, some say they can't tell the difference between foods made with the ActiFry and those made with a traditional deep fryer. The T-fal ActiFry has a capacity of about 2.2 pounds and is backed by a one-year limited warranty.
Large deep fryers are best for bigger families
Owners say the Waring Pro DF280 Professional Deep Fryer (Est. $95) is a great choice for larger serving sizes. It has a generous, 12-cup capacity and a handy three-basket design that makes it possible to use the two smaller baskets to cook two different foods at once, or the large basket to cook a larger quantity of one type of food. Its 1,800-watt heating element heats up the fryer quickly and maintains the ideal frying temperature. It does require a lot of oil, about 1 gallon per use, but oil can be reused a few times depending on how well it's filtered. A pour spout drains the oil quickly and easily, so you can strain it through a filter and store it for reuse. The Waring Pro has a removable, dishwasher-safe bowl for easy cleaning, and stay-cool handles so you can move it around without burning your hands or wearing bulky oven mitts.
If you use a deep fryer for only one food item a time and don't need a multi-basket design, the T-fal FR8000 (Est. $120) also gets positive feedback from owners. It costs a bit more than the Waring Pro, but has a built-in filtration system that reduces the work involved in draining and filtering oil for reuse. It's available in a 2.2 pound or 2.65 pound capacity, but with just a single basket. A locking lid with a built-in filter keeps smoke and odors from filling the room, and most of its parts are dishwasher-safe.