If you don't plan to deep-fry a lot of food or you need just a side dish for a couple of people, a small deep fryer will use less oil and take up less space in the kitchen. Our best reviewed Presto CoolDaddy Cool-touch Deep Fryer (Est. $60) 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 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 that adjusts 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 small deep fryer's performance, noting that it doesn't take up a lot of storage space, but serves the purpose when needed.
If you want a healthier alternative to deep-frying but don't want to give up the authentic deep-fried taste, the T-fal ActiFry ($215) is more expensive but well worth it if you're committed to a healthier lifestyle. This multi-cooker can cook more than just fried foods, including 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 this multi-cooker produces great-tasting french fries and many other foods. In fact, some Amazon.com owners 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.
If you'd rather stick with traditional deep-frying methods, the Presto Digital ProFry Deep Fryer 05462 (*Est. $60) offers a slightly larger 9-cup capacity than the 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 don't use a deep fryer that frequently, you probably don't want to spend a lot of money on one. The Presto FryDaddy ($25 ) is one of the least expensive deep fryers available, and it earns solid owner feedback on consumer review sites. A few reviewers say this deep fryer is basically a glorified pan of oil, but some features make it more convenient than do-it-yourself frying.
For one thing, the FryDaddy heats up to the desired cooking temperature in about 10 minutes and requires less oil than traditional frying, only about 4 cups per use. Its nonstick pot removes for easy cleaning, but it's not dishwasher-safe. Second, the basket can be lowered with the lid in place from outside the pot, eliminating messy grease splatters that are tough to clean up. After you use this deep fryer and the oil has cooled, simply snap on the lid and refrigerate the entire pot to reuse the oil later.
The Presto 05411 GranPappy ($45) is similar in design but has a larger capacity of 6 cups. It heats up to the ideal frying temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit in about 15 minutes. A few owners complain that this deep fryer tends to burn foods on the outside, especially meats like chicken, while leaving the center uncooked. However, the vast majority says the GranPappy is ideal for simple frying purposes, and is easy to clean and store.
Small deep fryers have capacities of between 2 and 9 cups, while larger models can fry about 12 cups of food at a time. This makes larger fryers more suitable for families of four or more, especially if anyone tends to eat more than the 1-cup suggested serving size used by deep fryer manufacturers to determine capacity.
Our Best Reviewed Waring Pro 3-Basket Deep Fryer (Est. $100) has a large, 12-cup capacity and a handy three-basket design that makes it possible to cook either two smaller quantities of different foods or 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 if you prefer. 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 specific item like french fries and don't need a multi-basket design, the T-fal Ultimate EZ Clean Pro-Fryer ($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 also has a 12-cup 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.
On the downside, the oil reservoir for the T-fal's drainage system is about 2 cups smaller than the main oil pot, so when the oil drains completely, it will inevitably leak. However, a few Amazon.com owners say this problem occurs only if you fill the oil pot above the max fill line. This 1,700-watt deep fryer is almost as powerful as the Waring Pro, but because the fryer's a bit bulky, its various parts can take up quite a bit of space in a standard dishwasher. Some users post durability complaints about this model, so if quality is your top priority, the Waring Pro 3-Basket Deep Fryer may be a better buy.
Larger deep fryers are more expensive than their smaller counterparts, but some budget-priced models are half the price or less. The Presto Dual Basket ProFry ($80) has the same 12-cup capacity as the Waring Pro, plus two baskets for more versatile cooking options. There's no oil-collection pan or reservoir for reusing the oil or a single large basket option, but its enameled pot can pull double duty as a boiler or steamer.
The ProFry also boasts an 1,800-watt heating element for speedy heat-up and recovery times. The lid attaches securely to avoid messy and dangerous oil splatters, and is equipped with a filter for reducing frying odors. Another safety feature is a magnetic cord that detaches from the fryer when it's suddenly moved or knocked off a counter, disconnecting the power immediately and reducing the likelihood of fires and other hazards. The ProFry's handles fold in for easy storage but must be locked during use; they'll fall into the oil otherwise.
The Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Deep Fryer ($50) costs less than the Waring Pro but offers the same 12-cup capacity. It reaches the ideal frying temperature of 375 degrees Fahrenheit quickly and has a 1,500-watt heating element. However, there are some reports of malfunctioning units. Owners posting feedback at Amazon.com, Viewpoints.com and Walmart.com warn of mechanical problems such as defective heating elements and broken knobs, and a few users say oil doesn't reach desired temperatures. This bulky deep fryer can also be difficult to store.
Overall, the Waring Pro 3-Basket Deep Fryer is the most versatile option for the price. If cleanup is a top concern, the T-fal Ultimate EZ Clean Pro-Fryer offers a convenient filtering and drainage system, but beware of overfilling it or you'll have a bigger mess on your hands. If you don't fry foods frequently and want to spend less money, the Presto Dual Basket ProFry and Hamilton Beach 12-Cup Deep Fryer are both good choices.