Instant Pot vs air fryer: which is best for students?

If you’re looking for a quick, easy and cost-effective way to cook, which is best?

 Tower T17021 Family Size Air Fryer
(Image credit: Tower)

If you’re a student going back to school, college, university or the Birmingham School of Business School then one of the best things to pack into the back of the car, or order online for delivery when you arrive, is an air fryer. And another great thing to pack into the back of the car, or order online for delivery when you arrive, is an Instant Pot – or a multi-cooker made by someone other than Instant Brands, the 'Hoover' of pressure cookers with lots of buttons on the front. 

The best air fryer models are awesome appliances, but there’s actually another option worth considering in the shape of the Instant Pot or other multicooker machine. So, which one is best if you’re a constantly hungry student who wants a quick food fix on regular occasions?

Well, if you’re looking for a versatile cooking solution an Instant Pot or similar multi cooker like, say, the 11-in-1 Ninja Foodi could be a very good alternative to an air fryer. The real benefit of a multi cooker is that you can make a wider range of meals, many of which are in sauces, like casseroles and other slow cook meals. 

The bonus about that is you can cook a decent amount and have enough food to last you for days, rather than for one meal.

A fab combination between the two is something like the ever-popular Tefal Actifry Genius XL 2 in 1 machine. This is great at air frying all sorts of foodstuffs, but it’s also got a paddle inside the bowl that lets you make things like curries and stir-fries really easily. That’s a little pricey though. 

You may then be better off buying something with a lower ticket price, just in case your cooking appliance goes walkies in your student digs. There’s certainly oodles of choice out there.

What is a multi cooker?

Instant Pot Pro Plus

The Instant Pot is a great example of a multi cooker appliance

(Image credit: Instant Brands)

Multi cookers, as the name suggests, allows you to cook a whole array of different meals all within the confines of one pot. A great example of this is the range of Instant Pot models on the market, but this brand isn’t alone. Well-known kitchen appliance brand Ninja has the already-mentioned 11-in-1 model that lets you cook a multitude of dishes inside one machine.

While sceptics used to dismiss the multi cooker as nothing more than a fancy pressure cooker, the latest models have multiple cooking modes and lots of tricks up their sleeve that let you cook amazing meals without the need for anything else. 

If you’re living in a place where the kitchen isn’t big on space, or you want a quick and easy way to cook hot food without the need for an oven or hob then a multi cooker is a brilliant option. All you really need is a mains electric plug socket.

Does an air fryer have the edge over a multi cooker?

Xiaomi Mi Smart Air Fryer

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

Not necessarily. If you’re obsessed with eating crispy chips, supplemented by the likes of spicy chicken wings, spring rolls and other foodstuffs that are at their best with a high crunch factor, an air fryer will suffice. With practice it’s actually possible to cook lots of different things in an air fryer with a decent level of success too.

You can even use some models to bake things, although if you’re not motivated to learn the innermost secrets of your air fryer then it may remain just that. An air fryer is a real boon if you’re stuck for space, want a quick and easy solution for cooking food and don’t have much inclination to make meals from scratch. 

While an air fryer is tailor made for processed foodstuffs, like wings and spring rolls, they can also be amazing to use if you’re cooking with raw ingredients.

It’s a magical moment when you taste your first homemade, thick cut triple-cooked chips put it that way – and they’re about as easy as it gets to make from nothing more than a pile of cheap and cheerful spuds. Start to experiment, however, and you’ll be surprised at just how versatile an air fryer is. 

To get a handle on just how adaptable one can be, you should check out the best things to cook in an air fryer  to see what you can cook in one of these things.

Can I get an all-in-one air fryer and multi cooker?

Yes you can! Generally speaking, you'll find that air fryers do one thing and multi cookers do the other. However, there are one or two models out there that combine both air frying and multi cooking. The best example of this has to be the Ninja Foodi SmartLid, which can do, well, just about everything, in one big ol' pot. It's very neat.

Instant Pot's Duo Crisp + Air Fryer is, as the name suggests, another device that combines pressure cooker, slow cooker and umpteen other types of cooker with a crispy and on-trend air fryer. This is a fantastic device but it trails behind the Ninja SmartLid range for us because it doesn't have a 'smart' lid, it has two lids – if you want to air fry, you have to switch to a different lid. If storage space is scarce, that seems like a deal breaker. 

Air fryer or multi cooker – which one should I buy?

Philips HD9260/91

Air fryer or multi cooker models are super convenient

(Image credit: Philips)

Either type of appliance is going to be perfect if you’re a student heading back to school. Both are compact, offer a great way of cooking hot food without the need for an oven or hob and are invariably quite efficient. 

An air fryer should use less energy than a multi cooker as it’s probably not going to be on as long, but the latest model multi cookers are designed with efficiency firmly in mind.

Remember, the bonus factor with a multi cooker is that you can cook up a large bowl of casserole, stew or similar that’ll keep you in meals for days. Months if you’ve got access to a freezer.

However, if you regularly crave a feast of crunch fried food then an air fryer can be the perfect solution. There are literally loads of models to choose from, with price tags that range from bargain-basement models through to premium-level machines with lots more features and functionality.

Multi cookers and air fryers make life easier

Proscenic T21 Smart Air Fryer

If you're time poor or can't be bothered then an air fryer makes real sense

(Image credit: Proscenic )

If you’re serious about your food and want to explore the potential of an air fryer, head to the premium end of the spectrum as they can do pretty amazing things with a little bit of practice. Some come with apps, and recipes too. Others combine these and take you step-by-step through the process of cooking a whole meal. 

You might even get a model with an app that will tailor a recipe based on what you’ve got in your fridge!

The same goes for multi cooker machines mind, and the benefit is that some of these models can also air fry. Ideally, it might be worth investing in an air fryer and a multi cooker but if that seems a little like overkill, make sure you don’t head back to your studies without investing in at least one of the two.

Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital he has run the Innovation channel during a few years at Microsoft as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working he's usually out and about on one of numerous e-bikes in his collection.