The two big cooking sensations of the last few years have unquestionably been multi cookers – Instant Pots and very similar, rival products made by brands other than Instant Pot – and air fryers. A few products have combined the two quite successfully, but have required two lids – a pressure cooker lid for Instant Pot duties and one with a heating element and fan in for air frying.
However, the Ninja Foodi SmartLid, as its name suggests, has a 'Lid' that is 'Smart' and so can do both jobs while wearing only one hat, so to speak. You can get a better idea of what a serious machine this is when you see its full name: Ninja Foodi MAX 15-in-1 SmartLid Multi-Cooker with Smart Cook System 7.5L. Or if you want a shorter version, the official code name of OL750UK. Licensed to cook.
I was dubious about both Instant Pots – just because you put a million buttons on the front of a pressure cooker, it's still a pressure cooker – and also air fryers, since the oven chip already exists. However I have been using one of these big mamas for a month now and while I've barely scratched the surface of what it can do, I'm seriously impressed. Rob Clymo may rave about his Tefal XL 2in1 and Tower 10-in-1 Air Fryer Xpress Pro Combo but my fryer is a 15-in-1, so I win. For me, it’s both the best air fryer AND the best multi-cooker you can buy. Although in the interests of democracy and affordability it’s not actually #1 in either of those lists.
With the Foodi MAX, Ninja hasn't just combined an air fryer and a pressure cooker – although that is a very clever trick on its own. It's also added a lot of the sophisticated cooking functions found in expensive modern, full-sized ovens. You get a temperature probe, which makes it essentially impossible to under- or overcook meat. There are also various steam cooking functions that can give quite sensational results.
To buy a decent, full-sized steam oven with temperature probe would cost you at least £700. Sure, a full-sized oven is also a lot bigger, but the Foodi Max is by no means small. Its capacity of 7.5 litres is enough for anything short of a leg of lamb or big beef rib roast.
The real genius of the Foodi Max is you can follow recipes found online and create delicious meals with ease, or more experienced/adventurous chefs can easily improvise their own. Although there aren't many recipes specifically for Ninja's big pot, Instant Pot recipes are easy to adapt for its pressure cooker settings because, well, a pressure cooker is a pressure cooker.
Although I think it will take me a while to get my head around all 15 settings on this beast, I've already had some successes. This week I did a butterflied lamb leg marinated in rosemary and garlic on the steam roast setting. I had potatoes sat in some stock underneath to produce the steam and when the cooking time was nearly up I poured off the excess liquid to make gravy and briefly air fried the spuds so they weren't soggy, while the perfectly cooked lamb rested. The result was, if I say so myself, MWAH! Chef's kiss.
Using the air fry and steam roast settings gave subtly different but equally impressive results with chicken. I haven't been able to properly crisp up the skin yet but the meat was incredibly succulent and flavoursome both times.
Oh yeah, and it can also be used to cook bread – and to prove the dough to make that bread. If you've ever wondered what a 7.5-litre sized loaf of bread looks like, now's your chance. You can make smaller loaves as well, of course. Thanks to the steam functions it's also apparently great for baking cakes.
The pressure cooker setting, of course, is great for stews and soups. However it also comes in handy to reduce the cooking time on larger joints of meat that you would normally slow cook. Although there is also a slow cooker setting of course, if you aren't so worried about time.
With a decent hotplate setting to sauté veg, sear meat and reduce sauces and gravy after cooking is over, I am increasingly finding myself ignoring my hob, oven and my huge and expensively assembled array of pans.
But while the Foodi MAX is a lot of fun for an 'experimental' cook like me, it would obviously also be a great purchase for a parent cooking for the family. With most recipes, this one-pot wonder can be largely left to do its thang, while you enjoy wine o'clock and entertain/monitor the kids.
Possibly the novelty of the Foodi MAX will wear off in time but for now I'm a convert, and I can't wait to find out what else this multi-cooking marvel can do. It's taken two cheap appliances in the air fryer and Instant Pot and reinvented them as a genuinely high-end cooking device. Oh and one final bonus: it's dead easy to clean as well.
It‘s available outside the UK too
This mega machine is also available in Australia and in the USA, where it is known as OL701 for some reason. Here are the best deals on the Foodi Max SmartLid wherever you may be.