If there’s one gadget the world has become completely obsessed with over the last few years, it’s the best air fryers. In what is probably the result of the numerous lockdowns endured throughout the pandemic – when we were cooped up in our homes and forced to cook for ourselves – air fryers quickly became the talk of the town. And it’s no wonder. It was a time when most people had to dish up three meals a day in the confines of their own kitchens. Making meal times more efficient and novel, air fryers became an obvious purchase. Fry everything with less guilt, you say? Yes, please!
Sales figures tell a similar story. According to shopping comparison site PriceRunner, the top-selling air fryers surged in popularity by more than 3,000% last year. And no prizes for guessing who was leading the charge there. Yep, good ol’ Ninja. In fact, Ninja’s AF400UK was not only the most popular air fryer on the retailer’s website, but had seen sales rocket by more than 22,000% in the year leading up to last November.
While traditionalists might argue air fryers are a fad, I suspect they won’t be going anywhere any time soon. And so, it makes perfect sense for me to review Ninja’s latest and greatest, the (deep breath!) Ninja Foodi MAX Dual Zone Air Fryer AF451UK (DZ550 in the US). I’ve been testing this air fryer for the past month or so and here’s what I think…
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Ninja Foodi MAX AF451UK review: design & build
Those who already know a thing or two about air fryers might have noticed that the Ninja AF451UK is almost identical in looks to its predecessor, the Ninja Foodi MAX Dual Zone Air Fryer AF400UK (DZ401 in the US). And so it’s probably worth investigating, briefly, what separates these two models before I get down to the business of reviews.
While the AF451UK’s control panel has been given a bit of a 'zhuzh', switching out the central dial for more minimal buttons to make everything digital, there is the addition of a much more compelling bit of kit: the Digital Cooking Probe. This neat innovation comes in the form of a detachable metal prong that can precisely monitor your food’s temperature during cooking. Stored in the side of the machine and plugged in when needed (i.e. cooking big slabs of meat), this savvy accessory allows you to select from a number of pre-set cooking options via the air fryer’s display panel, such as meat type and level of er, doneness. You then leave the probe in place while the meat cooks, be it from rare to well done, and the AF451UK will let you know when your food is ready to be devoured.
I managed to fit a whole 2kg chicken in one of the drawers and cooked it to perfection using this probe, and what was great about it was I could go off and watch Coronation Street in peace without worrying about checking on it every 15 minutes to ensure it wouldn't be underdone or overcooked when the timer goes off. In my experience, this probe worked terrifically well every time - but more on performance later. For now, let’s focus on how the AF451UK stacks up in terms of design.
First impressions. Honestly? I was somewhat disappointed when I unsheathed this Ninja air fryer from its packaging. Before that point, I’d been using the aforementioned Foodi MAX Health Grill for all my air frying needs, which is exceptionally well built. It's made from some really heavy-duty materials; it feels robust and more than ready to stand the test of time. This wasn’t what sprang to mind the first time I saw the AF451UK. If anything, I thought it had a budget feel to it. For one, the chrome accents are made from a really cheap-looking plastic. The drawers are lightweight with thin walls. The entire device doesn’t scream quality in the same way that my Ninja health grill does.
Build quality aside, the AF451UK is aesthetically pleasing, especially perched in pride of place on my kitchen countertop. The control panel has a nice solid feel to it while being satisfyingly easy to operate. Its flat top is also a welcome design feature for those with limited space, as it means you can store things on there that you might otherwise have had to relegate to a cupboard to make room, like a toaster (yes, I am speaking from experience).
Jokes aside, this air fryer, like most, is by no means slimline. Measuring 32.5 x 41.5 x 27cm, if you’re short on countertop space in your kitchen, you might have to seriously consider where this thing might go. For me, it’s something I knew I’d be using often, so was totally worth sacrificing some crucial worktop space for.
Ninja Foodi MAX AF451UK review: perfomance & features
When it comes to performance, let’s get straight to the point. Just as expected (you only have to read our many four and five-star Ninja appliance reviews to see why it wasn’t a surprise), the AF451UK works almost perfectly every time. I’m yet to use the appliance and feel disappointed with the results. It really is that good. Pure and simple.
But what makes it so good? For one, it’s absolutely bursting with features, all of which help to make the device easy to use and efficient for all cooking scenarios. There are six cooking options: air fry, max crisp air fry, bake, roast, dehydrate, and reheat. The only thing it’s missing is the option to grill. Ninja clearly wants you to buy a separate health grill for that. In my tests, each and every function has worked as expected, even when I tried dehydrating some oranges ahead of my weekend of negroni sipping.
The real winner in owning this air fryer, though, is how easy it is to cook a full meal using just one appliance: Throw some chopped potatoes, even with the skins on, in one drawer, set to fry for 20 minutes, and bang some marinated chicken in the other, stab in the Digital Cooking Probe and hit the roast setting before enabling the Sync feature and before you know it you’ve got perfectly cooked chicken and wedges, ready to eat at the same time.
One slight niggle here is that it does take some time to figure out just how Sync works. My first time using it saw me stabbing at the button with no success, but I soon realised that you need to press the Sync button after you’ve set the cooking method and time for each drawer and before you hit start. D’oh! All it does here is pause cooking on the side with the shorter cook time until both countdown timers align so that the food finishes cooking in both sides at the same time.
Next to the option to sync up your drawers is the Match button. This is for those times you’re cooking a larger quantity of the same thing, and simply want to cook the exactly same thing in both drawers, you can set the cooking method and time in one drawer and hit the match button without having to set it separate for the other. Not a super important feature but one that does make things slightly more efficient if you’re cooking against the clock.
As for capacity, you can fit a surprisingly decent amount of food in each side of the air fryer. As I mentioned earlier, a 2kg chicken sits comfortably inside each 4.75L drawer, equal to about 1.5kg of fries if you’re veggie. This is definitely enough for 2-3 people. Ninja claims this capacity can feed a family of four, but I guess it just depends on the particulars of the family in question, or how greedy they are. If you’re using the AF451UK to cook for yourself, your partner and your two teenage up-and-coming rugby star sons then you better think again.
Another claim that Ninja makes in its marketing of this product is that it can cook “up to 75% faster” than traditional fan ovens. While it can definitely help to save on cooking time and energy costs, in my experience, I’m not too sure if it’s able to match the results of a traditional oven in just a quarter of the time. I’ve found roast potatoes, for instance, can be cooked to perfection in 20-25 minutes in the AF451UK. However, my pretty standard fan oven can roast them to a similar finish in 60-70 minutes, which is about a third of the time.
One great feature that I should mention here, however, is how easy the AF451UK is to clean. The grill plates pop out of the bottom and can be thrown in the dishwasher. In fact, the entire drawer pulls and can be cleaned in the dishwasher, too, which makes meal times much less of a hassle.
In the past, I’ve always used manual tools over electric appliances like food processors for dinner preparation tasks such as grating or chopping, mainly because the rigmarole of washing up afterwards would always outweigh the efficiency of slicing veg at break-neck speed. Well, I’m pleased to report that this isn’t the case with the AF451UK. Empty any remnants out of the drawer into a food waste bin, bang it in the dishwasher and job’s a good ‘un!
Ninja Foodi MAX AF451UK review: pricing
Considering the amount of features and performance you get from this air fryer, it's not a terrible price although it is significantly more expensive than other Ninja models and other brands offerings. However, Ninja often runs deals on its products so you should be able to get a discount.
Ninja Foodi MAX AF451UK review: verdict
If you’re looking for an air fryer that can do it all, I truly think you’re not going to get any better than the Ninja Foodi MAX Dual Zone Air Fryer AF451UK. This appliance is easily one of the best in its class. Not only do you have a choice of six different cooking methods – from air fry and roast to bake and even dehydrate – but there’s a super smart dual cook feature that can ensure two different foods are correctly cooked, simultaneously, and are ready to eat at the same time. The addition of the Digital Cooking Probe is also a game changer for those who regularly cook meat dishes, especially big roast joints of beef or lamb, as it cooks the meat to your desired level without needing your constant attention.
Ninja’s AF451UK really does take the effort out of cooking (and post-meal washing up) and it’s for this reason, among many others, that I regard it one of the smartest, most feature-rich and best-performing air fryers on the market right now.