The Instant Pot has garnered a huge fan base in recent years, and for good reason. Yes, it replaces your slow cooker and you can make yogurt in it (in some models anyway) but its real claim to fame is as an electric pressure cooker that can significantly shorten cooking time. Imagine braised short ribs in under an hour, or homemade pho in 30 minutes. The best part is that you can just set the timer and walk away, without having to tend to it like you would a stovetop version. It's been over two years since I purchased my Instant Pot Ultra, and it remains one of my favorite kitchen appliances.
That said, I found myself lusting after yet another trendy kitchen appliance: the air fryer. The idea behind it is that it can "fry" foods with just hot air and without the oily mess that deep-frying entails. However, as publications like Wirecutter and Cook's Illustrated point out, air fryers are nothing more than re-packaged convection ovens. If you do want crispy "air-fried" foods, Wirecutter recommends getting a countertop convection oven instead, which obviously has a lot more features than just air frying.
But I don't have room on my kitchen countertop for a convection oven. To be honest, I don't really even have enough room for an air fryer. Last year, however, I did learn about an intriguing alternative, called the Mealthy Crisplid. Made by Mealthy, an Instant Pot competitor, the Crisplid is an air fryer lid that could also be used with 6-quart and 8-quart Instant Pots. The lid houses the fan as well as a heating element, and you can use it to change your Instant Pot (or Mealthy multicooker) into an air fryer. The idea must've caught on, because late last year Instant Pot came out with the Duo Crisp, a combination pressure cooker and air-fryer, which has a similar concept. Yet, I didn't buy the Mealthy Crisplid (I just wasn't sure about the brand) and I didn't want to get a whole new Instant Pot.
Then, a few weeks ago, I discovered a brand new product called the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid (it retails for $140 but Amazon sells it for $80), which you can use with your existing Instant Pot. Released last November, this appeared to be Instant Pot's answer to the Mealthy Crisplid. At last, this seems like the answer to my woes. I should note here that the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid isn't compatible with all Instant Pots (it doesn't work with the Smart WiFi 60, Duo Evo Plus 60, Duo SV 60 or Max 60) and it only works with 6-quart models. You can go to this website to see a list of compatible devices.
Thrilled, I ordered it from Amazon. It arrived a few days later in a fairly large box, almost the size of the Instant Pot itself. Indeed, the Air Fryer Lid is not insignificant in size, measuring 13.8 by 13.7 by 12.8 inches. It weighs in at 11.7 pounds, which is not exactly feather-light, but I didn't find it to be too heavy. Bundled with the lid is a fryer basket and a metal insert, which you can use as a broiler tray or as a way to air-fry two tiers of food at once. There's also an Air Fryer Lid cover, which you can turn upside down to use as a resting spot for your lid when it's hot, so you won't damage your countertop.
Interestingly, the instructions note that you should not have the Instant Pot and the Air Fryer Lid plugged in at the same time. In fact, the Air Fryer Lid's plug has plastic webbing around it that covers up the other outlet when plugged in. The idea here is that the Air Fryer Lid is pretty powerful, and having a couple of devices plugged in might overwhelm the circuit.
Just to try it out, I used the Air Fryer Lid to heat up some frozen chicken nuggets and frozen tater tots. I sprayed the basket with cooking spray, placed the tater tots at the bottom of the basket and the nuggets on the metal insert (the entire basket should already be in the stainless steel inner pot). Then I put the Air Fryer Lid on top — it took a little adjusting before I figured out how to place it properly, but thankfully the Lid makes that recognizable Instant Pot locking tune when it's fitted correctly. I selected "Air Fry" at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes and hit start. The Air Fryer Lid came to life, and in just a few minutes it reached the desired temperature, which is far faster than my traditional oven.
About halfway through, the Air Fryer Lid beeped loudly, with the words "Turn Food" on its display. I then removed the lid and proceeded to, well, turn the food. From reading other air fryer recipes, this seems to be unique to the Air Fryer Lid. Most other air fryers just recommend you shake the basket around, and even that's up to you; there's certainly no flashing reminder of it on the device itself.
I also found it a little difficult to take out the hot metal insert (even with heat protectant gloves), and I had to fiddle with a couple of chopsticks to remove it in order to stir up the tots. I later jerry rigged a solution by creating a makeshift hook out of aluminum foil, which worked in a pinch, but was rather annoying. Still, after 20 minutes or so, the food was done. Both the nuggets and tots tasted just as good as if I had made them in a traditional oven, except they were maybe a little crispier. And obviously the cook time was a whole lot faster.
Next, I attempted to cook actual non-frozen food with it. I used the New York Times recipe for Air-Fryer Spicy Chicken Wings, as well as my own cobbled-together recipe for buffalo cauliflower bites. The Instant Pot fryer basket is pretty small, but I still managed to cram in a pound of wings. To my delight, they cooked beautifully. They weren't as crunchy as deep-fried wings of course, but they were crisp enough for me. When bathed in honey chile sauce, they tasted absolutely delicious.
The buffalo cauliflower bites were more of an experiment, as I wasn't following a recipe. I cut up some cauliflower florets, dipped them in beaten egg and then coated them in seasoned flour. I placed the bites in a single layer in the basket, and then spritzed everything with cooking spray. I then slapped on the Air Fryer Lid, set it for 400 degrees and just kept checking every 10 minutes or so to see if it was done (basically when they're properly browned). In retrospect, I should've just used breadcrumbs or something else, because the flour coating took a long time to cook properly, and I had to futz with it a lot. I did finally get it all cooked, however, and tossed them in a bit of butter with lots of hot sauce, and they tasted great in the end.
On the whole, I have mixed feelings about the Air Fryer Lid. Yes, it does the job, but there are a few things about it that bother me. The small fryer basket means you'll have to cook in multiple batches, which takes up time. It also means you're restricted by what size of food you want to put in it. Most air fryer recipes online appear to have been developed with traditional air fryers, so you'll have to adjust not just the amount, but also the temperature and cook time to fit the Instant Pot. Having to turn and flip the food while air frying is also a little bothersome. To be honest, if I had a choice, I'd much prefer a normal air fryer or a convection oven over the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid, if only due to the size constraint.
But then, the Air Fryer Lid does more than just air fry. It basically turns your Instant Pot into a mini oven, so I could use it for roasting, baking, broiling or dehydrating too (those also happen to be the other preset buttons on the Air Fryer Lid). According to the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid Cookbook, you could use it in a multi-step cooking process along with the Instant Pot itself — so you'd make mac and cheese in the Instant Pot, for example, and then brown additional melted cheese on top with the Air Fryer Lid. I haven't done this yet, but I love the idea.
In the end, I don't mind the Air Fryer Lid, and will likely keep it. As mentioned, it comes to temperature a lot faster than a traditional oven, and it does a wonderful job crisping up food without the mess of deep-frying. Importantly, it also saves me a ton of counter space, as it fits on top of my existing Instant Pot, and I can easily stow the lid away in a cabinet when not in use. To all the other Instant Pot fans out there, I'd recommend giving it a go — but only if you're short on counter space like I am.