Instant Pot just released their first air fryer—is it worth it?
We tested the Instant Vortex Plus on all its abilities.
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Just nine years ago, there was no such thing as an Instant Pot. Sure, there were electric pressure cookers that could also slow cook and steam, but they weren’t particularly big sellers. Thanks to a clever name and social media, the Instant Pot very quickly revolutionized the category, joining the ranks of Kleenex, Scotch tape, Tupperware, and Band-Aid as a household term for a product actually available from many brands.
Now with its new Vortex Plus, the company that made the Instant Pot is trying to do for air frying what it did for pressure cooking. However, unlike the sleepy pressure cooker, the air fryer is already huge, and there’s lots of big names in the category. In order to be another game changer, the Vortex Plus will have to give other air fryers a real run for their money.
So, we tested the Vortex Plus to find out if it's the best thing since the Instant Pot.
How does the Vortex Plus look and feel?
Big and boxy, the Vortex Plus competes in size with the Philips XXL air fryer and the Cuisinart Compact Air Fryer. With its black plastic and stainless-steel housing, it hits a middle ground aesthetically with a look that’s neither cheap nor upscale. It has a glass door similar to the ones on toaster ovens, but you have to give it a bit of a tug to pry it open.
For cleaning, you can remove the door. However, taking it off and putting it back are tricky and give you the feeling that inevitably one of the tabs on the bottom of the door will break.
The Vortex comes with both a stainless-steel rotisserie basket for small items like fries and nuggets and a spit for a chicken or roast; both attachments can be set to rotate as they air fry or roast. It takes a bit of a learning curve to get the hang of installing them. You get a device to remove them without singeing your fingers. Also included are two slotted nonstick cooking trays and a nonstick drip pan for the bottom of the fryer. As you don’t need all the parts every time you cook, you’ll have to find some place to stash the ones you aren’t using.
The digital control panel lights up when you plug the unit in. While it’s clearly laid out and intuitive to operate, the lettering is on the small side. The Vortex preheats automatically but rather than read out preheat, it reads “On” until the set temperature is reached, which is initially confusing (unless you’re already familiar with this from the Instant Pot).
When the unit is preheated, the display prompts you to add food and then alternates between showing the temperature and remaining time. For each setting, there is a default time and temperature, but you can change them with up and down arrows. At some point, for some functions, the panel beeps and instructs you to turn the food.
During cooking, you can turn on an interior light to check on your food’s progress, and it comes on automatically during the last few minutes of cooking.
What can the Vortex Plus do?
First and foremost, the Vortex Plus is an air fryer. However, like most air fryers it can also perform other types of cooking that depend on hot air movement, including baking, roasting, broiling, dehydrating, and reheating. Its most unique feature is that it is also a rotisserie.
What we like
- It air fries well when you use a cooking tray rather than the rotisserie basket.
- The control panel is easy to navigate.
- It has a bright interior light.
- All the parts are dishwasher safe and some have nonstick finishes.
What we don’t like
- It is large.
- There's extra parts to store.
- The manual that comes with it handicaps the product. There are no detailed directions, few recommended foods, and no suggested amounts or sample recipes to act as a guide.
- It’s noisy.
- The rotisserie basket is tricky to use and doesn’t give better results than the cooking trays for air frying.
How does it perform?
The Vortex Plus air fries fast and well when you air fry on a cooking tray and not in the rotisserie basket. However, for many items, like French fries, the manual calls for using the basket. Although the 10-quart capacity is one of the Vortex’ selling points, you’re given no idea as to how much food to cook at one time. You can fill up the basket with more food than you can arrange on a tray but you get much poorer results. Installing the basket in the fryer is a little tricky and when it’s time to take the lid off, you risk burning yourself.
The unit comes with two cooking trays, but no recommendations as to whether or not you can air fry on two trays at once. I was able to cook two trays of fries at the same time but needed to rotate the trays and extend the cooking time for even results, which I wish the manual had suggested.
Here, too, the user guide leaves you a bit in the dark. It only gives instructions for “Cake” which it recommends baking in a springform pan. The largest size pan that fits in the oven is 8 inches. I baked banana bread in a loaf pan, using the temperature called for on the cake mix package. While the loaf rose nicely, baked 20 minutes faster than called for, and had a good texture, it was way too dark on top. If the manual had given directions for adjusting temperatures or I had played around with the temperature and time, I expect I could have gotten better results.
After seeing that the website suggests covering cakes to prevent over browning, I repeated the test, covering the loaf with aluminum foil; I did get better coloring but less of a rise and needed to extend the cooking time by 10 minutes. Having said all this, it’s certainly easy enough to bake a cake in an oven, an appliance found in virtually every household, so save on the holidays when your oven is tied up with the turkey, why would you want to bake in an air fryer?
In just 50 minutes, I spit-roasted a 3 and ¾ pound chicken and it came out perfect, with a crisp brown skin all over, even on the bottom, which is hard to achieve in a roasting pan in a conventional oven. (And trust me, I’ve roasted birds in almost every brand of pan and oven.) However, inserting the spit into the chicken and then arranging it in the oven wasn’t explained in the manual. There were some instructions online but they weren’t clear and I still needed to experiment to figure out the technique.
In order to prevent the chicken from flopping around on the spit, I had to truss it with string, something that wasn’t suggested by the manufacturer. An inexperienced cook might not have string on hand or know how to tie up a bird.
This function, which only works on 400°F which is technically too low for broiling, actually did quite a nice job of cooking burgers quickly.
Using both racks, I was able to dehydrate nine apricots. However, no time and temperature recommendations were made and using the default settings resulted in insufficiently dried fruit. By using a higher heat setting you could dry a small amount of food if you’re willing to listen to the unit whirring away for seven hours or longer.
If you have a microwave oven, or even a burner, you probably won’t be using this setting. To heat a small casserole of macaroni and cheese from fridge to just-about-serving temp took 30 minutes.
Instant Pot offers a one-year limited warranty on the Vortex Plus.
What owners say
The Vortex Plus is so new it’s only available at Walmart. To date, it has 4.4 out of 5 stars out of 208 reviews on Walmart’s website. Reviews have titles like “Love it!” and “Best thing since sliced bread.” Among the few complaints are that it’s noisy, “cheaply made,” and that the rotisserie stopped working.
Is the Vortex Plus worth it?
If you're looking for an air fryer and are willing to experiment to learn how to use it, you may be pleased with the Vortex Plus. Just don’t depend on the manual to give you much help. You might also like the rotisserie function if you have the patience to figure out how to use it. However, the fact that there are already consumers complaining that the rotisserie stopped working makes us a little concerned about its durability. Bottom line: The reason to buy this is for air frying, and there are better air fryers out there.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.
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