The Ninja Foodi rolls all our favorite gadgets into one
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Sometimes you feel like crispy fried chicken, sometimes you feel like tender pot roast. One day you have time to fiddle in the kitchen, yet the next you might just want to set it and forget it. There are appliances to meet every need, but who has enough counter and cabinet space to accommodate them all? Ninja Foodi (available at Amazon for $199.99) to the rescue.
Unlike any gadget we’ve seen before, this new multicooker can air fry, pressure cook, or slow cook almost anything according to your whim. And amazingly, it does all three things extraordinarily well. For around $200, it’s not cheap, but it’s definitely a bargain and a space saver compared to all the appliances it can help you replace—including your Instant Pot. It even won our badge for best upgrade pick in the Reviewed multicooker roundup. Not convinced? Here’s everything I learned about the Foodi through testing it in my own kitchen.
One glance at the Foodi and R2-D2 comes to mind. It’s round and bulky with a curved top and a digital control panel across its belly. With its black housing, it looks functional, not decorative, and anyone who comes into your kitchen is likely to ask, “What’s that?” When you go to lift the whole thing, you realize it’s solidly built and quite heavy, so once you plunk it on your countertop, you’ll want to leave it there. Although it does have handles that make it easy to maneuver when you have to.
The Foodi comes with two lids—a crisping lid, which is permanently attached by a hinge and is used for air frying and other non-pressurized functions, and a pressure lid, for pressure cooking, slow cooking and steaming. The device also comes with a cooking pot, a crisping basket, and an interior rack. Unfortunately, this means you’re not totally off the hook when it comes to storage space. You’ll have to find a place in your cabinets to keep the parts that aren’t being used.
The control panel is clearly laid out, has mercifully large and easy-to-read markings, and is intuitive to navigate. The cooking pot and the crisping basket have a ceramic nonstick finish that gives them the look of cheap cookware, but ultimately makes them very easy to clean. We tested the model with a 6.5-quart cooking pot, but one with a larger 8-quart pot is also available.
Ninja calls the Foodi “a pressure cooker that crisps” and hawks its “TenderCrisp Technology,” but this description sells it a bit short. The Foodi can function totally independently as an air fryer, a pressure cooker, and a slow cooker. You can also choose to pressure cook and then air fry to achieve a browned, crisped exterior—that’s the TenderCrisp part.
The Foodi also features Sear/Sauté, Steam, Bake/Roast, Broil, and Dehydrate functions, combining the best of most multicookers and air fryers. It’s accompanying cookbook has recipes for using the functions in various combinations. For example, there’s one for pressure cooking ribs until they’re tender, then finishing them on the Air Crisp setting. Another has you cook chicken and rice on the Pressure setting, then switch to Broil to brown and crisp the chicken along with carrots.
After pressure or slow cooking or steaming, the Foodi automatically goes into a keep warm mode which will stay on for 12 hours or until you turn it off. It counts up to show you how long it’s been since your food finished cooking.
They one major thing the Foodi can't do is grill, but Ninja has that covered with the Ninja Foodi Grill, which we'll be testing along with the Ninja Foodi Air Fry Oven and plus-sized Ninja Foodi Deluxe this fall.
The Foodi delivered exactly what you’d expect from a pressure cooker. After taking about six minutes to come up to pressure, it only took 40 minutes to cook short ribs until they were falling off the bone in a nicely thickened sauce (as opposed to about two and a half hours on the stovetop).
The Foodi does take an inordinately long time to drop pressure naturally, over 30 minutes. However, there’s also a quick release setting if you’re worried about overcooking or just getting impatient. Unlike many pressure cooker lids, the cover is easy to align and click into place. In our story on the best pressure cookers we dubbed it our upgrade pick for its prowess at making chili, chicken soup, and rice.
I’ve tested an awful lot of air fryers and consider the Ninja Foodi among the best. Frozen and homemade French fries and chicken nuggets came out browned and crunchy. Chicken breasts dipped in batter developed a crisp coating. And although it does require preheating, the Ninja air fries quickly and delivers deeper coloring than most air fryers we’ve tested.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of slow cookers. Often, I find they cook at too high a temperature, leaving you with mushy and tasteless or dry and stringy meat. With that said, I’m giving the Foodi what I consider my highest praise—I’d use it myself on the slow cook setting. Beef stew came out absolutely delicious, with meat you could cut with a fork sitting in a rich gravy.
To explore the Foodi’s so-called TenderCrisp function, I first followed Ninja’s recipe for Herb-Roasted Chicken, which calls for pressure cooking a whole chicken and then browning it on the Air Crisp setting. To my astonishment, the chicken came out both tender and crisp! And it required less time than in an oven. Having said that, it wasn’t that much quicker then traditional baking, the skin wasn’t as crispy, and there were several extra steps to follow along the way. If I had a working oven, I think I’d opt for roasting a chicken the conventional way.
My next foray into TenderCrisp cooking was preparing the suggested Steak, Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus. You start off by pressure cooking two frozen steaks on the rack set above five potatoes in the pot. You’re actually bringing the machine up to pressure for most of the time and only cooking for one minute. Then you remove the rack and mash the potatoes right in the pot, along with the meat juices that dripped down on them.
Next you dry off the meat, place the rack with the steaks back over the potatoes and arrange a bunch of asparagus next to them. Then you cook everything together on broil. After all this work, you have a perfectly pleasant meal—but there’s steaks for two and veggies for four. I’m all for one-pot cooking, but the process is too convoluted to justify the result.
The biggest problem with the included recipes themselves is that they often call for an excessive amount of salt. When making the meat dishes, I used my own judgement and cut way back, but in baking the corn bread, I used the full two teaspoons specified and wound up throwing out the bread. Proceed with caution.
Broccoli, potatoes, and zucchini all steamed up beautifully. However, you can’t steam much more than 16 ounces at a time. And it takes about eight minutes for the Ninja to build up steam before it even starts cooking. You could successfully steam a pound of anything in about five minutes in the microwave. Although you might utilize this appliance for steaming if it was sitting on your counter and you weren’t in a super hurry, I don’t think steaming is one of the chief reasons to invest in the Foodi.
To test the searing function, I used it to brown the meat for both the pressure-cooked short ribs and the slow-cooked beef stew. While it took longer to get the dark brown color I was looking for than on the range, the meat drippings never began to burn the way they sometimes do in a skillet.
I tried out the baking function by using the recipe for Cheddar Corn Bread in the included recipe book. It came out much darker than expected but rose evenly and had a nice crumb. The largest pan that fits in the Foodi is only eight inches wide, so it can’t totally replace your oven.
You get the kind of broiling you get in many an oven—imprecise high heat. My steaks came out more gray than brown. If you’re expecting anything approximating grilling or even searing in a pan, forget about it.
The Foodi dehydrated apples beautifully, but its small size limited me to about eight slices, which isn’t even a whole apple. That meant I ran the machine for eight hours only to get a handful of nibbles. If it’s dried fruits and beef jerky you’re after, you might want to invest in the accessory dehydrator stand which has five whole racks.
Ninja offers a one-year limited warranty on the Foodi. It will repair or replace the defective unit and will pay for you to ship it to them. However, it will charge you for shipping the repaired or replacement appliance back to you.
The Foodi is still a relatively new product, so reviews are somewhat limited. The particular model I tested does, however, have a 4.7 out of 5-star rating on Amazon based on 114 reviews. In their comments, owners agree that the Foodi performs well at just about every task. Like us, they note that it’s heavy and that it’s inconvenient to store the pressure lid when it’s not being used.
Most of the negative reviews seem to be from people who received damaged packages.
If you're looking for an air fryer, a pressure cooker, and a slow cooker, the Foodi can’t be beat. You get the functionality of each one in a single appliance without sacrificing the performance of any of them. Yes, you can use it to brown off your pressure cooked or slow cooked food if you like, but I don’t think that’s the big benefit of this machine. For the most part, pressure cooking and slow cooking excel at cooking foods like stews and braises that you want tender, not crisp.
If this was the only cooking tool available to you, you could cook just about anything in it—but most of us have working cooktops, ovens, and microwaves for the basics. It’s the things you need a special appliance for like whipping up chicken soup in under an hour or frying without oil that the Ninja Foodi excels at. If you don’t want to keep a slow cooker, pressure cooker, and air fryer all on hand for these special foods you love to make, the Foodi is worth the investment.
Prices are accurate at the time of publication, but may change over time.