I’ve been cooking with an airfryer since 2017. It’s one of those revolutionary kitchen gadgets that is a must for every household. What makes it such a game changing gadget is how smartly it operates. As a mini convection oven circulating hot air, there is typically no pre-heating, food cooks quicker, and you don’t have to dunk things in oil, thus somewhat healthier. In the long run, especially if you’re on prepaid electricity or monitoring your consumption, this is the best kitchen gadget to own.

I moved to a new house about two months ago and used my oven twice; once to melt cheese so it doesn’t count. This is how rarely I use my oven, all while saving electricity. Airfyers are effectively a substitute for stoves, microwaves and ovens.

My other favourite kitchen gadget is my Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 smart cooker. Again, a massive time saving gadget that cooks in 1/3rd the time, based on my uses and probably my best lockdown purchase. So when Instant Pot sent me their new Vortex Plus Air Fryer to test, I was excited. I’ve only owned and tested Philips ones so it was a good opportunity to see how different ones work and stack them against each other to help your purchasing decisions.

Introducing the Vortex Plus Air Fryer
The Vortex Plus is different to the Vortex model. This new one is the first stainless airfryer, which is somewhat nicer looking if you want to keep it permanently on your kitchen counter. While the Vortex is marketed as a 4-in-1, the Vortex Plus is a 6-in-1: airfry, roast, bake, reheat, grill and dehydrate. It has a large 5.7L capacity, which can fit a 1.8kg chicken or a whole bag of frozen chips. It features a touch screen interface and dial to set different functions.  The cooking tray is removable, so the bottom catches all the unhealthy fats and oils, separating it from your food.

Vortex Plus vs Philips Essential Digital XL

Instant Vortex Plus Philips Essential Digital XL
5.7L and 1.8kg cooking capacity 6.2L and 1.2kg cooking capacity
Airfry, roast, bake, reheat, grill, dehydrate Airfry, bake, grill, roast, reheat, keep warm
42.6 x 31.4 x 33cm; 5.65kg 40.3 x 31.5 x 30.7cm; 5.5kg
1700W 2000W
Stainless steel finish Plastic, black
Drawer, removable tray, dishwasher safe Basket, dishwasher safe
Touchscreen with dial Touchscreen
Add food and Turn food alerts Bluetooth; NutriU app; Alexa voice control
R2899 (Yuppiechef) R3699 (HiFi Corp)
Instant Vortex Plus vs Philips Essential Digital XL

Design and Features
I know design can be subjective but stainless steel looks better than plastic and its more likely to match your larger appliances. The Vortex Plus is taller and slimmer than the Essential XL, and has a tray inside the drawer that you can easily remove to wash. Important to note is that only the tray insert can go into the dishwasher. The Essential has a basket that you remove while holding the handle, but all parts can go into the dishwasher. 

The main way the two differ is the touchscreen interface. The Vortex Plus has a larger display but for good reason – every function you touch is a written word, and then you use the dial to adjust. On the other hand, the Philips uses graphics, which may not be intuitive when you look at the arrows on either side for temperature and time. 

What the Philips has that Instant does not is the smart feature functionality, and the reason why the model is R800 more, which is justified. It has Bluetooth that allows you to pair it to an app and control it remotely, or use Amazon Alexa with voice commands. It also has 7 presets to just pop your food in and cook immediately. The Vortex Plus has its own smart default settings.

Using the Instant Vortex Plus
I received my Vortex Plus about 2 weeks later than expected so it clashed a little with my participation in a 3 week eating plan where I had to follow recipes from a dietician. However, in that time I opted to prepare certain dishes in the Vortex Plus.

I used the airfry function primarily but also used the bake for bread. I used it because it was there but from my research, all the modes do the same thing because it circulates hot air. The difference comes in if you use the default smart settings (time and temp for modes). I prefer controlling these myself, I once tried cooking steak last year on a default setting and it came out well-done; never again. Unlike an oven, you can open the basket/drawer anytime to check.

With my eating plan being over, I’ve been using the Vortex Plus exclusively, haven’t touched my stove. I’ve now made burgers (10 mins), chicken fillets (12 mins), chicken thighs (20 mins), drumsticks (20 mins), salmon (10 mins) fillet steak (10 mins), bread (20 mins) sweet potato fries (15 mins) and baked potatoes (20 mins). For most of the dishes while testing, I made one portion in the Philips Airfyer. I’ve also reheated food instead of using a microwave.

The SA model has grill instead of broil

The results were similar but the food was always evenly cooked AND crispy on the Vortex Plus. For me the ultimate test was chicken drumsticks because those tend to take longer to cook in the centre. The Vortex Plus was the clear winner for drumsticks; it cooked all the way through to the bone. For other dishes, the Vortex Plus had more crispiness to it when I realised you can actually cook things in the Vortex Plus for a shorter amount of time than compared to the Philips Airfryer. 

I was also new to the fact that the Vortex Plus does preheat but for a short 1-2 minutes. I had to get used to the beeping when it was ready to add food, and then it also beeps to let you know you can turn the food. Unlike the Philips, which doesn’t have that kind of feedback, but Philips doesn’t have a pre-heat function. 

How does the food come out?
Everything I cooked in the airfryer was delicious. It cooked evenly and crispy. I love making steak in it, frying things from frozen and using it for sweet potato/potatoes. When I made chicken thighs with the skin, it was evenly cooked inside and crispy, without the outside getting burnt. I also was amazed that salmon cooked in 10 minutes but for this I put it in an Instant Pot accessory and covered it in foil. I’ve always just opened the basket at any time to check on my meals, this isn’t an oven and that won’t affect cooking, so technically you can’t really burn food. If you’re unsure of times, just start if off a lower time frame so if undercooked you can add more minutes. I don’t usually eat deep fried foods so this is the perfect thing for my household.

I didn’t always remember to take pics of the food when I took it out of the air fryers as we were hungry and ready to eat. And the ones I took were a quick snap.

How I cleaned the Vortex Plus
This was a common question I received. If you cook and eat immediately, then you’re not likely cleaning it the same time so all residues and oils will harden. When ready to wash, I simply just put it on on empty 200-degrees for 5 minutes before washing to melt anything left behind in the basket. As mentioned earlier, only the tray is dishwasher safe.

What dishes/accessories can you use?
The Vortex Plus is like an oven, so you can use any oven-proof dish. For me this included ramekins, Le Creuset stoneware, silicon baking accessories and Instant Pot accessories that I previously purchased from Takealot. This includes a 19cm springform pan and a cook/bake set. I’ve seen a set of mini loaf tins that I’d love to get. The reason I like these accessories is that in a household of two, the size is ideal to pop into the airfryer. I’ve previously made a cheesecake in the springform pan and while I couldn’t just make it for fun and waste ingredients, but this is what it lets you do, without using an oven.

Should you buy a Vortex Plus?
Having used only Philips airfryers in the past and then testing the Vortex Plus against the Philips Essential XL, I can confidently say my preference is the Vortex Plus. Yes it’s cheaper at R2899 and that’s a big factor for most South Africans, but I found that it cooks quicker, evenly inside and out, and gets crispy without getting burnt. It has a large enough drawer for other IP accessories to work inside it.

In terms of family size, it can comfortably cook for two adults but also suited for a family of four. I didn’t mention it throughout but it is a healthier option if that’s your goal on your food journey, and most air fryers use this as a selling point as you’re not deep frying anything. If you want the Philips Essential XL, like I said they both cook similarly, it’s the smart functionality that sets it apart for an extra R800.