First off, Instant has a number of slightly different appliances in this range. We’re reviewing the Vortex Plus air fryer, which features ClearCook and OdourErase technology.
With a stainless-steel trim wrapped around a high-gloss black body, the Vortex Plus has a characteristic air fryer design. A deep drawer with a chunky vertical handle forms the bottom of the appliance, while a sloping touchscreen sits on top, complete with a silver control dial for scrolling.
If you’re not familiar with conventional air fryers, it can initially feel strange to cook in a pull-out compartment. You can’t quite shake the feeling you are putting your frozen chips in a high-tech sock drawer, but the benefit of the set-up is an appliance that is child-proof, reduces cooking odours, and just makes cooking a meal tidier somehow.
Inside the box, you get the 5.7 litre/6 QT air fryer, an internal tray for the drawer, a manual, and the safety and warranty leaflet. This is not an appliance with accessories you need to store.
While it’s a decent size at 32.5cm x 29cm x 30cm (12.8 x 11.4 x 11.8 in) with an extra 8cm/3.1in for the handle, it’s not an overwhelming appliance on your countertop, possibly because the slanted touchscreen mitigates against the sense of a monolithic black box.
The internal tray, which is your cooking surface, has an area of around 564 sq cm (222 sq in). In real life terms, this gives room for roughly twelve fish fingers with small gaps between to prevent them sticking. There’s a 9cm/3.5in height from the rack to the top of the drawer, so the air fryer has the depth to allow you to cook small joints of meat.
And at 5.95kg (13lbs), it’s not a heavy appliance, but it’s designed to have a permanent countertop presence.
The Vortex Plus is easy to use. When you switch on the appliance at your plug point, the touchscreen illuminates. There are six programmes: air fry, bake, grill, dehydrate, reheat and roast. Choose your programme, then press temp/time and use the dial to select the temperature and time, then press start to begin cooking.
The temperature range is from 82°C to 205°C/ 95-400°F, and the time from one minute to 72 hours. However, there are restrictions on certain programmes; you can only grill for 40 minutes, for example, and you can only dehydrate for 72 hours at 79°C (170°F approx).
One oddity is that there is no touchscreen power button, so it’s not obvious how you reset the air fryer after a cooking programme has ended. We sometimes reverted to switching the appliance off and back on at the power point, so we could cook something else. However, you have a button to turn the light on and off, and a cancel button to stop a programme.
Unfortunately, the touchscreen’s glossiness leaves it susceptible to fingerprints, so you’ll need to wipe it regularly.
How do you use the Vortex Plus?
First, you need to pre-clean the appliance. It’s very simple, and involves wiping out the drawer, washing the rack, and running the air-fry programme on 205°C/400°F for 18 minutes. There’s a slightly plasticky smell when you do this, but we didn’t find that odour occurred again and we used the fryer once or twice a day for nearly a month.
As you might expect, when in operation, there’s a fanlike sound. You’ll notice it the first time you use the appliance, but it’s not so loud that it is grating or intrusive; after the first few times, it just fades into the general background noise of your kitchen.
When the air fryer reaches the set temperature, it will beep to let you know to add the food you want to cook. There’s a second series of beeps during the programme to tell you to turn the food for an even crisp, and a third series of beeps when the programme is finished.
There are no pre-sets on the appliance. Nor does the Instant manual give any approximate cooking times or temperatures, or provide any recipes. Initially, you’re in the dark about how long to cook something for, and at what heat.
After some internet research, our first, very careful, test was breaded haddock and fries, with the haddock’s cooking instructions being 35 minutes at 210°C (410°F). Not wanting to burn anything, we started by air-frying the fish for 10 minutes at 200°C (approx 392°F), but it was still frozen at the end of the programme. We popped it on for another 15 minutes at 185°C (365°F), and it came out wonderfully hot with a very crispy crumb.
Then we cooked fries for 15 minutes at 185°C, and the results were excellent: a crunchy bite, fluffy inside, and very much akin to a McDonald’s fry – they didn’t taste like oven chips at all.
However, we weren’t sure exactly how to get the food out. If you’re going to buy the Vortex air fryer, we’d suggest you invest in a set of silicone tongs. We managed with a serving spoon and a spatula, but it’s not ideal.
Armed with the understanding that it was a case of trial and error to figure out times and temperatures, we ran a battery of tests.
Sliced bacon was fantastic at 190°C (approx 374°F) for 8 minutes, but we found you could halve that by going up to 200°C, particularly with streaky bacon. Chicken drumsticks were magnificent at 190°C for 30 minutes.
We then moved onto a higher-stakes meal: air frying a 1.4kg (3lb) joint of pork. After searching for rough cooking times, we went for 20 minutes on 190°C, then 60 minutes on 170°C (approx 338°F).
The result was extraordinary. The crackling atop the joint was perfection itself; the meat was thoroughly cooked and moist. In fact, we’ve never managed to produce such excellent crackling in a conventional oven. We have to hand it to Instant: its EvenCrisp technology works.
An additional boon was that the meat juice and fat from the pork drained through the tray into the bottom of the drawer, which meant we could easily pour it into a jug and use it to make gravy.
We also air-fried the carrots and potatoes while the pork rested. After 30 minutes on 190°C, they were hot, sticky and a wonderful texture.
Over the following three weeks, we cooked onion rings, sausages, fish fingers, meatballs, jacket potatoes, turkey dinosaurs, chicken nuggets and fairy cakes: all with fantastic results.
Our general, very unscientific, impression is that the Instant air fryer reduces cooking time by roughly 25% to 40%, although this isn’t consistent and some foods caught us out. In certain cases, we began to cook on lower temperatures: after the fifth or sixth batch of fries, we found that 190°C for 10 minutes was fine when the back-of-bag instructions for a conventional oven suggested 15 minutes at 220°C (428°F approx).
Interestingly, no cooking smells emanated from the air-fryer during any of our tests. Instant’s OdourErase technology is surprisingly effective.
Cleaning the appliance after cooking is a question of wiping out the drawer with hot soapy water or putting it in the dishwasher, and washing the tray, again, in hot soapy water or the dishwasher. You may need to remove the rubber cushions from the tray as food debris can collect around them, and this can be a bit fiddly. Each cushion curls over the metal side and three rubber plugs hold it in place; it is a thumb pushing and poking job.
Price and availability
The model we tested was the Instant Vortex Plus 6-in-1 Air Fryer with ClearCook and OdourErase. It has a suggested retail price of £149.99/ $149.95 but you can buy it for less. In the UK, the best price we found was on Amazon, where it’s currently available for £134.99. Similarly, it’s available from Amazon in the US for $129.95.
We thought the OdourErase function was well worth it, but if you can do without, you can buy the appliance for £119.99 in the UK or $108.90 in the US.
Instant also makes a larger 7.6l/ 8 quart dual drawer air fryer, which enables you to cook two batches of food at once on different programmes, for £219.99/ $169.95. These appliances don’t feature the OdourErase tech.
In a delightful option for a small UK household, Instant also makes the 2l Vortex Mini 4-in-1 Air Fryer for £59.99. It comes in four different colours.
If you’re considering buying an air fryer, the Instant Vortex Plus has several features to recommend it. Its ClearCook window is the obvious selling point but the OdourErase technology means that your house never need smell of fried food again. Plus, its EvenCrisp system gives you brilliantly crispy results.
However, the lack of pre-sets mean you’ll need to fiddle with times and temperatures until you get used to the appliance. While we loved it, that makes it harder to recommend to those who don’t have time to experiment with their cooking.
Instant Vortex Plus 6-in-1 air fryer (5.7L/6QT): Specs
Capacity: 5.7 litre/ 6 Quarts
Six functions: air fry, roast, grill, bake, dehydrate, reheat