Ninja Foodi

ITK: Ninja Foodi

I own a weird amount of cooking equipment. I’ve got a Kitchen Aid, an Instant Pot, a food processor, pots, pans, a mini-blender, a normal blender, a waffle-maker and more. It’s already too much (trust me, my family tells me every time I move).

Someone like me should not be in the market for a new kitchen implement.

But here we are.

Ninja Foodi
The Ninja Foodi cooking during a “bake/roast” cycle. This cycle circulates hot air at a specific temperature into the pot. (JW on the Road)

Let’s talk about the Ninja Foodi — it’s an electric multi-cooker (think about a pressure cooker and slow cooker having a baby and still being able to do each of the respective tasks that their parent products do) plus an air fryer (we’ll get there), and, in some models, a dehydrator.

Since they started hitting the scene, I’ve been skeptical of air fryers. The reason things fry in oil is science. It’s a reaction of fat with a surface material at a certain temperature. At best, I can see how air fryers — which basically blow a lot of heat downward onto something that was probably lightly coated in oil (needing way less oil than immersive frying) — can provide a similar texture and browning effect, similar to baking or broiling in an oven. Melissa Clark, a great cookbook author and food writer for the New York Times, recently wrote a great piece about the allure of air frying. Clark ultimately wound up disappointed.

There’s certainly a place for this concept in your kitchen, especially if you cook 1,000 things at once, but is it worth the investment?

With the Foodi, Ninja has taken an already eight-to-10-part device and added three or four more parts to it. In addition to the pressure cooking functions, the Foodi also enables baking at a steady temperature in its small cavity, (think breads, pastries, etc.) in addition to air frying (which Ninja almost always calls crisping). Some models also have a dehydrator built in.

If it seems too good to be true, I get it. It sort of is.

What excites me most about the Foodi is not where we are right now with it, but instead where we can go. Devices like the Foodi (at a slightly lower price point) can open a ton of culinary creativity for the average home cook, the same way the Instant Pot did. If home cooking takes a step forward with each device that allows the everyday consumer to make a more flavorful and elegant meal, the Foodi is that step.

Here’s the important point I’ll make before we dive in: If you don’t already own an electric multi-cooker, and you want to get one, the Ninja Foodi is easily the best one I’ve used. If you do own a multi-cooker, don’t rush to replace it. Yet.

Digesting the Foodi

Most of my approach in the kitchen is derived from Alton Brown. I like simple tools that do a bunch of different things. The Instant Pot (which I already own and love) doesn’t really abide by his rules (he prefers a stovetop pressure cooker), and while I’m not certain he’s on the record about it, I can only assume he’s not a big fan.

But the Foodi feels like it could be different — mainly because of who is behind it. Let me introduce you to Justin Warner.

Warner, formerly the chef and mind behind Brooklyn’s Do or Dine and the author behind one of my favorite cookbooks out there, thinks about food in a way I envy so much. He’s creative, but takes the same methodical care to process that Alton Brown does. They’re friends. And Warner considers Brown a mentor. In fact, he even addresses it in the foreword to Kenzie Swanhart’s “Ninja Foodi: Complete Cookbook for Beginners.

“I am quite possibly the last person you would expect to write the foreword for this book,” Warner writes. “I was mentored by Alton Brown, a culinary titan, who has no use for unitaskers that clutter precious counter space.”

Warner goes on to write about how he was skeptical initially about the electric pressure cooker fad. In fact, that same skepticism lead to him working with Swanhart (who wrote the aforementioned cookbook) and the Ninja team to develop the Foodi.

In his foreword, Warner laments the problems current electric pressure cookers (like my trusty Instant Pot) face:

  • They don’t offer the same control as a stove
  • They don’t create “textural juxtaposition” — Warner’s way of saying that food coming from a pressure cooker is kind of flat texturally.
  • They don’t reliably sear
  • They don’t have enough space to manipulate ingredients
  • They don’t deliver “restaurant quality” results

Despite my love for the ol’ Instant Pot, I completely agree with Warner’s assessment. Especially the last point. While I loving going out “On the Road” (had to), I also believe deeply in the ability of home cooks to create food experiences that are close to restaurant quality. Unless you’re making a soup, or a protein in liquid, with few exceptions, the multi-cooker doesn’t offer you that texture that even a pot roast, chicken or the like, can offer you in a restaurant.

The Ninja Foodi solves all of these, Warner says. Let’s find out if he’s right.

About the test

During a weekend at my girlfriend’s parents house, I delightfully discovered a Ninja Foodi in their pantry. It’s the 6.5 quart model, without the dehydrating function. As of this writing, it runs for $210 or so on Amazon (yes, that’s where all my affiliate links point to — disclaimer at the bottom of this post).

Over the course of about 48 hours, I made four recipes from Swanhart’s cookbook. I specifically used recipes that used pressure cooking and crisping to make sure I was getting the most out of the device.

At almost $100 more than the Instant Pot and close to $150 more than a stovetop pressure cooker, does the Foodi justify the expense with enough bang for my buck?

The food

During my four tests, I made:

  • Banana Bread French Toast
  • Chili-Ranch Chicken Wings
  • Creamy Polenta and Mushrooms
  • Black and Blue Berry Cobbler

I picked these four items for a few reasons, but mainly because I only had a little less than two days to do it. In addition, I wanted to explore the range of food this device could put out.

The cooking

At least by my count, the Foodi comes to pressure faster than an Instant Pot, which cuts down on the overall time it takes for the food to get from raw to on the table.

Banana Bread French Toast

Easily the best food I made in the Foodi was the French Toast recipe from Swanhart’s cookbook. Three of the four recipes, actually, all called for a multi-purpose pan to put inside the pressure cooker. Since I was cooking in my girlfriend’s family’s kitchen, I didn’t want to guess which of their pans were pressure cooker friendly, so I constructed mine out of heavy duty aluminum foil. It worked.

Ninja Foodi French Toast Pre-Cook
The Ninja Foodi, with a homemade aluminum foil pan, with the ingredients for a Banana Bread French Toast inside, before the pressure or roasting cooking cycles. (JW on the Road)

The French Toast recipe called for cubed pieces of bread, doused in the requisite vanilla-milk-egg mixture, plus bananas, cream cheese and pecans. It pressure cooked to soften everything and meld the flavors, then using the “Bake/Roast” function, crisped the top after adding butter, maple syrup and pecans. The dish was flavorful — way more so than could be achieved on a stovetop — and full of texture. Warner was completely right here. My mouth lit up tasting the sweet flavors mixed with the ooey-gooey goodness and balanced by the crisp top and the pecans that were so delicately toasted by the roasting function.

Banana Bread French Toast
Banana Bread French Toast, made in the Ninja Foodi (JW on the Road)

I started with this recipe because it was unlike anything I had ever cooked in a pressure cooker. I wanted to see what the Foodi could do, and with a recipe like this one, you could so easily see the benefit.

Chili-Ranch Chicken Wings

I made wings in the Instant Pot and finished them on the broiler for a Super Bowl a few years ago. They were my favorite wings I’ve ever made at home. Since the Foodi’s claim to fame is the addition of an air-fryer, I knew I had to give wings a spin.

Chicken Wings
Seasoned Chicken Wings in the crisping basket of the Ninja Foodi (JW on the Road)

To make them in the Foodi, I seasoned them appropriately (this time a mix of salt, pepper, powdered ranch dressing mix, hot sauce, butter and paprika) and tossed them in the crisping basket that comes with the Foodi. (Note: You can also cook the wings down straight from frozen using the pressure cook function, but the wings I bought were raw and not frozen). Using the AirCrisp function (as recommended by Swanhart), the wings cooked in two parts with a shake in between to make sure different parts of the wing got crispy.

Chili-Ranch Chicken Wings
Chili-Ranch Chicken Wings, cooked and crisped in the Ninja Foodi (JW on the Road)

Swanhart’s chili-ranch chicken wings were really good wings. They weren’t amazing. They also weren’t fried or super crispy. But they were really good, and if I owned a Foodi, I’d probably make them a lot more regularly. They were much easier and on-par, however, with the Super Bowl wings from years ago.

Creamy Polenta and Mushrooms
Creamy Polenta and Mushrooms that wasn’t so creamy. Still flavorful and tasty, though. (JW on the Road)

Creamy Polenta and Mushrooms

The other two dishes I made in the Foodi ended up being mildly disappointing, though I’ll contend that it wasn’t the Foodi’s fault, but either my fault or the recipes I used. The Creamy Polenta and Mushrooms just wasn’t creamy. Though perhaps if it had been, the way the polenta and the mushrooms crisped on top during the AirCrisp cycle after the pressure cooking cycle may have made a pretty perfect dish.

Black and Blue Berry Cobbler
Black and Blue Berry Cobbler, which ended up more as a fruit soup than as a a traditional cobbler. (JW on the Road)

 

Black and Blue Berry Cobbler

The Black and Blue Berry Cobbler made borderline fruit soup. The dish starts from frozen fruit that is drizzled with the corn starch slurry present in so many cobblers. After a pressure cooking cycle, the liquidy fruit mixture was topped with a crumble that browned well during the AirCrisp cycle, but mostly submerged into an even-more-liquidy fruit soup by the end of cooking.

Did I still eat this? Yes. Did I still love it? Yes. Was it a cobbler? No.

The verdict

The Ninja Foodi is a really great electric pressure cooker and a perfectly good air fryer all in one.

Is it a game-changing air fryer that makes it so you never need oil again? No (at least not as much as I’ve tested so far).

By my testing, conceptually there’s probably nothing you can do in a Foodi that you can’t first make in an Instant Pot (or other multi-cooker) and then broil in the oven (if your oven has a broiler). Yes, it is an extra step and an extra dish, but taking that extra step and using that extra dish is more economical than $200+.

Caveat: If your oven doesn’t have a broiler, you should probably buy a Ninja Foodi.

If you already own and regularly use an air fryer and an electric multi-cooker, fear not! By my testing, the Foodi is probably not worth replacing your two perfectly good items with one.

If you’re looking to regift them, either separately or together, and you’d like to save counter space and get a device that holds its own really well, the Foodi is your option.

Looking ahead

I would like to do more testing on the Foodi.

I’m really curious about the dehydrating function, I’m curious about how to use the device to really control temperature environments. I also think the four recipes I made from the Swanhart’s cookbook took me less time than they would if I cooked them either conventionally or in an Instant Pot-like device.

This November, Warner will release his own cookbook for the Foodi. That could change the game for this device, and his careful look at what you should and should not cook in this thing might be the determining factor.

But: I’m not rushing out to buy one right now. The price tag is steep enough for a kitchen device that I can’t justify it. Yet. More testing and time, though, could change my mind.

This post contains affiliate links through Amazon’s Associates program. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Ninja did not provide me with a unit to test for this post. I read Swanhart’s cookbook via my Kindle Unlimited subscription.


ITK, short for “In the Kitchen” — With these posts, I’ll take you into my kitchen. We’ll talk about particular techniques, recipes, tools or ideas that I’m learning or working on. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a professional chef by any means. Instead, I’m an avid home cook and believe in enabling everyone to have the chance and opportunity to cook every day, whatever form that takes. This series takes you with me as I do that.*

Grilled Peach Pound Cake

ITK: Grilled Peach Pound Cake

I hate those long blog posts that don’t show me the recipe at the top. This is one of those — click here to auto-scroll down to the recipe.

Here’s a surprising thing: I’m not really a dessert person.

Whoa! OK, OK, stop shouting! I love dessert. I really do. I just never think about it.

I don’t think about it as an essential part of the meal — and even when I’m cooking for a large group, dessert is almost always the afterthought (except for one recent occasion, but that’s another post).

Last month, I went to Georgia (it’s kinda funny that two of my earliest posts on this site are going to be rooted in the same trip) to visit family, and ended up cooking a few dishes for them while I was there. When you’re cooking for my family, though, dessert or a dessert-like activity, is very much expected.

It was a mild summer day in August; I could feel the days of “we’ll throw something on the grill” fading into the embrace of winter’s inevitable chill. So in homage to our favorite propane-fueled cooking implement, I knew I needed a grillable dessert.

Let them eat cake

Pound Cake
Alton Brown’s Pound Cake (recipe link below) fresh out of the oven. I prefer using a pie or cake pan for this to get a thinner, but still-thick-enough version of the cake that serves as a good vessel for fruit and can still stand up to grilling. (JW on the Road)

Which lead to my next thought: What pastry/pie/cake is delicate enough to still feel like dessert, but is sturdy enough to withstand being handled on a hot grill? Also, what would look really appealing with grill marks?

I found my answer in pound cake. Yes, pound cake — the calorie-laden cake that very notably consists of ONE FULL POUND EACH of sugar, flour and butter. Pound cake is as good as it is bad for you. Most of all, though, thanks to the massive amount of flour, pound cake is hearty.

From a flavor standpoint, think about the sweetness that a full pound of sugar brings to the party. It’s subtle at first, but if you really think about pound cake, sugar is the most dominant flavor, and when you add high heat to sugar, beautiful things happen.

So pound cake on the grill for just a few minutes to get those standout grill marks against the light yellow interior of the cake. The char elevates the moderately flat pound cake from a one-note sugar fest to a complex, toasty and (surprisingly) aromatic delight.

Adding the fruit

But the dessert needs more. Perhaps a local flair.  What’s Georgia known for? Peaches.

Grill-Ready Peaches & Pound Cake
Peaches and pound cake, ready to hit the grill (ft. La Croix Apricot). (JW on the Road)

I drove over to the closest grocery store, which happened to be a Publix (named Food & Wine’s No. 5 best grocery store in the U.S.) and grabbed pound cake (pre-made, I was under a time crunch!) and peaches.

It’s no secret that peaches are GREAT on the grill. Visually, they’re stunning in the same way the grill marks are on the pound cake. Flavor-wise, grilling peaches tastes kind of like the best peach cobbler you never made. The classic peach flavor remains, but gets smokier. The juiciness thickens, the sugar caramelizes, the flesh darkens. Oh man.

Now we’re really getting somewhere. Two grilled items. Complex and delightful flavors. Let’s finish strong. Whipped cream.

A “new” kind of whipped cream

Can we talk for a second about whipped cream? If you’re not buying it from a compressed air canister, it’s often kinda disappointing. For a while, I would whip heavy cream, add sugar and vanilla extract and call it a masterpiece.

It was good, sure, but was it really better than the pressurized cans of sweet, creamy deliciousness past? Not really.

For the first time ever, right here on this blog, I’m announcing that I am going coconut-milk-whipped-cream-first.

Here’s how it works: Buy a few cans of full-fat coconut milk from the grocery store (any brand will do, just make sure it’s not a reduced fat variety). chill the can in the refrigerator for at least two or three hours, but preferably overnight, then crack the can and scoop out the cream on the top with a spoon into a bowl.

When you’re doing this, try to avoid getting the liquidy coconut milk/water from the bottom in the bowl. You’re looking for pretty solid cream here. When you’ve got a decent amount (it could take 2 cans), save the liquid coconut milk for another use (or chill it again and see if more cream rises to the top!). Then, with a whisk (if you’re a savage) or with an electric hand mixer, beat the cream until it thickens and gets more airy.

Whipped Coconut Cream
Using a hand mixer, whip just the cream from the top of a can of chilled coconut milk. The whipped cream will have the same texture and maybe even more flavor than its dairy counterpart. (JW on the Road)

Coconut whipped cream tastes better with nothing added to it than heavy cream ever has or will. I added a small dash of vanilla extract while whipping to really bring it home, though. Just like with standard whipped cream, you can totally add sugar — I Just don’t think this needs it.

This whipped cream works perfectly on the top of the grilled pound cake and grilled peach, but it has other uses as well — it’s a great base for a dairy-free ice cream that actually stands up to freezing in a home freezer (also another post).

Plate the dish pound cake first, then peach. You can line up the grill marks if you’re going for parallel or criss-cross them if you really want to activate my neuroses. Scoop some of the coconut whipped cream into the cavern where the peach pit once was and dust lightly with cinnamon or your warming spice of choice (turmeric, cardamom, ginger or even black pepper could all be pretty good depending on your tastes).

Oh hey, one last thing before I give you the recipe — I wrote this post through the narrative of coming up with this dish for a family dinner. For that, I bought a pre-made sour cream pound cake. It served the purpose at the time, but I always prefer homemade when you have time (the photos from this post are mainly from me tweaking this and recreating the dish for the purpose of this blog).

The recipe of pound cake is obviously quite simple (a pound of everything plus some eggs), but I really like Alton Brown’s. Alton’s also got a slightly-lower calorie buttermilk version, which I’d imagine is great, but haven’t tried yet.

One note on Alton’s recipe — he recommends bread pans or a bundt pan. I actually tried these in normal 9inch pie pans (and I think one cake pan, but who knows the difference) and really liked the thickness it provided for this recipe. Since you’re eating the pound cake topped with fruit, we’re definitely looking for something a little on the thinner side, but still thick enough that it can stand up to the grill.

Grilled Pound Cake
Pound Cake on the Grill. (JW on the Road)

Alright, here’s the recipe:

Grilled Peach Pound Cake

Grilled Peach Pound Cake
Grilled Peach Pound Cake (JW on the Road)

Serves 8

Time: 10 minutes to prep, 5 minutes to cook, 1-2 minutes to assemble

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cake (made in a 9-inch pie/cake pan, sliced in 8 even triangular pieces)
  • 2 peaches
  • 1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz), chilled for at least 3 hours, if not overnight
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon, toasted and grated fresh on a microplane if possible

Directions

  1. Cut the peaches in half, like you would an avocado and remove the pit. Scrape out any grittiness that may remain from the pit. Slice the peaches into triangles, two from each half of the peach. Base the triangle cuts on the sizes of the pound cake you intend to plate them with.
  2. Remove your coconut milk from the refrigerator. Open it up, and skim the cream off the top of the water below and into a mixing bowl. Be delicate and don’t scoop deep. Skim until you begin to see dark water below. Remove as much white cream as you can without incorporating too much of the actual coconut milk.
  3. Using an electric mixer, whip the cream on high speed until it becomes light and airy, mimicking the texture of traditional whipped cream.
  4. Preheat your grill, putting all burners on high heat. This is going to be a very quick cooking process, just to warm and get grill marks.
  5. When grill is preheated, place the peaches and the pound cake down onto the grates. Close the lid and allow the grill to work its magic, approximately two to three minutes. It may smell like burning — that’s good — it means char is occurring.
  6. Flip the peaches and the pound cake to char the other side. Be careful with the peaches and don’t force them off the grill before they’re ready. They’ll pull lightly away from the grill grates when a char is apparent. If they stick after more than four minutes, delicately scrape them from the grates with a metal spatula in an attempt to preserve your grill marks.
  7. Remove the peaches and pound cake from the grill and prepare to plate
  8. On a plate, place the pound cake with the best char side facing upward. On top of that, place a charred peach slice (or two!). Top that with the coconut whipped cream and dust with the cinnamon. Photograph and serve.

ITK, short for “In the Kitchen”  With these posts, I’ll take you into my kitchen. We’ll talk about particular techniques, recipes, tools or ideas that I’m learning or working on. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a professional chef by any means. Instead, I’m an avid home cook and believe in enabling everyone to have the chance and opportunity to cook every day, whatever form that takes. This series takes you with me as I do that.