Air fryers have become one of the most buzzworthy kitchen appliances in recent years, making delicious, crispy foods with little to no oil. But if you’ve wondered how the air fryers you see all over social media are different from convection ovens — which have been around for years — you may be surprised to discover they are pretty much the same.
An air fryer is essentially a small convection oven, so the two appliances cook food in a similar way. They circulate air around the food, so it cooks more quickly and evenly than in a conventional oven or toaster oven. However, because an air fryer is smaller, air circulates more quickly, reducing cooking times. Both an air fryer and a convection oven can help get foods crispy on the outside and tender on the inside without much oil. Still, some recipes do better in one appliance than the other.
Not sure whether you need an air fryer, convection oven or both? We took a deep dive into the similarities and differences to help you decide which one is right for you.
To better understand what a convection oven does, let’s first look at how it compares to a standard oven. A standard oven features two heating elements, one on top and one on the bottom. They produce hot air that rises within the oven to create airflow that cooks the food. The air isn’t always evenly distributed, though, so food can turn out crispy in some spots and undercooked in others.
However, in a convection oven, a fan at the back of the unit circulates the hot air created by the heating elements for more even distribution. That allows food to cook more evenly and reduces cooking times.
Many full-size ovens have a convection setting that allows you to turn the fan on and off based on the recipe you’re preparing. With this type of convection oven, you can find models that range from 2 to 6 cubic feet in capacity, so you can easily cook for large groups and special occasions like holiday dinners.
However, you can also find countertop convection ovens similar in size and design to a toaster oven. These convection ovens typically range from 0.5 to 1.5 cubic feet in capacity, so they work best if you cook for groups of 10 or less.
Standard ovens with a convection setting usually have a higher maximum temperature. They can get as hot as 500 to 550 degrees, while countertop convection ovens often top out at 450 degrees.
Unlike air fryers, which have a basket with perforations that allows air to circulate around the food, a convection oven usually requires placing your food on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan for cooking. As a result, the hot air doesn’t reach the food from all sides, so it may not cook as evenly. You can place the food on a rack on your bakeware to help the air circulate more effectively in a convection oven, though.
An air fryer is a compact countertop appliance with a fan like a convection oven to circulate the heat created by its heating elements. However, in an air fryer, the convection fan is located at the top of the unit instead of the back like a convection oven. The air surrounds the food, allowing it to cook more evenly and quickly than in a standard oven or toaster oven.
Air fryers are available in two styles. Basket air fryers are typically egg-shaped and have a drawer with a basket that holds the food. They generally have the smallest capacity, ranging from 1 to 10 quarts. Air fryer ovens are usually larger, having a square or rectangular shape like a toaster oven. Instead of a drawer, their baskets slide into tracks on each side of the oven cavity like the wire rack that comes with a toaster oven. They offer other cooking functions besides air-frying, including toasting, baking, broiling, roasting, slow cooking, proofing and/or dehydrating. Their capacity is larger, generally holding between 12 and 36 quarts.
But their smaller size allows the heat circulated throughout an air fryer to preheat the appliance more quickly than a convection or standard oven and even cook food in less time. Air fryers can create a crispy exterior and a juicy or tender interior for your food because the fan and their perforated basket allow the air to surround the food from all sides to cook more evenly. You don’t need any oil for air-frying, but misting or tossing your food with a light amount of avocado or olive oil can help it get even crisper and browner.
The biggest difference between an air fryer and a convection oven is their size and capacity. Air fryers are typically compact and don’t take up much space on your countertop, while a convection oven is usually a full-size appliance. That added size means that convection ovens offer greater capacity, making them ideal for large groups, holiday dinners and entertaining. On the other hand, air fryers work best for smaller families and individual servings.
However, the smaller size of an air fryer and the placement of its convection fan at the top of the appliance means that it preheats more quickly than a convection oven and reduces its cooking time. An air fryer can often get foods a bit crisper than a convection oven, too, because the perforated basket helps food cook more evenly.
Air fryers and convection ovens function and perform similarly, but depending on what you’re cooking, you may prefer one appliance to the other.
With its larger capacity, a convection oven is the clear winner when cooking for a crowd or preparing multiple dishes. As a result, it’s perfect for holiday dinners, parties and other social events.
On the other hand, an air fryer is a better choice when you’re preparing individual servings or cooking for groups of four or fewer. It is more effective for preparing crispy foods like french fries, chicken tenders and onion rings and can keep your kitchen cool in warm weather because it doesn’t emit as much heat as a convection oven.
Our favorite air fryers are oven models because they have a larger capacity than most basket-style air fryers. They also offer additional cooking settings beyond air-frying, making them more versatile.
Type: Oven air fryer | Capacity: 1 cu. ft. | Dimensions: 17.3” L x 21.5” W x 12.8” H | Weight: 22.8 lb | Material: Stainless steel | Control Type: Knob | Number of Functions: 13 | Temperature Range: 80 to 480 degrees
The Breville Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro has a capacity of 1 cubic foot, so it can hold nine slices of toast, a 13-inch pizza, a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, a 12-cup muffin tray or even a 14-pound turkey. During testing, we easily fit an entire 2-pound bag of frozen french fries in its air-frying basket, so it can cook for families and even works well for entertaining. It’s fairly large, but we had no trouble finding space for it in our testing area.
In addition to air-frying, the Joule also has toasting, baking, broiling, roasting, proofing, reheating, slow cooking, warming and dehydrating functions, as well as settings for bagels, pizza and cookies. This versatility means it can replace an air fryer, toaster oven, toaster, slow cooker and dehydrator, all in a single appliance. Its air-frying efficiency was also highly impressive — it needed just 13 minutes to make crispy french fries, 18 minutes for chicken wings and nine minutes for extra-crisp bacon.
Type: Oven air fryer | Capacity: 26 qt | Dimensions: 16.3” L x 16.9” W x 15.5” H | Weight: 22 lb | Material: Stainless Steel | Control Type: Button, knob and app | Number of Functions: 12 | Temperature Range: 80 to 450 degrees
The Cosori Smart Air Fryer Toaster Oven offers many of the same features as high-end air fryers but at a budget-friendly price. Its capacity isn’t as generous as the Breville Joule, but it can hold six slices of toast, a 12-inch pizza or a 5-pound chicken, making it ideal for families of four to six. In addition to air-frying, it has settings for baking, toasting, roasting, broiling, dehydrating, warming, slow cooking, defrosting, fermenting and pizza. Its air-frying performance was especially impressive during testing, though — it made crispy french fries with a fluffy interior in just 12 minutes and crisp bacon in 10.
The Cosori is easy to use, with its combination of buttons and knobs to set the cooking time and temperature. But it’s also Wi-Fi-enabled and has a connected app that can control the oven’s settings even when you’re not in the same room. The connected VeSync also provides access to recipes if you need some air-frying inspiration.
Some convection ovens are full-size ovens with a special setting for convection cooking, while others are countertop appliances similar to air fryer ovens. We considered both types when choosing our favorites.
Dimensions: 29 15/16” W x 47 3/8” H x 28 1/2” D | Type: Electric | Capacity: 6.7 cu. ft. (Oven 1: 4.2 cu. ft.; Oven 2: 2.5 cu. ft.) | Material: Stainless steel and ceramic glass | Temperature Range:150 to 500 degrees | Wattage: 3,600 watts | Weight: 204 lb | Automatic Shutoff: Yes, with Timed Cooking
With two ovens that offer a combined capacity of 6.7 cubic feet, the KitchenAid Self-Cleaning Freestanding Double Oven Electric Convection Range is big enough to prepare the most elaborate holiday dinners and family meals. The two separate ovens allow you to make multiple dishes at the same time, even if they don’t cook at the same temperature. It’s easy to use the oven, too, because it has SatinGlide racks that smoothly move in and out when adding and removing food.
But what really sets this KitchenAid oven apart from similar models is its convection setting. The system’s heating elements and fan have a unique bow-tie design that ensures air circulates throughout the entire oven and keeps the temperature consistent. The oven also has user-friendly touch-activated controls, making it easy to set a precise temperature and guarantee your food turns out perfectly cooked every time. Best of all, it has a self-cleaning system to make cleanup a breeze.
Dimensions: 13.98” L x 21.06” W x 15.55” H | Capacity: 1.6 cu. ft. | Material: Stainless Steel | Temperature Range: 150 to 450 degrees | Wattage: 1,500 watts | Weight: 24 lb | Automatic Shutoff: Yes, with Timed Cooking
The Elite Gourmet Double French Door Countertop Convection Toaster Oven may be a countertop oven, but it still offers impressive capacity. It can accommodate nine slices of toast on each of its two racks for a total of 18, two 14-inch pizzas or a 20-pound turkey, making it ideal for families and frequent entertaining. It also has French doors that make adding and removing food easier.
The included racks have four different positions within the oven, so you can prepare multiple dishes at one time. The temperature is adjustable independently for the top and bottom heating elements, too, to give you more precise control over the heat. Additionally, the Elite Gourmet not only has a convection fan to circulate air inside for more evenly cooked foods but also a rotisserie spit and fork to roast meats to perfection. You can also set it to shut off after 60 minutes, so you don’t have to worry about remembering to do it yourself.
To determine how air fryers and convection ovens stack up, we tested both appliances to see how they performed. We prepared frozen french fries in an air fryer and a convection oven and compared how crispy they were and how long they took to cook. We also prepared frozen pizza, bacon and chicken wings in both appliances to see how the flavor and texture differed.
Additionally, during testing, we considered how much noise the air fryer and convection oven made while in use. We evaluated how hot the kitchen got when we cooked in each, too.
Since there aren’t significant differences between an air fryer and a convection oven, you can’t go wrong with either appliance — and for many people, it makes sense to have both. A convection oven’s larger capacity makes it a better fit for large households or home chefs who entertain regularly. However, an air fryer can usually cook faster and more evenly than a convection oven, so it’s an ideal option for single servings or small households. It doesn’t give off as much heat as a convection oven, either, making it perfect for warm-weather use.
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Jennifer Blair writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.