Trying to figure out which kitchen appliance is best for your needs? All of these appliances claim to be the best, but what's the difference?
An air fryer is perfect if you're looking for a healthier option than frying foods in oil, but the cooking area can be quite small and limiting. A toaster oven is great if you are looking for a cheap means of baking with average results. A countertop convection oven is perfect if you want evenly cooked food and don't have a lot of space to work with.
But which is better?
Each is designed for a specific use, so it really comes down to what you'd like to cook. Below we've outlined a complete guide to differentiating cooking technologies, and finding the right appliance for you.
Heat and Heat Circulation
A toaster oven has heating elements but no fan to help distribute air. This leads to cold spots in the oven which can lead to unevenly cooked food. Toaster oven's temperatures usually range from 150-500°F.
A countertop convection oven uses identical heating elements as a toaster oven, but has a fan to help distribute the heat evenly through the oven. This leads to food cooking more evenly than a toaster oven. Countertop convection oven temperatures usually range from 150-500°F.
Think of a furnace with a fan behind it blowing into a large room.
An air fryer is similar in theory to a convection oven, but the fan is significantly stronger and the heat is passed through a much more localized area.
Think of a furnace with a very strong fan behind it blowing into a very small room.
Toaster ovens and convection ovens are usually much larger than air fryers, but there are exceptions.
The largest air fryer available is 15.63" L x 13.86" W x 12.4" H
The largest toaster oven available is 19.29" L x 21.65" W x 12.91" H
You can find smaller or larger versions of each, but generally speaking, toaster and convection ovens take up more space than air fryers.
This is probably the most important variable in making your decision. Air fryers cook food much faster because the cooking area is much smaller than a toaster or convection oven. This allows the food to cook quicker, but you're definitely not fitting the thanksgiving turkey in your air fryer.
Toaster and convection ovens have a much larger cooking area and thus can fit much larger food items. With that said, they also cook much slower and waste more energy because they have to heat up a lot more space.
Not surprisingly, air fryers will provide a much crisper exterior, which has earned them the name air "fryer." With that said, air fryers push so much hot air through the food that it can dry it out. This also makes the proper cook time window smaller since the food can dry out relatively fast if unattended.
Convection ovens can offer a slightly less crisp version of the food, because it can retain moisture a little more effectively. Despite convection ovens having a fan, many are ineffective at distributing heat at a fast enough rate to avoid slightly uneven cooking. You'll learn this pretty quickly going through customer reviews of most countertop convection ovens.
While the cleaning is different for an air fryer and a toaster oven, the amount of work is very similar. With an air fryer you have more parts to clean (basket, pan, surrounding area), but the parts are smaller and more manageable.
A toaster oven has less parts to clean (cooking racks and surrounding area), but the parts are larger and harder to manage.
Toaster ovens are also naturally a pain to clean on the inside because everything is difficult to get to.
The price difference between an air fryer and a toaster oven can vary depending on the model and brand. The cheaper end of the spectrum is pretty similar between the two, averaging around $60.
The upper price tier, however, is remarkably different. While there are exceptions, high end air fryers usually peak at around $250. The beloved Wolf countertop convection oven retails at around $750. Again, both have ridiculous examples that top $2000, but for residential use, these are typically considered overkill.
Side By Side Comparison
Air fryer pros
- Fast moving, concentrated heat is great for typical fried foods (corn dogs, chicken tenders, french fries, etc.)
- Can cook food faster due to a smaller area to heat
- More affordable than toaster ovens (generally speaking)
- Take up less real estate (generally speaking)
- The cleaning involves smaller, more easily cleaned pieces
Air fryer cons
- The cooking basket is often small, which limits the amount of food you can cook at once
- More parts to clean
- The end result is usually a crispy texture, which some people may not enjoy
- Most air fryers look like miniature space pods, which some people don't like
Toaster oven/convection oven pros
- Larger cooking area so you can cook things like birds, casseroles and steaks
- Less parts to clean
- Cook results have more range (don't have to be fried)
- Typically have a sleeker, rectangular design which fits nicely in the kitchen
Toaster oven cons
- Cook area is large which takes food longer to cook
- Areas to clean are harder to get to
- Takes up more real estate
- More expensive than air fryers (generally speaking)
Which is Better?
Air fryers are better for cooking smaller items quickly and with a crispier texture. Toaster ovens are better for cooking larger items and at a more controlled rate. There is no better machine. There is just a machine that offers you the qualities you're looking for in a heating appliance 🙂
The decision to use an air fryer Vs a toaster oven depends on what you plan on using it for. If you need something that can do both baking and frying, then a toaster oven is the better option. However, if you are looking for an appliance that is good at frying or roasting foods, then an air fryer may be your best bet.
The price difference between these two appliances is also important when making this decision - while they're comparable in cost, the average price of an air fryer tends to be lower than the average price of a toaster oven.
Thanks for reading. We hope this article will help you purchase the right machine for your cooking needs.
Founder of Robust Kitchen