The minute air fryers hit the market, they were a huge hit.
But what's so incredible about them? What makes them any different than a glorified countertop convection oven?
Honestly, less than you think.
While the differences are a little more subtle than most people give credit, understanding these differences will help you have more control over your cooking.
Below we've outlined a complete guide to differentiating the two 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, and in most cases, more evenly.
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.
Countertop convection ovens offer a slightly less crisp version of the food but will result in a juicier product.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule.
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.
Here is a step by step cleaning guide of an air fryer
Here is a step by step cleaning guide of a toaster oven
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
Great article. Can you say anything about safety or propensity for fires, toaster oven vs. air fryer? In many college dorms they only seem to allow fridges and microwaves, so how to make something as simple as a toasted PB&J, or just toast for that matter.
What a great questions! And one that I really didn’t think about when we chose this topic.
With that said, I can only speak conceptually here because I’ve never had a fire incident with a toaster oven or air fryer (if we were talking toasters, it’d be a different story 😉 )
It’s been my experience that the outside of toaster ovens tend to get far hotter than air fryers. If we were strictly talking about the likelihood of a fire occurring where user error and malfunctioning units were not variables, I would put my money on a toaster oven starting the fire. Research online has shown me that both air fryers and toaster ovens are perfectly capable of starting fires, but one over the other, I’m just not sure. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help to you.
Just as a disclaimer, this is not professional advice but just my opinion.
Please let me know if your research shows you anything definitive because I’d love to include it in the article (i’d also love to give you credit).
Excellent article! To the point without a lot of bells and whistles and clearly written and illustrated. Helped me make my decision.