Both air fryers and convection ovens are easier and faster than conventional ovens and healthier than deep-fat frying. Since both kitchen appliances use the same technology, choosing an air fryer vs convection oven is quite challenging.
In truth, there are only subtle differences between these two countertop appliances, and the answer is simply a matter of personal preference. Your eating habits, family size, and desired kitchen setup are ultimately the deciding factors.
Understanding Convection Baking
Both air frying and convection cooking use a process known as convection baking, which is somewhat different than traditional oven baking. When using convection cooking, an interior fan and exhaust system force hot air to circulate around your food.
This results in a much drier and more evenly distributed heat flowing throughout your chamber. Not only is this more energy efficient, but it also helps food cook faster. Plus, it helps alleviate hot spots and uneven cooking.
Using a convection setting is particularly beneficial when roasting meats and poultry because it promotes browning and helps seal natural juices. Additionally, it's most suitable as a healthy alternative to fried foods like french fries and chicken.
Whether it's making foods crispy using less oil or baking moist and delicious cakes and pies, both are possible when taking the proper steps.
Why Use Convection Cooking?
Let's face it; life is busy! We're all looking for that weeknight edge that helps us eat healthy without spending hours in the kitchen. Most home chefs prefer quick, easy meals to get through their hectic workweek.
Air fryers and convection ovens work so much better than regular baking for several reasons:
- They warm food evenly without hot spots.
- They're faster, saving you time.
- They don't heat up your kitchen.
- There's minimal cleanup.
- They're easy to use.
- Whether fresh, frozen, or reheated leftovers, the food tastes great.
Cooking with convection is the perfect solution for maintaining a healthy diet while saving time and energy.
Benefits of Convection Cooking
An air fryer and a convection oven both offer the same benefits:
- Promote weight loss: Eating air-fried foods instead of deep-fried foods reduces the consumption of unhealthy fats, which contribute to weight gain.
- Reduce grease burns and fires: There are no large vats of scalding oil, which means no popping, splattering, or grease fires.
- Reduce acrylamide formation: Deep frying food in excess oil can create acrylamide formation, a dangerous compound linked to cancer. Eating air-fried food instead of fried food reduces this risk.
How Does an Air Fryer Cook Food?
A countertop air fryer is typically a healthier alternative to deep frying. Using minimal oil, an air fryer cooks food by circulating hot air inside its chamber.
Although air doesn't conduct heat as well as oil, the circulating hot air mimics a deep fryer and produces crispy 'fried' foods like chicken tenders, chicken wings, or french fries without the adverse effects of high-caloric, unhealthy oils.
An air fryer has an overhead heating element and fan that forces intense heat around its baking tray. It cooks food from the top down, promoting better circulation, which results in crispier foods.
Additionally, because air fryers use a perforated tray, they cook food evenly and reduce cooking time when compared to countertop convection ovens. The perforated racks also allow fat to drip into a collection tray so your food doesn't hold excess fats.
Studies show that air frying reduces the overall fat content of foods and preserves more nutrients typically lost during the cooking process.
Air fryers are also useful for a variety of other cooking methods:
To obtain the best results with your air fryer, avoid overcrowding your food and leave plenty of space for the air to flow freely throughout. Furthermore, use healthy oils like avocado, coconut, and olive oil.
From main course meals like hamburgers or pizza to tasty desserts like cakes, bread, or muffins, air fryers are a healthier alternative for foodies that enjoy spoiling their tastebuds.
Related: 15 Air Fryer Recipes
Air Fryer Advantages and Disadvantages
Air fryers are great for singles or couples without a lot of mouths to feed. If you’re cooking for more, however, you'll have to work in batches, which becomes very time-consuming. They are also compact and extremely affordable.
In addition, cleaning up is a cinch when compared to a convection oven, especially with drawer models. If you enjoy meats that have excessive drippings, you may need to empty the tray in the middle of cooking.
Unfortunately, air fryers are significantly louder than convection ovens and can become quite annoying during longer cycles. Many countertop air fryers also have no view window, which contributes to overcooking or undercooking.
Additionally, low-end models are sometimes pretty flimsy, meaning you'll likely have to replace them every 2-3 years.
How Does a Convection Oven Cook Food?
Unlike a conventional oven, a countertop convection oven cooks your food by cycling hot air throughout the oven chamber using a built-in heating mechanism that consists of a heating element, fan, and blower.
The convection fan and blower circulate hot air throughout the oven, increasing the heat transfer rate and providing a more uniform temperature distribution. This results in enhanced browning, better crispiness, and faster cooking.
Convection ovens can do just about anything that a full-sized oven can do:
Additionally, many ovens offer fabulous features that allow you to prepare an entire meal simultaneously. Take the Cuisinart Rotisserie Convection Toaster Oven, for example, which allows you to roast a rotisserie bird and rice or vegetables at the same time giving you a complete meal in about an hour.
Related: Cuisinart Rotisserie Convection Toaster Oven Recipes
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Convection Oven
At the outset, convection ovens are substantially more expensive than air fryers, but for larger families, they are definitely worth it. Although you can find basic convection toaster ovens at an affordable price, these inexpensive models are typically designed for heating frozen foods or toasting pieces of bread.
The primary disadvantage of a convection oven is they take up a lot of your valuable counter space. You may find it difficult to forfeit your countertops if you have a smaller kitchen area.
Air Fryer vs Convection Oven: Similarities and Differences
Many expert chefs agree that an air fryer is just a miniature convection oven. Both warm food via convection baking by circulating air around their oven space.
Both air fryers and convection ovens cook food much faster than regular ovens. Depending on the fan's power, both can produce 25-30% more energy. Consequently, when working from recipes, they both routinely require a 20- to 25-degree reduction in oven temperatures.
Size and Capacity
The most noticeable difference between an air fryer oven and a convection oven is their size. An air fryer can be stored away after you're done, freeing up coveted counter space. Whereas convection ovens usually take up permanent residence on your countertop.
The tradeoff is that a convection oven allows you to cook more food at once.
While an air fryer cooks faster, it often requires multiple batches to accommodate its smaller size offsetting the faster cook times. An air fryer is most conducive for one to two servings, making them most beneficial for smaller households and single-serving meals.
An air fryer almost always places its heating element and fan on top so the air flows downward. With some recipes, this means occasionally tossing the food inside to promote more universal cooking.
Conversely, most convection ovens feature their heating elements and fans on the back or side wall of the oven chamber.
An air fryer has a smaller food chamber placing the food closer to the fan, which significantly reduces cooking times. Whereas a convection oven generally uses more powerful fans that expedite cook times.
Preheating Cycle and Cook Time
For a convection setting, expect to spend 12-15 minutes preheating your oven to 400 degrees.
In most cases, you don't need to preheat air fryers, but many home cooks prefer 3-5 minutes of preheating because it enhances the texture and crispiness of certain foods, particularly meats.
Food preparation and preheating aside, most air fryers don't really cook any faster than convection ovens when strictly focusing on cook time alone. Additionally, both air fryers and convection ovens produce around the same level of crispness.
In fact, when you consider their limited capacity, air fryers sometimes take longer when cooking larger quantities of food because you have to work in batches.
Additional features on an air fryer are much more limited than a convection oven, but some added accessories can make your air frying experience much more enjoyable:
- Baking trays
- Fry baskets
- Cake and pizza pans
- Skewer racks
- Silicone baking cups
Depending on how advanced and elaborate your convection oven is, many also come with additional features like automatic shutoffs, cooking presets, lights, and timers. Usually, the more features your unit has, the more accessories are also offered:
- Rotisserie forks
- Fry baskets
- Multiple racks
- Food trays
Some of the best convection ovens include rotisserie and toaster oven options that cook larger food portions evenly and sear meat to perfection trapping natural juices inside.
Air Fryer or Convection Oven? Which One is Better?
Determining whether an air fryer or convection oven is better depends on your personal needs and desires. Both are beneficial for the kitchen, but both also have drawbacks.
If you have the money, the room, and a family of three or more, a convection oven provides the most benefits. Otherwise, air frying provides the same level of quality if you're short on funds, have a smaller family, or lack sufficient counter space.
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