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Air Fryer vs. Microwave: What’s the Difference?

Air Fryer vs Microwave

Both air fryers and microwaves cook food relatively quickly. However, beyond that, they are completely different appliances. You cannot use an air fryer for the same recipes as a microwave, and vice versa. How they cook food is different, and how the food turns out is also extremely different.

Therefore, it is vital to choose the right tool for your recipe. If you have to choose between them, we recommend selecting whichever option you’ll use the most. Of course, to know the answer to that, you need to know which each option is used for.

Here are some of the key differences between them.

divider 5 Overview of an Air Fryer

a woman opening an air fryer
Image By: Ika Rahma H, Shutterstock

An air fryer “fries” food without utilizing oil. Therefore, it is often considered to be a healthier way to cook. However, while it is healthier than regular fried food, it isn’t necessarily healthier than other cooking methods, such as grilling.

Usually, this appliance sits on the counter and uses super-heated air to cook the food—the food gets cooked thanks to the hot air around it. However, the food itself isn’t heated by any heating element directly.

How Does It Work?

Air fryers use convection to fry food. They are equipped with a highspeed fan that circulates air over the food. Then, they have a heating element that heats this air to very high temperatures. The food inside is constantly being berated with extremely hot air, which causes it to cook. The air also sucks the moisture out of the food, leaving a crispy layer.

The food is technically fried. However, regular fired food is cooked via very hot oil, while an air fryer uses very hot air.

Air fryers can also cause other reactions. For instance, some foods may be caramelized. Exactly how the food turns out depends on the food being cooked.

Cooking Time

Usually, air fryers take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to cook a dish. While this isn’t necessarily faster than other methods, it requires very little work from the cook. Often, the most the cook has to do is occasionally flip the food.

So while not always faster, using an air fryer does require less work than traditional methods, such as grilling. You can easily start the meal and then do something else with your time.

man using air fryer
Image Credit: Enjoy The Life, Shutterstock


You can use an air fryer for cooking practically any food. It works best with smaller pieces of food. The more surface area the food has, the faster it will cook. Chicken stripes cook better than chicken breasts for this reason. Plus, many air fryers are smaller, so larger cuts of meat won’t fit.

You aren’t going to cook a roast with an air fryer. However, you can cook veggies, smaller pieces of meat, and similar foods.

divider 1 Overview of a Microwave

Close-up Of Woman Using Microwave Oven For Heating Food At Home
Image Credit: Andrey_Popov, Shutterstock

Microwaves use electromagnetic waves to heat and cook food. These waves move through the food and cause the molecules to move. The molecules increase in energy, causing them to cook. For this to be successful, microwaves must send out very specific wavelengths. If the wavelength is wrong, the microwave won’t be able to cook anything.

Because of this process, microwaves cook the inside of the food first. Therefore, foods turn out to be a little different when done in a microwave than in a different way.

How Does it Work?

The microwave transmits radio frequencies through a tube in the machine called a magnetron. This energy is at a very specific wavelength. This wavelength is useful for heating food, making it very effective for cooking.

Cooking Time

Microwaves cook and heat things pretty fast. It takes a microwave only a few minutes to cook most food. It can cook so effectively because it heats all of the molecules at once. The heat doesn’t have to travel outside to the inside like other cooking methods. Therefore, microwaves are used mostly for their speed.

However, this shorter cooking time doesn’t allow the food to develop as much flavor. It also doesn’t lead to any crispiness on the skin. Plus, some foods can develop a strange texture.

man using microwave
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock


Microwaves can be utilized to cook anything you can reasonably fit in them. However, that doesn’t mean that it will cook them well. While microwaves can cook many things, you should expect a difference in flavor and texture. There is a reason the microwave hasn’t eliminated other cooking methods—it often doesn’t produce as tasty food.

However, it can be used to reheat things pretty effectively.

divider 4 Power Usage

Microwaves and air fryers use different amounts of energy. While this usually doesn’t matter, it can be an important consideration if you’re looking to lower your energy costs or when energy isn’t plentiful.

Overall, air fryers use much less power than a microwave. Of course, it does depend on how you cook the food. Using an air fryer to reheat something isn’t very effective. However, using a microwave to heat something up requires very little energy.

Therefore, while the energy used is likely different, there isn’t a clear winner for every situation.

Cooking Capacity

Both microwaves and air fryers come in a few different sizes. Therefore, you can choose larger or smaller sizes depending on your needs and counter space. However, air fryers can often cook multiple kinds of food at once. You can often find models with different “baskets” that have different cooking times. In this way, you can often cook more in an air fryer.

Air fryers are usually more compact than microwaves. Therefore, there is often more space for food in the same size appliance.

However, you can also mount microwaves underneath cabinets and in other out-of-the-way places. You may be able to fit a bigger microwave in your home for this reason.

divider 5 Conclusion

Both air fryers and microwaves are relatively different from each other. You cannot use one to replace the other, as they produce very different results in very different ways. You can use an air fryer for cooking things you can’t cook in a microwave. Microwaves are much more efficient in heating things, however. Therefore, the one you need to use depends largely on what you’re trying to do.

Air fryers are newer inventions and they are becoming popular due to their healthy and hands-off cooking method. Microwaves may be much faster, but they are known for producing foods with strange textures and little flavor.

Featured Image Credit: (L) Francisco Zeledon, Shutterstock (R), Shutterstock


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