Convection Oven vs Air Fryer: Pros, Cons, & Differences
Technically, an air fryer is just a smaller version of a convection oven. Both air fryers and convection ovens rely on heating elements and fans to circulate hot air and cook food. However, they do have differences that can make them better suited to different circumstances and recipes.
Air fryers have been around for a while now, but it was only in 2018 that this cooking device exploded in popularity. Now, air fryers seem to be everywhere. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between convection ovens and air fryers, how each of them works, as well as both their pros and cons.
Overview of Convection Ovens
Let’s take a look at what a convection oven is, how it works, and when to use it.
How Convection Ovens Work
Whether you’re looking at a tabletop convection oven or a traditional oven with a convection setting, they both work the same way. They’re rectangular, have heating elements, and a fan and exhaust system that blows hot air over the surface of the food and around it as it cooks.
This so-called convection effect blasts the surface of the food at a higher temperature. This results in quicker cooking times.
What They’re Good for
If you enjoy crispy crusts on your pastries, roasted vegetables, and meats, then a convectional oven is better to use than a traditional one. The hot air blowing around the food helps with browning and crisping food surfaces.
One great benefit of a convection oven is that you can cook large batches, for example, cookies, and no matter where you place the baking sheet, the entire batch should cook evenly and at around the same time.
That said, if too much food is cramped or layered onto a single sheet, it still won’t cook evenly because the air must be able to access the entire surface.
Convection ovens are generally big enough to cook a large meal, making them ideal for families. Because the air blows around the entire oven, you can cook more than one dish at the same time. For example, you could cook potatoes and vegetables on the top shelf, while cooking meat below.
Arguably, because convection ovens cook food faster than traditional ovens, they are more energy efficient.
Overview of Air Fryers
You may have noticed futuristic-looking air fryers stacked on shelves in your favorite stores. But what are they, how do they work, and when should you use one? Keep reading to find out.
How Air Fryers Works
Air fryers work in much the same way as convection ovens, only in a smaller space. With an air fryer, you place food inside a small basket, which you slide or place into a coffee-machine-shaped device. Above the food is the heating element, and above that is the fan.
Because of the limited space, an air fryer can blow highly concentrated hot air over the food, and cook it quickly. However, there is a downside.
The food being layered into a basket means that if you’re cooking something like fries, where the food is layered on top of one another, you’ll need to remove the basket at regular intervals to shake the food around.
Also, because of the limited space inside an air fryer, you can only cook food in small batches. You should be able to place one or maybe two portions of food to cook in an air fryer. Any more than that, and you’ll need to cook in batches.
Air fryers get extremely hot, which means they can cook food very fast, and therefore, use less energy than if you were to heat a convection oven.
That said, if you’re cooking more than one batch, it will ultimately take longer—therefore, using up the same amount of electricity, or more.
What They’re Good for
If you’re planning on cooking for one or maybe two people, then using an air fryer is ideal. It will cook your food quicker than a convection oven would, thereby saving you time and money spent on energy bills.
The very high temperature and close proximity to the fan means that it can cook meals like crispy french fries and chicken wings using a small fraction of oil compared to what you’d use with deep fryers, making it a healthier choice.
If you’re stuck for space, air fryers could be a better option than a table-top convection oven. Air fryers can be unplugged and packed away for later use, but convection ovens are usually too large for this.
Air fryers—then known as Maxwell Whirlwind Ovens—were invented for use on airlines to heat frozen food long before they hit the stores, and are still great for heating up your food at home today. They make a great option for anyone hoping to cook a frozen meal for one (or two), quickly and easily.
What Are the Differences Between Air Fryers and Convection Ovens?
We already know that both convection ovens and air fryers work the same way, so the difference isn’t so much how they work, but rather how you’d use one compared to the other.
Convection ovens are larger than air fryers. This means that there’s more space to cook large batches, multiple portions, and multiple dishes at the same time.
However, because they are larger, convection ovens take longer—and therefore, more electricity—to heat up than air fryers do. If you’re only cooking for one or two people, air fryers make more sense.
With such limited space, air fryers get very hot, very quickly, making them excellent at mimicking the “crispy-fried” effect of deep-fried food, minus the oil.
But the lack of cooking space also means that you’ll need to take the food basket out and shake the food around if you’re cooking something that’s layered on top of each other—for example, fries.
Speaking of space, you should also consider the amount of space each device takes up in your kitchen. If you’re wondering whether to get a tabletop convection oven or an air fryer, remember that air fryers are smaller, and in most cases, you can pack them away after use.
Convection ovens are generally larger, so you may need to be prepared to have them out permanently.
Air fryers are quick and easy to use. If you’re looking for an oven to cook frozen meals for one or two people quickly, then they may be a good option for you.
If you’re hoping to make enough food for a group of people, using an air fryer would not be convenient or efficient. You’d need to make several batches, which would mean more time in the kitchen and more manual work.
Finally, there’s the matter of cleaning and maintenance. Although convection ovens should be cleaned regularly, they won’t need a deep clean after every use. Air fryers, on the other hand, must be cleaned thoroughly after every use.
You’ll need to remove the basket and all detachable parts, then wash them in warm, soapy water. Any food remaining on parts of the air fryer could taint the taste of your next batch of food.
That said, there’s no point in heating up an entire convection oven if you’re only cooking a portion of food for one person. An air fryer would use less electricity and have your food cooked in minutes, with a delicious crispy surface.
Air fryers and convection ovens both use hot air to cook food. The main difference is the amount of food you can cook at the same time. An air fryer is large enough to cook for one or two people. So, if you’re feeding a group, you’ll need to cook in batches.
A convection oven is larger, so it’s great for feeding groups, or for baking multiple dishes simultaneously. If you’re only cooking for one or two people, heating a large convection oven can be a waste of time and electricity costs when compared to a compact air fryer.
Featured Image Credit: (L) Enjoy the Life, Shutterstock, (R) Casezy Idea, Shutterstock