Convection Oven vs. Air Fryer: What’s the Difference?

Air fryers have grown in popularity during the past couple of years. If you are thinking about buying one, you likely stumbled across convection ovens as an alternative.

What’s the difference? 

The short answer is not very much.

But there are qualities of each that might impact your purchase of one instead of the other. 

What is Convection Baking?

It helps to know what convection baking is to explain the difference between convection ovens and air fryers.

A traditional oven has one heat source that cooks your food, which is at the bottom of the appliance.

That heat source is stationary and cooks food via heat rising from the bottom. This cooking method can lead to hot and cold spots inside your oven, which can mean uneven baking.

The possibility of uneven cooking is why many recipes instruct you to rotate your pans halfway through the cooking time, ensuring all the food receives equal heat.  

Convection baking, on the other hand, incorporates a fan into the oven. The fan blows the hot air from the heat sources around your food, covering more surface area and cooking your food more quickly. 

It also reduces the moisture inside the oven, which can make your food crispier.  

Convection baking is useful in cooking various foods, such as roasting vegetables or baking pies or pastries. It is also an alternative to deep-fried foods. 

Foods are immersed in hot oil to be deep-fried. Oil is a good conductor of heat, so food submerged in it cooks evenly and creates a crispy exterior. 

When using convection baking, the food cooks faster, which creates the same crispy exterior as deep-fried foods. 

Convection baking is the same method of cooking used by air fryers and convection ovens. But there are differences in how each appliance uses it that might impact your cooking results. 

What is a Convection Oven?

A convection oven looks much like a toaster oven. It is rectangular and has a glass door that opens from one side, with metal racks on the interior. 

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Unlike a toaster oven, a convection oven has a fan that allows for the convection style of baking explained above. 

The fan is situated at the back of the convection oven and blows air from two heat sources located at the top and bottom.  

The fan blows heat from the two heat sources onto the surface of the food, cooking it faster and more evenly and browning it more quickly. This process creates a crispy exterior to your food.  

If you want to crisp your food without deep frying, convection ovens are a healthier option, as they require much less oil. 

To use a convection oven, you spread whatever you are cooking in an even layer on the baking sheet placed on metal racks inside.

Most convection ovens come with a perforated baking sheet that allows the air to reach all sides of the food more evenly.  

Spreading food in an even layer is necessary when using a convection oven, as it ensures everything cooks evenly. If food is layered, it impedes the heat from reaching all of it.  

What is an Air Fryer? 

Air fryers are mini, more portable convection ovens, with a few minor differences.

They rose in popularity initially as an alternative to fried foods.

Like convection ovens, air fryers do not require much oil when cooking foods, making them a healthier option when making favorites such as french fries or chips. 

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But air fryers are small in comparison to convection ovens. Their size allows them not only to preheat more quickly but also to cook food faster.

That means air-fried food is often crispier than even convection oven food. 

Air fryers are taller than their convection oven cousins, usually close to 12 inches, but are not as wide. They resemble a coffee pot in size, meaning they usually fit on your counter.   

There is a removable bucket in the bottom half of the air fryer. Inside the bucket is a perforated tray, where you place the food.  

Unlike a convection oven, the air fryer has just one fan at the top inside, situated above a heating element. 

But, as mentioned above, they still cook the food faster because they are smaller and the fan is closer to the food. 

Because of the air fryer’s size, the basket is much smaller than the inside of a convection oven. That means you can cook just a fraction of what you can in a convection oven. 

For example, in an air fryer, you can typically cook about 1-2 serving sizes of something at once vs. a convection oven, in which you usually can cook much more.

For this reason, using an air fryer might be inconvenient if you cook for a large family or group because you could have to cook the meal in several batches.

Overall, air fryers are more energy efficient because they cook more quickly and require lower temperatures. 

Of course, using an air fryer to make several batches of something negates this benefit. Air fryers also do not typically allow food to be spread out evenly, such as the convection oven. 

If you are cooking something in an air fryer that must be layered, such as chips or onion rings, you must shake the basket periodically to ensure an even cook. 

Convection Oven vs. Air Fryer: Pros and Cons

If you are still unsure what you should purchase for your specific needs, look at the pros and cons listed below.

Convection Oven Pros

  • Capacity: Convection ovens have more space than most air fryers, which means you can cook more food at once. 
  • No Extra Work: Convection ovens provide an even cook without having to shake the basket (like with an air fryer) to make sure everything receives even heat.  
  • Easy to Clean: The front of convection ovens can open completely, allowing for a quick, easy wipe down of any drippings or ash bits. 
  • Visibility: Some cooks prefer to gauge how their food is cooking by looking at it. This type of cooking is easy to do with a convection oven, as the glass doors offer visibility to the cooking food. 
  • Versatility: Convection ovens can cook various foods, including things you might typically make in your air fryer. You can also usually turn off the fan to allow for regular baking.
  • Health Perks: Most recipes only require a quick toss in oil, which is much healthier than some deep-fried counterparts. 

Convection Oven Cons

  • Space: Convection ovens are on the larger side and can take up a fair amount of counter or cupboard space. They are not easy to move around. 
  • Time: Convection ovens are larger than air fryers, so they take longer than air fryers to warm up and cook your food. 
  • Frying: Because convection ovens do not cook food as quickly as an air fryer, they often do not get the food as crispy as an air fryer does. 

Air Fryer Pros

  • Time: Air fryers are smaller, which means they heat up faster and cook food more quickly. 
  • Frying: Because air fryers cook food faster, they usually make the food a bit crispier than convection ovens. 
  • Space: Air fryers take up less counter space. They can also be moved easily from a cabinet to the counter when in use.
  • Accessories: Many air fryers have various accessories available, such as grill racks, baking cups, or additional frying racks that allow versatility in what you can cook.  
  • Health Perks: Most recipes only require a quick toss in oil, which is much healthier than most fried counterparts. Some foods, such as frozen foods, often do not require any oil at all. 

Air Fryer Cons

  • Cleaning: Air fryers can be challenging to clean. Foods can drip into the basket and the bucket, so both often need to be taken out and washed separately. 
  • Sound: Air fryers are louder than convection ovens. Some people compare the sound to that of a vacuum cleaner, which could be distracting. 
  • Visibility: You will not be able to look at the food while it is frying, which might be difficult for some people who are used to cooking by sight. 
  • Size: Air fryers are small and cook lower quantities of food, which might be difficult if you cook for a large family or group of friends. 
  • Attention: Some recipes require extra attention and can involve more work when they require you to shake the basket. The additional work might be inconvenient for people who prefer a more hands-off method. 

Conclusion

Ultimately, air fryers and convection ovens are very similar, and you will likely be able to cook many of the same recipes in either appliance.  

The decision about what you want has a lot to do with your personal needs, such as how many people you are feeding, what space you have available, and what is most convenient to you as a cook. 

Each appliance has pros and cons, but the best choice is what you are most likely to use.

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