Air fryer vs convection oven: the differences, pros and cons, and how to pick the best appliance for the job

Select the best cooking appliance for your needs with our expert guide

air fryer vs convection oven
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Learning the differences and merits of air fryers vs convection oven will come in handy when choosing which to use for each cooking task, and whether or not to even invest in an air fryer.

From speed of cooking to energy efficiency, our culinary expert explains the pros and cons of each kitchen appliance, providing top tips and product recommendations along the way.

In the red corner, the best air fryers are our lightweight contender, producing great food at super speeds; in the blue corner, convection ovens are the heavyweight to underestimate at your peril. 

Size: how air fryers and convection ovens compare

High angle view of female hands taking out freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from the oven

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One of the most noticeable differences between an air fryers and convection ovens are their size. 

Convection ovens are larger and typically built into kitchen cabinetry or come as a part of a range. This increased size allows for more cooking space, making them suitable for baking large batches of cookies, roasting whole chickens, or cooking multiple dishes at once. The downside is that convection ovens require cabinet space and may not be as convenient for those with limited kitchen real estate.

In contrast, air fryers are much smaller and portable.

Kevin Ashton, culinary advisor at Restaurantji, says, "Air fryers are generally more compact and take up less space on your counter. They are ideal for small kitchens, apartments, or for those who don't have the luxury of big kitchen space. Their vertical design allows for efficient storage when they are not in use. So, if you are more concerned about size because you don't have much space in your kitchen, an air fryer wins the race."

While the best small air fryers are ideal for tight kitchens, apartments, or for those who want to save counter space. Their small size allows them to preheat quickly and cook smaller portions efficiently, if you're cooking for a large family or often prepare multiple dishes simultaneously, a convection oven is the way to go.

Speed: how air fryers and convection ovens compare

Larinest Air Fryer from Amazon with its tray open and a roasted chicken visible. The drawer has a looking window

(Image credit: Amazon)

When it comes to cooking speed, air fryers often have the edge due to their compact size and high-speed fans. 

The concentrated hot air in an air fryer circulates more rapidly around the food, resulting in faster cooking times, making it an excellent choice for quick meals, snacks, and reheating leftovers. For busy individuals or those who value quick meal preparation, an air fryer can be a game-changer.

We like this Larinest 8-Quart Air Fryer from Amazon for its combination of a family-sized basket and quick cooking time.

Convection ovens, while still faster than traditional ovens, typically take longer to cook food than air fryers, especially if fully loaded, and need more time to preheat due to their size. However, the even heat distribution in convection ovens ensures consistent cooking results, which can be beneficial for baking and roasting larger items.

Kevin adds, "If speed is your primary concern, the air fryer is better. Its compact design and size allow food to cook quickly by circulating hot air around it at high speed. An air fryer is perfect for preparing fast meals and snacks. Although ovens are relatively quick, they are better suited for preparing larger meals requiring a bit more time."

Cooking: how air fryers and convection ovens compare

Woman putting a tray of vegetables in the oven

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Cooking capabilities differ significantly between air fryers and convection ovens, with each appliance excelling at different types of food. 

Kevin says, "Air fryers are good for preparing foods such as French fries, mozzarella sticks, chicken wings, and other traditionally deep-fried items that taste delicious when crispy. The compact cooking chamber also makes it the best option for preparing vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. These vegetables roast quickly and evenly in an air fryer, achieving a nice crispy exterior while maintaining a tender inside."

Air fryers also perform well with reheating leftovers, as they can quickly restore crispiness to foods that might become soggy in a microwave or overcook in a convection oven.

The best convection ovens, on the other hand, are more versatile and can handle a wider range of cooking tasks. They excel at baking cakes, cookies, and bread, thanks to the even heat distribution. Roasting meats and vegetables in a convection oven yields consistently delicious results with a perfect balance of crispiness and tenderness.

Additionally, the larger size of convection ovens allows for simultaneous cooking of multiple dishes, which can be a significant advantage when preparing meals for gatherings or family dinners.

Cleaning: how air fryers and convection ovens compare

Tray of vegetables and roast turkey going into the oven

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Ease of cleaning is an important consideration when choosing between using an air fryer or a convection oven, especially if you're crunched on time. 

Cleaning air fryers comes with several plus-points. In particular, they often have removable baskets and trays that are dishwasher-safe, making cleanup relatively easy.

However, their smaller size means that food particles and grease can become trapped in tight spaces, requiring regular and thorough cleaning to prevent buildup and ensure optimal performance. This includes grease on the protective and usually removable mesh protected in the lid, which protects the heating element from direct spatter.

Convection ovens, especially built-in models, can be more challenging to clean due to their larger size and fixed components. However, regular cleaning of the oven racks, interior surfaces, and fans is necessary to maintain efficiency and prevent food contamination. 

Many convection ovens come with a self-cleaning feature, which uses high heat to burn off food residues, but this process can be time-consuming and energy-intensive.

While cleaning a convection oven can be more labor-intensive, the ability to cook larger meals may outweigh this drawback for some users but we'd say that boils down to how large your household is and the type of foods you love cooking.

Energy: how air fryers and convection ovens compare

Air frying waffle potato fries at home

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Energy consumption is another factor to consider when comparing air fryers and convection ovens. 

Kevin says, "Air fryers are generally more energy efficient because they are small and require less energy to heat up and maintain temperature. Also, since air fryers typically cook faster than convection ovens, shorter cooking times translate to less energy usage overall. 

"For instance, cooking a batch of French fries in an air fryer takes approximately 15 minutes compared to 25 minutes in an oven. The rapid air circulation in an air fryer ensures even cooking without the need for prolonged exposure to heat, which further reduces energy consumption."

Though some convection ovens are designed with energy-saving features, they are likely to have a higher energy usage compared to air fryers; this energy efficiency can lead to lower electricity bills and a reduced environmental footprint, making air fryers an appealing choice for eco-conscious consumers.

Versatility: how air fryers and convection ovens compare

Instant Vortex Plus XL 8QT ClearCook Air Fryer - Amazon

(Image credit: Amazon)

Versatility is a key category where convection ovens often outperform air fryers.

While air fryers are excellent for specific tasks like frying and reheating, convection ovens offer broader cooking options.

From baking and roasting to broiling and dehydrating, the best integrated convection ovens provide greater flexibility for a wide range of culinary activities. This versatility makes convection ovens a more comprehensive solution for those who enjoy experimenting with different cooking methods and recipes.

Air fryers, though less versatile, are perfect for individuals who primarily seek a healthier way to enjoy fried foods without the hassle of deep frying. They are also convenient for quick snacks and meals, making them a valuable addition to a kitchen that already has a conventional or convection oven.

When it comes to more versatile air fryers, we love this Instant Vortex Plus XL 8-Quart ClearCook Air Fryer from Amazon thanks to its large capacity combined with its dual controls that allow you different settings for each basket.

Kevin recommends the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro from Amazon. He says, "I love it because it has 13 preset functions, including slow cook, roast, pizza and bagel. Its pre-heating function also adds a level of precision to my cooking. It's easy to clean, too."

Meet our expert

Kevin Ashton profile photo
Kevin Ashton

Kevin Ashton is the Culinary Advisor at Restaurantji, a website helping more than 5 million visitors a month find great places to eat in the USA and Canada. A seasoned chef with more than 40 years of experience, Kevin has worked at a host of prestigious venues, and served VIPs including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as well as former US Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan.

So there you have it — air fryer vs convection oven, solved. 

Choosing between an air fryer and a convection oven ultimately depends on your cooking needs, kitchen space, and personal preferences. If you have limited space, need quick meal preparation, and prefer healthier fried foods, an air fryer may be the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you require a versatile appliance capable of handling a variety of cooking tasks and larger meal preparations, a convection oven might be more suitable.

Next, check out our run-down of how air fryers and deep fryers compare.

Andy van Terheyden
Freelance Writer

I'm a senior writer with an English degree and NCJ qualification, plus years of experience writing news, lifestyle and consumer articles for the national and international press. I'm also a copywriter, working on a breadth of consumer and corporate projects, and a private education consultant. I live in the quiet of the countryside and spend my weekends mooching around homeware shops, completing DIY tasks to breathe life into my small, newly-built home.