Welcome back to Air Fryer Bro, and we are looking at a growing question for a lot of people these days. This is a question a lot of people outside the air fryer world will be wondering. Is an air fryer better or worse than a traditional oven? Well, today we hope to start you off thinking about this more, and giving our own opinion in the process.
Just to be clear, we want to compare an air fryer to a traditional build in oven, as this is the comparison that a lot of potential buyers of air fryers are thinking about.
Is an air fryer better than an oven? The short answer is that there is no winner! It depends on the needs of your household. For most people, it will come down to size. If you have a large family and you are cooking large batches, a traditional oven would be better. However, if you have a need for smaller batches, then an air fryer would fit that need much better due to the compact size. If you have the need for both, you will probably end up buying both!
What is an air fryer?
If you frequent this site often, I am sure you know all about air fryers! But for the rest of you, an air fryer is a kitchen appliance that sits in your countertop and will cook your food using incredibly hot air. This hot air comes from a heating element, and when this is coupled with a powerful fan, you get an air fryer.
The most important part of an air fryer is the air flow. The food is cooked by air, so you need to make sure that the air fryer has excellent air flow to enable all sides of your food to get properly cooked.
This is why traditional air fryers have a basket that is suspended inside, with space all around it. Air flow is king when it comes to air frying!
The whole reason food gets crispy in an air fryer is because of the Maillard reaction. I am not a scientist, so I will not attempt to explain it here! If you want to get deep in the weeds with this, you should go read all about it on Wikipedia!
Types of air fryers
The first type of air fryer on the market is what I usually refer to as the traditional air fryer. These were set up to directly compete with oil fat fryers. Therefore, these early air fryers have a very similar look to a domestic oil fryer. With a bucket or barrel main cooking compartment, and a basket that you lift in and out of it.
Look at the photos above, on the left is an early air fryer, and on the right is a more traditional deep fat fryer used in the home. You should be able to quickly see why the first air fryers were designed the way they were, appealing to those people currently deep fat frying in the home.
More recently, there has been a new type of air fryer that has come onto the market, the oven style air fryer. These have quickly become popular, as they offer the air cooking power of an air fryer with the convenience of a regular oven. These oven style air fryers look like small tabletop ovens, usually with at least two cooking racks. This means that you can cook more without compromising air flow.
What is a traditional oven?
Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably already know what a traditional oven is. However, we want to detail how they work, as this will give you a clearer idea about the comparisons we make later.
To put it simply, an oven is a sealed chamber (usually insulated) used to maintain heat for the purposes of baking or roasting.
Usually an oven will have heating elements on the top and bottom of the cooking compartment. If you want to grill, you would use only the top heating element, using both to roast or bake.
Later in the oven’s life, they introduced the idea of a fan assisted oven or convection oven. You may be saying that these types of ovens are exactly the same as an air fryer. Well, they are, in fact, different. Fan assisted ovens usually have a much smaller and less powerful fan than an air fryer.
Air Fryer VS Traditional Oven
An air fryer is a compact countertop appliance (most are smaller than a typical microwave), so it takes up way less space in your kitchen than a conventional oven. It can also be moved around much more easily than a traditional oven (which is usually fitted into your kitchen in one spot).
An air fryer is also a great appliance for those that have tiny kitchens where it is impossible to have a full size oven. An air fryer will still be able to fit and would provide the ability to roast and bake like a regular oven, alongside many other cooking styles. For someone that can speak from personal experience, I love the versatility of this compact countertop appliance!
Because air fryers are like a convection oven on steroids, they cook food a lot faster than a traditional oven. This is achieved due to the combination of a more compact cooking area and the powerful fan used to push the hot air around the food.
For those of you that follow my Bro Meals experiments on this site, you will see that often the cooking time required is usually half of what is needed with a fan assisted oven with the air fry cooking method.
The other great thing with an air fryer is the fact that it will heat up almost instantly, not even requiring you to preheat. This leads to shorter total time cooking and much more convenience when you want to cook at the last minute.
Easier to Clean
An air fryer is much smaller than a regular oven, and therefore it is much easier to clean. I used to hate having to clean out my traditional oven, with all the caked on mess that gets in there. Due to the size and nature of the oven, people tend to do a total cleanup of their oven much less than you can do with an air fryer.
For example, my current air fryer has a cooking basket and cooking compartment that lift out of the air fryer. This means after every use I simply soak it in hot soapy water for a few minutes and wipe off the cooking residue. For me, this is a much faster and easier way to clean.
Even the more recent oven style air fryers are easy to wipe out, due to the smaller size. Also, they often have a built in drip tray, which can be taken out and cleaned separately from the main oven.
Wider range of cooking styles
The great thing about an air fryer, is it allows you to cook in a much wider variety of ways than a conventional oven. You can air fry as an alternative to hot oil frying (otherwise known as deep frying!!), as well as being able to roast and even bake cakes. Reheated pizza is also amazing in an air fryer!
As air fryers have a way to vent hot air out of the unit, they are also great for dehydrating food. Whether you are cooking french fries, chicken nuggets, chicken wings or dehydrating fruit, this can all be done inside your air fryer 🙂 It’s not only for people that want to replace fried foods with something healthier.
Having an air fryer will give you so much more flexibility and choice in a kitchen appliance that is taking up much less of your countertop space. Have you seen the size of some of the dedicated dehydrators out there?
Doesn’t heat up whole room
I live in a very hot country, so in the summer I don’t want to do anything to add to the sweltering heat. Actually, I usually don’t cook with my stove much in the summer because of this very reason. When you are finished, you feel like you just stepped out of the sauna!
An air fryer is great, because it is compact and well insulated to keep a lot of the heat inside. This means you can use it without the fear of heating up your whole kitchen. A lot of people see this as a major benefit of using an air fryer over a regular oven.
Good for small batches
There are times when you may just want to cook something for one or two people (or knock up quick appetizers), and in this situation an air fryer is perfect. It has a more compact nature and can heat up to temperature instantly. Add to this that the cooking times are much faster than a traditional oven, and you have the ideal kitchen appliance to whip out for those small batch occasions.
More Energy Efficient
An air fryer is more energy efficient than a traditional oven.
Some people look at air fryers and think they are wasting electricity with such a powerful machine. I have heard people talking about having electricity bills going up by $30 a month down to an air fryer. This is, in fact, a misconception. Let’s look at the facts.
A typical air fryer will have a rating of around 1500-1700 watts. A traditional electric oven that you would have in your typical fitted kitchen would run you more like 3400 watts. Even a counter top toaster oven would run you around 1500 watts, and they are wasting a lot more heat than an air fryer because of poor insulation.
Add to this the fact that most traditional ovens must be preheated, whereas an air fryer is up to temperature instantly. To me, it is obvious that an air fryer is more economical. Usually, the people worrying about electric bills are those that used to do most of their cooking with gas before. I don’t know about you, but in my country, electric is much cheaper than gas!
As I said at the start of this article, I am comparing an air fryer to a traditional oven that many people will have installed in their kitchens. These fitted ovens are much larger than even the largest oven style air fryers.
These means that if you need to cook a roast dinner for a large family, the traditional oven will always win out over the air fryer. When I was younger, one of my good friend’s mother really enjoyed baking. She was baking every day, and there were always biscuits and cakes overflowing in Tupperware containers in their store cupboard/ pantry. For these people, the size of a traditional oven is a must.
Air frying is a relatively new style of cooking, so you will see that some users will have problems in the early days. This includes the white smoke problem and the dry food problem that I have detailed in other articles on this website.
Most people have been using traditional ovens their whole life, so are able to use them without any of those concerns. There is no form of learning curve with an oven, everything is pretty simple and straightforward.
Traditional ovens have been around for a much longer time than the air fryer, so naturally you can find a much wider range of ovens than you can air fryers. They are starting to catch up, now that the air fryer trend is growing, but traditional ovens are still way ahead. Walk into your local electrical store, and take a look at both of these kitchen appliances.
Usually, you will find row after row of traditional ovens, and one shelf of air fryers if you are lucky. Where I live, you would literally find a maximum of 4 choices when it comes to air fryers. This will probably change in the future, but for the meantime, traditional ovens are much easier to find and offer a wider choice.
Better for Light Foods
You can easily cook light food in a conventional oven, but this is not so easy when air-frying!
As an air fryer uses rapid hot air circulation to accomplish the air-frying method, it means that you can’t easily cook light food in an air fryer. For example, if you place a piece of bread in one to make toast, it will fly around your air fryer basket and probably get stuck on the heating element and cause a potential fire hazard. You can get around this by trying to pin down light food using an additional rack over the top, but for me I just stopped cooking light food in my air fryer full stop.
Which one should I buy?
I am sure a lot of you are flicking through different products on Amazon wondering which to buy!! In this case, the decision to buy an air fryer or a conventional oven very much depends on your own personal situation. Maybe you have a very large family and always have to cook a lot. Maybe a traditional oven is for you. Maybe you are finding situations happening where you are heating up a big traditional oven just to cook a small batch of food. Then maybe an air fryer would become a valid and useful tool in your kitchen appliance arsenal.
The main reason we wrote this article is to lay out the key differences and advantages of each type of oven. This will hopefully help you make the right decision for your household.
Air-frying is a great addition to any modern kitchen. I know for me personally I use the air fry cooking method pretty much daily at this point.
If you have your own experiences with an air fryer, or have your own opinions about the pro’s of these ovens, we would love to hear all about it in the comments section below.
We have done some other air fryer comparisons that might interest you. Click the text links below to go view them: