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You’ve wanted an air fryer for a looooong time. But now that you’re doing your research, you’re not so sure. What the heck is a convection oven anyway? Should you be adding one of those to your cart instead? Fret not, friend. Let’s settle the convection oven vs. air fryer debate once and for all so you can get started on those sweet potato fries ASAP.

RELATED: 15 Air Fryer Chicken Recipes That Make Dinner a Breeze

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What Is an Air Fryer?

Let’s start with the appliance you’ve been flirting with for months. An air fryer is basically a small countertop convection oven that uses high-powered fans to circulate heat. Different from regular baking, convection baking uses an interior fan that blows heat directly onto the food, which results in a crispier final product. That’s how air fryers make restaurant-caliber fries minus the vat of bubbling oil.

Not only does the food turn out crunchier, but it turns crunchy faster too. Air fryers can fry, bake, roast, broil and some can even dehydrate. Air fryers are the best appliance for all frozen foods (hellooooo, pizza bagels), raw vegetables (ahem, potatoes) and meats (i.e., chicken wings) that taste best when super crispy. Frozen foods don’t require any oil, but raw foods (veggies, wings, etc.) just need a quick toss in some EVOO before being dropped in the basket. We’d say that’s the air fryer’s most famous perk: Not only do you get to skip the messy frying, but you can also make all your favorites with a fraction of the fat and calories.

Air fryers are often taller than they are wide (the opposite of convection ovens) and have a drawer with a metal basket inside, which holds your food while it cooks. You might have to air fry in batches due to the basket’s size, but the plus side is that the food will cook faster (think: less than 15 minutes for crunchy chicken tenders). Air fryers are typically about 12 inches all around or smaller and electric, making them a great compact addition to your kitchen counter. Because they’re smaller than typical convection ovens, they can cook your meals quicker, thanks to the interior fan being closer to the food.

convection oven vs air fryer convection oven
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What Is a Convection Oven?

Convection cooking used to be exclusive to restaurant kitchens, but now just about anyone can take advantage. Think of them like toaster ovens with an internal fan that blows heat around. Convection ovens use convection baking to cook food, but the heating elements are usually on the top and bottom of the oven rather than just the top like an air fryer. Instead of a basket, convection ovens have interior racks to hold sheet pans. They can toast, bake, roast, broil and sometimes air fry and dehydrate.

There are two major perks here, one being size. Convection ovens are generally bigger than air fryers, so they can cook more food in one shot (if you’re cooking for a crowd with an air fryer, odds are you’d need to work in batches). And their wide shape allows the food to be spread in an even layer on the rack rather than stacked, which aids in crisping it all quickly and evenly. The other plus is the wide variety of foods you can cook. Convection ovens are great for meat and roasts, pizza, baked dishes like casseroles and desserts like pie, cookies and pastries. The fan can be turned off in order to bake things that need a moister environment, like soufflé or cheesecake.

P.S., your oven at home might already have a convection setting (lucky you).

Still undecided? Here are some additional pros and cons:

  • Convection ovens usually let you watch the food as it cooks. You can’t see inside an air fryer without opening it up.
  • Air fryers, due to their smaller size, are easy to store in a cabinet when you’re not using them. You’ll need a larger, more permanent spot for a convection oven.
  • Convection ovens are a breeze to clean. All you need to do is wash the pan. Air fryers have messier cleanup. Foods like chicken wings or hot dogs will drip through the basket into the bucket beneath it while they cook, so you’ll need to remove and clean both separately.
  • Air fryers preheat essentially right away, while convection ovens take a bit more time to start working their magic. Air fryer fans are usually both bigger and faster.
  • Convection ovens can replace your toaster and sometimes double as air fryers (look for one that comes with a crisper tray).
  • Air fryers are typically noisier than convection ovens (but that’s a price we’re willing to pay for onion rings and the like).
  • If appliances are all about the accessories for you, look no further than the air fryer. They often come with extras like racks, skewers and rotisserie spits.
  • Convection ovens tend to be more expensive—they’re bulkier and more multipurpose. But TBH, they’re not too much pricier than air fryers overall.
  • It’s really easy to convert the cooking temperature of your favorite recipes for both convection ovens and air fryers. No matter what you’re making, just reduce the temperature by 25°F and keep the cooking time the same.

The bottom line

Here’s the thing: Odds are you can tackle most recipes in either appliance. It really comes down to the free space in your kitchen and how much food you’re usually cooking. If you eat solo or cook for two most nights, an air fryer is the quickest route from zero to dinner. But if you’re cooking for a bunch of kids and have the counter space, a convection oven will save you time down the road since you won’t have to cook in batches. If your motivation is purely wellness, the air fryer is the best way to go since they have drip pans to catch excess oil as the food cooks. Whatever appliance you decide, one thing’s for sure: You’ll need ketchup. Lots and lots of ketchup.

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