The introduction of smart, highly efficient kitchen appliances like the air fryer and convection oven has transformed kitchens across the country.
This new generation of appliances are better than traditional deep fryers and conventional ovens in just about every aspect. They can cook faster and more evenly and are more energy efficient. In the air fryer’s case, it can produce healthier food for the family as well.
Better yet, their prices have become a lot more affordable over the years.
But there is an ongoing tussle between cooks over which is better: the air fryer vs convection oven. If you’re caught up in this predicament and don’t know which one to choose, this buying guide will tell you everything you need to know before you make a purchase.
- Differences Between an Air Fryer and a Convection Oven
- Air Fryer vs Convection Toaster Oven: The Best Models to Get
Differences Between an Air Fryer and a Convection Oven
What Is a Convection Oven?
On the outside, a convection oven looks exactly like a regular oven, with a boxy, rectangular design. Even the downward-opening front door that is reminiscent of the traditional oven.
The difference lies in the way that the convection oven cooks the food.
A conventional toaster oven has a heating element to blast the food with heat. But the newer convection oven comes with an extra fan. This fan circulates the hot air generated by the heating element around the cooking chamber.
This fast-moving current of hot air — called convection — is what’s going to cook your food in a convection oven.
There are plenty of advantages to harnessing the convection effect.
The first is that convection applies more heat to the exterior of the food than a normal oven. As a result, a convection oven will cook your food much quicker.
Furthermore, thanks to the force of the hot air impacting the food, it comes out crispier.
Evenness is the second advantage. The circulating air will apply heat equally in all directions, thus, your food will cook more evenly. You won’t end up with some parts being piping hot while others are too cold.
In order to maximize the smoothness of the hot air flow, the interior of a convection oven is designed to be as wide as possible. Its width allows you to place your food in a single layer on the interior cooking rack (which can usually fit a full-size baking sheet).
This is important. When arranged in a single layer, hot air can travel between the food pieces and cook them more evenly. If you stack your food, the hot air flow can be broken, resulting in an uneven cook.
What Food Can You Cook With a Convection Oven?
Like we said earlier, a convection oven isn’t all that different from a normal oven.. Any food that you can normally cook in a regular oven, you can also cook in a convection oven.
You can use it to make pastries like scones and cookies, bake pizzas and casseroles, and roast meat or vegetables.
Toasting is also an option. There are plenty of recipes for oven-toasted granola, nuts, and sandwiches.
What Is an Air Fryer?
An air fryer is simply a smaller, more compact version of a convection oven. It works using the same principle. First, a heating element heats up the air inside the air fryer. Then, a fan will kick in to blow and circulate the hot air inside the cooking bucket. The resulting convection effect heats up and cooks the food.
Because the convection effect can make food very crispy, it gives the impression that air fryers “fry” the food. However, air fryers don’t actually “fry” anything.
Rather, they bake the food.
Despite being more or less a convection oven, the design of an air fryer is different. It doesn’t have the same boxy design. Instead, most models either look like a cylindrical coffee maker or a square-ish cooker.
The air fryer will come with a bucket that you can remove by pulling a handle.
Inside this bucket is a frying basket, which will contain the food that you intend to air fry. Place your food into the basket, slot the bucket back into the machine, turn it on, and the air fryer will get to work.
Directly above the bucket is the heating system consisting of the heating element and the blowing fan.
One thing that differentiates the air fryer’s heating system from that of a convection oven is that it is much closer to the food. That way, more heat can be imparted onto the food. The intensity of the heat is primarily how air fryers achieve a better browning effect and greater crispiness compared to convection ovens.
The cooking bucket is also smaller in size than an oven’s cooking chamber. As a result, air fryers typically finish their job much faster than a convection oven.
But there’s one downside to the air fryer.
Unlike a convection oven, which has a wide cooking chamber for you to arrange food in a single layer, an air fryer’s bucket is small. That means, more often than not, you have to stack or pile up the food. This can substantially decrease the air fryer’s efficiency.
What Food Can You Cook With an Air Fryer?
The greatest advantage to using an air fryer is that it allows for oil-free cooking.
Yes, around a tablespoon of oil spray (avoid dripping oil directly into the air fryer) will make the food crispier. But if you want your food to be as healthy as possible, you can opt to air fry it without oil.
Oil-free cooking is a godsend if you love fried foods but also want to maintain a healthy diet. Research has shown that air fryers’ oil-free cooking mechanism can have positive impacts on your dietary health.
Take advantage of this and switch to preparing your favorite fried recipes with the air fryer. You can cook fried chicken, fish, vegetables, French fries, and more. All in all, you can use the air fryer to make any fried recipe.
Frying isn’t all that an air fryer can do nowadays, though. A few premium air fryers, besides air frying, can also bake, grill, and roast.
Air Fryer vs Convection Toaster Oven: The Best Models to Get
Air Fryer vs Countertop Convection Oven: Ninja AF161 Max XL vs Breville BOV800XL
If you need the best that the market has to offer, you can either choose between the Ninja AF161 or the Breville BOV800XL. The former is a highly-rated air fryer, while the latter is just as well-positioned as a top-market convection oven.
Two things make the Ninja AF161 Max XL an excellent family-size air fryer: its size and versatility.
With a capacity of 5.5 quarts, this air fryer is capable of preparing hearty meals for a family of four. But the size is only the second best thing about the AF161. Its greatest boon is actually the multi-mode cooking system that it comes with.
Excluding air frying, the Ninja AF161 contains numerous other cooking modes, ranging from air broiling and roasting to baking and dehydrating. This makes the Ninja AF161 far more versatile and will allow you to prepare more recipes besides air frying.
Powerful Heating Element
The center component of the Ninja AF161 is the 1,750-watt heating element located right underneath the lid.
Compared to most air fryers, the heating element of the AF161 is considered fairly powerful. It can bore down more heat upon the food inside the frying basket, so it will cook quicker.
An extra feature that you may appreciate if you love preparing fried recipes is the “Max Crisp” mode. This is basically the supercharged variant of the normal air frying mode that, according to Ninja’s official guide, can fry 30% faster.
It does this by throttling up the heating element and air frying your foods at 450°F. During normal air frying, the temperature only goes between 200°F and 400°F at best.
Performance tests have shown that Max Crisp does live up to Ninja’s claims. In fact, in most cases, Max Crisp even exceeds expectations.
Using the normal air frying mode, it takes approximately 20 to 25 minutes at 200°F – 250°F to cook French fries. But with Max Crisp enabled, the fries get just as brown and crispy in only 10 minutes.
That’s more or less a 50% reduction in cooking time.
Besides air frying, the Ninja AF161 is capable of performing other cooking settings. You can air roast, bake, reheat, or dehydrate. Just press the labeled button on the control panel and the air fryer will do the rest.
In total, you have five different cooking modes to go around.
As soon as you take it out of the box, you notice how large the AF161 is. At around 11 inches wide and 14 inches high, it is going to take up roughly the same amount of space as a microwave. The appliance weighs 11 pounds, which is quite heavy.
Granted, the air fryer would most likely never be moved from its place on your countertop. But the weight will definitely be awkward to deal with when you first unpack the machine and need to carry it into the kitchen.
But other than that, the air fryer has a solid construction with an attractive design. It won’t have any issue fitting into your kitchen space.
The air fryer has been rated by most users as easy to use. Its frontal control panel has clearly labelled buttons and a bright LED screen for displaying temperature and timing. Most people will be able to familiarize themselves with the machine and its controls in only a couple minutes.
The large 5.5 quarts frying basket will be able to accommodate large meals. According to Ninja’s manual, the basket can prepare 3 pounds of fries or 3 pounds of chicken wings at once. So, it can feed a small family with relative ease.
To make maintenance as easy as possible, Ninja has coated both the frying bucket and basket with a layer of nonstick ceramic. Food residue won’t stick onto either of them easily. If some does get stuck on, you can just give them a light wipe with a cloth and the debris will promptly come off.
Both components are dishwasher-safe, so it’s unlikely that you will ever have to manually clean the bucket and basket. We recommend giving them a wash after every cleaning session to make sure that food debris won’t accumulate.
The crowning feature of the Breville Smart Oven BOV800XL is the Element iQ system. Rather than having only a single heating element, the BOV800XL has five quartz heating elements. Each one is individually controlled to cook your food as evenly as possible.
The system, when it operates in tandem with the built-in circulation fans, can cook foods 30% faster than traditional single-element convection ovens.
Its efficient heating system aside, the BOV800XL also has a high-capacity cooking chamber, beautiful design, and an easy-to-use control panel. You also get a 9-in-1 cooking system with this oven.
Altogether, it is a great convection oven to consider if you only want the best for your kitchen. It will also be the better choice if you need something that offers more versatility than even a multi-purpose air fryer like the Ninja AF161.
Element iQ Heating System
Needless to say, the bulk of the Breville BOV800XL’s performance is derived from its Element iQ heating system. The entire system has a wattage rating of 1,800 watts. It will be able to generate enough heat to handle just about any recipe you have in mind.
To control the five quartz heating elements, sensors are built into the cooking chamber. Depending on the sensors’ readouts, the microprocessor is going to flexibly adjust each of the heating elements. Thanks to this, your food will always come out of the oven evenly heated.
Cooking efficiency is further improved with the aid of a circulation fan inside. According to Breville’s guide, the fan — facilitating the convection effect — can reduce average cooking time by as much as 30%.
You can tune the cooking system to one of nine different cooking functions. In contrast, the Ninja AF161 air fryer is only capable of handling four functions.
Each setting will already have the appropriate timing and temperature loaded. You only need to press the button and the oven will handle the rest.
From the very first look, there is little doubt that the Breville BOV800XL is a pricey investment. The oven is constructed primarily from stainless steel. Every component, from the door, to the handle, to the adjustment knobs on the control panel, is metal.
Right above the metal control knobs is the large LCD display. Unlike more affordable ovens whose LED screens only display the timing and the temperature, the screen of the BOV800XL does a lot more.
Besides the standard timing and temperature, it can also tell you the current active cooking mode. The screen will also tell you whether the convection fan is active and whether the pre-heating phase has been completed or not.
An interesting feature of the LCD screen is that it can change color depending on whether it is active or not. When it is not working, the screen will appear blue. However, when it is working (pre-heating or warming), the screen will turn orange.
This visual cue, in our opinion, can drastically improve safety and prevent accidents.
Like most ovens, the BOV800XL has an interior light that automatically turns on when you open the door of the oven. At the end of each cooking session, it will also light up to let you inspect the food within.
The only regrettable part of this oven is the short 3-foot power cord. This can make it a bit of a challenge to find the right place for it on the countertop. Indeed, you may have to plug it into an extension cord.
The cooking chamber of the Breville BOV800XL is large enough to cook for a family of six. The internal rack is large enough to fit about six slices of bread for toasting, six muffin trays, or a whole 13-inch pizza.
Its overall size is more spacious than that of the AF161. So if you often have to prepare a lot of meals all at once, the BOV800XL can suit your needs nicely.
Breville has done a good job at making the BOV800XL easy to clean and maintain. The internal walls of the cooking chamber are coated in a layer of nonstick material. It will make cleaning significantly easier and less messy.
Virtually every single part of the oven must be cleaned manually using a damp cloth and mild soap.
Though the accessories (wire rack, broil rack, baking pan, and pizza pan) can be put into a dishwasher, it is not recommended, as the harsh environment inside a dishwasher can significantly reduce their lifespan.
Entry-level Air Fryer vs Convection Oven: Instant Pot Vortex Air Fryer vs Toshiba AC25CEW-BS Digital Oven
If the two models above are a bit out of your price range, here are two entry-level products worth taking into consideration. Depending on what you need most in a multi-purpose appliance, either will do the job excellently.
Instant Pot has a fairly reliable track record of manufacturing products that aren’t just affordable, but also have great performance and design.
All three are true for the Instant Pot Vortex air fryer. This 6-quart air fryer can be had for less than $100, which is excellent for those who are budget-minded.
Similar to the Ninja AF161, the Instant Pot Vortex also has a multi-mode cooking system. It is not as extensive as the AF161, however, with only four modes (three, if you don’t count air frying): roasting, baking, and reheating.
Decently Powerful Performance
The Instant Pot Vortex comes with a 1,500-watt heating element. That is in spite of having a frying basket that is half a quart larger than the AF161. As a result of the less powerful heating element, the Vortex will take a bit longer on average to cook your food than the AF161.
But in return, the Vortex offers “EvenCrisp” technology. Although the specifics of this technology haven’t been disclosed, Instant Pot claims that it can air fry food more evenly and with a crispier finish than its competitors.
As this is a rather difficult claim to verify, we cannot say with 100% certainty whether it is true or not. But most users seem to agree that the end quality of the food cooked using the Vortex comes out great: evenly cooked and crisp.
Next to air frying, the Instant Pot Vortex can perform three other functions, namely roasting, baking, and reheating. So all in all, you get four cooking modes.
To use these functions, just press the relevant button on the control panel. The microprocessor will set the appropriate timing and temperature.
Though the availability of the three extra cooking modes is appreciated, we do wish that Instant Pot had given the Vortex more. Even one more setting would have substantially extended the range of recipes that can be prepared with the Vortex and make it a more versatile machine.
Like most air fryers at this capacity (larger than 5 quarts), the Instant Pot Vortex is quite bulky and heavy. You will need to set aside quite a big space on your countertop for it. At 12 pounds, the Vortex is a pretty heavy air fryer, too.
Bulky and heavy, yes, but the Vortex certainly isn’t ugly. Instant Pot did a decent job at designing the Vortex so neither its construction nor its aesthetic betrays its price tag.
It has an all-black, matte coating. The matte paint, in particular, really sets it apart from other air fryers aesthetic-wise. Additionally, it hides the fact that the outer construction of the Vortex is mostly plastic.
Durability is questionable with a mostly plastic design. However, if you’re careful to never drop it from the countertop, it will hold up well
With a 6-quart frying basket, the Vortex has the internal space necessary to make family-size portions. Instant Pot’s manual calculated that the basket is large enough to fully fit either 2 pounds of fries or 4 pounds of chicken.
Unlike the Ninja AF161, most of the maintenance-intensive parts of the Vortex are not dishwasher-safe. The frying basket must be cleaned by hand using a damp cloth. This also goes for the cooking chamber and the air fryer’s exterior.
The only part that can be washed using a dishwasher is the cooking tray — a removable net at the bottom of the basket.
For a budget product, the Toshiba AC25CEW-BS convection oven is loaded with features that are usually only found in pricier models.
First is the all-metal, luxurious design. It most definitely doesn’t look like a sub-$100 oven. The second is the bright LCD screen that can display information as richly as the pricier Breville BOV800XL.
Its performance isn’t shabby, either, with a 1,500-watt heating system and supporting convection fan. It also boasts a 10-function cooking system.
For the price, the Toshiba AC25CEW-BS is quite a good value purchase.
Hi-powered Heating Element
The 1,500-watt heating element inside the AC25CEW-BS is powerful enough to cook any recipe. With the aid of the convection fan, the oven will also be able to complete the job more efficiently and evenly. Its cooking speed is quick, too (compared to traditional ovens).
Similar to most other convection ovens, the AC25CEW-BS has a multi-mode cooking system. With this model, you get 10 functions:
- Keep warm
As you can see, the Toshiba oven completely floors the Instant Pot Vortex in terms of available cooking modes. The only thing it doesn’t have is an air frying mode. So, for the most parts, if versatility is what you’re seeking then you’re still better off with one of these convection ovens.
Luxurious and Modern Design
The design is the most impressive part of the Toshiba AC25CEW-BS. For a fairly affordable convection oven, the fact that it has a sturdy, luxurious-looking stainless steel construction is a pleasant surprise. The oven looks more expensive by orders of magnitude than it really is.
Certainly, it looks objectively far better than the Instant Pot Vortex when placed on the countertop.
Even the adjustment knobs are made from metal. Directly above the knobs is the LCD screen panel, which is the second surprise found in this version.
Affordable ovens usually only come with basic LED screens to display the most essential information like the set temperature and time. The AC25CEW-BS has a more comprehensive LCD screen to display cooking modes, temperature, time, and a variety of other information. It makes for an easier and more convenient using experience.
Unfortunately, the AC25CEW-BS doesn’t have the color-changing screen of the Breville BOV800XL. You have to rely on the flashing screen and the beeping sounds to determine whether the oven has finished working or not.
The AC25CEW-BS doesn’t come with an interior light either.
The capacity of the Toshiba AC25CEW-BS is decent. It is only slightly smaller than the Breville BOV800XL. You can cook around six slices of bread, about 4 pounds of chicken, or a 12-inch pizza on the internal racks.
There is no information in the user’s manual to indicate that any part of the oven is dishwasher-safe. Furthermore, according to one review, their accessories developed rust after being put into the dishwasher. Therefore, it’s best that you clean everything manually.
In the end, the choice between air fryer vs convection oven comes down to you. Make your selection in accordance with your personal preferences and what you like to cook on a daily basis. Either appliance will make your kitchen a whole lot more adaptable and allow you to prepare more recipes than ever before.