If You Have a Convection Oven, You Essentially Have an Air Fryer
Air fryers have come a long way since they first arrived in homes as futuristic orb-like appliances offering healthier cooking options for our favorite cheat-day snacks. The appliance was introduced in 2010, but it didn't become a commonly seen kitchen tool until 2018, when it was declared the "it" gift for Christmas, according to Amazon data. Air fryers were originally used to reheat food on airplanes, but we soon learned you can do so much more at home with an air fryer than fry chicken wings or donut holes without loads of added oil. We now use this trendy countertop device to bake, rehydrate, roast, and re-crisp leftovers the same way we used our convection ovens, which got us thinking … is there really a difference between an air fryer and a convection oven?
The short answer? No.
"The results for foods cooked in an air fryer are comparable to a convection oven," says Dawn Sieber, chef instructor at Purdue University's Hospitality and Tourism Management at Marriott Hall, and that's because an air fryer is basically just a miniature convection oven.
What Is a Convection Oven?
"Convection ovens use a powerful fan to circulate hot air inside the oven, allowing chefs to decrease cooking times, control consistent quality of food, and increase and decrease browning with a more uniform appearance," Sieber explains. Convection ovens were popular in commercial kitchens before they were adapted for home use, and now there are multiple home convection options ranging from conventional ovens with a convection feature ($2,500, The Home Depot) to countertop convection ovens ($165, Amazon).
Convection ovens are great for roasting meats, cooking pizza, baking casseroles, roasting vegetables, and baking scones and crunchy cookies. Cooking goes faster in a convection oven than in a conventional oven, so unless you're using a recipe specifically designed for a convection oven, you'll need to convert recipes with this convection oven conversion guide.
What Is an Air Fryer?
Air fryers also use a fan to circulate hot air around food in the same way a convection oven does, only air fryers are typically smaller and the fan circulates air faster in an air fryer ($70, Target). These little fryers preheat fast and use a fryer basket or perforated tray to help circulate the air and decrease cooking time.
Air fryers are super simple to use and can make golden french fries, crunchy fried pickles, or even crispy kale chips with a tablespoon or less of oil. Because of their ability to decrease calories by not cooking foods in oil, air fryers soared in popularity as soon as they were introduced, but the small size is still a deterrent for many serious cooks. "I never considered the countertop home air-fryer units because they were limited in scope," Sieber admits. "I prefer cooking in my countertop Gourmia multi-function oven ($120, Target) because cooking in hot fat on a stove top can be dangerous and includes too many calories nutritionally."
So, Is an Air Fryer a Convection Oven?
Most convection ovens can air-fry, but not all air fryers can do what a convection oven can. The main difference between an air fryer and convection oven lies in the size, with a convection oven generally having more space for cooking larger amounts of food at one time (e.g., the difference between cooking 8 mini scones or 16 full-size scones). The fan in an air fryer is located at the top of the appliance, which cooks food a little faster than the back-of-the-oven fan in a convection oven, but a convection oven doesn't require any specialty equipment or accessories like an air fryer does.
The Bottom Line
Choosing between an air fryer and a convection oven is entirely about personal preference. Some prefer the small size of an air fryer, while some want all the cooking options and capabilities that come with a convection oven. For those still on the fence, a combination convection toaster oven air fryer ($290, Amazon) may be the answer. "Last year I purchased a Gourmia toaster oven air fryer that was under $150 to replace my toaster," Sieber says. "It is square and with a slightly larger capacity than a typical air fryer, and it operates much like a commercial convection oven and as an air fryer. It's so easy to turn on and has a shorter preheat than a conventional home oven. Its shorter cook times lead to less possible energy use, and I love being able to pop in some bread to toast, potatoes to air-fry, or chicken sausages to roast when I'm pressed for time."
Using a Convection Oven as an Air Fryer
Both air fryers and convection ovens cook recipes about 20°F to 25°F lower than a recipe for a conventional oven, so in terms of temperature, many air-fryer recipes work in a convection oven. "The conversion is very similar, as long as there is enough airflow for air-frying, such as a basket tray," Sieber says. A perforated tray ($33, Target) or even a large air-frying basket for a convection oven ($24, Amazon) will help crisp foods in a convection oven to get the same air-fried results, especially with these air-fryer egg rolls and these air-fryer jalapeño poppers. Because many air-fryer recipes are intended for small batches, you can often double the recipe for a convection oven; just remember to space food out on the tray—especially for air-fried Brussels sprouts, air-fried buffalo cauliflower, and air-fried chicken tenders—to make sure the air can easily touch all sides of the food. Although cooking times for recipes should be close in both an air fryer and convection oven, keep in mind that air fryers cook a little faster than convection ovens, so some air-fryer recipes may take a bit longer in a convection oven. Check to see if the food is ready around the time stated in the recipe, then follow up every 2 to 3 minutes if it needs a bit more time to brown.