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FYI: There Are Major Differences Between Air Fryers and Convection Ovens

In the Good Housekeeping Institute, we get asked this question all the time: “Isn’t air frying the same as convection baking?” As a team that has been testing air fryers for almost a decade, developed numerous recipes for them and uses them almost daily, we can assure you that air frying is similar to convection baking — but ultimately different.

While both air frying and convection baking both use fans to blow around hot air to cook foods faster and make them crispier, the way they’re designed is different. Air fryers typically cook from the top down and are paired with a large fan that’s located on the top of the appliance. They rarely have any heating elements on the bottom unless they offer more functionality like true toasting or baking.

Convection ovens use an oven’s built in heating mechanism to heat and blow air around with a fan that’s often located on the back or side of the oven. While it does work more powerfully than a plain bake settings, air frying is designed to be the most powerful. Most convection ovens now even offer an air fry setting, which often uses a unique heating system with a larger and faster fan.

First off, what is an air fryer?

An air fryer is an appliance that cooks food quickly with little to no oil. Its heating elements are typically located on the top of the unit and paired with a large fan. It preheats quickly and starts cooking food right away. Food is placed on a perforated tray, usually inside of an an air fryer basket, which promotes more air circulation for the crispiest results.

air fryer meal, cooking green bean, pidan dishes cookery with airfryer at home, delicious cuisine in taiwan, asia, asian taiwanese food
insjoy - Getty Images

What is a convection oven?

A convection oven works like an oven with heating elements on the top and bottom. The convection setting works in tandem with a fan that is usually located in the back of the oven. Its fan can be turned off to bake like a traditional oven, which is ideal for more delicate tasks like cookies and cake. Convection ovens do not normally come with any special accessories, although some manufacturers sell crisper trays to mimic air frying. Decreasing the recipe temperature by 25 degrees is recommended when cooking in a convection oven versus a traditional oven or bake setting.

Are there differences between air fryers and convection ovens?

Size

Air fryers are countertop appliances while convection settings are built into full-sized ovens and toaster ovens, hence the introduction of air fryer toaster ovens. The countertop size allows air fryers and convection toaster ovens to heat quickly. It also positions the food closer to the heating elements, which encourages food to cook quicker. Some convection ovens and toaster ovens now include an air fry setting, too, as do certain pressure cookers and microwaves.

Heating

The heat comes from the top in an air fryer, while it comes from the top and bottom in a convection oven. The top-down method style makes it more concentrated and cooks food faster.

Fan placement

The fan is located on the top of an air fryer, directly below the heating element. In a convection oven, it's located in the back of the oven, either in the center or on the side.

Fan size and speed

Air fryer fans are large and operate faster than convection fans. One manufacturer confirmed that the fan on their air fryer setting is 30% faster than their fan on convection.

Accessories

Air fryers are paired with many perforated accessories that allow for quick and even cooking with little flipping or tossing. They include air fryer baskets, trays, racks, spits for rotisseries and skewers for kebabs. Small baking pans or tin cans also be placed on racks, if desired.

baking veggies
poco_bw - Getty Images

Cleaning

Air fryers are relatively easy to clean — most are dishwasher safe, but their parts can be bulky and they require cleaning every time you use them. Convection ovens don't need to be cleaned every time you use them, but the accessories you use do.

So, are air fryers or convection ovens better?

Air fryers cook quicker than convection ovens and don't require heating a large appliance, like your full-sized oven. Their perforated racks also allow fat to drip onto the drip pan so your food doesn't absorb excess oil, which minimizes calories and becomes crispier since it is more dry.

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The downside of air fryers is they can't cook as much food at one time as you can in an oven. Food cooks better in an air fryer when it's in a single layer. Some foods, like French fries, can be stacked, but should be tossed at least once. Air fryers can also be loud, although many manufacturers consider this in development.

Can I use my convection oven as an air fryer?

You can use your convection oven as an air fryer but it might not yield the same results. The best way to mimic an air fryer in an oven is to create more air circulation around your food with the purchase of an air fryer basket accessory. You can also try using a cooling rack that can withstand high temps set atop a baking tray. If you're still not getting the crispy results you want, try increasing the temperature a little but be mindful of burning.

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