Air fryer vs oven: which cooker is best for your kitchen in 2024?

Traditionally, a lot of our cooking has been done in a conventional oven, but with new cookers popping up, it begs the question: air fryer vs oven? What are the key differences between them? And which is better suited to your cooking style?

The best air fryers on the market cook differently from a conventional oven. They are quick, convenient, and often healthier than traditional cooking methods. They're great at crisping up food like fries, giving a crunch to vegetables, and warming and reheating when needed.  Taking up little space, they can be moved around your kitchen and even brought with you on trips away. But, when cooking lots of different foods at once, you can often be left cooking in batches. 

That's why you shouldn’t neglect your oven. It's been a workhorse in the kitchen for years and for good reasons. The best ovens are great at cooking for the whole family. They can easily tackle a large turkey, all the trimmings, and whatever sweet treats you fancy at the same time. And if baking is your thing, an air fryer won't always do the trick.

There are pros and cons for both air fryers and conventional ovens, and knowing how to choose an air fryer or oven isn’t easy. Here, we compare both and give you our verdict on what you need to help you make the right choice.  

Air fryer vs oven: Design

One of the key differences between an air fryer and an oven is size. Ovens are designed to be standalone or built into your kitchen, while an air fryer is designed to sit on a countertop. This means that air fryers are smaller than ovens, weigh less, and are more portable than a conventional oven. Their size means you can move with ease and plug in anywhere there’s a power outlet - not something you can easily do with a conventional oven. 

Built-in ovens are designed to stay in one place and will be wired into the mains electricity supply as they consume more power. This makes them a poor choice when it comes to portability. Range ovens are designed to be standalone items and are much easier to move around than a built-in oven. But they are much heavier than an air fryer and, again, are wired into the mains, restricting their movement. If it's portability and convenience you want, the design of an air fryer is definitely what you need.  

Non-stick surfaces are found in abundance in ovens. The lining of the oven and trays will be non-stick to help keep them clean, but oven racks are rarely non-stick and need more attention. Air fryers are often designed to be as non-stick as possible as so many different foods are cooked in the same baskets. The baskets and trays are often easy to remove, too, making cleaning a whole lot easier.

Air fryers and ovens cook differently. Due to the smaller size, air fryers often use hot, cyclonic air that quickly fills the cooking basket, which removes the need for preheating and allows for faster cooking. Ovens vary in type, but they mostly blow or fan hot air around the large space, which can take more time.

ninja air fryer

(Image credit: Ninja)

Air fryer vs oven: Features

Side by side - many modern ovens and air fryers have similar features. Ovens have traditionally always had two dials: one for temperature and one for cooking setting. But now, newer oven models will have cooking presets and programs for different foods, similar to an air fryer. These can be reheating, rehydrating, and baking - to name a few.

Most air fryers have always had multiple functions. That's an area where they thrive, as the compact design and smaller cooking space allow for improved versatility when it comes to customizing your cooking. Many air fryers will have between 6 and 11 cooking functions, including anything from roasting to yogurt making, so they're trusty appliances to have in the kitchen. 

Capacity is where conventional ovens win. They are much larger, meaning that you can cook more foods at once, making them a great choice for family meals. But, for quick snacks, solo dinners, and crispy sides - an air fryer brings the better benefits. 

Air fryer vs oven: Performance

Performance across air fryers and conventional ovens is dictated by the heating elements that sit inside and the size of the cooking area. A typical convection oven will have two heating elements with a fan at the back to help circulate the hot air and give consistent cooking. But the larger capacity means that an oven takes longer to heat up and cook than an air fryer.

An air fryer is more compact, which often means one heating element and one fan heating up a smaller space, leading to a quicker heat up. This produces more intense heat, and when combined with a basket that lets the air flow around the food, it cooks quickly. And it produces a crunch like the food has been fried but without the oil. Perfect for fries without the fat.

Finally, less power and a shorter cooking time bring with it the benefit of reduced running costs compared with an oven. It's brilliant for those on a budget or looking to save a few dollars on bills. 

Instant Vortex Slim Air Fryer

(Image credit: Future)

Air fryer vs oven: Care & Maintenance

Air fryers and ovens require little maintenance, but both need to be kept clean. If you don’t clean an oven regularly, the build-up of oil from roasting or general cooking at high temperatures will coat the inside of the oven and door. And every time you don’t wipe down the oil, it becomes harder and harder to remove.

Some ovens have a built-in steam cleaning option, but this still involves getting into the oven and wiping it clean. In addition to cleaning the inside of the oven, you need to keep the glass door cleaned regularly - otherwise, you'll struggle to see inside. Plus, you need to clean all the racks regularly and any trays or pans that you use to cook food. So, there’s plenty of work to keep your oven looking like new.

In comparison, an air fryer is much simpler and quicker to keep clean. It will depend on what size and type of air fryer you have, but air fryers without a large oven compartment are easy to keep clean. Air fryers use little or no oil to cook, which means you will be getting little fat or grease lying in a tray. 

But the key advantage is that they are often dishwasher safe. Many air fryers allow you to put the baskets and trays straight into the dishwasher for easy cleaning, so all you need to do is wipe down the bottom of the air fryer. If not dishwasher safe, simply wash and scrub in the sink. There’s a little more work involved if you have an oven-style air fryer, but it's still minimal compared to larger, built-in ovens. 

Samsung NV51K7770SS oven

(Image credit: Samsung)

Air fryer vs oven: Price

Air fryers are effectively mini ovens, and this is reflected in the price. Air fryers are undoubtedly cheaper than conventional ovens. A high-end air fryer like the Ninja Foodi 6-in-1 can cost around $300, while a low-end, built-in convection oven like the AMZCHEF Single Wall Oven starts at around the $500-$600 mark. But prices for an oven can easily reach into the $1000s.

Both air fryers and ovens have wide price ranges. While a more expensive air fryer is still a more affordable option than an oven, you can get air fryers for as little as double figures. For example, the Ninja AF101 is available for under $80. Admittedly, this has a smaller capacity and fewer features, but it can still cope with a pound of chips or a few hot pockets. On the other hand, while a conventional oven is going to cost considerably more, it has the obvious advantage of a higher capacity, meaning you can cook more at the same time so you can feed the whole family in one go.  

Air fryer vs oven: Our verdict

In our world, we would have both. A conventional oven has greater capacity, while an air fryer has greater convenience. But most homes will already have a conventional oven installed, so the question you need to ask yourself is: do I need an air fryer as well as an oven?

Air fryers are affordable and cook quicker than conventional ones, which means you use less energy and cost less to run. We love the way they crisp up food, but they lack the capacity of a conventional oven. They excel when you want a quick bite, but when it comes to full family meals, it's probably best to use air fryers and ovens together. If it fits your budget, add an air fryer to your kitchen and get the best of both worlds.