Air Fryer vs. Oven: What’s the Difference and Which Is Healthier?

If you have a convection oven, do you really need an air fryer to make air fryer recipes? We settle the air fryer vs. oven debate.

Not too long ago, we demystified the air fryer craze and spilled the beans about whether we thought they were worth the investment. The question keeps coming up, though: What’s the difference between air frying and baking? We see it on Reddit forums and Facebook feeds, so we decided to break it down.

First, what is an air fryer?

An air fryer is a compact, countertop appliance that uses convection heating to circulate air around your food. The food is held inside in a basket and a fan rapidly moves air around the food, surrounding it in a similar way to food submerged in hot oil in a deep fryer. In the end, it works well to give food that crispy, fried texture without a lot of additional fat. Air fryers use little to no oil to get the same effect as traditional deep frying, and offer easier, alternative recipes than traditional baking.

Here’s everything else you need to know about air fryers.

How is air frying different from baking in an oven?

Conventional ovens work by producing heat from an element (either gas or electric). The heat is slowly dispersed through the oven over time. In the case of convection ovens, that time is sped up by the use of a fan—similar to the one in an air fryer.

On the other hand, air fryers use rapid air technology to create heat instead of an element. That helps them heat up much more quickly than an oven (not to mention that they’re much, much smaller, too). That small size helps them circulate the heat more evenly, crisping up your food without hot spots.

Want to make sure your air fryer goodies get that golden hue of traditionally fried food? Try this simple trick.

Which method is healthier?

Here’s the real question: Is the air fryer healthier than baking food in the oven? With the air fryer, you don’t need to use any oil at all. That’s because the unit heats up so it’s hot enough to crisp your food without any added oil. I can’t say that I’ve ever been able to achieve that in an oven (even a convection oven).

This being said, if little to no oil is being added to the dishes you’re making in the air fryer, those dishes are just as healthy as if you would have baked them. The nutritionals aren’t changing, just the methodology, so air fry to your heart’s content!

The bottom line

If you have the money to invest in a new appliance and the space to store it, then go for it! The air fryer gives you the crunchy texture of fried foods without the extra grease and fat. These are our Test Kitchen’s favorite models.

Our Best Air Fryer Recipes
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Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay is a professional chef, recipe developer, writer and developmental editor. After years of working in restaurant kitchens, she turned to writing to share her skills and experience with home cooks and food enthusiasts. She's passionate about using local, organic ingredients and teaching others how to incorporate seasonal food into their diet. Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, writes for several publications and is the co-author of two books about Ayurveda.