Food is placed on a perforated tray, usually inside an air fryer basket, which promotes more air circulation. 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. The countertop size allows air fryers and convection toaster ovens to heat quickly.
Some convection ovens and toaster ovens now include an air fry setting, too, as do certain pressure cookers and microwaves. They include air fryer baskets, trays, racks, spits for rotisseries, and skewers for kebabs.
Air fryers cook quicker than convection ovens and don't require heating a large appliance, like your full-sized oven. The downside of air fryers is they can't cook as much food at one time as you can in an oven.
Nicole Papantoniou, Good Housekeeping Institute Senior Testing Editor & Producer Nicole is a recipe developer trained in classic culinary arts and culinary nutrition who specializes in testing and developing kitchen appliances; she currently runs the Good Housekeeping Kitchen Appliances Lab. This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses.
If you're thinking about buying an air fryer, you might be wondering what the difference is between air fryers and convection ovens. The quick answer is, an air fryer is a simply a smaller convection oven with a catchy name.
Convection baking introduces a fan to the interior of an oven, allowing hot air to be blown around and onto the food. The force of the air thus transfers more heat to the surface of the food, so that it produces more crispiness than an ordinary oven (but still far less than an actual deep- fryer).
Note that although many oven ranges offer a convection setting, for this discussion, we're solely comparing countertop convection ovens with air fryers. The motion of the air inside the oven is called a convection effect and it results in faster cooking by transferring higher temperatures to the surface of the food as compared with an ordinary oven.
This is crucial, since stacking or layering food impedes the flow of hot air. Instead of being shaped like a toaster oven, many air fryers are tall, sort of resembling a coffee maker.
Now, because it's smaller and the fan is closer to the food, an air fryer is able to focus a high amount of heat onto a relatively small cooking area. However, because it is smaller, it will only accommodate a fraction of the amount of food that a convection oven will fit.
This means that if you are trying to feed more than one or two people, you'll have to cook in batches, so that ultimately it may take longer to serve a meal than it would using a convection oven. But by stacking your food, you prevent the hot air from flowing evenly around it, thus defeating the purpose of the convection effect.
Even when used according to the instructions, cooking French fries or onion rings in an air fryer requires you to periodically shake the basket to ensure that all the fries or rings cook evenly. Philips says its air fryer generates 65 decibels, which is about as loud as a vacuum cleaner.
When we first tested air fryers, in 2017, most of the models we found were small, pod-shaped appliances that looked like they’d be more at home in a sci-fi movie than on a kitchen counter. Recently, a growing number of manufacturers have started to market convection toaster ovens as air fryers.
You don’t need to buy any special equipment to bake in the Cuisinart toaster oven, as you do with air fryers. It has a relatively small footprint, is easy to use, and cooked food more evenly than similar models (though we’d still call the results acceptable, at best).
But you may want a small, pod-shaped airfryerlike the Philips if you lack sufficient counter space, or if you plan to make only one or two servings of food at a time. I’ve spent more than 100 hours over the past two years researching and testing air fryers for this guide.
And they worked much the same as today’s air fryers and convection toaster ovens do: A small fan inside the oven circulates hot air around the food to cook it, crisping the outside in a way that mimics deep-frying. Photo: Sarah Hobos Air fryers fall mainly into two camps: small, pod-shaped models (which usually resemble weird, futuristic dinosaur eggs waiting to hatch) and larger models that look like a typical high-end convection toaster oven.
Photo: Sarah KobosPod-shaped air fryers have a single fan and heating element positioned on top of the oven cavity. Some air fryers ran so hot and had such powerful fans that they cooked unevenly and concentrated heat on top of the food, behaving more like convection broilers than convection ovens.
But after testing six pod-shaped air fryers in 2017 and nine toaster-oven-style models in 2019, we’ve concluded that the pods aren’t worth getting. We found that pod-shaped air fryers often had more-powerful fans, but this wasn’t necessarily a good thing, since they could produce dried-out foods and overcooked cakes.
Even filled to capacity, they could fit only a couple of servings of food at a time, which isn’t practical for larger households. Some toaster-oven air fryers, such as the Cuisinart TOA-60, have a fan positioned above heating elements on top of the oven cavity.
Pod-shaped air fryers, like the Philips HD9641/96 (above), have a single fan and heating element positioned on top of the oven cavity. Some toaster-oven air fryers, such as the Cuisinart TOA-60, have a fan positioned above heating elements on top of the oven cavity.
Pod-shaped air fryers, like the Philips HD9641/96 (above), have a single fan and heating element positioned on top of the oven cavity. And most offer more cooking options, such as pre-programmed settings for making toast, dehydrating fruit, or baking pizza.
Most toaster-oven air fryers come with better accessories, too, like a baking pan, an air fryer basket, or multiple oven racks. That said, even though the toaster-oven air fryers performed much better than the pod-shaped air fryers, none of them were better than our favorite toaster oven with convection, the Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven. On average, it takes a few minutes longer to cook food in the Cuisinart, but we think the superior results (and the capacity to cook more food at once) are well worth the brief wait.
For our 2019 update, we decided to begin testing the toaster-oven air fryers as we would regular toaster ovens. We filled each model with as many slices of white sandwich bread as they would allow and used the toasted results as a heat map: Uneven browning alerted us to any hot spots in each oven.
We also made batches of frozen french fries and tasted them to see whether any pieces ended up under- or overcooked. We also baked frozen breaded chicken tenders and fish sticks to see whether they browned evenly or ended up with soggy bottoms.
The chickens we roasted in the finalist models (from left to right): the Outer Black Countertop Toaster Oven with Air Fryer, the Cuisinart TOB-260N1, the Freeware Air Fryer Toaster Oven, and the Philips HD9641/96. The chickens we roasted in the finalist models (from left to right): the Outer Black Countertop Toaster Oven with Air Fryer, the Cuisinart TOB-260N1, the Freeware Air Fryer Toaster Oven, and the Philips HD9641/96.
We stuck an air probe thermometer inside each oven to see how well each maintained a set temperature. We also used all the controls to see how easy they were to navigate and how accurate the cooking guidelines were for preparing common foods like french fries and fish sticks.
Additionally, we compared the cooking capacity of each model, and we took note of any egregiously noisy fans or annoying beeps. Photo: Michael HessionThough not specifically billed as an air fryer, the Cuisinart Chef's Convection Toaster Oven TOB-260N1 remains the best appliance we’ve tested for air frying food.
The Cuisinart’s two-speed fan, combined with its spacious interior, allowed it to cook food more evenly than the competition. It also has the best accessories of any model we’ve tested, including a 13-inch ceramic pizza stone, two oven racks, and an enamel-coated steel baking pan.
The Cuisinart TOB-260N1 is better than other toaster-oven air fryers partly due to the size and speed of its fan: It’s not so powerful that its force disturbs cake batter (creating rippled, overcooked layers), but it’s also not so weak that you’re left with a mountain of soggy french fries. We’d recommend using this setting anytime you want extra-crispy results, especially when preparing frozen finger foods and french fries.
Photo: Michael HessionThough it took the Cuisinart a few minutes longer than most models to cook frozen french fries, the fries didn’t come out dry and dehydrated, like the ones we prepared in the Instant Vortex Plus Hairdryer Oven, or soggy, like the ones we made in the Nu Wave Bravo XL Hairdryer Smart Oven. Chicken fingers and fish sticks that were baked in the Cuisinart also turned out golden brown and crunchy on the outside.
Even though many of the air fryers we tested cooked food faster than the Cuisinart, the results weren’t necessarily better. Some ran so hot and had such powerful (and not adjustable) fans that vegetables came out burned on the outside and still raw in the center.
In contrast, the vegetables we roasted in the Cuisinart were caramelized and tender, and cake layers were golden and moist, which we think is well worth the slightly slower cooking time. The Cuisinart comes with a ceramic baking stone and can fit up to a 13-inch pizza in its spacious oven cavity.
The Cuisinart comes with a ceramic baking stone and can fit up to a 13-inch pizza in its spacious oven cavity. The Cuisinart makes for easier cleanup, too, because you can throw dirty pans directly into the dishwasher.
Most air fryer accessories are nonstick, and even though manufacturers say they’re dishwasher-safe, you should really wash them by hand to extend the life of their coating. Even if you do wash your toaster oven pans by hand, air fryers are a much bigger pain to clean.
Grease and baked-on bits of food cling to the fryer basket screen, and gunk gets in grooves and crevices of the pan. Bits of food stuck to the fryer basket, and there was a pool of grease at the bottom of the container, which made it more cumbersome to clean.
Bits of food stuck to the fryer basket, and there was a pool of grease at the bottom of the container, which made it more cumbersome to clean. Due to the Cuisinart’s large interior, it took this model about five minutes longer to cook frozen french fries (when using the speed convection setting) than it took some smaller air fryers we tested.
Since the Cuisinart isn’t marketed as an air fryer, it doesn’t come with a cooking chart for commonly air -fried foods. We did find that when you’re air frying vegetables with lots of moisture, like eggplant and zucchini, it’s best to chop them into 1-inch or smaller pieces, to prevent them from getting mushy.
The Cuisinart’s baking pan may warp slightly when it’s roasting at high temperatures, but this in no way affects its cooking performance. Photo: Michael HessionOver the past few years, we’ve received some strongly worded feedback about our decision not to recommend a pod-shaped air fryer in this guide.
The most obvious reason is lack of space: The pod-shaped models hog less room on a kitchen counter. Smaller households that plan to make only one or two portions of food at a time may also find a larger machine to be superfluous.
When filled to capacity, it also cooked food more evenly than other models of the same style, though we still discovered a handful of underdone fries and some soggy patches on fish sticks and chicken fingers. For the record, you can get similar air fried” results when cooking food in a full-size oven with convection.
Unfortunately, the Instant Vortex Plus browned toast unevenly and produced tough, dehydrated fries. In theory, the rotisserie basket (which rotates food automatically while cooking) is a good idea, but in practice it can hold only a couple of handfuls of fries at a time, and you can’t sample a fry for oneness without removing the entire basket from the oven.
The rotisserie spit worked well and produced a nicely roasted chicken, but you have to know how to truss a bird in order for it to cook evenly. The cake we baked was too dark and rose unevenly because the lip on the oven rack tilted the pan.
The cake also came out rippled on top, apparently from the force of the fan, which was incredibly loud while running. The rotisserie spit on the Instant Vortex Plus worked well, but you have to know how to truss a chicken in order for it to make a full rotation and cook evenly.
Photo: Sarah Soothe Cuisinart TOA-60 Hairdryer Toaster Oven cooked fries quickly without drying them out, though some were slightly dark. But the chicken fingers and fish sticks we cooked were pale all over and had soggy undersides.
Like the larger model above, the Cuisinart AFR-25 Compact Hairdryer was good at cooking fries quickly. The rotisserie spit in the Email Agassi Power Hairdryer 360 struggled to make a full rotation while roasting a chicken.
The Email Agassi Power Hairdryer 360 struggled to make a full rotation while roasting a small, 3-pound chicken. The Nu Wave Bravo XL Hairdryer Smart Oven has an overwhelming amount of buttons, which were confusing and overly complicated.
Larger birds will touch the heating element, producing billows of smoke potent enough to set off a fire alarm (as it did in our tests). When we prepared a whole bag of frozen french fries (that’s about 32 ounces) in the Philips, many came out underdone, while others were so cardboard-dry they seemed dehydrated.
In our tests, the two devices performed similarly, but we think the larger model is impractical for most people because it takes up a lot of counter space and is very expensive. The Outer DuraCeramic Hairdryer, which looks straight out of a sci-fi movie, has a tilting mechanism and a rotating oven cavity so you don’t have to toss food manually.
In our tests, however, the paddle mutilated and broke apart fish sticks and breaded chicken fingers. Photo: Michael HessionThe french fries we cooked in the Nowise USA GW22621 turned out badly burned at the top of the cooker and undercooked at the bottom.
Also, when you reinsert the basket, the air fryer slides across the counter, because it doesn’t have enough weight or grip to stay in place. When a summer heat wave hits and you want to cook, the right gear can make all the difference between a sweltering kitchen and a reasonably cool one.