Air fryer vs oven: which is best for your needs? We evaluate costs, cooking results and more

If you’re debating the pros and cons of an air fryer vs oven, we spoke to the experts to find out everything you need to know

a collage image illustrating air fryer vs oven – in one image, there is an oven in a country/modern kitchen, and a ZWILLING air fryer next to vegetable chips, against a pink background
(Image credit: Future/Getty Images/ZWILLING)

Air fryer vs oven which one is the best option for cooking your food quickly, efficiently, and in a budget-friendly way?

The reality is that the air fryer vs oven debate is not all that straightforward. While ovens are the most traditional way of cooking (next to stovetop cooking), the best air fryers are rising hugely in popularity, and for good reason. Even if you haven't used one yourself, you’ll know that they are simple to use, compact, and result in delicious foods.

But what are the actual differences between the two appliances? Do they produce similar quality food, and – most importantly is either option more economically savvy than the other? 

While you don't necessarily have to choose between one or the other, with the help of the experts, we've evaluated the pros and cons of both machines to determine which would better suit your needs.

How do air fryers and ovens work? 

There are some clear similarities when comparing the ways in which air fryers vs ovens cook our food. After all, both appliances produce a similar result – crispy, tasty, and thoroughly-cooked dishes.

As most of us know, there are two types of ovens; conventional and fan (or fan-assisted) ovens. Conventional ovens simply heat up the entire inside of your oven in order to cook your food, giving you a very hot, blanket temperature across the appliance.

a white oven in a large, airy white kitchen with a brick wall, a wall-mounted countertop, and a dining table in the middle full of kitchen items

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Fan ovens on the other hand cook food by circulating hot air around the appliance via – you guessed it – a fan. And this is similar to the way in which an air fryer works. 

A small fan inside the air fryer propels heat throughout the machine, causing the appliance to heat up very quickly. Michael Murdy, a food scientist, chef, and founder of Robust Kitchen, explained, “Air fryers use hot air and a small amount of oil to cook food. The hot air circulates around the food, which is suspended on a wire rack, and the oil (if used) helps to crisp the exterior of the food. In an oven, hot air also circulates around the food, cooking it evenly."

a black air fryer on a white kitchen worksurface, with a kitchen behind and utensils hanging up on a wall

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Air fryer vs oven: pros and cons

Air fryers have grown massively in popularity in recent years, but 99% of us already have ovens at home. So why might we possibly want to know how to use an air fryer over an oven? Well, there are a multitude of benefits to both, depending on what you want and need out of your cooking process.

Benefits of air fryers

  • Air frying cooks food quickly: Air fryers are incredibly speedy, meaning they’re a great option for people who don’t have much time to cook or live in a busy household. “Because they are smaller and use hot air to cook, they can cook food much faster than an oven,” Michael explains. “For example, French fries can be cooked in an air fryer in just 10-15 minutes, while in an oven they can take 20-30 minutes.”
  • They allow you to use less oil: One of the biggest benefits of using an air fryer is the fact that they require very little oil – if any at all. Cira Jones, appliance expert at Russell Hobbs, explains, “Air fryer technology crisps, browns, and bakes with little or no oil required – compared to an oven that would require more oil to get the same outcome.” So if you're wondering, are air fryers healthy? The answer is that they do indeed give you room to cook in a far healthier way.
  • Can cook lots of different foods: Though you've probably mostly seen people cooking things like fried chicken or chips in their air fryer if you’re wondering, what can I cook in an air fryer? There are plenty of other options! Michael tells us, “Many air fryers come with multiple cooking trays and can be used to cook a wide range of foods, including vegetables, meats, and even desserts.”
  • They are energy-efficient – and therefore more affordable: Cira explains that “Air frying is a much more energy efficient way to cook versus an oven, as you are heating up less space, and the preheat time is much quicker; so you simply have the unit on for a shorter time than an oven”. Not only that, but “air fryers also give faster results than a conventional oven, which can help with energy saving as your appliance won’t be turned on and heated up for as long," Cira continued.
  • Easy to clean: Air fryers are compact appliances, with food cooked only in the pull-out tray at the base of the machine. Because of this, they can be one of the easiest kitchen essentials to clean – especially in comparison to a much larger, and more fiddly, oven. In fact, if you’re wondering how to clean an air fryer, there are really only four simple steps.

ZWILLING air fryer in a modern kitchen on the countertop, with air fryer cooked chicken and chips on a plate

(Image credit: ZWILLING)

Cons of air fryers:

  • You can only cook smaller quantities of food: Though plenty of people love their compact size, the truth is that air fryers have a much more limited cooking capacity, especially compared to an oven. Michael explained, “While this makes them great for cooking small portions, it also means that they are not suitable for cooking large items, such as a turkey or a large roast.” This also means they might not be much help for big family gatherings, or for larger families in general.
  • They can't cook everything: While versatile, there are lots of things you can't cook in an air fryer – for example, things like wet batter and leafy greens are a huge no-no. The former won't set properly, and the latter will either burn or lose their taste in the intense air fryer heat.
  • There's an additional upfront cost: Most of us will already have ovens installed in our homes, but air fryers will (of course) need to be bought additionally. And while you can certainly find an affordable option, some air fryers can be pricey, at up to $250/£250. However, Michael insisted, “While the initial investment may be higher, the long-term cost savings from cooking faster and using less energy can make up for it, for some people.”
  • They take up counter space: Unlike an oven, an air fryer can't be installed into your cooking space, so it will need to take up a spot on your kitchen counter (this is where you should put your air fryer) – which might not be ideal if you're looking to declutter your home.

Benefits of ovens

  • They can cook large amounts of food: One of the biggest benefits of an oven, especially over an air fryer, is that you can use it to cook large amounts of food. An oven’s capacity is much larger than an air fryer’s, so they're much better suited to cooking meals for a large family, or a big event, such as Christmas. Michael explains, “Ovens are much better suited for cooking larger portions, such as roasting a turkey or baking a casserole.”
  • They can cook pretty much anything: As mentioned, while there are some things you should not cook in an air fryer, the reality is that an oven can handle almost any ingredient, be it meat, vegetables, carbs, or desserts. In the air fryer vs oven debate, this is one of the biggest plusses for an oven.
  • There is (usually) no upfront cost: As mentioned, most homes (whether you own your property or rent it) already have an oven installed, meaning there will be no large upfront cost to get started with your cooking. Of course, however, there are ongoing costs associated with an oven though, that you may want to consider…

Black kitchen with wooden countertops and oven

(Image credit: Future)

Cons of ovens:

  • They tend to be more expensive to run: In the air fryer vs oven debate, this is a big point for air fryers. On average, an oven will cost you more to use, because they usually (though not always) have a higher wattage than an air fryer. Lydia Mallinson, content marketing manager at ZWILLING UK, said, “When compared to using an oven, air fryers are more energy efficient, outputting around 1.4kWh compared to 5kWh for a large oven.” And the higher the wattage, the more expensive something is to use.
  • They take longer to cook food: You'll usually wait longer for your food in an oven vs an air fryer, which might be a negative for those with less time. And as mentioned, ovens also tend to be more expensive because, Michael explains, “They can be slower than air fryers, especially when cooking smaller portions,” – and the longer something is left on, the money energy, and therefore money, it uses.
  • They tend to require more oil: Most ovens require you to use significantly more oil than air fryers do, in order to allow your food to cook properly and, essentially, not burn. Because of this, those who may be looking to decrease their calorie count might find it tricky if exclusively cooking in an oven. 
  • More difficult to clean: Ovens are large appliances with lots of nooks and crannies, and removable parts that need cleaning. And as many of us well know, they can get filthy. When compared with air fryers, they are a lot trickier and more time-consuming to clean. You can find out how to clean an oven – but there’s a reason lots of us call in the professionals in order to avoid this job!

Who would benefit from using an air fryer vs an oven?

  • Air fryers are best for: Those who are looking to save money on their cooking expenses, who don’t want the often lengthy task of cleaning an oven, and who are wanting to cook healthier by cutting down on their oil consumption. Air fryers can also be ideal for smaller households, such as single households or couples, due to their smaller cooking capacity, and people who don’t have a lot of spare time to wait for food to cook.
  • Ovens are best for: People who cook a lot of food at a time (and often), and who don’t want to be limited with what they can cook. They are also a great option for those who can’t justify the upfront cost of buying an air fryer, and for those who may not have the counterspace for yet another kitchen appliance. 

Overall, there are a number of reasons why you might choose to add an air fryer to your cooking routine, or why you may be happy to continue using just your oven. Both are simple to use, so Michael assured that “the best choice will depend on the individual's cooking needs and preferences.”

For some, there are some important benefits to using an oven that may outweigh the positives of an air fryer – namely, the fact that you can cook lots of food at one time. But for others, this will be less of an issue.

And, it doesn’t have to be a choice of one over the other, either! “As a food scientist, I have found that using a combination of both cooking methods can be the most effective way to achieve a wide range of culinary outcomes,” Michael explained. “By using an air fryer for quick and easy meals, and an oven for larger portions or more complex dishes, you can enjoy the benefits of both cooking methods.”

Amy Hunt

Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on