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Air Fryers vs Toaster Ovens: Which Appliance Will Suit You Best?

microwave VS toaster oven lead

We put air fryers and toaster ovens head to head to determine which deserves a spot in your kitchen

We all love a delicious, home-cooked meal, but with increasingly hectic schedules and space in kitchens at a premium, it can be difficult to find both the time and space to whip up something tasty. For many, a countertop cooker can be great for overcoming such challenges, helping to make mealtimes simpler and more efficient. Once the top countertop appliances for quick snacks and crispy treats, toaster ovens have seen increasing competition in recent years, with air fryers offering a tempting alternative. Both appliances have their merits, but which one will suit your needs best?

To help you decide between an air fryer and a toaster oven, we’ve drawn on our years of kitchen expertise, extensive testing and back catalog of reviews, to put together this straightforward, thorough guide. Below, we explain how air fryers and toaster ovens work, their relative pros and cons – looking at size, efficiency, performance, for example. Finally, at the bottom of the page, we offer our final verdict on which of the two will suit you best.

What is an air fryer and how does it work?

A relative newcomer next to toaster ovens, air fryers have exploded in popularity across the US in recent years. Like standard ovens, air fryers use convection heating, generating hot air from a heating coil and then using internal fans to rapidly circulate air around food to cook it. All in a package that can sit on your countertop.

Air fryers offer an efficient cooking method: the rapid circulation of air ensures that the maximum surface area of the food will come into contact with heat. And, as a result of their smaller interiors and powerful fans, air fryers can usually cook food more quickly than standard ovens. In addition, they require less cooking oil to achieve the same level of browning and crispness, making them both a healthier method of cooking and cheaper to run than their larger counterparts.

Most air fryers arrive as a basket-style setup, with a single cooking drawer that pulls out from the front of the appliance. Other common air fryer types include dual drawer models, tabletop oven-style models that look similar to toaster ovens, and fully fledged multi-cookers that include air fryer functionality. Basic air fryers are single task machines, but mid-range and more expensive models add extra cooking modes for reheating, dehydrating and baking among others, as well as accessories for rotisserie cooking, pizzas and steaks.

What is a toaster oven and how does it work?

An efficient and easy to use cooking appliance, toaster ovens have long been a popular option in US kitchens. That said, with increased competition in the countertop cooking space, they’re not as dominant as they once were.

Air Fryers vs Toaster Ovens. Four egg tarts inside open toaster oven on a wooden counter

Toaster ovens are box-shaped appliances with clear glass doors that open similarly to a standard oven. Inside a toaster oven you’ll usually find slots for wire racks and cooking trays, with larger models offering room for multiple slots and tiers. Much like toasters, toaster ovens cook food via concentrated radiant heat that emanates from a heating element. Due to this setup, toaster ovens are best suited to cooking foods that lay flat as they cook, such as toast (who would’ve guessed?), baked goods, bacon and similar.

Like air fryers, more expensive toaster ovens offer extra modes for cooking such as broiling, steaming, dehydrating, proofing and more. On the topic of multi-functionality, the lines between different appliances have blurred in recent years. While standard toaster ovens will cook food via radiant heat, more souped-up options offer convection cooking modes, allowing them to operate similarly to oven-style air fryers. It also isn’t uncommon for newer toaster ovens to offer specifically labeled air frying modes.

This may make differentiating and deciding between countertop cookers a little more difficult, though, ultimately, it can help you save kitchen countertop space while maximizing functionality.

READ NEXT: Are air fryers healthy?

What are the pros and cons of air fryers?

Now that we know how air fryers operate, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of this countertop appliance:

Pros of air fryers

  • Great cooking performance – Maybe the chief reason for the growing popularity of air fryers is their excellent cooking performance. Great all-rounders, air fryers are suited to cooking a wide range of foods, delivering crisp results using little to no cooking oil.

Air fryers vs toaster ovens. An air fryer with chicken in the basket on a counter with spices on top of a chopping board

  • Size – Air fryers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from big, boxy models to petite single-drawer units, and cleverly designed space-savers such as the Ninja Double Stack XL. So, for anyone short on countertop space, an air fryer is a great way to extend your cooking capabilities.
  • Easy clean-up – Most air fryers have removable dishwasher-safe parts and non-stick interiors, meaning clean-up is minimal. For models with removable drawers, simply pop out a drawer and give it a wash with warm, soapy water to remove any grease or debris.
  • Energy efficient – Air fryers are up to many of the same tasks as a standard oven, but will do so using less energy and therefore at cheaper cost. The exact numbers will vary from model to model; but generally, you can expect to use as little as half as much energy as a standard oven. Toaster ovens are also more energy efficient than standard ovens, but tend to be higher wattage and use more energy compared to air fryers.
  • Easy adjustment – Opening the drawer of an air fryer is quicker and simpler than opening a toaster oven’s door, then removing a tray or wire rack. If you’re preparing something that needs a turn or shake mid-cook – fries, for example – then it will be easier to do so in an air fryer than a toaster oven.
  • Choice and versatility – There’s a massive amount of choice available for anyone seeking out an air fryer. Not confined to one type or shape, air fryers can come in single or dual-basket formats, have a drawer-based or oven-style setup. Air frying can also appear as a feature in multi-cookers, microwaves, toaster ovens and more.

Cons of air fryers

  • Capacity – Unless you’re paying for a premium model, chances are your air fryer will be a single-drawer option with a slightly limited capacity. While a smaller air fryer will be perfectly fine for cooking up batches of chips, wings, veggies and snacks, it doesn’t have the room to fit in as much as most toaster ovens – which have multiple shelves for cooking various items and larger interiors that can sometimes fit whole chickens.
  • Learning curve – The majority of people will be familiar with toaster ovens and, even if you aren’t, a toaster oven’s similarity to a standard oven means you’ll pick up how to use it pretty quickly. In our opinion, air fryers are fairly straightforward, too, but many first-time users report that the controls and cooking times take a bit of getting used to; there’s some trial and error involved to discover how to get best results.

What are the pros and cons of toaster ovens?

Now that we’ve given air fryers their flowers and looked at their flaws, let’s take a look at the good and bad of toaster ovens.

Pros of toaster ovens

  • Top performance on roasts, bakes and toast – Basically, toaster ovens are a whiz at anything that lies flat while cooking. So, if you want to cook roast meats, bake cookies and toast sliced bread, bagels and more, a toaster oven is an effective and simple way to do so.

Air fryers vs toaster ovens. Hand holding a toaster oven open. There are two slices of bread inside.

  • Easy to use – If you’ve used an oven before, you’ll be able to use a toaster oven. For anyone looking for a straightforward and fuss-free kitchen gadget, a toaster oven is hard to beat.
  • Clear cooking windows – Most air fryers will require you to pause the cooking cycle and open their drawer to check on food. Thanks to their clear glass doors, toaster ovens allow you to keep a closer eye on your food as it cooks.
  • High ceiling for ability – If neither space nor money are a limitation, then a higher-tier toaster oven is very much worth your consideration. More expensive models can match air fryers by adding convection modes and air frying settings of their own, while also offering larger capacities and extra cooking options such as broiling, steaming and more.

Cons of toaster ovens

  • Hot spots – Toaster ovens that use radiant heat can sometimes cook unevenly, leading to hot and cold spots in your food. Air fryers and toaster ovens with convection modes, which use circulating hot air to cook, won’t suffer such issues.
  • Expensive – Toaster ovens, especially more multifunctional combi models, are generally a little pricier than air fryers. If saving money is a priority, then a barebones air fryer will probably suit you better than a toaster oven.
  • Size – There are smaller and larger options available when purchasing a toaster oven, but on the whole, they run pretty bulky. This might not be a massive issue if you have plenty of countertop space, but it’s a serious disadvantage for anyone operating in a smaller kitchen.
  • Awkward to clean – Like a regular oven, or any appliance with a deep-set interior, toaster ovens can be a bit of a pain to clean. If meat juice, cheese or sauce drips and cooks onto the interior of your toaster oven, for example, you’ll have to put in some graft to shift it.

READ NEXT: Do air fryers need a preheat before use?

Which appliance will suit you best?

Air fryers and toaster ovens are both useful appliances in their own right, and quite similar to boot. Which one you plump for will depend on your cooking needs, budget and kitchen setup.

If you’re after a petite, budget-friendly appliance, then an air fryer is probably the way to go. As well as being smaller and cheaper than toaster ovens, air fryers also offer great cooking performance, being able to quickly crisp up foods using little-to-no oil while keeping costs lower than standard ovens. An air fryer is also an option for those who have plenty of space and a more generous budget, buying you a more versatile air fryer with a second drawer, rotisserie accessories and multi-cooking functionality.

For those who want to cook foods such as roasters, bakes and toast, a toaster oven is the better choice. Note that most toaster ovens will require a little more space and spending power than your average air fryer, but you can balance these cons out with great cooking performance, roomy interiors and simple, familiar controls. If you want the best of both worlds, a premium toaster oven that adds convection cooking or an air frying mode will combine the advantages of both these appliance types.

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