Should You Buy an Air Fryer, an Air Fryer Oven, or an Air Fryer Toaster Oven?

updated Feb 8, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

If you haven’t heard of air fryers, who are you and where have you been? We’re kidding, of course! But in all seriousness, air fryers have been the thing for the past few years (along with the Instant Pot). So even if you have heard of them, if you haven’t yet jumped on the bandwagon, you might not be sure what all the fuss is about. You might be wondering how, exactly, they work; whether or not you need an air fryer; and if you do need one, which air fryer you should get. Let’s take a look.

Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Air fryers are essentially mini convection ovens. Inside this countertop appliance is a heating element and a fan that blows hot air around in the cooking chamber. Because of the machine’s small, compact stature, this air is able to circulate very quickly. This, along with the machine’s perforated basket, increases the food’s contact with the hot air, essentially “frying” it. Air fryers are great at crisping foods (like french fries), making quick work of cooking proteins like salmon and chicken, and can even act as an oven (we did say they were mini convection ovens, after all!) to bake cookies.

So, yeah, air frying is pretty great. However, there are air fryers, air fryer ovens, and even air fryer toaster ovens. Confusing? Absolutely. We’re here to tell you the pros and cons of each, and help you decide which one to get.

Should You Get an Air Fryer?

An air fryer is an amazing appliance, but its main con is its capacity. If you’re often cooking for four or more people, you may be better off with an air fryer oven or toaster oven. Because, if not, you might find yourself often having to split cooking into batches — which, ugh, is a time drag — or end up with subpar results from the food steaming (due to crowding) rather than becoming crispy. And even though there are extra-large air fryer options out there, they are so, so much bulkier, often don’t have that much larger of a capacity, and cost a lot more.

However, if you usually cook for two or three people, an air fryer is an excellent option and we suggest the one listed above. Its nonstick basket makes cleanup a breeze, and it has a comfortable, grippy handle that allows you to shake and retrieve food with little fuss. It also contains mess well and you don’t have to preheat it before adding food (which will save you a little time on a busy weeknight!). And while it is bulky, you can more easily store it in the pantry or in a cabinet than you might an air fryer oven.

Should You Get an Air Fryer Oven?

An air fryer oven has a larger footprint (so make sure you have the counterspace!), but it is more spacious (on the inside) than an air fryer, so it’s a better option if you’re cooking for four-plus people. Take, for example, the Instant Vortex Plus 7-in-1 Air Fryer Oven (we reviewed it here!). This oven has two nonstick roasting trays that can easily accommodate two pounds of fries or tater tots, whereas a 3.7-quart air fryer maxes out at about 1 pound of fries. It’s also large enough to accommodate a whole chicken and a 8×8-inch baking pan or 9-inch round cake for baking brownies or cakes.

Air fryer ovens also have extra features a regular air fryer does not have, like roasting, broiling, baking, dehydrating, and even rotisserie (the Vortex Plus comes with a rotisserie fork!) settings. However, there are some downsides to consider. Like we said, these ovens are quite large, so you can’t easily store them in the pantry or in a cabinet. They also need to preheat for two to three minutes and lack the easy-to-grab handles than an air fryer basket has, so you have to be careful when grabbing the trays out of the oven.

Should You Get an Air Fryer Toaster Oven?

Air fryer toaster ovens are exactly what they sound like: they look and function exactly like a regular toaster oven, but have an air-fry setting and come with a perforated air fryer basket. One of the best models is by Breville, and it makes excellent, evenly toasted, ahem, toast; air fries to perfection; and broils, roasts, and dehydrates like a pro. It has a single, rectangular air fryer basket that can easily accommodate four-plus servings of salmon and a couple of pounds of french fries. It also can handle a whole roast chicken. The model has cool features like an auto-pause timer that stops when you open the oven door and rack that slides out when you reach in to retrieve food.

However, like an air fryer oven, you have to preheat an air fryer toaster oven. It also has a wide footprint, so it has to live on your countertop. Perhaps a bigger annoyance, though, is that its tray isn’t nonstick, making it much tougher to clean. But if you want a toaster oven that can also air-fry, this is a great option.

What type of air fryer do you have? Tell us in the comments!