How to choose between a toaster oven and an air fryer
These days, air fryers are a must-have on most people’s kitchen appliance list. But the toaster oven has been a kitchen countertop staple for years, and for good reason: It can do everything your full-size oven can without using as much energy or heating up your kitchen.
If you have limited space on your counter, though, you may find yourself debating between an air fryer and a toaster oven, trying to determine which has the most value in the kitchen.
At first glance, air fryers and toaster ovens are pretty similar — both allow you to bake, toast and roast food without turning on your conventional oven. But they heat food differently, affecting how long they cook recipes and how crispy and tender the finished product is.
To help you decide which is the right fit for your kitchen, we explored how air fryers and toaster ovens stack up against one another. We considered not only their cooking performance but also their versatility, space requirements and overall usability so you can better understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.
What is a toaster oven?
A toaster oven is essentially a mini version of your standard freestanding or wall oven. It usually has two static radiant-heating elements: one at the top and one at the bottom. The heat generated by the elements cooks the food just as it does in your full-size oven. However, the cooking process is usually more efficient because a toaster oven is smaller.
A toaster oven typically offers multiple cooking functions that make it pretty versatile. It can bake, roast, broil and reheat foods, but it also toasts bread, eliminating the need for a separate countertop toaster.
Toaster ovens vary in size and capacity. Small, compact models may offer just 0.3 cubic feet of interior space, while large, oversized models may have up to 1 cubic feet of capacity. The greater an oven’s capacity, the more versatile it will be because it can accommodate a wider range of foods. However, models that hold more food also occupy more space on your countertop, so they may not fit in smaller kitchens.
Most toaster ovens include wire cooking racks and a baking and/or roasting pan to hold your food on the rack. Depending on the size of your toaster oven, your existing bakeware and cookware may also fit inside to cook your favorite recipes.
You can find some toaster ovens with a convection setting, which allows them to cook foods in a nearly identical way to an air fryer. However, because these convection toaster ovens typically don’t come with a perforated air-frying basket, the air doesn’t circulate as freely around the food, so it may not cook as evenly or as quickly as it would in an air fryer.
Toaster oven advantages
- Better toasting: You can technically toast bread in an air fryer, but you’ll get better results when toasting bread or bagels in a toaster oven. It also works well for toasted sandwiches.
- Capacity: While toaster ovens are smaller than a standard oven, they often offer a greater capacity than an air fryer. They can hold up to 1 cubic foot, which can fit a whole chicken or even up to a 14-pound turkey. A larger toaster oven can easily handle cooking for a family.
- Wide temperature range: Nearly all toaster ovens have a maximum temperature of at least 450 degrees, so they are suitable for broiling. However, some models go as high as 500 degrees.
- Energy-efficient: With its reduced size, a toaster oven uses less energy than your full-size oven, helping you to save on energy costs.
- Less emitted heat: A toaster oven’s smaller size also means it doesn’t generate as much heat as a full-size oven, so it won’t get your kitchen too hot, especially in warmer weather.
Toaster oven drawbacks
- Countertop space: Because of its large capacity, a toaster oven is one of the larger countertop appliances for your kitchen. In a smaller kitchen, finding a spot to keep it may be challenging.
- Cooking time: A toaster oven’s cooking times are roughly the same as those in a standard oven, though their smaller size can sometimes shave a minute or two off the timer. However, compared to an air fryer, with a convection fan to circulate air, a toaster oven can take up to 20% more time to make the same foods.
What is an air fryer?
Like a toaster oven, an air fryer is a countertop appliance, but it doesn’t rely solely on heating elements to cook food. Instead, it pairs those heating elements with a convection fan that circulates the warm air around the food. As a result, an air fryer can cook food up to 25% faster than a conventional oven. The food sits in a perforated basket within the air fryer, so the circulated air reaches the food from all directions to ensure it cooks more evenly.
An air fryer is usually more compact than a toaster, so it doesn’t take up as much space on your countertop. The exact size depends on the type of air fryer you choose: a basket air fryer or an air fryer oven.
Basket air fryers are typically shaped like an egg and are the most compact. They have a drawer that holds the air-frying basket, which offers a capacity of 1 to 10 quarts, depending on the model. They work best for single servings or families of less than six.
Air fryer ovens are larger and resemble toaster ovens. While they take up more countertop space, they have a generous capacity, typically between 12 and 30 quarts. Larger models can usually accommodate families and frequent entertaining. Unlike a toaster oven with a convection setting, air fryer ovens have an air fryer basket that slides into the tracks inside the oven just like its wire cooking rack does. The circulated air from the convection fan can reach the food from all directions, so it cooks more evenly than it would in a convection toaster oven.
Despite its name, an air fryer doesn’t actually fry food. Its convection fan circulates air to get french fries and chicken nuggets super crispy. To help your food get as crispy and golden brown as possible, mist it with a small amount of olive or avocado oil before placing it in the air fryer. Oil isn’t necessary, though — and because you only need a small amount if you do use oil, air-frying is much healthier than deep-frying.
Air fryer advantages
- Compact design: Air fryers are usually more compact than a toaster oven, especially if you opt for a basket-style model. That makes them ideal for small kitchens, where countertop space is at a premium.
- Versatility: Despite its name, an air fryer is essentially just a mini convection oven, so it can bake, roast and reheat foods.
- Energy-efficient: An air fryer’s compact size makes it more energy-efficient than a standard oven. In fact, it can use up to 50% less energy than a full-size oven.
- Faster cooking: The smaller size and convection fan allow an air fryer to prepare foods more quickly than a full-size oven or a toaster oven. It typically takes up to 25% less time to prepare recipes than a conventional oven.
- Less emitted heat: Like a toaster oven, an air fryer’s compact size means it doesn’t produce as much heat as a full-size oven, so it can keep your kitchen cool even in warm weather.
Air fryer drawbacks
- Limited capacity: Because of their compact design, most air fryers, especially basket-style models, have a limited capacity. They generally work best for single servings of food or meals for four or fewer people.
- Limited temperature range: Many air fryers have a more limited temperature range than toaster ovens. Some models top out at 400 degrees, while toaster ovens usually have a maximum temperature of at least 450 degrees, making them ideal for broiling.
Air fryer vs. toaster oven: Similarities
- Cooking functions: While many air fryers only have an “air-frying” setting, they are essentially just mini convection ovens, so they can bake, toast and roast just like a toaster oven.
- Energy efficiency: Because air fryers and toaster ovens are smaller than standard ovens, they are more energy efficient. They use up to 50% less energy than your full-size oven, so they can help you save on energy bills when you’re not cooking for a larger group.
- Heat emitted: With their smaller size, air fryers and toaster ovens emit less heat than a full-size oven. That makes them ideal alternatives to your oven when cooking in warm weather.
Differences between an air fryer and a toaster oven
While air fryers and toaster ovens are similar in many respects, there are a few key differences to consider.
Unless you opt for an air fryer oven, an air fryer will probably be smaller than a toaster oven. That means it takes up less space on the counter, making it an ideal fit for a smaller kitchen. However, it also reduces their capacity, so toaster ovens are often the better bet if you have a larger family.
While air fryers and toaster ovens can fulfill many of the same cooking functions, there is one that’s often available only in a toaster oven: broiling. Many air fryers have a maximum temperature of 400 degrees, so they don’t get hot enough to effectively broil your food.
But if you want crispy, evenly cooked food, an air fryer usually performs better than a toaster oven. Because air is circulated throughout an air fryer, food cooks evenly on all sides, allowing it to develop a crispy exterior while staying juicy and tender inside. For food to get as crispy in a toaster oven, it often needs more cooking time, which can dry out its interior.
In general, air fryers have shorter cooking times than a toaster oven. Our air fryer took between 10 and 15 minutes to make crispy french fries during testing. The same fries took approximately 20 minutes in a toaster oven — and they still weren’t as crisp as our air-fried french fries.
When to use one vs. the other
When making foods you want extra crispy, like french fries, chicken tenders, chicken nuggets, onion rings and other snacks, an air fryer is the obvious choice. Air-fried food develops a crispy outside and a tender inside without adding oil. It also reheats leftovers extremely well, giving it a crisp, fresh texture.
But a toaster oven is the superior option for making your morning toast or toasting and melting the cheese on an open-faced sandwich. The fact that you can see into your toaster oven’s front door to take the bread out as soon as it reaches your preferred darkness level makes it pretty foolproof. Toaster ovens are a better fit for cookies and other baked goods for the same reason.
Which is healthier?
Both air fryers and toaster ovens don’t require much oil or added fat to cook your food, so they are both healthy options. However, an air fryer might get a slight edge because its perforated basket allows fat and grease to drip from food as it cooks. In a toaster oven, the food sits on a pan, where it rests in its own drippings during cooking and can then reabsorb the cooked-out fat.
Top air fryer models
Our favorite air fryers are oven models that offer generous capacity that can accommodate families and entertaining. They also provide additional cooking functions beyond air-frying, so both make an ideal alternative to a toaster oven.
Type: Oven air fryer | Capacity: 1 cu. ft. | Dimensions: 17.3” L x 21.5” W x 12.8” H | Weight: 22.8 lb | Material: Stainless steel | Control Type: Knob | Number of Functions: 13 | Temperature Range: 80 to 480 degrees
The Breville Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro has a capacity of 1 cubic foot, so it can fit nine slices of toast, a 13-inch pizza, a 12-cup muffin tray or a 14-pound turkey. During testing, we made an entire 2-pound bag of frozen french fries in the oven’s air-frying basket, so it could handle family and group cooking in addition to snacks and single servings. However, despite its size, we found it fit easily in our testing area, sliding beneath overhead cabinets with several inches of clearance to spare.
The Joule also boasts an impressive temperature range, supporting 12 cooking functions beyond air-frying, including toasting, baking, broiling, roasting, proofing, reheating, slow cooking, warming and dehydrating. It excelled at air-frying, producing crispy french fries in just 13 minutes. We also found it toasted bread, reheated a leftover chicken sandwich and baked cookies well enough to replace a toaster oven. The Joule is even Wi-Fi-enabled, so it is compatible with the Breville+ app, which provides access to hundreds of recipes. It also has an AutoPilot feature that walks you through the recipe steps and automatically switches cooking functions on the oven as necessary throughout the cooking process.
Type: Oven air fryer | Capacity: 26 qt | Dimensions: 16.3” L x 16.9” W x 15.5” H | Weight: 22 lb | Material: Stainless Steel | Control Type: Button, knob and app | Number of Functions: 12 | Temperature Range: 80 to 450 degrees
The Cosori Smart Air Fryer Toaster Oven offers many of the same advanced features as high-end air fryer ovens but costs considerably less. It has a smaller capacity than the Breville Joule, but it can still fit six slices of toast, a 12-inch pizza or a 5-pound chicken, making it a good choice for families of four to six. It also offers additional cooking functions besides air-frying, including baking, toasting, roasting, broiling, warming, dehydrating, slow cooking, fermenting and more. It air-fried exceptionally well during testing, making crispy fries in just 12 minutes and juicy chicken wings in 18 minutes. We also found that it broiled meat, toasted bread and baked a frozen pizza well, making it versatile enough for everyday use.
Additionally, the Cosori stood out for how easy it was to use during testing. It has straightforward button and knob controls that allow you to set a precise cooking temperature and time. But like the Joule, it is also Wi-Fi-connected. Its Vesync app does more than just provide recipe access, though. It also lets you adjust all the oven’s settings on your smartphone even when you’re not in the same room.
Top toaster oven models
Our favorite toaster ovens are large enough to fit at least six pieces of toast, so they can cook for a group. We also considered usability factors, like their temperature range and number of rack positions, to determine which models are the biggest help in the kitchen.
Dimensions: 13.9” L x 19” W x 14.1” H | Number of racks: 1 | Capacity: 0.8 cu. ft. | Material: Stainless steel | Temperature Range:120 to 450 degrees | Weight: 22 lb | Automatic Shutoff: Yes
This top-of-the-line toaster oven boasts a capacity of just under 1 cubic foot, so it can hold six slices of toast or a 13-inch pizza, making it large enough for a family of four or more. It heats up to 450 degrees, so it has toast, bake, roast, broil, reheat and warming functions and settings for bagels, pizza and cookies, making it highly versatile. It’s also made of durable stainless steel and has a brushed finish that looks great sitting on the counter. The interior cavity has a nonstick coating to make cleanup easier, too.
The Smart Oven has a convection setting, so it can circulate air throughout the interior to cook foods more quickly and evenly. It doesn’t come with an air-frying basket, though. Instead, it includes a wire rack, an enamel baking pan, an enamel broil pan and a nonstick pizza pan. Like the Breville Joule, the Smart Oven also has user-friendly knob controls and an LCD display that makes using the oven a breeze.
Dimensions: 15.24” L x 18.74” W x 9.41” H | Number of racks: 1 | Capacity: 0.36 cu. ft. | Material: Stainless steel | Temperature Range: 150 to 450 degrees | Weight: 11.4 lb | Automatic Shutoff: Yes
The Hamilton Beach 6-Slice Toaster Oven is a classic toaster oven that can hold six slices of toast or a 12-inch pizza. Its compact design makes it a perfect fit for smaller kitchens, but it still offers two rack positions and three cooking functions for baking, broiling and toasting. Adding and removing food is extremely easy because it has a roll-top door that stays up and out of the way. That also keeps the door clean of drips and spills.
The toaster oven has a 30-minute timer with a stay-on feature to keep food warm even after cooking. You don’t have to worry about forgetting to turn it off, though — it has an auto-shutoff feature that turns it off after 60 minutes. Its simple dial controls are also easy to use, making it ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with a complicated touchscreen display just to make some toast or reheat a slice of pizza.
How we analyzed
To determine how air fryers and toaster ovens really compared, we prepared the same foods in both appliances to see how the taste and textures stacked up. We made frozen french fries, toast and cookies in both an air fryer and a toaster oven. We also reheated leftovers like pizza and a chicken sandwich in both. Additionally, we considered how long each appliance took to cook, how noisy they were and the cleanup process afterward.
Is an air fryer the same as a convection oven?
A. An air fryer is essentially a mini-convection oven because it uses a fan to circulate the hot air created by its heating elements around its interior. However, an air fryer has a perforated basket that allows the air to surround the food on all sides for more even cooking than a standard convection oven.
Which is cheaper?
A. It depends on the type and capacity of the air fryer you choose. In general, toaster ovens are larger and can hold more food, so they cost more. However, if you opt for an air fryer oven, it will likely be the same price as a similarly sized toaster oven.
How do toaster ovens compare to traditional ovens?
A. Toaster ovens are very similar to traditional ovens, but their compact size affects their performance. They heat up much more quickly than a full-size oven and often take a few minutes less to cook the same foods. A toaster oven is also more energy-efficient than a traditional oven and won’t make your kitchen as hot.
Final thoughts: Which is best for you?
It really depends on what you’re looking for in a countertop appliance. If you need to feed a family of four or more, a toaster oven is likely the better choice. However, if you want to get your food out on the table as quickly as possible, an air fryer will do the job much faster. You can use the two appliances similarly, though, so you likely won’t be disappointed with either one.
If you’re having trouble choosing between the two, we recommend an air fryer oven. It gives you the best of both worlds because it has a convection fan and an air-frying basket to make foods as crisp as possible. But you can shut the convection feature off and use the oven just as you would a standard toaster oven, so you can make toast, cookies, pizza and more just like you would in your standard oven — but in less time.
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Jennifer Blair writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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