Many people have limited space for kitchen appliances, and it's natural to want to pare down when possible. Two appliances, air fryers and toaster ovens, are similar in that they can be used to prepare foods in different ways, cook food more quickly than a traditional oven, and offer a good deal of convenience.
You might be wondering whether it's better to invest in an air fryer or a toaster oven. The choice can be hard, so I've come up with a variety of considerations to keep in mind as you make your decision.
While it might seem like a lot to pick a side in the air fryer toaster oven showdown, think about a variety of different factors as you decide which you'd rather have.
- The Main Differences Between an Air Fryer and a Toaster Oven
- Cooking Capabilities of Air Fryers and Toaster Ovens
- Health Benefits of the Different Types of Cooking
- Food Quality and Taste in the Two Different Appliances
- Energy Efficiency of Air Fryers and Toaster Ovens
- Ease of Use for an Air Fryer vs Toaster Oven
- Cleaning and Maintenance
- Cost Comparison
- Air Fryer vs Toaster Oven: Which One Is Right for You?
The Main Differences Between an Air Fryer and a Toaster Oven
First, let's examine the main difference between an air fryer and a toaster oven.
Perhaps the most important difference between them is that air fryers use hot air to cook food, much like a convection oven. A toaster oven, on the other hand, uses heating elements.
This difference in each appliance's cooking process means they have different capabilities. Air fryers can be used not only for air frying but also for baking and roasting. A toaster oven, on the other hand, is more versatile and can be sued for toasting, baking, broiling, and even roasting.
An air fryer is usually smaller than a regular toaster oven, which could be a consideration if you have a large family or want to cook larger items.
Finally, air fryers are usually more expensive than toaster ovens, but this can vary quite a bit depending on the model, the features, whether you buy new or used, and so on.
Cooking Capabilities of Air Fryers and Toaster Ovens
As mentioned, a toaster oven is a bit more versatile than an air fryer. There are some foods that really shine when cooked in the air fryer, though!
Take a good look at what you typically like to cook (or which recipes you'd like to try), then see whether an air fryer or a toaster oven would be a better match for your preferences.
Types of Foods to Cook in an Air Fryer
If you want crispy food, it's often best to cook it in an air fryer. For example, air frying chicken, onion rings, and breaded vegetables will result in a crispy, crunchy texture.
Frozen foods, like French fries or fish sticks, also do great in the air fryer. The hot air will circulate to crisp up the outside without drying out the inside.
Anything you want to cook without oil might be a good candidate for air frying. You can make healthy homemade potato chips, sweet potato fries or baby potatoes, chicken tenders, or fish fillets without using oil (or by just using a spritz of cooking spray).
Small items that you want to cook quickly, like chicken wings or shrimp are great to do in the air fryer, since they'll cook evenly and won't overcook, burn, or dry out.
As you choose foods to air fry, you'll want to think about whether they're relatively dry, to begin with; you don't want anything too wet, as that will tend to get messy in the air fryer basket and interior.
Types of Foods to Cook in a Toaster Oven
If you're making cookies, a cake, a pizza, or homemade bread, a toaster oven might be a better choice than an air fryer.
Toasted bread, bagels, and English muffins are another food that would be a great choice for a toaster oven, particularly if you either don't have a regular toaster or if you can't fit larger items in yours. These wouldn't do particularly well in an air fryer, which isn't meant for toasting food.
If you want to roast meat or vegetables, a toaster oven is probably the way to go. You can add liquid to the pan you're using, which you can't do in an air fryer.
A small casserole or one-pan meal would also be a better candidate for a toaster oven, which can bake it just like a regular oven but with less energy expenditure and without heating up the whole kitchen, which might be a consideration in the summer.
Cooking Times and Results
When considering the "air fryer vs toaster oven" dilemma, cooking times might be a factor.
In general, an air fryer will cook food more quickly than a toaster oven. This is because heated air will cook from all directions in an air fryer; in a toaster oven, the heat will come from the heating element.
An air fryer will create crispy food because it will circulate heated air; a toaster oven might not. This really depends on the food, however; choosing to air fry a wet or greasy type of food probably won't result in the crisping you're looking for.
A toaster oven can be used to cook wetter foods or items you place in a pan with some liquid added, whereas this won't work in an air fryer.
Health Benefits of the Different Types of Cooking
Each cooking process can alter the health benefits of the foods you're preparing. You already know, for example, that deep frying vegetables makes them substantially less healthy than steaming or grilling them.
When it comes to an air fryer vs a toaster oven, though, the differences in health quality are less dramatic, but they're still worth considering.
Fat and Calories in Air Fryers vs Toaster Ovens
While both air fryers and toaster ovens can reduce the amount of fat you need to use when compared to other cooking methods, an air fryer will have the upper hand.
Because the air fryer will circulate heated air around the food, it will create a crispy texture even if you use little to no oil. You'll be able to enjoy the crunch and taste of "fried" foods without adding oil, fat, and calories.
Toaster ovens aren't as efficient as reducing fat and oil, but they are still a much healthier option than using a deep frying method, for example. While some foods will require added oil or butter, some can be cooked without it, reducing the overall fat content in the process.
How the Cooking Methods Affect Nutrients
The good news is that neither air frying nor baking in a toaster oven are likely to impact the nutrient content of the food you're using. Both cook relatively quickly, which is the best way to retain nutrition.
If you're looking to keep as many nutrients in your food as possible, you would do well with either of these options.
Also, keep in mind that neither method can make relatively unhealthy foods more healthy. For example, if you were to air fry French fries, they'd be delicious, but they wouldn't be as healthy as fresh potatoes. They would, however, be healthier than French fries cooked in a deep fryer.
Food Quality and Taste in the Two Different Appliances
Both an air fryer and a toaster oven can help you create delicious, high-quality recipes. They do have some differences, though, when it comes to food quality and taste.
Air frying will produce food with a crispy texture. Even cooking is possible even with little to no oil, so nothing you cook in the fryer will be greasy. In addition, because an air fryer cooks quickly, the food's texture and flavors will largely be preserved.
A toaster oven also produces crispy and evenly cooked food, but it usually cannot cook with little to no oil. Since you'll probably need to add oil to drier foods, this could make them come out a bit greasy.
One plus when it comes to toaster ovens is that since they can be used for toasting, baking, and broiling, you can enjoy some caramelization or other enhanced flavors that come out naturally with those cooking methods.
If you're using food quality and taste as a big consideration when choosing between an air fryer and a toaster oven, you'll need to think about whether you prefer the crisp, non-greasy texture of dry foods that's possible with air frying or the greater versatility of the toaster oven for bringing out different flavors.
Also keep in mind that the seasonings, spices, and marinades you use will make a difference in the taste of the food whether you air fry it or bake it in the toaster oven.
Energy Efficiency of Air Fryers and Toaster Ovens
Many people are concerned about energy efficiency, not only for the benefit of their electric bills but also as a way to be more environmentally conscious.
Which Appliances Is More Energy Efficient
In general, a toaster oven is going to be more energy efficient than an air fryer. There are a couple of reasons for this:
Air fryers use a technology that circulates hot air around the food, and that requires more energy to keep everything at a constant temperature. Toaster ovens, on the other hand, use heating elements, which get the oven to where it needs to be and tends to keep it there.
Since air fryers have a smaller capacity, it's likely you'll sometimes need to cook two batches of whatever you're making, which extends the cooking time as well as the amount of energy being spent overall.
Of course, the specifics will really depend on which model or brand you're using, what you're cooking, and the temperature and cooking time needed.
Tips for Maximizing Energy Efficiency
The good news is that whichever appliance you're using, you can take some steps to use them more efficiently.
First, preheat the toaster oven or air fryer for the right amount of time. Don't leave it empty once it's fully preheated, as that will waste energy.
Don't open the door more than you have to while the food is cooking. With both appliances, you may need to shake or flip the food over; that is fine. Just don't open it to check on the food unnecessarily since that will release some of the heat.
Use the correct temperature and cooking time. Turning up the temperature is not usually a good way to reduce cooking time (the outside of the food might burn before the inside is fully cooked), and it's also not an energy-efficient way to handle the cooking process.
Finally, you might consider unplugging the appliance in between uses. This can save energy and can also prevent someone from accidentally leaving or turning the appliance on without food inside, which is a fire hazard.
Ease of Use for an Air Fryer vs Toaster Oven
Both an air fryer and a toaster oven would be a simple appliance to use. They're considered to be user-friendly and good for even novice cooks to use. There are some features that make them simple that you should keep in mind.
Features That Make Air Fryers Convenient
Air fryers usually only have a few capabilities, which makes it easy to determine how you're going to use them. The controls aren't complicated, and many also have pre-programmed settings to cook some popular foods.
Air fryers are also easy to clean because they usually have a nonstick coating in the basket. Some parts are often dishwasher safe, increasing the ease of cleaning.
Features That Make Toaster Ovens Convenient
Toaster ovens are often similar to using a conventional oven, making them familiar to most people. Some models do have more complex options, which can be confusing, though, so it's important to look at the model you're considering.
A toaster oven can be more difficult to clean than an air fryer, since there are more components, aren't usually nonstick, and cannot go in the dishwasher.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Speaking of cleaning, it's important to know how to clean your new appliance. You don't want to invest in a new (or used) toaster oven or air fryer and then neglect it to the point where it's unusable or not very appealing to use.
A big part of maintaining your air fryer is learning how to keep it clean.
Leaving food particles in the air fryer or toaster oven can be unseemly, smell bad, and could even make you sick if you end up eating old food, so be sure to take the steps needed to clean up after each use.
How to Keep Your Air Fryer Clean
Before you clean your air fryer, you'll want to be sure it's cooled down. Just unplug it and leave it open while you're enjoying the food you cooked. By the time you're done eating, it should be cooled enough to safely clean it.
Remove the basket and wash it with warm, soapy water. Use a non-abrasive cloth or sponge for this; don't scrub it with the scratchy side of a sponge, as this can ruin the nonstick coating. If the basket is dishwasher safe, you can use that instead.
Clean the interior. Be sure the air fryer is unplugged first! Then use a soft, dry, or slightly damp sponge or cloth to clean the inside. Don't scrub too hard, and be sure not to disrupt the fan or any other interior parts. Also, be sure not to get the interior too wet, as it's not meant to be submerged.
Wipe down the outside of the air fryer. Use your soft cloth or sponge to wipe the whole thing down to remove any grease or residue. If there's something stuck on or quite greasy, you can use a mild soap. Don't submerge the air fryer, though. Wipe it down and dry it with a new cloth.
Once all is clean, reassemble the air fryer, put the basket back in, and close the door. You will want to keep it closed to prevent dust from getting into the unit.
How to Keep Your Toaster Oven Clean
As with your air fryer, you'll want to unplug your toaster oven to clean it. Also, make sure it's cooled down completely.
Remove the racks and tray and wash them in warm, soapy water. If they're dishwasher safe, you can put them in the dishwasher, instead.
Clean the interior with a soft sponge or cloth. If there's a nonstick coating, you'll need to be careful not to scratch it. You can use soapy water; just be sure to rinse it with a wet cloth when you're done.
You can use a baking soda paste to clean any stubborn gunk from the inside of the toaster oven. Mix baking soda and water into a paste, apply it to the greasy or gummy spot, and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Then wipe away the baking soda, rinse, and dry the oven.
Use a soft sponge or cloth to watch the exterior of the toaster oven. Be sure to wash around the door, where there might be dirty fingerprints, and the control panel, which can get sticky if it's not kept clean.
Put everything back together again and close the door. Just like with the air fryer, you will want to keep it closed to prevent dust buildup.
When choosing between an air fryer and a toaster oven, cost might be a consideration. There are so many different models of both appliances to choose from that it's not possible to say that one is always more or less expensive than the other.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind:
For the most part, a new air fryer will be more expensive than a new toaster oven of roughly the same quality. However, there are budget-friendly options for both types of appliances.
You can often find either a used air fryer or a used toaster oven at yard sales, thrift shops, and secondhand stores. This would markedly reduce the price of either type of appliance.
Both appliances are fairly energy efficient, but a toaster oven will usually use less energy overall. Your electric bill might be slightly less if you're using a toaster oven over an air fryer.
Both types of appliances might require replacement parts. Air fryers have more potential for needing parts replaced, as the basket or filter might degrade over time.
With a toaster oven, you might need to replace a tray that gets rusted or is flaking, but for the most part, the heating elements will be the part most likely to break.
Air Fryer vs Toaster Oven: Which One Is Right for You?
When it comes to the air fryer toaster oven debate, it really comes down to personal preference.
I personally prefer an air fryer. It gives food a crispy texture, is easy to clean, and tends to cook food more quickly. It's also smaller overall and takes up less room on the countertop. I like that I can make food with very little oil or fat and that the cooking time tends to preserve the nutrients, texture, and flavor of my food.
Other folks do prefer the toaster oven, however. They might have one already or might be able to find a new model relatively inexpensively. They're more energy efficient, and some people feel more comfortable with older technology, such as using heating elements rather than hot air circulation to cook their food.
If you have enough counter space, you might consider getting both. If not, it's really up to you! Have fun experimenting, looking up recipes, and looking for the best deal you can to find out whether an air fryer or a toaster oven will be the next addition to your cooking appliances.