I tried an oven with an in-built air fryer — here's how it worked

Food cooking on a air fryer rack in a GE Appliances range
(Image credit: GE Appliances)

I've been desperate to jump on the air fryer trend for a number of years, but my husband has other ideas. I was given the ultimatum: if you get an air fryer, the bread machine has to go. 

Although air fryers offer the amazing benefits of low-fat, speedy meals, not everyone had the counter space to commit to one of these mini ovens, so I'd resigned myself to heating my friends (and colleagues) raving about the joys about air fryers without ever trying one for myself. However, in response to the air fryer trend of recent years, oven manufacturers have started to incorporate air fry features into many of the best gas ranges and best electric ranges. On a recent trip to SMEG HQ, I got to take a look at one of these air fryer ovens for myself. 

You may be thinking: aren't air fryers just tiny ovens, anyway? Well, sort of. Air fryers replicate the airflow of a convection oven, using a fan to circulate the hot air around your food while it cooks which results in a crispier and often faster finished meal. However, air fryers have the added benefit of slatted cooking trays that allow every angle of your chicken breast or roasted vegetable to be cooked at once, and this also allows fat to drip away from your food while it renders, resulting in a crispier and less oily meal. To replicate this effect in the conventional range, manufacturers have started to introduce dedicated air fry settings, as well as air fry accessories to achieve that crispy, low-fat finish.

How does the air frying function work in an oven?

"In 2019, more than 4 million stand-alone air fryers were sold over a 12-month period, making it the fastest-growing small appliance segment in the United States, said Amelia Hensley, director of cooking systems for GE. “Consumers loved the feature so much that in 2021, we pushed air fry mode over-the-air as a software update to more than 60 models and 200,000 consumers who purchased GE Appliances’ ranges in the last four years.”

The free software update was available to all customers who purchased a range with Wi-Fi capabilities, allowing them to benefit from the No-Preheat Air Fry function. 

What was optional has become standard. “Now a lot of our products come with it built in as another button on the control panel,” said Hensley. 

GE JGB735SPSS: was $1,119 now $743 @ AJ Madison

GE JGB735SPSS: was $1,119 now $743 @ AJ Madison
This freestanding gas oven has five Sealed Burners, 5 cubic feet capacity, a storage drawer, has a Shabbos mode, self-clean+ steam clean, a center oval burner with integrated griddle, and a no-preheat air fry function. 

Meanwhile, Smeg launched its AirFry tray accessory in 2020, part of a wider collection, including a BBQ plate and pizza stone, allowing customers to get more out of its ovens. “At the time of launch, the trend for air fry cooking was growing, and people were striving to reduce fat consumption but still wanted to achieve the crisping of food,” said Alice Snow, senior home economist at Smeg. 

With Smeg’s AirFry accessory, whether you’re using a stand-alone air fryer or cooking food in an oven, the principle remains the same. “The AirFry accessory allows maximum airflow to circulate around the food. Minimal fat needs to be applied as the intense heat and airflow creates a fast, crisp and healthier result,” explained Snow. 

Can it replace my air fryer? 

The air fry function in GE Appliances’ ovens is based on a custom algorithm that delivers heat quickly to food. "Our ovens utilize multiple heaters as well as the convection fan," Hensley explained. "The oven’s heater and fan behavior are optimized to produce crispy results while cooking foods thoroughly following package and recipe times. We also match the air fry cycle to each oven system so it is customized to that model for optimal and consistent performance across our portfolio.”

Smeg Portofino CPF30UGMR: was $2,899 now $2,436 @ AJ Madison

Smeg Portofino CPF30UGMR: was $2,899 now $2,436 @ AJ Madison
This model is available in multiple colors (only the black model is on sale), has four sealed burners (one of them capable of 20,000 BTUs), a 3.6 cubic-foot oven capacity,10 Cooking Modes including convection broil , and continuous cast-iron grates.

All Smeg ovens come with a function called Circulaire. “It’s incredibly effective at moving the air around the food to create fast, even cooking results without cross transference of flavors,” said Snow. “This is ideal for air fry cooking as it is an intense, moving air environment that the food needs to crisp rapidly and evenly. Combined with the AirFry tray, which ensures air flows around every part of the food, the result would be as crisp as if you had deep fried the food.”

Some of Smeg’s ovens come with a dedicated Air fry function. “This uses the best function and temperature, by default, without the customer needing to adapt a recipe or cooking instructions,” says Snow. 

However, Smeg advices that you do need to use its AirFry tray accessory when using the air fry function.

Should you buy an oven with a built-in air fryer? 

Smeg air fryer oven

(Image credit: SMEG)

As consumers, we like choice, but I was interested in discovering the manufacturers’ take on whether they think they’ll be a move away from countertop air fryers. GE offers both standalone air fryers, as well as other appliances, such as ovens, with air fryer functionality built in.

“Air fry continues to be a popular feature, and we now offer toaster ovens with air fry built-in in addition to our wall ovens and ranges, said Hensley, “We think we’ll continue to see air fry as a feature, especially built into products like our ovens and countertop ovens that have other cooking modes to save on countertop clutter.”

Chefman 26 Qt Air Fryer: was $179 now $149 @ Walmart

Chefman 26 Qt Air Fryer: was $179 now $149 @ Walmart
This Chefman air fryer sports a French door design and a massive 26 quarts capacity. This tabletop appliance can do it all from frying to broiling, toasting to baking. It'll crisp food to perfection every time, and the wide windows mean you want the food cook to ensure it's never overdone. 

It may seem an unusual route, but Smeg hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon to offer countertop air fryers. “Smeg is about design, and where possible, keeping the countertop free,” said Snow.  “Admittedly, there are many small appliances in the range, all of which you want to keep on display.”

However, similar to my own experience, Snow acknowledged that “there is only so much space” on the countertop. She also sees a potential capacity issue when using a countertop air fryer, which may make it difficult to cook an entire family meal. With the Smeg Air Fry option, additional racks can be added to the oven, making it cost-effective when cooking larger meals. And the bonus: “There’s no cross-transference of flavors and smells - the user can put a mixture of sweet and savory or delicate and strong flavors together.” 

As to the differences between these appliances, it goes without saying that people will enjoy a lot more cooking space when they opt for an oven with an in-built air fry setting, but they also won't have the benefits of extra-fast pre-heating and supplementary cooking space that you'll get with an air fryer. 

Will this change the game? 

Roast chicken and potatoes cooked in an air fryer

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There will still be a big demand for countertop air fryers. Still, as people gradually replace their ranges, they will consider the extra functionality that an air fryer option will offer. Some of it will come down to cost and which option is most cost-efficient and energy-saving, while convenience is also key. It also depends on how you want to use the air frying function. 

A countertop air fryer may be more convenient if you tend to reheat food, or making a small meal. If you want to cook larger meals, an air fryer function in an oven will give you greater capacity. Whatever your needs, you're not lacking for options.

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Camilla Sharman
Staff Writer, Homes

Camilla Sharman has worked in publishing and marketing for over 30 years and has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  

As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader. In her spare time, when she’s not in her kitchen experimenting with a new recipe, you’ll find her keeping fit at the gym. In the pool, stretching at a yoga class, or on a spin bike, exercise is her escape time. She also loves the great outdoors and if she’s not pottering about in her garden, she’ll be jumping on her bike for a gentle cycle ride.