If you want to introduce air frying into your meals, you’re likely stuck between buying one of the best air fryers or one of the best toaster ovens. This isn’t unusual when you consider how similar these appliances are, at least at first. Both are kitchen countertop appliances that can air fry ingredients to produce crispy and tender results.
However, there’s actually a substantial difference between air fryers and toaster ovens and depending on which you choose, your whole experience will differ. And while the right choice for you will depend on your circumstances and preferences, personally I think an air fryer is the better road to take. Here’s why.
Also, be sure to check out 7 foods you never knew you could cook in an air fryer.
1. Better performance
First of all, air fryers are dedicated to the cause. These appliances are designed specifically for air frying as well as broiling, and will produce crisp and flavorsome results with ease. While settings tend to be limited, they’re adequate to get the job done. And with a sizable basket that can hold up to seven quarts, these are more accommodating for stacking French fries versus the crisping tray provided with a toaster oven.
Toaster ovens, in comparison, are more versatile, but don't necessarily excel at any one task. These can bake, roast and toast in addition to air fry and broil. While this opens up more recipe possibilities, in my testing experience, I’ve found that toaster ovens don’t deliver as quite a solid performance when it comes to air frying as a consequence. For that matter, some toaster ovens can struggle across several of the settings on offer. Because of the extensive versatility, these appliances can fail to deliver a premium performance across the board.
Air fryers, on the other hand, have only one thing to do and as such they tend to do it well. You can find air fryers which offer more features and functions to improve the versatility on this side as well. For instance, the Ninja Foodi 2 Basket Air Fryer features two baskets, so you can cook more than one thing at a time, plus an array of alternative settings, such as dehydrate and roast. Meanwhile the Cosori Smart Wifi Air Fryer comes with smart connectivity and a host of food settings. Despite the extra settings, the core appeal of these designs is still air frying, so the performance tends not to waver.
2. More compact design
If you’ve actually taken the time to look at these appliances in person, one thing which you will spot immediately is the size difference. Air fryers are generally much smaller than the toaster oven alternatives. Air fryers tend to be just over 10 inches in terms of height, width and depth, while toaster ovens can be over 20 inches wide. If your kitchen countertop space is limited, that means toaster ovens are immediately a no-go.
Even if you have the space, toaster ovens are much bulkier in weight, ranging up to 40 pounds, so you’re pretty much stuck with it on display unless you want to keep lugging it around. The average air fryer by comparison weighs 10-15 pounds, which is much more convenient for storage. You’re not bound by this weight either; small designs exist which weigh less than six pounds, such as the Dash Compact Air Fryer. I prefer a clear kitchen counter, so for me, the choice between these two was easy in this instance.
3. More affordable
Because air fryers feature fewer settings and a more compact design, they’re usually the more affordable option. Air fryers are often found for less than $100, with some starting from as little as $33. Value toaster ovens exist, but most start from about $100 and can go as high as $300. The added cost of a toaster oven can get you a more pretty appliance, but it’s not worth the expense in my opinion unless you want to keep it on display.
In terms of running costs, air fryers are more economical as well. As they’re heating a smaller space, and tend to come with a lower wattage, they will cost less over time. Toaster ovens, on the other hand, will require more power to heat the larger oven space.
4. Easier to clean
If you’ve ever looked up how to clean an air fryer, you will know that the process is pretty straightforward. The majority of air fryer baskets are dishwasher safe, and when a deep clean is necessary, the internals of an air fryer just require a soft bristled brush, a microfiber cloth and some dish soap.
Cleaning a toaster oven can be somewhat more complicated. This is because the manufacturer often recommends hand washing the accessories, rather than using the dishwasher. We found this to be the case with the KitchenAid Digital Countertop Oven with Air Fryer. Sometimes the accessories are just a no-go for the dishwasher entirely, which is a major drawback for the Breville Smart Oven Air Fryer Pro. As toaster ovens often come with a glass door, the internals can be more fiddly to clean as well.
5. Easier to use
Fewer controls means less confusion. As mentioned above, most air fryers will provide basic controls for air frying, which includes a temperature control and a timer. Some even feature an analogue design to make things as simple as possible — which the Chefman Turbofry 3.5L Analog Air Fryer demonstrates. Of course, this isn’t always the case: some of the more advanced air fryer control panels will be cluttered with settings if they provide added features.
However, the controls on an air fryer will, generally speaking, be quicker and simpler to set versus a toaster oven. Again, this isn’t always strictly true, but it’s more often than not because there’s no alternative settings to navigate. Simplicity in use is always a plus point in my opinion, so make sure to check this whether you buy a toaster oven or an air fryer.
6. Less of a safety hazard
Lastly, one thing you might fail to consider is how hot these appliances can get in use. After all, the internal temperature can reach up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’d expect a little residual heat to reach the exterior — but, some models can get dangerously hot, and those tend to be toaster ovens rather than air fryers.
This is because toaster ovens often have stainless steel exteriors and glass doors, while air fryers are mostly plastic. In our tests, we found the hottest toaster oven reached 278.3°F on the glass, while the hottest air fryer reached 166.2°F on the exterior by comparison. So, if you’ve got any curious hands around the kitchen, an air fryer is usually the safer option.
Which should you buy?
Ultimately, this decision comes down to you. Because of the above points, I’d always opt for an air fryer over a toaster oven. However, some will swear by toaster ovens and champion the versatility as well as the aesthetics of these premium appliances. Consider your priorities before you buy, and choose whichever best suits your needs. If delicious air fried foods are all you want, I’d say an air fryer is the way to go though.
For more air fryer tips, tricks and how tos, check out 11 Air fryer mistakes you’re probably making, 9 things you should never put in an air fryer, how to use an air fryer and are air fryers actually healthy? Here’s what you need to know.