Air Fryer vs. Toaster Oven: Which Should I Buy?

The answer depends on what you’re cooking (or reheating)

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The Spruce Eats / Zackary Angeline

Air fryers and toaster ovens are both countertop kitchen appliances that act like mini ovens, but are they the same? They both come in different sizes and price points, with simple models that have just time and temperature settings and fancier options with cooking presets and keep warm features. It turns out that air fryers and toaster ovens have key differences that make each one better suited for specific cooking tasks.

Main Takeaways

Air Fryer
  • A mini convection oven

  • Cooks food by circulating hot air

  • Good for crisping and browning foods with minimal added oil

Toaster Oven
  • A small countertop oven

  • Cooks food using concentrated radiant heat

  • Good for cooking things that need to be laid flat

Can air fryers and toaster ovens be used interchangeably? Which one should you buy? To answer these questions and help you choose between the two (or decide to buy both), read on for a rundown of how they perform head-to-head on common kitchen tasks.

Philips Premium Airfryer XXL HD9650

Philips Premium Airfryer

Williams Sonoma

What It’s Best For: Frozen fries, meat, fish, whole chicken, and chicken drumsticks

If you’re planning on buying an air fryer, this is a great option: The Philips Premium Airfryer XXL outperformed the competition in all of our Lab tests. If kitchen space is limited and you’re only feeding one or two people, there are smaller models available, too. This air fryer has multiple cooking functions, so in addition to air frying, it can bake, grill, roast, toast, dehydrate, and reheat food. It also has presets for popular air-fried recipes, including frozen fries, meat, fish, whole chicken, and chicken drumsticks. It’s user-friendly to boot.

In testing, Philips impressed in nearly every test we threw its way: rotisserie chicken, french fries—even cornbread. The drawer-like cooking basket on the Philips Airfryer XXL can hold 7 quarts, which is big enough for a 4-pound whole chicken or two bags of frozen fries. It made the fluffiest french fries out of all the models we tested and perfect roast chicken with crispy skin and juicy meat in just 45 minutes.

For a more budget-friendly option, we recommend the Chefman 3.7-Quart TurboFry Air Fryer.

KitchenAid KCO211BM Digital Countertop Toaster Oven

KitchenAid Digital Countertop Oven

Bed Bath & Beyond

What It’s Best For: Toast, bagels, pizza, cookies

Named the top toaster oven in our Lab testing, this KitchenAid model impressed us with its quick and even heating, toasting a half-dozen slices of bread to nearly the exact same color in three-and-a-half minutes. It also did a great job of baking cookies, and melting cheese with the broil setting. Despite its mid-range price, the performance on the KitchenAid rivaled or out-performed every single toaster oven we have ever used.

We also appreciated the bright LCD screen and nine pre-programmed settings, including ones for cookies, pizza, and toasted bagels (besides standard toast, bake, and broil, of course). It’s also easy to clean, with a removable baking pan, rack, and drip tray that are all dishwasher-safe.

If you’re looking for something more budget-friendly, we recommend the Black & Decker 4-Slice Convection Oven.

The Differences

While both air fryers and toaster ovens can be used to make crispy food, the main difference between the two is the way they cook food. Jason Goldstein, cookbook author, culinary TV personality, and food blogger behind Chop Happy, explained that an air fryer circulates hot air around food to get a crispy texture, while a toaster oven provides oven-like heat without air circulation. The hot, rapidly circulating air in an air fryer makes for crispier food and faster cook times, while the concentrated radiant heat of a toaster oven can create hot spots.

Another key difference between the two appliances is design. “Most air fryers come with a basket drawer, making it easy to shake items while cooking to maximize crispiness on all sides,” Olivia Roszkowski, chef-instructor of health-supportive culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education, said. She added that air fryers are equipped with a powerful fan that circulates the hot interior air efficiently, and some even come with convenient nonstick interior linings for easy cleanup. While you can’t see what’s going on inside an air fryer while cooking (unless it features a glass window on the basket), a toaster oven typically has a glass door that lets you peek in.

The Tasks

Reheating Leftovers

Winner: Air fryer

The hot circulating air in an air fryer not only brings leftovers back to temperature, but can make them crispy again. “An air fryer is great for reheating leftovers that might have gotten a bit soggy all in a matter of a few minutes,” Roszkowski said. Say goodbye to soggy egg rolls and falafel and hello to hot, crispy leftovers that are as delicious as they were the day before. You can also reheat leftovers in a toaster oven, but it may require some tossing and flipping to get a crispy texture on all sides.

Making French Fries

Winner: Air fryer

There’s a reason many air fryers have a fries setting. Whether they’re frozen, fresh, or leftover from the drive-through, an air fryer is the ideal appliance to get them hot and crispy. Like leftovers, making fries in a toaster oven will require some flipping to ensure they aren’t soggy on the bottom.

toast being pulled out of the kitchenaid toaster oven during lab testing

The Spruce Eats / Will Dickey

Making Toast

Winner: Toaster oven

As the name implies, toaster ovens are well suited for making toast. Goldstein added that they’re also great at toasting bagels and open-faced sandwich melts. Since you can see into a toaster oven and monitor the cooking process, you can remove your food as soon as it’s toasted to your liking.

Baking Cookies

Winner: Toaster oven

“Toaster ovens are convenient when cooking things that need to be laid flat and spaced evenly on a piece of parchment paper, such as cookie dough or puff pastry,” Roszkowski said. If you love a fresh-baked cookie (who doesn’t?), you can pop just one or two in a toaster oven whenever you want a sweet treat. Toaster ovens heat up faster and use less energy, so they’re perfect for small tasks like these.

baked cookies on a baking sheet that have just been removed from the kitchenaid toaster oven during lab testing

The Spruce Eats / Will Dickey

Making Chicken Wings

Winner: It’s a tie!

Both air fryers and toaster ovens can make crispy-on-the-outside and moist-on-the-inside chicken wings without the need for deep frying. An air fryer may cook the wings faster, but a toaster oven will allow you to carefully monitor the cooking process.

Should you buy an air fryer or toaster oven?

It depends! If speed is important  and you want to enjoy crispy foods without having to deep fry, you’ll probably want to buy an air fryer. If you’re looking for a mini oven that can heat things up without warming your whole house, a toaster oven is a great investment. If you love kitchen gadgets and have the storage space, you might want both.

There are some instances in which the two appliances can be used interchangeably, and at the end of the day, the choice will depend on what you’re cooking (or reheating). If you’re new to using an air fryer, it’s a good idea to check on your food sooner than you would with a traditional oven. “When using an air fryer, the food item will most likely be ready in about a third of the time,” Roszkowski said. “If your food is getting too much color too quickly, you can reduce the temperature by 25 degrees Fahrenheit for the last few minutes.”

Size is also an important consideration, specifically countertop space and how many people you’re cooking for. “I always say go bigger in size if possible,” Goldstein said. Roszkowski recommends getting at least a 6-quart air fryer so that you can make reasonable-sized batches without overcrowding the basket. “If counter space is at a premium, I would recommend selecting a toaster oven that has a built-in air fryer option,” she said. “Ultimately, an air fryer is mimicking the action of a powerful convection oven, so any toaster oven that has a fan setting will help emulate the same crisping action of an air fryer.”

Why Trust The Spruce Eats?

Abigail Abesamis Demarest is a freelance journalist who specializes in food and drink content. She’s interviewed cooking experts to learn more about air fryers and toaster ovens, and she’s always keen to share this knowledge with readers. Some of the best homemade chicken wings she’s ever had have come out of an air fryer.

Additional reporting by
Jason Horn
Jason Horn
Jason Horn has been writing about food and drinks for more than 15 years and is a Commerce Writer for The Spruce Eats. He once convinced Matthew McConaughey that a hot dog is indeed a sandwich.
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