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Air fryer vs oven: which is the best cooking method for your family?
Tired of waiting for your oven to preheat? Want a healthier way to enjoy your favourite fried foods? Discover the pros and cons of ovens and air fryers to help you decide which kitchen appliance is best for your meals.
By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Feb 28, 2023
Air fryers have been growing in popularity of late, in particular because of their ability to replicate delicious deep-fried classics using a fraction of the oil. They are also cheap to run and versatile. With the cost of living crisis forcing people to cut expenses at home, cooking with energy-efficient gadgets like the best air fryer or slow cooker are just some of the ways parents are cutting back on gas and electricity bills.
Air fryers work by circulating hot air around food to cook it. Crucially, air fryers use a special fan for this method of cooking, which then leads to crispy, delicious meals. It is their use of air as the cooking medium that makes them a great way of cooking healthier food, as you need less oil than other types of cooking. Air frying as opposed to using a deep fat fryer also preserves the nutritional value of foods since they aren’t submerged in oil.
But air fryers aren’t simply healthy stand-ins for deep fat frying, they have evolved into versatile appliances that can make a wide variety of family meals - from a whole roast chicken to baked goods. But can a conventional oven be completely swapped out for an air fryer? And which one is actually the cheapest way to cook? We've investigated which one is the best for family life...
How is an air fryer different from an oven?
The key difference between air fryers and ovens is cooking speed, thanks to air fryer fans typically operating faster than ovens. Most air fryers run on a lower wattage too, around 400-2000 watts, whereas ovens are more like 2500 watts and above.
Although air fryers were initially only designed to cater for two to three people, they have since evolved. Models such as the Ninja Dual Air Fryer have capacities of 7.5L and 9.5L, meaning they can cater for up to eight people. Air fryers do tend to be smaller on the whole than most ovens though.
Air fryers do take up countertop space, however, as opposed to ovens which are usually embedded in the kitchen or sitting under the counter, so this is something to consider if space is at a premium. However, some multi-cooker models combine several devices in one, including functions like an air fryer, pressure cooker, bread maker, and much more, so you’re not completely cluttering up the kitchen sides.
Read next: The best Instant Pot multi-cookers for saving space and time in the kitchen
How much does it cost to run an air fryer?
There are usually two types of air fryer, and they differ in cost. Basket air fryers tend to be on the smaller side, and are usually only used for cooking one item at a time unless it's a model with a dual basket like the Ninja Foodi Max. Air fryer ovens tend to be bigger (think a very large microwave, depending on the model), so will likely have a larger capacity and more functions. On the whole, air fryer ovens will use more energy than basket air fryers due to their size and wattage, but they can usually cook more food at once.
Energy prices will vary depending on many factors, such as the model and setting you're using, time used, your energy provider, etc. but generally you can expect an air fryer running on 1000 watts to cost 17p per 30 minutes of use.
You can work out your air fryer's running costs by using the Sust-It energy calculator - just pop in the wattage, how long you’ll be using it for, and it’ll give you an estimation of the running cost based on current energy rates. At the moment this is estimated at 34p per 60 minutes usage on a 1000W device, though the real figure will vary on a number of factors.
So, for example, using a high-powered 2000W air fryer for an hour will cost you about 68p per hour, or running a smaller one that is 1200W will cost you around 41p per hour. You can use this to work out a rough estimate of any electrical item's running costs too, including gadgets like the best food processor - you just need to know its wattage.
What Mumsnet users say
My (huge) air fryer is 1700w, the oven is 2500w. The oven takes longer to get to temperature and the food takes longer to cook, plus more heat seems to be lost from the oven (bigger area) so definitely less efficient. RagzRebooted
How much does it cost to run an oven?
The average cost of running an oven in the UK depends on the type of oven, temperature you’re running it at and the cost of electricity in the area.
The running cost of an oven can also be affected by things like its energy rating (this is measured from grades A to G, with 'A' being the most energy efficient) or its size. For example, a larger oven with a 'G' energy rating will cost more to run than a smaller oven with an 'A' energy rating.
You can work out energy rates for an electric oven the same way you would for an air fryer; with the watts and the time used for - so according to the Sust-It energy calculator, using a 2500W electric oven for an hour would cost around 85p, but this can depend on various factors too, including how powerful the oven is and how often you use it.
Don't forgot to factor in the the daily standing charge too - you will pay this on top of running costs however much or little energy you use. On average this is 46p for electricity and 28p for gas, but could vary between providers.
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Does an air fryer cook more quickly than an oven?
Air fryers rapidly circulate heat throughout the cooking cavity, creating that trademark crispy exterior that makes them so popular. Their smaller size and powerful fans mean air fryers preheat and cook much faster than conventional ovens.
One of the reasons why they cook faster is because they have a smaller cooking chamber. The confined space allows the hot air to circulate around the food more efficiently, resulting in faster cooking times. Additionally, the close proximity of the heating element to the food also helps to speed up the cooking process.
Air fryer vs oven - which is cheaper to run?
Generally speaking, an air fryer is more likely to save money on your energy bill compared to an oven thanks to their typically lower wattage and quicker cooking times. This is especially the case if you are cooking for small groups as dinkier air fryers tend to be more energy efficient than larger models. However, they also have a smaller cooking capacity, so they may not be suitable for larger families or those who like to cook in bulk (if you do batch cook our guides to the best Tupperware and bento box will help you find clever storage solutions).
In contrast, conventional ovens have a larger cooking capacity and can be used to cook multiple dishes at once so are more ideal if you’re hosting a dinner party and are wanting to create a feast inspired by your best cookbooks. They do typically consume more electricity though, and can be more expensive to run over time.
Ultimately, the cost of running an air fryer versus a conventional oven depends on a number of factors, including the size of the appliances, how powerful they are, how often they're used, and the cost of electricity in your area. To determine which is cheaper to run, it's important to consider your individual needs and usage patterns, and to calculate the cost of running each appliance over a period of time.
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Is an air fryer healthier than an oven or a deep fat fryer?
Air fryers are generally thought to be a fairly healthy method of cooking, mainly because they don't use much oil, therefore limiting the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
However, when it comes to the health benefits of air fryers versus ovens, what you're cooking is the key. When oven baking foods that you are unlikely to add a large amount of oil too anyway, an air fryer won't necessarily be more healthier than an oven.
The health benefits presented by using an air fryer instead of a deep fat fryer are manifold though, as far less oil is needed, therefore reducing the fat content in your meal. Remember though, it is still a method of frying, and you should aim for a balanced and healthy diet.
Verdict: can an air fryer replace an oven?
The benefits of an air fryer are their compact size, their countertop access, their delicious alternative to deep frying, as well as their convenience. They offer several advantages over traditional ovens, including faster cooking times, less heat emission and energy usage, and the ability to cook food more evenly with its compact size. Additionally, air fryers are also easier to clean and maintain, as they sometimes have detachable parts that can be washed in the dishwasher.
However, there are also some drawbacks to using an air fryer. For example, they typically have smaller capacities, meaning that they may not be suitable for large families or for cooking big meals. Additionally, some food items, such as breaded foods, may not turn out as crispy as when cooked in a conventional oven.
Although air fryers do tend to be cheaper than traditional ovens, some high-wattage models use up more energy than an oven. Ultimately, the faster cooking time delivered by air fryers can reduce the amount of time you need to run it for. So, this is worth factoring into your thinking about the relative costs of both. Additionally, a standard air fryer may not have the versatility and cooking options of a conventional oven, such as the ability to bake at different temperatures or to cook on multiple levels.
What Mumsnet users say
“I’ve got a Ninja Foodi which I’ve had for a few years now and it’s handy for cooking chicken without putting the oven on. Kids’ chips/fish fingers take half the time, I’ve done teriyaki salmon in it which was lovely, pork joint at weekend. I have a teeny oven so it’s handy to free up space and for small things. I rarely use both my oven and the Ninja but will use the hob and there’s six of us. Cheaper to run too. It’s taken me a while to get to use all the functions and it was only bought because my oven broke and was going to take a while to mend.” serenghetti2011
“It’s a lot cheaper than running an oven.” Northernsoullover
“It's mostly just me at home in the week, and this saves me time and energy on cooking. It encourages me to actually eat what I've got in the freezer rather than order in.” InPraiseOfBacchus
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