What's the difference between a convection oven and air fryer? In principle, they’re the same: hot air that is blown around in a chamber to create even heating. But first, let’s quickly talk about what convection is: the natural rise and fall of heat that’s caused by uneven temperatures. Most household ovens have heating elements, which is that coil of wire on the top and bottom of the oven chamber (and unless you’re broiling, the bottom coil is what primarily does most of the general heating purposes). An electric current flows through it, causing it to get red hot. The current is converted into slow, even, radiating heat. This heat rises, and the fan in the back of the convection oven will blow the air around for temperature consistency.
Convection ovens are known for causing some issues with soft baked goods such as souffles and certain cakes. This is because the circulated hot air is too harsh on the surfaces of these pastries, and may cause them to collapse. Theoretically, the hot air in an air fryer is circulated much faster (especially since it has a smaller chamber) than a convection oven. Air fryers are actually more gentle and suitable for baked goods. The hot air in an air fryer is not directly blown around the food. An air fryer’s heating element is above the food. The heat generated from it is pulled up with the fan, so there is no direct heat source on the food. It’s dispersed on the outside of the chamber, and then ascends from the open bottom to heat the baked goods from all around.
Many people might say air fryers are more suitable for crispy foods. Because air fryers have smaller chambers and higher speed air circulation than a convection oven, it actually takes less time than a traditional convection oven to bake/fry foods. Recipes that say foods need to be heated for 10 minutes may only require 6 minutes in an air fryer for tasty perfection.
As a counter top appliance, air fryers are smaller than convection ovens-- which makes them efficient for daily family meals. Cleaning out an air fryer is also much easier than cleaning a convection oven. If any mess were to occur in an air fryer, it is contained within the pot that slides out. A convection oven would require cleaning of the rack, which can be a bit unwieldy. Any drips to the bottom would have to be cleaned with a hand towel and scrubbing device brought into the oven.
Convection ovens and air fryers are very similar, but there are enough differences to put them into two different categories.