Air frying vs. oven baking: What's the best way to cook?

Old meets new in the battle between air-frying vs. oven-baking for the best, healthiest food.

Covid's social distancing returned many a cook back to the kitchen as the quarantine gave birth to the DIY revolution. With restaurants shut down, Americans had no choice but to cook for themselves, and they've continued to do so even after restaurants reopened their doors. Suddenly, we remembered how affordable and fun it can be to prepare our own meals, but it is certainly a process made easier with the right tools. As Americans work to become healthier in everyday life, it is important to know both the benefits and drawbacks of these two cooking styles, so you know what works best for you and your family. 

Air-frying has become extremely popular in recent years, but is it true that air-frying is better than oven-baking? Before you hit the kitchen for your next meal, this is what you need to know about air-frying vs. oven-baking.

Comparing air-frying vs. oven-baking

Air-Frying Oven-baking
  • Requires purchase
  • Compact size
  • Greater capability
  • Countertop access
  • Cooks with some money to spend
  • Readily available
  • More cooking space
  • Baking, broiling, and roasting
  • Smaller kitchen footprint 
  • Budget-conscious cooks

Air Frying

Best for crispy, fried foods with a fraction of the fat

Air-frying your food delivers a very similar taste and texture without any of the heaviness or health effects that often come from traditional frying methods that are high in both fat and calories.

Air fryers only use a tiny portion of the oil required for a deep fryer, requiring only about a tablespoon of cooking oil compared to the large amounts required for a traditional fryer. Instead, an air fryer uses circulated air as hot as 400 degrees to cook your food. 

Despite the minimal use of oil, an air fryer can replicate the traditional frying process so closely that sometimes, it is hard to tell what was cooked with an air fryer and a deep fryer. 

What to air fry

An air fryer delivers incredible versatility and capability, allowing you to cook many items that were traditionally relegated to the stovetop or oven.

These are some popular items you can cook in your air fryer:

  • Chicken nuggets and tenders
  • French fries
  • Onion rings
  • Vegetables
  • Pizza
  • Chicken wings
  • Cookies
  • Donuts

Benefits of air-frying

Air frying presents a whole host of benefits for your diet and health.

  • Weight loss: Fried foods are linked to high obesity rates due to the high calories and amounts of fat. When you remove the oil required for traditional frying methods, you are rewarded with food that is healthier and, in turn, promotes weight loss.   
  • Disease prevention: Vegetable oil is linked to inflammation and a higher risk of heart disease and higher rates of inflammation. By significantly reducing the amount of oil that you choose, you can lower your rates of illness and disease.  
  • Reduced toxicity: Deep fryers present the additional risk of acrylamide, a dangerous compound that forms in oil at extremely high temperatures. Research links acrylamide to several forms of cancer, including breast, endometrial, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer. When you use a fryer to cook your food, you run the risk of toxic acrylamide formation, but an air fryer helps avoid that risk.

Drawbacks of air frying

With all its benefits, there are still some drawbacks to air-frying your food.

  • Health risks: While an air-fryer is better than a deep fryer, it still carries its own risks that could prove potentially harmful. While less than a deep fryer, an air fryer is still susceptible to harmful compounds that can form with use, such as cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines
  • No guarantees: Just because you air fry a food does not mean that it is good for you. When using an air fryer, it is still important to consider nutritional alternatives that support your health. 

Also read: Best air fryers of 2021


Oven Baking

Best for baking, broiling, and roasting larger meals

A conventional oven is perhaps the most traditional household appliance, the one most commonly found in kitchens around the world. Ovens typically consist of multiple racks to accommodate your goodies and are a trusted way to bake and broil an endless amount of foods and cuisines. An oven uses hot air to cook food slowly and indirectly, allowing foods in a more liquid form to take shape while cooking. That is why baking is such a popular cooking method for things like bread and cake. It cooks from the inside while slowly browning the exterior. 

In addition to broiling, conventional ovens can also provide extended functionality, including toasting and roasting. While roasting relies upon a slower cooking method to surround an item with hot air, toasting is used to brown the exterior only without any need for cooking or burning.

What to oven-bake

A conventional oven can prepare a wide assortment of baked, broiled, and roasted foods, including these popular items.

  • Pizza
  • Meats
  • Vegetables
  • Casseroles
  • Bacon
  • Bread
  • Muffins
  • Cheesecake

Benefits of oven baking

Oven-baking brings a whole host of benefits that can be incredibly helpful to your health. 

  • No oil needed: Unlike an air fryer, you do not need a drop of oil to oven-bake your food. This reduces the chances of harmful contaminants seeping into your food from the cooking oil. Without the presence of oil, foods are often significantly healthier with a lower risk of cancer and other diet-related diseases.
  • Lower fat content: In comparing frying versus oven-baking, a fried and batter chicken breast contains 13.2 grams of fat in a 100-gram serving, while an oven-roasted chicken breast has just 0.39 grams of fat. When comparing oven-baking versus frying, there is no doubt that oven baking delivers far less fat and calories.  
  • Greater nutrient retention: Unlike frying, baking is a preparation method that retains many nutrients commonly lost when cooking. There is better preservation of healthy vitamins and minerals while minimizing your chances of the bad ones, like aldehydes. 
  • Readily accessible: Most homes are already equipped with a conventional oven for baking, unlike air fryers, which are often an additional purchase.

Drawbacks of oven baking

For all its benefits, oven-baking is not perfect. It has some drawbacks that can affect your choice. 

  • Limited functionality: An oven is unable to offer the multiple cooking styles that are available from an air fryer, like steaming, sauteing, and, of course, air-frying.  
  • Not the best for fat: If you are looking for the best cooking method to lose weight, oven baking may not be your healthiest option. The Mayo Clinic reports that the healthiest choice is often grilling, which allows meats to drain excess fat and oils while cooking.   

Also read: Best toaster ovens of 2021


How we perform our analysis

With experience in several cooking methods, we bring a personal perspective to our analysis of air frying versus oven baking.  Drawing from personal use, we supplement our consumer experience with proven research by some of the world's greatest institutions.  To best understand the nutritional value and health effects of air frying vs. oven baking, we refer to published studies from the Mayo Clinic, National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, and the National Library of Medicine's National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Which is best for you?

In comparing air-frying vs. oven-baking, the best choice for you depends on several personal factors, such as your preferred cooking method, household size, and your budget. These are some considerations to help with when choosing between air-frying and oven-baking.


Air-frying

Oven-baking

Smaller households


Personal pizza


Super-crispy foods


Breaded frozen foods


Finger foods


Group cooking


Full-sized pizza


Roasts


Cakes, muffins, and brownies


Stews


FAQ

What is oven baking?

Oven-baking requires the use of a conventional oven. This enclosed area typically incorporates multiple racks while offering additional roasting and broiling capabilities.   

What is air-frying?

An air fryer is a compact kitchen appliance that is typically presented in a countertop model. It uses a small amount of oil and the circulation of hot air to mimic the effects of deep-frying without excessive amounts of oil.

Which is better between air frying vs. oven baking?

Air-frying is a healthier alternative to deep-fried foods, but oven-baking often preserves good nutrients while filtering out the bad ones, making oven-baked foods even healthier than most air-fried foods.

Are there alternatives worth considering?

Ovens and fryers today are available in a myriad of designs, colors, and materials with ever-evolving technologies to improve the way we cook. While air-frying and oven-baking are great, they are far from your only option. In the oven baking vs. air frying debate, it is important to remember that there are always other ways of preparing your food, too. 

 These are a few other options for your culinary skills. 

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