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Are air fryers and turbo really just the same? Three chefs give us the 411

By Camille Santiago Published Jan 26, 2021 9:00 am

“Air fryer” has become one of the biggest buzzwords during this pandemic. 

A lot of people got hooked on the idea of making crispy and crunchy food—using little to no oil—in a short amount of time. Since then, air fryers have been labelled as a "must-have," "the next hot gadget," and a "life-changer."

But then, there are also those who argue that an air fryer is just a space-hogging (not to mention, redundant) countertop appliance—a fancier, more expensive version of a turbo broiler or convection oven.

When you think of it, they actually do have the same function!

What they’re saying

There’s a big discussion on air fryers, turbo broilers (or halogen ovens), and convection oven over reddit, and if you’re one of those who are caught in the middle, still figuring out whether you should buy an air fryer or stick to a turbo broiler, it can all be confusing.

One reddit user by the name of Arlron said air fryers are a “gimmick device.” Arlorn wrote, “I have a fairly large air fryer and it barely holds enough for me to cook for myself and still ‘fry’ things. I consider it a gimmick device in the kitchen. I'd go with a convection oven, especially since you can cook more dishes in it.”

Beetbanshee also calls it an “unnecessary gadget.” “It does make a decent French fry, but it doesn't replicate deep frying.”

But there are other air fryer believers, too. Reddit user Matzco loves the fact that you don’t need to pre-heat the appliance, saying, “We shelved our convection toaster oven once we got our air fryer. Unless the newer toaster ovens have changed, both convection toaster ovens and full size convection ovens need to preheat. Air fryers don’t. So a cooking time is all your time plus [unpacking] the food. We love our AF for the speed and ease of frozen foods.”

Another user uses it for health reasons. He wrote, “Air fryers have been a boon for me as a calorie counter. I know everyone here is giving you advice about air frying from a cooking point of view and they all make solid points, but the fact is that if you are looking for healthier ways to prepare the food you like you're probably sacrificing quite a bit in terms of the "perfect" way to prepare something. Sure frying would be better, but that's not what you're going for.”

What do the experts say

So, what exactly makes them different? How does an air fryer compare with a turbo broiler or convection oven? Though experts and home cooks say there’s not much difference, there’s also some reason to make it worth looking into and purchasing for its own unique qualities.

For one, the heat source for air fryers and convection oven is hot air. They are equipped with a fan and exhaust system that circulates hot air around, while the turbo broiler uses halogen light heat that emits infrared heat for heat transfer.

Second, they all use an interior rack for your food, which allows even cooking all around. Chef Jacqueline Laudico told PhilSTAR L!fe, “Actually both work through hot air circulation and both utilize a basket or a rack to elevate food to ensure good air circulation.”

However, the three differ in size, capacity, and fan placement—which can affect the whole cooking process and time.

An air fryer, which typically has a small chamber, circulates the air more rapidly, speeding up the cooking process and does not require pre-heating. Chef Jac said, “Air fryers boast better energy efficiency than the usual turbo broilers because it’s more insulated. Although newer versions of turbo broilers have double glass wall insulation, too.”

Design and cooking capacity are other factors as well. Chef RV Manabat said, “Turbo broiler has a larger capacity, and intended for bigger recipes such as whole chicken, whole slab of pork. Air fryers are smaller, more accessible, space saver, pre-heat faster compared to turbo broilers.”

Chef Jackie Ang Po told us, “From what I hear from my friends, air fryer is just a turbo broiler na cute.” She adds, that using an air fryer is not economical for her household of seven people because it means if she uses an air fryer, she would need to cook twice. “As against a kitchen oven na may broiler or a turbo broiler na malaki, whole chicken puede,” said Chef Jackie.

With an air fryer, you can throw in frozen food and cook it in a matter of minutes. Whereas, for convection ovens and turbo, you still need to thaw your food.

The conclusion

The bottom line is, choosing the right appliance depends on who you are cooking for. “[Turbo broilers] can cook for families or even when you have get-togethers,” says Chef Jac. “But if you’re just cooking for one to two people, most of the time a more compact air fryer is appropriate for your needs,” she added.

Chef Jackie also shared the same sentiment, saying, “I think air fryer is good for people [na] konti lang sa bahay. Pag madami na tao, hindi time efficient.”

When it comes to its use, Chef Jac believes that a turbo broiler “is more versatile,” while Chef RV thinks “Aesthetically, air fryer is better, more classy, and modern!”

But if you’re aiming to eat healthier, air fryers would be best for you since they have drip pans to catch excess oil as the food cooks and requires just a very small amount of oil.

Before you buy…

When looking for “The One,” as with any gadget, buying from a good brand that is trusted by many is a given. For Chef RV, size plays a big role. “Look for a good size. Since both appliances consume a lot of electricity, choose one that you can fully maximize the use,” he advised.

Chef Jac says to get something that’s easy to clean and easy to use. She also suggests getting a multitasking oven with convection, air fry, and even microwave functions, if space is a concern. “[But] if it’s too confusing, chances are you won’t use it. Too many complicated buttons or programs is not something you want to work on everyday,” she explained.