Budget and storage area are usually our top deciding factors when buying kitchen appliances. One usual dilemma is whether to replace your microwave oven with an air fryer. Which one is more practical?
Some think these appliances are interchangeable, but they are not.
A microwave cannot replace an air fryer because of their different heating methods and temperatures. They also have distinct cooking limitations. Both can reheat food but provide different results.
The choice ultimately depends on your cooking needs and preferred meals. It’s best to understand the differences between these appliances before buying them for a more informed decision.
Let’s compare these appliances, focusing on their functions and advantages, to see which is best for you.
What Are the Differences Between Air Fryers and Microwave Ovens?
If you decide to replace your microwave oven with an air fryer or vice versa, you might miss out on some of their unique features.
The following table can give you a quick overview of their differences. Keep reading for a more in-depth comparison.
|Built-in heating coil and fan
|Crunchy cooked food
|Warm precooked food
|Cooking time and temperature
|Slow cooking at a lower temp
|Fast cooking at a higher temp
|Size and cooking capacity
|Compact size with a limited food capacity
|Bulky with a large food capacity
|Reheats and cooks food from scratch
|Limited to reheating liquids and leftovers
|Nutrition and health benefits
|Uses less oil for cooking and lessens acrylamide formation
|Increases acrylamide content in carbohydrate-rich foods
|Energy consumption and costs
|More cost and energy-efficient
|Less energy-efficient due to limited microwave function
|Cleaning and maintenance
|Easy-to-clean or dishwasher-safe parts
|High maintenance with non-detachable parts
1. Heating Element
An air fryer generates heat through its built-in heating coil and fan.
The heating coil increases the temperature inside while the fan circulates the hot air. This combined action results in thoroughly and evenly cooked food.
On the other hand, a microwave oven has an electron tube installed.
The electron tube produces electromagnetic radiation, causing the water in the food to vibrate and generate heat.
This heating method explains why your food container does not heat up after microwaving.
2. Cooking Results
Because the appliances vary in heating method, air fryers and microwave ovens produce different cooking outcomes, particularly food texture.
The coil-and-fan element of an air fryer cooks the food from the outside first, then spreads the heat inside. This heat transfer results in tender food items with a crunchy exterior, making air fryers perfect for fried chicken and fries.
Your food will burn if you cook it too long in the air fryer.
The electromagnetic radiation element of a microwave oven cooks the food from the inside out. It reacts with the water in your food, making the microwave ideal for reheating liquids and precooked meals.
Your food will dry out if you microwave it for too long.
3. Cooking Time and Temperature
If you prefer fast-cooking appliances, you could replace your air fryer with a microwave oven. That’s because microwaves can warm your food several minutes faster than air fryers.
A microwave oven can instantly heat your food as it reacts with water molecules. On the other hand, an air fryer takes longer to generate hot air for cooking. Some air fryer models even need preheating time.
One explanation for this is the difference in their temperature settings.
A typical air fryer has a temperature limit of up to 200C. Microwaves, however, can go higher than this and have more temperature options.
Note that while an air fryer cooks slower than a microwave, it cooks way faster than a convection oven, mainly because of their size difference.
4. Size and Cooking Capacity
Some homemakers think they should replace their microwave ovens with an air fryer to save kitchen space. It could be a wise move, considering that microwaves can be bulky.
Still, microwave ovens can reheat a big batch of leftovers or multiple dishes in a flash.
On the other hand, the more compact air fryer cannot cook large amounts of food in one go. Small pieces of food even need ample space in between for proper cooking.
It all depends on the size of your household. An air fryer may be enough for a small family, while a microwave oven fits better in a larger home.
5. Multipurpose Ability
You may put many things in a microwave at once. However, its function is limited to warming liquids, soups, leftovers, and precooked meals.
On the other hand, you can cook almost any food in an air fryer. It may not be the most efficient appliance for cooking dishes that involve boiling or steaming, though.
Still, it is excellent for frying with less oil, roasting, and baking. An air fryer is a good choice for cooking raw meat, poultry, or fish – a function a microwave oven lacks.
In addition, you can put racks or skewers, baking cups or tin, a grill pan, and other compatible accessories to cook more air fryer recipes.
An experimental home cook will surely enjoy using this multipurpose appliance.
6. Nutrition and Health Benefits
It’s not best to replace your air fryer with a microwave oven if you are into healthy cooking.
For one, microwaves use radiation for heating, while air fryers work on your food more naturally by circulating hot air.
Some researchers also claim that microwave ovens negatively affect the nutrient content of food. Specifically, researchers concluded that microwave cooking increases acrylamide, a food carcinogen (Yuan et al. 2007; Michalak et al. 2020).
Acrylamide is present in carbohydrate-rich foods like potatoes. This cancer-causing compound increases when exposed to high temperatures.
In contrast, Sansano and team (2015) noted that acrylamide in food decreases by 80-90% when air fried.
Compared with deep-frying, air-fried foods also require little to no oil.
7. Energy Consumption and Costs
It is generally a good move if you want to replace your microwave oven with an air fryer to reduce your electric bill.
Microwave ovens typically consume 1200 watts for 30 minutes daily. On the other hand, air fryers consume between 800 and 1800 watts (depending on their size) for an extended period.
In addition, microwave uses additional watts on standby mode, while air fryers do not have this feature.
A 2022 product test by Choice also concluded that air fryers have a lower running cost than microwaves.
Note that microwave ovens are mostly for reheating, whereas air fryers can work as a multicooker. That means air fryers are generally more cost-efficient.
Also, note that using an air fryer costs less than wall ovens, induction cooktops, and slow cookers.
8. Cleaning and Maintenance
Not a fan of tedious kitchen cleaning? If yes, consider keeping your air fryer. Compared with microwave ovens, the more compact air fryers are easier to clean.
High-quality air fryers also have non-stick components for a less time-consuming clean-up. Some of their parts are also dishwasher-safe and detachable for thorough cleaning.
On the other hand, microwave ovens are prone to spills and splatters. These could quickly build up on their hard-to-reach corners.
Moreover, microwaves can be sensitive to heavy-duty cleaners or chemicals. Occasionally, you might need to replace its lightbulb and turntable, too.
Can You Use an Air Fryer as a Microwave Oven?
You don’t have to replace your air fryer with a microwave oven if you need a reheating appliance.
You can warm leftovers using the air fryer, but using it to reheat moist dishes or those with liquids and sauces is still a no-no. It will only create a mess.
I recommend limiting your air-fryer reheating to food items like pizza, fries or onion rings, chicken wings, tacos, and roasted vegetables.
Also, follow these steps when using this appliance for reheating:
- Preheat your air fryer to 200C for about 5 minutes.
- Place your food for reheating in the air fryer basket. Ensure there is sufficient space inside to let the hot air circulate evenly.
- Put the basket in the air fryer, then reduce the temperature to 175C. Allow the food to reheat for about 3 minutes.
- Check if your food is warm enough. If not, put the basket back and continue reheating. Check again every 1 or 2 minutes.
- When satisfied with the results, serve your air-fried leftovers and enjoy!
Which One Should You Choose: Air Fryer or Microwave Oven?
If you really cannot keep both cooking appliances in your kitchen, here’s a guide you can use when choosing.
Choose a microwave oven if:
- You do not cook meals from scratch often.
- You enjoy eating warm, saucy meals or soups.
- You want fast-cooking appliances.
Choose an air fryer if:
- You prefer healthier, home-cooked meals.
- You do not have an oven at home.
- You want energy and cost-efficient appliances.
After our side-by-side comparison, it became clear that one appliance was not better or worse than the other.
You cannot easily replace your air fryer with a microwave oven as they have different kitchen applications.
It all boils down to your cooking style, available kitchen time, and eating habits.
A microwave oven is your best match if your usual meal routine involves reheating restaurant takeaways or ready-to-eat foods.
However, an air fryer is a practical solution if you are looking for a conventional oven alternative or a healthier option to cook your food.
When you shop for an air fryer, don’t forget to check its capacity based on your household size and bench space. You can also read our best air fryer reviews and buying guide next to learn more.