Microwave Ovens vs. Air Fryers, What is the Difference?

Almost every kitchen has a microwave oven, a conventional oven, and a toaster. However, there are hundreds of other useful gadgets and appliances that you can add to your kitchen, such as an air fryer.

An air fryer is a compact device that sets on your counter and allows you to enjoy fried foods. You can cook crispy chicken, fish, or French fries without dealing with the hassle of deep frying in oil.

While air fryers are becoming more popular, they may not replace the need for a microwave. Here is a closer look at the main differences between these two kitchen appliances.

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Microwaves and Air Fryers Use Different Heating Methods

The main difference between microwaves and air fryers is the heating method. Microwave ovens produce microwaves while air fryers use convection heating.

A microwave oven produces microwaves that vibrate the water molecules in the food. As the molecules vibrate, they create heat.

An air fryer contains a heating coil. As the coil heats, a fan blows the heat, evenly cooking the food inside the frying basket.

Each appliance provides benefits that address the biggest problems with the other appliance. For example, air fryers sometimes take longer to cook food while microwaves cook food incredibly quickly.

While microwaves cook quickly, the food sometimes loses some of its flavors. With an air fryer, you can enjoy crispy, flavorful food.

If you are considering purchase one appliance instead of the other, you should learn more about their differences, starting with how they work.

How Do Microwave Ovens Work?

Microwaves do not include a heating element that emits heat to cook the food. In fact, they do not directly produce heat.

Microwaves include a device called a magnetron. The magnetron generates small radio waves called microwaves.

The metal material inside the appliance keeps the microwaves from escaping, which protects you from exposure to radiation. The metal compartment is also essential to the cooking process.

As the microwaves cannot escape, they bounce around inside the metal compartment. When they hit the food, the water molecules inside the food vibrate. The molecules vibrate so quickly that they produce heat. As the molecules heat up, they also pass heat to other molecules, cooking your food.

A conventional oven heats your food with a heating element that radiates heat as its temperature increases. The heat is radiated through the oven, cooking your food from the outside, which is why the edges of your pie may get burned while the inside is still cool.

As conventional ovens cook from the outside, many people assume that microwaves cook from the inside. A microwave oven really starts from the outside, the same as a conventional oven. The reason why it sometimes seems as if the appliance is cooking from the inside is due to the water content of the food.

For example, when you heat a small pie in the microwave, the inside may be extremely hot while the edges are relatively cool. The inside of the pie contains the filling, which has a higher water content compared to the outer crust.

As microwaves vibrate the water molecules, the areas of the food with a higher water content heat more quickly. This is also why microwaves can easily dry food out.

How Do Air Fryers Work?

An air fryer uses convection heating to heat food. A heating element produces heat, which is then distributed around the food using a fan. It is similar to a compact convection oven.

With a standard deep fryer, the food is heated by submerging it in heated oil. Instead of soaking the food in oil, an air fryer lightly coats the food in oil while air is circulated around it.

The main components of the air fryer include the heating coil and the fan. The coil is typically placed above the food basket and may reach temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The fan circulates the hot air while one or more vents allow undesired hot air to escape.

The most basic features include a timer and temperature adjustments. These settings may be controlled with a knob or a button and a digital display, depending on the model.

Air fryers are commonly used as alternatives to deep fryers. You can prepare French fries, fried chicken, and other fried foods. However, you can also use an air fryer to prepare steak, sausage, bacon, and other meats. With some air fryers, you can also heat vegetables, cook cakes, and poach eggs.

Depending on the type of food that you are cooking, you typically need to lightly coat the food in oil. Some people lightly mist the food in oil using a spray bottle while others coat it in a tablespoon of oil. Both methods use a lot less oil compared to deep frying, allowing you to prepare healthier meals.

Microwaves and air fryers may also be used for cooking some of the same foods. While you may normally cook cakes and muffins in a conventional oven or cook eggs in a frying pan, you can prepare these foods in a microwave oven or an air fryer.

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Advantages of Using Microwaves

A microwave simply offers more use compared an air fryer. Besides preparing food, you may use a microwave to warm up soup or coffee. It can also be used to thaw meat or melt butter. It is a versatile appliance that offers many benefits:

  • Microwaves heat food quickly.
  • Microwaves are energy efficient.
  • Microwaves provide precise cooking.
  • Microwaves are easy to use.

The main benefit of using a microwave is the speed. Microwaves provide the shortest cooking times compared to any other heating method.

You can cook meat six times faster compared to a conventional oven. It may take just a few minutes to heat a couple servings of chicken while the same chicken may take 20 to 30 minutes to cook with an air fryer.

Microwaves are energy-efficient appliances. While they require energy to produce microwaves, they work instantly. You do not need to wait for the appliance to preheat, helping to reduce the overall energy consumption.

Microwaves are also precise. These appliances provide a specific amount of heating power based on the setting that you choose. You can also set the time to an exact second, making it easier to avoid overcooking or undercooking your food.

A microwave is easy to use. You simply place the food in the microwave, set the time and power, and wait for it to cook.

While air fryers are also easy to use, they involve more steps. You may need to remove the basket and stir or flip the food. You also need to choose the right temperature and wait for the unit to heat up.

Disadvantages of Using Microwaves

With a microwave oven, you get fast, even cooking. Unfortunately, there are several drawbacks to using a microwave, depending on the type of food that you are cooking. Some of the main problems with these appliances include:

  • Microwaves may dry your food.
  • Microwaves cannot penetrate thick food.
  • Microwaves may ruin the flavor.

As mentioned, microwaves may dry your food as they use the water molecules to heat the food. If you are heating a dry meal, such as a frozen sandwich or leftover pizza, you can add a damp paper towel to help add extra moisture and keep the food from drying out.

Another issue with microwaves is that they cannot penetrate thick food. The magnetron creates tiny microwaves that can typically only reach about an inch into the food.

When cooking something thicker than two inches, the heat transferred from the outer parts of the food still heats the interior. However, the inside may not get as hot as the outside. Luckily, most foods that you put in the microwave are not thick enough to create any problems.

Some people do not like the taste of food that has been cooked in the microwave. It sometimes creates a distinct flavor or lack of flavor compared to other appliances.

Advantages of Using Air Fryers

Air fryers are popular appliances but some homeowners are skeptical about how well they work. As with any appliance, the quality can vary between brands and models. However, you can typically expect the following advantages when using an air fryer:

  • You can enjoy fried foods with less fat.
  • Air fryers are easy to clean.
  • You can avoid getting burned by hot oil.
  • Air fryers can fry a lot of different foods.

If you like fried foods, you will love the advantages provided by air fryers. You can enjoy the same foods with less fat, easier cleanup, and no oil burns.

When you deep fry or pan fry food, the food is immersed in fatty oil. While air fryers still use oil, they can often use up to 80% less oil. You may cut down the total fat and calorie count of your meals without sacrificing flavor.

Compared to a standard deep fryer or a pan full of oil, cleanup is easier with an air fryer. These appliances typically include a lot of removable parts. Many of the components are even dishwasher-safe. If you rinse the parts after each use, you should have no problem keeping your air fryer clean.

Deep frying and pan-frying produce bubbling hot oil. If a drop of water hits the oil, the hot oil can pop up and burn you, leaving a small, painful blister.

You do not need to worry about getting burned by hot oil when using an air fryer. The appliance is self-contained. The frying occurs inside the fryer and uses less oil, preventing you from getting burned.

Air fryers are also versatile. You can use it to prepare a wide variety of dishes and desserts. You can cook all types of frozen foods and vegetables. Some air fryers even allow you to bake, grill, and roast your food.

Disadvantages of Using Air Fryers

While air fryers are great appliances, they have a couple of limitations. The two biggest issues include:

  • Air fryers provide limited cooking space.
  • It may take longer to prepare your food.

Air fryers are often compact and designed to fit on a counter without taking up too much space. While microwaves are also available in compact sizes, air fryers tend to offer less room, which may limit the types of meals that you can prepare.

Due to the size of the appliance, you may need to prepare some meals in batches. Unfortunately, air fryers sometimes have a longer cooking time.

Microwaves can cook food quicker compared to almost any cooking method. Air fryers tend to take longer compared to most other options, including normal frying.

When using a deep fryer or a pan with hot oil, you can typically fry a batch of French fries in about five to ten minutes. With an air fryer, a single batch of fries may take about 20 minutes.

Tips for Using Your Microwave Correctly

People have different theories about why microwaves may remove some of the flavors from food. However, the main issue is related to the cooking time. When you slowly heat food, the flavors and aromas are released but do not escape unless you overcook the food.

When you heat food in a microwave oven, the food is heated too quickly for the flavors and aromas to spread properly. Areas of the food with a higher water content may also dry out quickly, taking away some of the flavors.

The other difference is due to the browning or crisping of the food, which directly impacts the taste. You can brown, crisp, and burn the outer the edges of food whether you are frying, baking, or roasting. You cannot get the same results with microwaves.

While it is difficult to recreate the browning or crisping effect in microwaves, you can ensure that the flavors and aromas are properly released.

Use a lower heat setting and occasionally take the food out. This helps release the flavors and keeps the food from getting dried out. It may also help ensure that the food is evenly heated when cooking something with uneven water content.

Tips for Using Your Air Fryer Correctly

While microwaves may take away flavor, air fryers take longer to cook. If you want to shorten the cooking time, make sure that you do not add too much food to the basket. Stuffing the basket with food keeps the air from flowing properly around the food, increasing the cooking time.

You should also shake the basket occasionally while cooking to help stir the food. Besides helping to shorten the cooking time, shaking the basket ensures that the food gets evenly browned or crisped.

You may also use both appliances to prepare a meal. For example, you can par-cook chicken in the microwave, add breading, and place it in the air fryer. The cooking time should be reduced and you can ensure that the food is crispy.

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When Do You Need a Microwave?

There are certain things that you cannot heat in an air fryer that you can place in microwaves. You cannot heat a cup of hot water in an air fryer to prepare your tea. You cannot melt a stick of butter for use in a baking recipe.

You may also need microwaves for specific applications. For example, there are steam-powered disinfectant trays for baby bottles and other objects that need to go in the microwave. You may also need microwaves when preparing frozen meals.

When Do You Need an Air Fryer?

There are also certain foods that you can prepare in an air fryer that may not work well in a microwave. Most people agree that meat should not be cooked solely in a microwave. If you want to cook chicken, fish, bacon, or steak, the microwave is not the best option.

An air fryer can easily cook these foods. You can also avoid the hassle of cooking these foods in a deep fryer or frying pan. With an air fryer, you lightly coat the food with oil, place it in a basket, and allow the fan to blow hot air around the food.

Conclusion: Which Appliance Should You Use?

While most homes already have microwaves, an air fryer may make a good addition to the kitchen. It offers several advantages that you cannot get with microwaves. However, the air fryer may not replace your microwave.

Air fryers often require the need to prepare food in batches and require longer cooking times. If cooking for more than two people, you may struggle to get the meal ready in a timely manner.

Microwaves cook faster but do not always produce the best taste. You may find that your food loses flavor or dries out.

You also cannot properly brown or crisp food with microwaves. If you want to enjoy crispy fried chicken or French fries, you can use an air fryer. However, if you want to heat a cup of water for tea or hot cocoa, microwaves are convenient.

In the end, both appliances have their own specific uses. Instead of choosing one device, you should consider using both options. With a microwave and an air fryer, you may create better, healthier meals and spend less time in the kitchen.