So, the hard part: What to do away with? Of course, we can never get rid of our beloved air fryer, and the coffee machine is totally out of the question—don’t even think about it! However, did you know that one of our must-have kitchen appliances—aka the oven that we really can’t get rid of, despite its bulkiness—might actually do more than we initially thought. Aside from baking, broiling, and roasting, most ovens these days feature a not-so-hidden function that we really wish we had noticed sooner. Lo and behold, the convection setting.
Among the different knobs and buttons on your oven, you might see a setting deemed “convection,” which is really a sneaky culinary synonym for air frying. Your regular, full-size oven likely already has this setting, meaning you can use your full-size oven to “air fry” foods. Say hello to clutterless kitchen countertops, and potentially goodbye to your clunky air fryer (sorry, at least for now). Wouldn’t Marie Kondo be so proud?
So, what is convection cooking?
To really understand what makes convection cooking so similar to air frying, we first need to break down the anatomy of an oven. A traditional one typically features a top and bottom heating element (aka those coils that get red hot); meanwhile, a convection oven also has a fan that circulates hot air inside to achieve that super crispy texture we all love.
Think of an air fryer as a mini convection oven that cooks food to peak crunchy perfection using the same technology, just in a basket rather than a sheet pan. So instead of relying on a large pot of boiling oil to cook food as you would when deep frying, air fryers employ convection fans to circulate that high, dry heat around foods (think: fries, meatballs, or Brussels sprouts) to replicate the crisping effect of a deep fryer. In short, your oven’s convection setting does the exact same thing—if you’ve ever made oven fries or baked chicken nuggets, this is exactly what we’re talking about.
Now that we’re up to speed on the technology of air frying (and convection cooking), how should we use our oven’s convection setting, and when?
How to turn your oven into an air fryer
First things first, you’ll want to make sure your oven is equipped with a convection setting. Yes, this may sound obvious, but not all ovens will have the feature (sadly). However, most ovens made in the last decade or so will likely include a convection setting. Unlike your regular baking mode, convection cooking relies on extra heat and powerful air circulation to speed up cooking time and empart a delicious air fried-like crispy texture all around your food, as opposed to just heating it from the top and bottom.
To ensure that you achieve the highest level of crunch, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, you’ll still want to give your food a good shake and toss halfway through cooking to make sure every angle of your fries or veggies gets uniformly crispy. Then, for even better circulation, you might consider lining a baking sheet with a cooling rack and placing your ingredients on top of it, which allows even more airflow and exposure to the oven’s heat as your dish cooks. Lastly, when cooking with convection, you’ll want to adapt your recipe by lowering the cooking temperature by 20-25°F to ensure you don’t burn the food to a crisp (but not in a good way).
Now, although this setting will quickly become your new BFF for cooking things like fries, tots, and veggies, it’s not great for every type of dish. For example, anything that requires a low and slow cook time and minimal disturbance to the surface, like a cake, souffle, or custard. But after a few fries (ahem, tries), we’re confident that this will feel as easy-peasy as cooking in your air fryer. And what’s better than extra counter space?
Oh, we got you in the mood to bake now? Try these easy, healthy lemon bars from Alt-Baking Bootcamp: