What is the cheapest way to cook?

Air fryers, microwaves and slow cookers can all save you money over conventional ovens

Air fryer on kitchen counter with microwave in background
Air fryers are the new must-have kitchen gadget, but how cheap are the alternatives?
(Image credit: paulaphoto/Getty Images)

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Thanks in part to higher energy bills, many people are looking for ways of cooking that won’t send their gas and electricity usage soaring.

As a result, air fryers in particular have become “the most sought-after kitchen appliance”, said The Money Edit.

Air fryers along with microwaves and slow cookers all consume “significantly less energy than ovens”, said the BBC, so using these instead, if possible, will save you money.

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Limiting oven use to only “special occasions is the single most impactful thing an individual can do”, Sarah Bridle, professor of food, climate and society at York University, told the BBC. The author of Food and Climate Change Without the Hot Air added that ovens are “particularly inefficient” because they’re often uninsulated, so “you end up heating the whole kitchen”.

An average electric oven costs 21p an hour to run, said Ideal Home, and uses between 2,000 to 5,000 watts of energy, added Direct Energy. That is more than 100 times higher than the energy consumption of a slow cooker.

But which oven alternative is the cheapest?

Air fryers

Air fryers are worktop appliances, so they naturally have “a smaller capacity than a traditional oven”, said ExpertReviews. But they “can cook food much faster than a traditional oven, often with more even results”.

Plus, if you are swapping deep frying for air frying, the website added, “you’ll definitely be making a positive change to your diet, with a significant reduction in the amount of fat you consume”.

Air fryers have proven to be so popular that retailers have frequently run out of them, said The Money Edit. The cost of air fryers can vary from as low as £30 to more than £300, according to the financial website, depending on the model you go for, the number of baskets it has, and its capacity.

The cost of running your air fryer will depend on how powerful it is, the model, and how long you use it for, said MoneyWeek, adding that the average air fryer uses between 800 to 2,000 watts (W) of power.

If you used an 800W air fryer for 30 minutes every day, it would cost you just under £50 annually, explained MoneyWeek. “To keep the costs down further, make sure you’re only keeping them switched on as long as they are in use.”


Microwaves may not be as versatile as conventional ovens, conceded the Talented Ladies Club, but don’t discount their usefulness. After all, they can make reheating, defrosting and melting a breeze.

An average 700W microwave, the website said, will use about 0.058kWh of energy if used for around five minutes. This will cost around 1.98p.

This suggests a microwave is cheaper to run than an air fryer but, as The Money Edit highlights, it depends on what you like to cook.

“A microwave heats and reheats food well,” the financial website said, while an air fryer gives foods that crispy, fried quality that a microwave just can’t, but “there’s definitely no shame in using them both”.

Slow cooker

Slow cookers are making a comeback, said the Talented Ladies Club, as even if you have it on all day slowly braising a beef casserole, “it will use about the same amount of energy as a lightbulb”.

It’s estimated that the average slow cooker uses roughly 1.3kWh over eight hours of cooking time, said The Sun.

A 100W slow cooker can cook a casserole in eight hours for 27p, said MoneyWeek, compared with two hours in the 2,000W oven for £1.36.

The best choice of appliance may actually depend on what you are cooking.

Preparing a baked or boiled potato is cheapest in the microwave, costing just 3p, according to uSwitch research quoted in The Sun. That’s compared to 27p in an electric oven and 14p on an electric hob.

If you’re looking at cooking a hearty casserole, The Sun said, it’s the slow cooker that works out cheapest, at 22p. It uses 0.80kWh of energy, as opposed to 1.94kWh on an electric oven.

Don’t give up on your oven just yet, though. It has the “added benefit” of letting you cook many things at once, said MoneyWeek, “or a large quantity of the same food which you then freeze in portions and heat up in a microwave at a later date”.

Marc Shoffman is an award-winning freelance journalist, specialising in business, property and personal finance. He has a master’s degree in financial journalism from City University and has previously written for FTAdviser, ThisIsMoney, The Mail on Sunday and MoneyWeek. This article is based on information first published on The Week's sister site, The Money Edit.

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