It may be tempting to skip preheating because of how quickly air fryers heat up, but learning how to preheat your air fryer properly makes a whole lot of difference to your meals.
This extra 5- to 10-minute step can definitely change how your food tastes, how crunchy it ended up, or even how moist your meats or fish resulted after being air-fried.
In worst cases, NOT preheating the air fryer can result in undercooked food. And who wants that, right?
The good news is preheating an air fryer is a no-brainer, and anyone can do it. Just follow the steps below, and after several tries, I'm sure preheating would be second nature to your air-frying ways.
Do You Need to Preheat Air Fryers?
This is a VERY debatable topic in the air frying world. Suppose you've ever cooked fried chicken (see 'Best Air Fryers for Chicken' review) or crispy veggies without preheating before and ended up with a decent meal. In that case, you'd lean on the group of people that says preheating isn't necessary.
But here's the clincher, preheating is REQUIRED for the following reasons:
The Product Manual Says So
Within the span of two years, hundreds of air fryer models have appeared in the market (see our top budget options review). Each of these models has its own rules about preheating and temperature settings, which is why it is not recommended to listen to other air fryer users on whether to pre-heat or not. This is especially true if you're using air fryers from different brands and models.
As such, before you listen to anyone, make sure to read the manual first and check out what the manufacturer is telling you to do.
Specific Conditions When Preheating Helps
- You prefer steaks, pork chops, chicken wings (see 'Best Air Fryers for Chicken Wings' article), and other meats with a good sear. When you preheat the air fryer for at least 5 minutes, you allow the air fryer to cook the outside of the meat more quickly while leaving the middle juicy. This is ideal for people who love medium-rare and rare textures to their meats.
- You're cooking frozen foods. Preheated air fryers can cook frozen foods like fish sticks and French fries quickly, resulting in a crispy texture outside and tender inside. For thinly-sliced food like fries, the cooking time might be shorter than cooking meat.
- You're reheating leftovers. Pre-heating the air fryer for at least 3 minutes lets you reheat leftovers in under a minute.
- Pastries and baked goods. You have to preheat your air fryer if you plan to bake anything. Skipping this step would cook the outsides crunchier, while the insides left sticky or undercooked.
- Using the air fryer as an oven. If you plan to bake bread or cakes, a preheated temperature ensures the baked goods will come out cooked inside and out.
- For everything crispy. If you want your fried chicken to be cooked with super-crispy skin, preheating is an important step. However, if you marinated a chicken and wanted it roasted, pre-heating isn't necessary anymore.
You do not need to preheat your air fryer if you're cooking foods you don't want crispy and if you're cooking ingredients that are too thick or too frozen. A cold air fryer is needed to cook these types of food because preheated air fryers would cook the outsides way quicker than the insides.
The Specific Air Fryer Model
It will also depend on your specific air fryer model if pre-heating is needed or not.
Small devices heat up more quickly, which means you could potentially skip the pre-heating process and go straight to cooking. But this is still not a rule for ALL small air fryers.
If you're still undecided, check your air fryer's manual first.
How To Preheat Your Air Fryer: A Step by Step Preheating Guide
If your air fryer manual does not include a preheating guide, follow the instructions below:
Unplug and clean the surface, basket, pan, and other air fryer parts for dirt and food scraps. You don't want to preheat your air fryer and unintentionally burn these crumbs.
Plug it back and assemble. If this is the first time you're using the air fryer, attach all accessories you have before preheating. Make sure that all the parts are connected securely.
Get ready to preheat. Turn on your air fryer (there's always a power button: find it and press).
Set the timer. In some air fryer models, you have to set the timer based on what the manufacturer indicated. If you can't find any information about this in the manual, pick a duration. 5 minutes seems to be the average duration for most air fryers unless your unit is extra-large and would require additional time to preheat.
Set the highest temperature. The instructions from most manufacturers say to preheat your air fryer using the highest temp settings. If the manual skipped this detail, just go with 400 degrees F.
Preheat your airfryer at 400 degrees for just five minutes. Do not touch. Even if you're not technically cooking anything, the surface of the device would still be hot. Once the timer is done, you've successfully preheated the air fryer.
Cook. Now that you're done with pre-heating, it's time to try out your recipe and adjust the heat to your desired temperature as well as the cooking time. Most recipes require around 350 to 450 degrees F to cook properly.
It is totally up to you if you want to preheat your air fryers every time you decide to cook. As you may have discovered by now, some people believe there are no apparent differences in cooked food between preheating or not. On the other hand, many people swear that the several extra minutes in preheating actually change the crust, moistness, and overall result of their cooked recipes.
The air fryer is a pretty cool addition to any kitchen countertop. Like every other kitchen appliance, air fryers have different preheat instructions depending on the brand and model. The following FAQs should help you clear up other issues you might have:
What is a Preheating Mode?
Some air fryer models are designed with a built-in preheat function. You don't need to set the temperature or pick a duration. Just find the button that says "preheat" and either click "on" or press "start." Either way, the preheating process will begin automatically, and you just need to wait for the device to finish its job.
Air fryer models with a preheating mode take out the guesswork and free up some time to do something else, such as cooking appetizers or refilling the oil spray bottle.
How do I Know if My Air Fryer is Preheating?
Once you set the temperature and timer, the air fryer machine would work as though it is cooking. Except there won't be any food inside, and you won't be monitoring the actual "cooking." The surface would heat up outside, and if you checked by placing your hand close to the air fryer, you’d know it's preheating if you feel it hot.
How Long Does it Take to Preheat Air Fryer to 400?
It takes six to seven minutes for a typical air fryer to preheat to 400 degrees F. Of course, the bigger your air fryer is (see ' Best Air Fryer for Family of 4' post) higher the temperature and longer the time it would take to preheat properly.
Is it True That You Cannot Get a Crispy Cooked Meal Without Preheating?
One misconception with preheating is that it is impossible to cook crispy food if you didn't take the time to preheat your air fryer.
For example, if you're trying to cook chicken tenders with breading, the 3-part (coat in flour, egg dip, and coat in breadcrumbs) can do the trick, even if you skipped preheating.
After Preheating, Now What?
Do you have to preheat the air fryer every time you cook? Some people just add an extra 2 to 4 minutes on the timer but delay placing the basket full of food into the air fryer.
In my opinion, there's no harm in adding this step with every batch of cooking. I personally preheat my traditional oven whenever I bake cakes or broil meat there and ALWAYS get good results when I do so. Cutting corners oftentimes result in undercooked bread, so I've learned to preheat every time I use my oven. I think it's also the same concept of bringing oil to a boil before deep-frying.
Note that many users report experiencing a significant improvement in crispiness once they decided to preheat the air fryer, even if that same air fryer's manufacturer advised that preheating is no longer needed.
Because of the difference in results, the best way to decide this dilemma is to try it out with your own air fryer. Did preheating your air fryer gave you better results? Come back and let us know!