Air fryers are a great alternative to deep fryers, and make crispy and delicious food. As with any oven, there are some simple tricks to ensure you get quality results every time. One of the most frequently asked questions is “Do you have to preheat an air fryer?”
The answer is, it depends. While preheating can improve the overall quality of your dish, this is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
What you're cooking and the results that you're looking for will determine if and for how long you preheat your air fryer. Another factor is the size of your air fryer.
Here, we explore what preheating is and which foods require preheating, and which ones do not.
- What Is Preheating an Air Fryer?
- Why Is Preheating Important?
- Is It Necessary To Preheat an Air Fryer?
- Tips for Achieving Success Without Preheating
- Best Food To Cook In A Preheated Air Fryer
- How To Preheat an Air Fryer
- Preheating an Air Fryer
- Frequently Asked Questions
- So, Do You Have To Preheat an Air Fryer?
What Is Preheating an Air Fryer?
Preheating an air fryer means heating the unit to the correct cooking temperature before adding food inside.
The heating element provides the regulated heat and a fan circulates hot air around the air fryer until it reaches the desired temperature. If you preheat an air fryer after you place your food inside the food will heat up unevenly.
Another advantage to placing food inside a preheated air fryer is that the heat will start cooking the food right away. This removes the moisture from the food surface, which gives it the signature crispy outside texture air fryers are known for.
Why Is Preheating Important?
Preheating is important for safety concerns and overall quality. In terms of safety, preheating ensures that refrigerated food goes straight to a hot oven without spending too much time in the temperature danger zone (40ºF–140ºF).
Preheating can improve the overall quality of food by allowing even heat distribution and locking in moisture. The exterior will cook a little faster which seals in the juices and flavor while producing a nice sear or crust on the outside.
Is It Necessary To Preheat an Air Fryer?
As a rule of thumb, food cooks better in a preheated oven. This is because the food starts out in a warm environment instead of a cold air fryer.
As a convection style of cooking, the air fryer circulates hot air around the food. If the air fryer is preheated, the hot air is already circulating throughout the food and certain proteins, like pork chops, will not dry out.
There are times when you don't want to preheat. However, some air fryer models have the heating element intentionally close to the food for crisper results. In this case, it is best to start cooking with a cold air fryer so that you don't dry out the inside of the food or char the outside.
Tips for Achieving Success Without Preheating
- Make sure the food is completely thawed out before cooking: Partially frozen food cooks unevenly and you risk burning the outside, especially with thicker raw foods.
- Don't crowd the food: Crowded food will not allow hot air to circulate properly and will cause uneven results.
- Shake or toss the food during cooking: Shaking the fryer basket occasionally during cooking will rotate the food and allow for proper temperature and air to cook properly.
Foods That Don't Require Preheating
- Thick raw foods: The air fryer should be cold when you start cooking raw food, like roasts or chicken. If the air fryer is too warm when you start cooking, the outside will cook while the interior stays undercooked.
- Delicate food: Certain delicate foods, such as thinly cut vegetables, don't benefit from preheating. Cooking thinly cut vegetables in a preheated air fryer will burn the outside and leave the inside undercooked. If you are using a preheated air fryer, reduce the cooking time by a couple of minutes.
- Baked goods: When baking bread or small cakes, it is best to start out with a cold air fryer. Breads generally need to be warmed slowly throughout the cooking time or the exterior will be too crispy and the interior will be undercooked and doughy.
Best Food To Cook In A Preheated Air Fryer
If you are looking for crispy foods that are perfectly cooked on the inside without the use of fats or oils, an air fryer is right for you.
French fries benefit greatly from preheating, as do most smaller foods like thin pork chops. An added bonus to cooking thin pork chops this way is that the inside won't dry out.
Here are some other foods that benefit from preheating:
Since you are reheating previously cooked food, you should preheat your air fryer first. If you don't, the food will cook unevenly and have "hot spots". Hot spots happen when only certain parts of the food reheat while the rest stays cold.
Precooked frozen foods
Precooked frozen foods like cheese sticks, fish sticks, or French fries benefit from preheating because the even cooking temperature produces a crispy exterior.
An air-fried steak cooks perfectly if the air fryer is preheated. This produces a medium rare interior and a beautiful crust on the outside.
How To Preheat an Air Fryer
First, let's look at how to preheat an air fryer. Some models come with an automatic preheat setting.
If you choose this preheating function, remember that the button is set for preheat time, not temperature. So, if you walk away, the air fryer could shut off without you knowing it.
The second option, and the one I prefer, is manual preheating. Simply set the temperature for your desired cooking temperature and set a timer (see chart below).
This leaves you in control and the air fryer will not shut off once it's preheated. I like to preheat my air fryer while I am doing my prep work to save time.
- Check your user manual first to see if your brand recommends preheating. This will tell you what size air fryer model you have and where the preset button is (if equipped with one).
- Leave the basket in during preheating.
- Do not put any type of baking paper liner in during preheating phase. A silicone liner is okay because it is heavy enough to weigh itself down.
- Once the temperature is set, set the timer.
- Add food inside the preheated air fryer and cook for the desired time.
Preheating an Air Fryer
There are small and large air fryer models, each with different heating times. Even the largest models only take a few minutes to preheat, so long as you preheat for at least 2-3 minutes, you'll be fine.
The following times are for small and large air fryers. The lesser time is for the smaller versions.
- 300°F 2–3 minutes
- 300°F–350°F 3–4 minutes
- 350°F–400°F 4–5 minutes
Frequently Asked Questions
Can preheating damage an air fryer?
No. Preheating instructions are often added to recipes to aid in the cooking process for air frying. The preheat setting ensures that the air fryer will only heat up to a certain temperature for a certain amount of time.
Can you put food in an air fryer while it's preheating?
No, you should preheat the air fryer before you add food to it. If not, it is the same thing as starting the cooking process without preheating.
How long does it take to preheat an air fryer?
Smaller air fryers take 2-3 minutes to preheat while larger air fryers take 4-5 minutes.
Can you preheat an air fryer for too long?
No. Automatic preheat settings are set for time, not temperature. Using this method, the air fryer will automatically shut off if you don't change the timer to the cooking time. If you are preheating your air fryer manually, the air fryer will remain at the temperature until the timer is done.
Can you preheat an air fryer without any food in it?
An air fryer should always be heated without food, or else you'll have the same effect as cooking in a non-preheated air fryer. However, it is okay to leave the air fryer basket in during the preheating stage.
So, Do You Have To Preheat an Air Fryer?
Preheating your air fryer isn't always necessary, but will produce great results when used with the right foods. It only takes a few extra minutes to preheat an air fryer and the added time is well worth it.
Preheating will give your food the signature crispness that air fryers are known for while retaining a perfect internal temperature. There are some foods, however, that shouldn't be preheated. Knowing what should and should not be preheated and for how long will help you fry the perfect meal every time.
And if you're looking to try out some delicious air fryer recipes, be sure to check out our site for some tasty ideas! Whether you're in the mood for crispy baby potatoes, stuffed mushrooms, or sweet treats, our collection of air fryer recipes has got you covered.
And with the tips and tricks for preheating your air fryer, you'll be able to cook up a storm with confidence and ease. So why not give it a try and see what delicious creations you can whip up in your air fryer today?
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