Ever since air fryers really took off and became the must-have kitchen appliance, people are asking the same question. Do you have to preheat an air fryer?
The answer is a little more complex than a simple yes or no. Always consult the manual from the manufacturer, and know that your air fryer settings will differ from someone else’s, particularly if they have a different make or model. Knowing which specific model you have is a great starting point to know whether or not it’s worth preheating your air fryer before use.
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Should You Preheat Your Air Fryer Before Cooking?
With so many different sizes and styles of air fryer, there’s a heated - no pun intended - debate on this very topic. You’re best to avoid the advice of a single person, even if it’s a trusted friend or family member, who is only speaking from their own experience. The size and power of your air fryer are major factors in whether you want to preheat it before cooking.
We firmly believe that preheating your air fryer is not always necessary. It is, however, quite helpful when you’re cooking some foods.
In most cases, preheating the air fryer before cooking will not have much effect. It depends on the type of food you’re cooking more than anything. Generally speaking, if your recipe calls for you to preheat the oven or air fryer, you can simply add a few extra minutes of cooking time.
Some smaller sized air fryers have the heating element of the appliance rather close to the food. This can be good in the case of high-heat cooking with a short time, but can burn or overcook food that needs less heat or more time in the air fryer. Smaller air fryers tend to cook fast and hot, which means that preheating the air fryer is typically not necessary.
How Does An Air Fryer Work
Consider how the air fryer works. Air fryers work by moving heating air and moving it around in the air fryer space. This hot air will heat up your food to cook it. Much like a typical oven, larger air fryers have more air in the space to heat up, whereas smaller fryers don’t need to heat as much air. Accordingly, the cooking times will vary based on the size of the air fryer, as will the time it takes for the fryer to reach a high enough temperature to cook with.
When To Preheat the Air Fryer (And When Not To)
You should NOT preheat the air fryer if you’re cooking:
- Thick raw foods
- Delicate food that isn’t served crispy
- Pastries, breads or cakes
- With parchment paper inside
If you’re cooking thick frozen meats such as roasts or chicken breasts, or anything raw that needs to be cooked all the way through, do not preheat your air fryer. Preheating the air fryer in this case tends to cook the outside very quickly, making the outer layer very crispy and cooked before the heat can penetrate the center. Obviously, in the case of thicker raw foods, this is bad. Your meat or frozen food will still be raw - or worse, frozen - in the middle. Cooking the food too quickly, or at too high a temperature, won’t cook the food all the way through.
An exception to this might be cooking steaks, which if cooking from raw (rather than frozen) you might want to serve medium rare. It’s best to use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the steak reaches your preference either way.
If you’re preparing delicate food that you don’t want to serve with crispy edges, don’t preheat the air fryer. The principle here is the same as with thick raw or frozen food. Preheating will only increase the temperature to which the outside of your food is immediately exposed. If you’re cooking delicately cut veggies, for example, they could crisp up or burn before the inside has become tender. Cooking too hot when preheating can dry out your food. If you choose to preheat your air fryer when making a more delicate food item, reduce your cooking time.
You want to cook breads and other baked goods in a cold air fryer that gradually warms up. Preheating the air fryer in the case of cooking bread and cake can make the outside become crispy before the inside has cooked. You don’t want a crusty, hard bread with raw dough in the middle. If you’re making smaller bite-sized pastries or cakes, your inside will cook more quickly, with lower risk of burning the outside. Preheating is OK in this case.
❗Never preheat your air fryer with parchment paper inside. The hot air will blow the parchment paper around, and it might even hit the heating element. Then you’ll have burnt parchment paper in your air fryer. Just preheat your air fryer before adding the parchment paper.
When To Preheat Your Air Fryer
- Reheating leftovers
- When you need a good crust and sear
- Precooked frozen foods
If you’re reheating leftovers that have already been cooked through, like a barbecue chicken or roast veggies, you can get a nice crispy edge to your leftovers by preheating.
If you specifically want a good crust and sear on your food with a crispy outside texture, we encourage you to preheat the air fryer. Thin meats such as chicken tenders or thin pork chops can cook better with preheating as they will develop a delicious sear.
As we previously mentioned, steaks, when you want to serve them medium rare or rare, are great for a preheated air fryer. The preheated air fryer will sear and cook the outside of the steak nice and quickly, leaving the center red or pink, depending on how long you cook the steak for. We recommend using a meat thermometer if you’re cooking steak to rare or medium rare to ensure that you are hitting the perfect internal temperature before serving.
Precooked frozen foods, such as French fries, cheese sticks, or fish sticks, do very well in a preheated air fryer. Because the middle of these foods is already cooked, you don’t risk serving raw food. You want to rapidly heat this type of food and get a nice crispy texture on the outside, making them perfect for a preheated air fryer.
Overall It Doesn’t Make Much Difference
Generally speaking, notwithstanding the exceptions we’ve outlined above, it does not make a huge difference whether you preheat your air fryer or not. Preheating and reducing your cooking time as opposed to allowing the air fryer to heat up with the food inside, and cooking for a little longer is not a major difference most of the time.
You can usually get away with not preheating your air fryer before cooking.
How To Preheat an Air Fryer
Your air fryer might already have a preheating function. If it does, simply follow the manufacturer instructions.
If not, it’s pretty easy to preheat your air fryer.
- First, set the air fryer to the temperature at which you want to cook the food. Usually this is specified in the recipe.
- Then turn your air fryer on and leave it alone for 3-5 minutes. 2 minutes should be enough for smaller air fryers less than 3 qts, while the full 5 is probably necessary for larger air fryers.
Having said that, if you have a small air fryer, the preheating step is probably unnecessary, as you won’t be cooking anything too large as it is.
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