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Do Air Fryers Need a Preheat Before Use? How and When to Preheat your Air Fryer for Maximum Crispiness

A raw chicken waiting to be cooked in an air fryer

Air fryers are popular for their ability to quickly crisp up food with minimal oil – but do they require a preheat for best results?

The best air fryers outdo standard ovens in numerous ways, cooking food to an excellent level of crispness quickly and easily. They deliver a healthier method of cooking, since they require less oil, plus they’re more economical, too, using less electricity for a reduced amount of time. However, being a relatively new addition to the market, there remain questions about how air fryers work. For example, we’re all aware that we should preheat our ovens for best results, but does this apply to air fryers, too?

Do you need to preheat your air fryer?

Moreso than ovens, air fryers arrive in many different shapes and sizes. Whether or not preheating your air fryer is a necessity will depend on its make and model, so the best way to discover if you need to do so is to check the user manual for your air fryer. In general, older air fryers will specify a need to preheat, while newer models will be confident in their ability to get going straight away.

That said, while pretty clever, air fryers don’t work using magic – and neither do they actually “fry” food. Food is cooked using warm temperatures generated by a heating coil and a built-in fan that circulates that warm air evenly around food, covering the maximum amount of surface area. As is the case with any form of cooking, placing food into a pre-warmed area will generally help reduce cooking times and ensure that items cook more evenly. Furthermore, if you’re cooking an oiled chicken breast, for example, then placing it down onto a hot surface will reduce the chances of it sticking.

However, unlike your oven, air fryers are far more efficient when it comes to preheating, generally requiring only around three minutes to reach the desired temperature.

How and when to preheat your air fryer

Many air fryers automatically begin a preheating stage once you’ve entered the cooking temperature, time and hit the start button, while others feature dedicated preheat buttons and settings. If your air fryer doesn’t include the latter, don’t worry; you can simply punch in your desired temperature and let the air fryer run for a few minutes while it’s empty. Over numerous years of testing air fryers, we would say that three minutes appears to be sufficient for an air fryer to warm up – though some users have reported great results from preheating for as long as five to seven minutes. Feel free to experiment to achieve your desired results.

With regards to “when” to preheat your air fryer, do so if the user manual makes explicit, or if a recipe you’re following makes mention of it. If you’re cooking french fries, for example, and wanting to achieve super-crispy results, then a preheat is in order. But if you find that you’re not getting the desired results even after preheating, you might want to consider cooking at a higher temperature, putting fewer items in the basket to reduce overcrowding or upgrading to one of our preferred models listed below.

When to avoid preheating your air fryer

If your manual or recipe says that there’s no need to preheat, then you can save yourself a little time and electricity by skipping this step. Similarly, while foods such as fries, chicken wings, or breaded options can benefit from an extra blast of heat, it’s likely overkill when reheating leftovers, warming pre-cooked items, or cooking foods such as vegetables.

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