Do air fryers need to pre-heat? Appliance aficionados offer expert insights

Follow these professional instructions on how best to pre-heat your air fryer for crispier, crunchier food in a fraction of the time

Do air fryers need to pre-heat? Ninja Foodi FlexBasket air fryer on a kitchen counter, surrounded by plates of air-fried food.
(Image credit: Ninja)

The whole point of an air fryer is quick, clean cooking − but when you pour your food into a stone-cold machine, you risk raw patches and limp dishes. Here, we explore the school of thought that says you should preheat your air fryer for crispy, crunchy bites, every time.

A pre-heat function isn't an essential feature, more of an added extra to promote precise cooking. If you want to bake cakes or roast chickens in your air fryer, then you'll make more use of the pre-heat setting than if you're a ready-meal regular. But you might not know where to find it, or if your air fryer even has that function.

That's where I come in. I'm part of the kitchen testing team here at H&G, and together, we've tested some of the world's best air fryers, and I can tell you exactly how to preheat your air fryer for excellent cooking results. I've also spoken with home cooks and appliance aficionados, all of whom agree that there are real benefits to preheating your air fryer, in terms of time and taste. 

Can you preheat an air fryer?

Beautiful by Drew Barrymore air fryer on a kitchen counter.

(Image credit: Walmart)

The short answer is: yes. When working out how to use an air fryer, even if your chosen appliance doesn't feature that specific setting, it should be possible to pre-heat your appliance. I've been testing air fryers for so long now that it feels like second nature to factor this pre-heat step into my cooking routine. We explore how we test air fryers in our dedicated feature.

Commercial kitchen consultant, Eva Lorena, takes us through the process, step by step. It's pretty simple. All you need to do is 'turn on your air fryer, set it to the temperature required for cooking, and press start,' says Eva. 

It's the work of a moment − and you won't have to wait long to start cooking. 'Air fryers are known to heat quickly,' explains Eva, thanks to their small cooking chambers and intense convection current. 

You might be able to tell when your air fryer is ready to cook just by looking at the countdown clock, but 'it can be hard to judge the internal temperature without a designated pre-heat setting,' Eva says. As a rough estimate, 'three to five minutes is all it should take'. 

Headshot of Eva Lorena.
Eva Lorena

Eva leads the customer service and commercial kitchen consulting teams at Zanduco, a prominent eCommerce platform in the food equipment and services sector. Founded in 2013, the company has grown from a start-up working with local restaurants to a consultant of America's largest national restaurant chains.

What are the benefits of preheating an air fryer?

A chicken roasting in a KitchenAid Countertop Convection Oven with Air Fryer on a kitchen counter.

(Image credit: KitchenAid)

Busy cooks making bigger meals might get a lot of use out of the pre-heat function. You could use those five spare minutes to prep your produce or defrost your food before throwing it straight in the fryer. That way, you can cut down on cooking time and get crunchy, crispy bites sooner. 

An air fryer with a pre-heat function can also be a budding baker's new best friend. When it comes to baking, it's all about precision. I recommend pre-heating your air fryer to get it up to temperature for doughs and batters to ensure even bakes. 

That's the primary benefit of pre-heating your air fryer, according to food blogger Immad Amir, 'the consistent cooking means no raw patches. When an air fryer is pre-heated, it has none of those cold spots and air pockets that can lead to raw food down the line'. 

If you're concerned with time and taste, as any good cook should be, you might want to pre-heat your air fryer when making more tricky bakes and more complicated meals.

Headshot of Immad Amir.
Immad Amir

Immad writes for Specially Fried, a food blog that spotlights kitchen appliance reviews from real professionals. With his culinary expertise, love for gadgets, and creative flair, Immad brings a fresh perspective to the world of food blogging. 

If you want to learn more about pre-heating your air fryer, then the chances are that you've already got your own appliance. Just in case you don't, I've rounded up a few of my favorite air fryers at the lowest prices you'll find online. 

Some of these air fryers feature a pre-heat function, while others don't. Each is a quick, quiet worker, proven to produce crispy bites.  

What are the drawbacks of preheating an air fryer?

Ninja Foodi 15-in-1 Air Fryer on a kitchen counter, surrounded by plates of air-fried food.

(Image credit: Ninja)

Although pre-heating your air fryer should help to cut down on cooking time, you're only saving seconds. Once you've laid the table and called the kids for dinner, you won't notice a big difference between 10 and 12 minutes on the countdown clock. It might not be worth pre-heating your machine before every meal and racking up extra costs on your energy bills. 

The biggest drawback to pre-heating your air fryer concerns your safety, as well as that of those around you. Eva warns that you should 'not leave your empty air fryer heating up for too long, as this could lead to a fire hazard'. I always recommend staying in the kitchen while you cook, and keeping at least one eye on your appliance.

Remember, 'an air fryer needs nowhere near the amount of time to pre-heat as an oven does,' we're talking three to five minutes, rather than 12 to 15. If you're keen to pre-heat your air fryer, then you should try to prep your produce ahead of time, so that you're ready to start cooking when your machine is. 

Pre-heating an air fryer FAQs

Can I pre-heat my air fryer with food inside?

An empty air fryer won't take as long to preheat. That's because it's easier for hot air to circulate through a wide open space. If time is of the essence, I'd recommend leaving your ingredients to one side until your appliance is piping hot. 

When should I pre-heat my air fryer?

You should pre-heat your air fryer three to five minutes before you intend to start cooking. Any less, and you might as well not bother: much longer, and you risk inflated energy bills at best, and an electrical fire at worst. 

Our verdict

Philips Essentials XL Air Fryer on a kitchen counter, filled with air-fried food.

(Image credit: Philips)

Air fryers don't need to pre-heat – that's too big of a blanket statement. It's possible to produce crispy salmon skin and crunchy French fries without pre-heating your appliance. With that said, pre-heating your air fryer could reduce the risk of cold spots in your machine and raw patches in your food. 

Really, it's a matter of your peace of mind. As long as you keep one eye on your air fryer, and you only press 'pre-heat' when you're nearly ready to start cooking, you should be good to go.

Emilia Hitching
Sleep Editor

Emilia is our resident sleep writer. She spends her days tracking down the lowest prices on the best bedding and spends her nights testing it out from the comfort of her own home – it's a dream job. Her quest to learn how to sleep better has taken her all around the world, from mattress factories in Arizona to sleep retreats in Scandinavia. Before she joined Homes & Gardens, Emilia studied English at the University of Oxford. She also worked on the other side of the aisle, writing press releases for regional newspapers and crafting copy for Sky.