Fresh produce, meats, dry fruits, and other consumables have a shelf-life or a ‘Best before date.’ If you buy food in bulk, it can be challenging to eat it all by that date; that’s why many people end up throwing away perfectly good food.
However, did you know that you can easily extend the life of these items way past the best-before date if you dehydrate them before storing?
It’s a tried-and-tested way of preserving food where all moisture is extracted from it to prevent the growth of bacteria. Hundreds of years, food items were hung out to dry in the sun; some cultures still practicing dehydrating vegetables and even meat this way.
But now we have the technology to do the dehydrating for us.
Food dehydrators are ideal for prepping on-the-go snacks, from dry herbs to oil-free potato chips, to fruit leather pouches, to beef jerky, and a lot more. Not only are these items healthier then what you buy from the store, but they are packed with more flavor.
There are many makes and models of food dehydrators, but they are not all the same. They have a variety of features and different price tags — so which one is right for you?
Read on, and you will find the answer!
The Best Food Dehydrators On The Market
Our Top Pick — Nesco Gardenmaster FD-1018A
If you harvest your crops or tend to buy in bulk, you’ll need a powerful food dehydrator with extensive processing capabilities and user-friendly features. One unit that fits the profile is the Nesco Gardenmaster FD-1018A, and it is our top pick.
The unit rocks a 2400 RPM motor and a 4 ½ inch fan with a drying power of 1,000 watts. The machine has eight dishwasher safe trays, but if need be of extra holding space, it can accommodate up to 30 trays at a time.
The sturdy built and swift dehydration capabilities of the Nesco Gardenmaster can enhance nutrient preservation during the drying cycle. Meat, fruits, herbs, etc. can be dehydrated as the thermostat can be adjusted between 95 degrees Fahrenheit to 160 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure the right temperatures for every food.
Furthermore, the appliance also comes with eight fruit-roll sheets, eight clean-a-screens, one original jerky spick pack with cure, and one recipe book.
- Eight trays but expandable to thirty
- Easy to clean
- Can work with all types of foods
- Enhanced nutrient preservation
- Can be noisy
Best For Beef Jerky — Excalibur 3926TB Nine Tray Electric Food Dehydrator
If you want an all-rounder shelf-tray model that performs exceptionally, go for the Excalibur 3926TB – whether you want to prepare dry jerky or have your favorite produce available all year round.
This nine-tray food dehydrator has 15 square feet of holding area where heat is evenly spread. It also has an adjustable thermostat with a range of 105 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use it to dry produce at the lower settings without taking away nutrition and drying up all types of meats efficiently.
With it, you can also dehydrate fruit puree for fruit roll-ups, proof bread, make homemade yogurt, prepare pet treats, etc.
Courtesy of the featured Parallax Horizontal Airflow tech, the food is dehydrated much quicker as the powerful 7-inch fan evenly spreads the heat, and you do not need to rotate the trays.
Out of the box, you also receive flexible poly-screen tray inserts to prevent food from sticking and are BPA-free, dishwasher safe trays.
- Made in the USA
- 26-hour timer
- Large dehydrating space
- Powerful 600-watt device
- Dishwasher safe and BPA-free trays — safe and easy to clean
- Requires significant counter space
- A bit noisy
- Plastic housing
Best Entry-Level Pick — Presto 06301 Dehydro Food Dehydrator
If you know that you’ll use the dehydrator sparingly and need something affordable, sturdy, and reliable, the Presto 06301 is it.
This is a six vertical tray dehydrator, with a timer and an auto shut-off feature that ensures balanced drying across all trays.
The Presto 06301 Dehydro food dehydrator has 750-watts of raw power that it uses efficiently to run a bottom-mounted heater and fan. Despite being a vertical variant, the heat is evenly spread across the unit — no need for rotating trays.
The temperature can be adjusted between 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to preserve fruits as well as meats, among many other items.
If not in use, the dehydrator can be easily stowed away – the trays stay inside while the cord is stored in the base, this reduces the needed space by 43%.
Out of the box, you receive two fruit roll sheets, two mesh screens, and you have the option of buying up to six more trays to use a total of 12 at once.
- Six tray space, further expandable by six more trays
- Auto shut-off
- An extended timer of up to 48 hours
- Auto shut-off function
- All accessories and attachments are dishwasher safe
- A bit noisy
- You have to ensure that no liquid drops into the bottom heating element and fan
Best Commercial Unit — Magic Mill Commercial Food Dehydrator
If you prefer your own herbs, fruits, vegetables, etc. over the store-bought variety, we recommend the Magic Mill Commercial Food Dehydrator. If you own a restaurant and need dried ingredients in bulk, this is the best commercial unit and perfect for you.
Made from sturdy corrosion-resistant stainless steel, this unit will last you for a good number of years. It has a rear-mounted fan, adjustable thermostat, timer, and auto-shut-off option — get on with your work, and the machine will complete its cycle and automatically switch-off with over or under drying your food.
The thermostat can be adjusted from 95 to 167 degrees Fahrenheit —adequate for dehydrating fruit, herbs, nuts, and other ingredients, and also meats for jerky. Not only will this make these products last a lot longer, but you’ll also notice a significant increase in their flavor.
Included with the unit are six stainless steel trays that measure 13 by 12 inches, separate mesh and fruit leather trays, and fruit roll sheets, all of which are dishwasher safe — just take them out and throw in the dishwasher when you are done dehydrating.
- BPA-free attachments
- Overheat protection — the unit shuts off when overheats
- Easy to clean
- Sturdy build quality
- No need to rotate trays
- Takes up a lot of space
Benefits Of Food Dehydrators
Here are some of the many benefits of owning and using a food dehydrator:
- If you grow your own produce — you can have it last across the years by dehydrating. No more seeing all your hard work rot away at the end of its life.
- It is a better, more convenient option than freezing – you save up on electricity and no longer have to fear that things will go stale when power runs out.
- Excellent for thrill-seekers, campers, and hikers, dehydrated food is packed with more flavors and nutrients, and it can be rehydrated if needed.
- Use food way past its shelf life by dehydrating and using desiccant packets and oxygen absorbers
- You can prepare all the ingredients, herbs, and jerkies you like with a dehydrator — not only will it save you a fortune, but you’ll know for sure that what you are eating is healthy.
Things To Consider
Types of Dehydrators
Vertical Flow Food Dehydrators
These small, stackable units are reasonably priced and feature a heat source at the top or bottom along with a built-in fan to spread the heat.
However, the downside is that in most cases, the heat isn’t spread evenly. Still, it is suitable for dehydrating most fruits and vegetables you put in there – but you might have to rotate the trays periodically to get the heat to spread uniformly.
Horizontal Flow Food Dehydrators
These are slightly bigger, oven-like units with a heating source at the back to ensure that all the food gets the right amount of heat. This makes them the best choice for dehydrating meat and preparing beef jerky.
Adequate Heat And Air Flow
The process of drying food is quite simple – heat it at the right temperature and leave the appliance do its magic for several hours at a time.
The main takeaway is that heat needs to be spread evenly across the unit, no matter where an item is placed inside; it should get the same amount of heat as others. Horizontal units do just that, but so do some vertical variants with well-placed fans.
Plus, some items need to be dried at higher temperatures than others, so your chosen unit should allow for that.
- Vegetables and fruits need a temperature of 130 to 160 degree Fahrenheit
- Herbs should be heated at 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit
- Meats are dehydrated at 145 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit
Ease of Use And Convenience
Operating a dehydrator is relatively easy, but some added features can make it even more convenient, like:
- Having a unit with a fan on the top end is a good purchase
- A thermostat makes adjusting temperatures easier
- Dishwasher safe attachment and accessories are always welcome
- A timer that rings a visual or audible alarm when dehydration is complete
- Auto-shutoff — so you can get on with your work, it will switch off once the dehydration is complete
Size and Capacity
Consider how much food needs to be dehydrated in one go as well as the space available on your kitchen countertop.
If you harvest a considerable amount of fruits and vegetables or buy in bulk, a bigger dehydrator that can dry out a lot in less time may be a good option. On the other hand, if you would be preparing a few snacks now and then, a smaller unit with a less holding area would be good enough.
Also, if you have a big kitchen with ample counter space that can hold a big dehydrator — you can go for a horizontal unit. However, if such is not the case, a compact vertical unit with a small footprint would be a great option.
Is the chosen machine safe and durable? Does it offer BPA-free plastic accessories? Is the build quality sturdy enough? These are some of the many questions you should ask.
Most dehydrators on the market are made from FDA approved materials, including a variety of plastics such as polycarbonate, polymer, etc. Also, the cabinets and trays can be made of stainless steel that is corrosion free and safe.
A dehydrator requires power to run a heating element and a fan. Typically, the units we have reviewed range between 300 to 1,000 watts. The best food dehydrators distribute the available power evenly between the fan and heater for optimum performance.
But the higher the wattage, the more powerful the unit will be.
Since a fan is a necessary part of dehydrators, they do create some sound, but the noise may vary for different units. If available, check the decibel levels to ensure that your dehydrator is as quiet as possible.
You can buy food dehydrators for as low as $30, and the pricing can go as high as $600 or above. The higher-priced variants offer more convenience and features — from better looks to uniform heat distribution, to dishwasher safe parts and a lot more.
On the contrary, cheaper units can do the deed. But, they may have limitations on the types of foods they accommodate, and you may need to pay more for their maintenance.
Therefore, choose a unit that best meets your needs without breaking the bank. But be ready to spend anywhere $50 to $150 for a good-enough food dehydrator.
Here are some expert recommendations:
- Plan ahead of time to prepare what needs to be hydrated because some items require more time to dry than others.
- Get the timing right, because over or under-drying an item may render it tasteless or too hard to chew.
- Do not overload the tray because it can lead to uneven heat distribution.
- Rehydrate items before serving or using them as ingredients in other cuisines — put them in clean water and leave them to breathe for a bit.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Name Some Foods That Can Be Easily Dehydrated?
Dates, cherries, Figs, apple slices, hot peppers, okra, cherry tomatoes, fruit leather, beef slices, and a lot more.
Why Not Use An Oven To Dehydrate Food?
Ovens aren’t exactly known for spreading the heat evenly, adequate temperature control, controlling airflow and operating at low temperatures — these are the requirements for complete dehydration, and you need a dedicated dehydrator to get this right.
How To Store Dehydrated Food?
Any container will do as long as it’s airtight. Keep these containers in a cool dark place; for longevity, put an oxygen absorber inside to keep it as dry as possible.
Apart From Drying Food, What Else Can Dehydrators Do?
If you have a good-sized dehydrator, you can remove the trays and do more than just dry food. For example:
- Proofing dough
- Making yogurt
- Drying flowers
- Preparing potpourri
- Drying up bread for stuffing and bread crumbs
- Whipping up some dog treats, etc.