- 1 Why Do You Need A Food Dehydrator?
- 2 Food Dehydrator Features
- 3 Reviews: Budget-Friendly Food Dehydrators
- 4 Reviews: Food Dehydrators For Specific Uses
- 5 Reviews: High-Capacity Food Dehydrators
- 6 Other Useful Equipment For Dehydrating
I remember my delight when I found a roadside fruit stand that was just overloaded with fresh, rich peaches. All of them were perfectly ripe and ready to eat right now. But peaches spoil quickly, and that’s why you need the best food dehydrator you can get.
We all love fruit and vegetables in season! And gardeners often discover to our simultaneous delight and dismay that there’s an unexpected abundance of produce and herbs.
If you’re like me, you’re also a fan of jerky and don’t want to pay high prices. Plus, commercial jerky sometimes has questionable ingredients. So why not make your own?
Let’s explore everything you’d ever want to know about food dehydrators. Tools like this can quickly become a necessity in the house!
Best Budget Food Dehydrators:
- Round: Presto 06301 Dehydro Digital Electric Food Dehydrator
- Square: Ivation 480w Electric Food Dehydrator Pro
- Rectangular: L’EQUIP FilterPro Food Dehydrator
Specific Purpose Best Food Dehydrators:
- Best Food Dehydrator For Jerky: Excalibur 3526TB 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator
- Best Food Dehydrator For Fruit: LEM Products 1152 5-Tray Food Dehydrator
- Overall Best Food Dehydrator: Excalibur 3926TB 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator
Best High-Capacity Food Dehydrators:
- Round: Nesco FD-1040 Gardenmaster Food Dehydrator
- Square: Magic Mill Commercial Pro XL Stainless Steel 10 Tray Dehydrator
- Gigantic: Oliver and Smith Professional Series 20 Tray Digital Food Dehydrator
Other Useful Dehydration Equipment:
Why Do You Need A Food Dehydrator?
Anyone who’s ever grown a vegetable garden knows how hard it is to use tons of fresh produce in a hurry. You may see twelve tiny cucumbers on your vine, and then suddenly they’re all ripe simultaneously!
Finding it difficult to use up all those tomatoes? There’s a limit to how much pasta or salad you can eat in a short period of time, and those spoil quickly. You need to store them, and quickly. What choices do you have?
What About Other Preservation Options?
While water-bath canning is an option for your abundance of tomatoes, and a pressure canner can handle of all the extra beans, it can be a hassle. You have to sterilize all the jars, pack them in exactly the right fashion, and hope they seal properly. Then you need to store lots of jars.
Sure, you can sun-dry your tomatoes, although you’ll need to find something to keep the ants and flies away. Your oven will work in a pinch, but you may use a whole lot more gas or electric power than you need to.
And while a freeze-dryer is lovely, most of us don’t have them. They can cost thousands of dollars, and they take up tons of room. They work wonderfully, but they just aren’t something the average person is likely to have.
Why A Food Dehydrator Machine Is Beneficial
This is when the food dehydrator can save the day. Most food dehydrators can handle an abundance of fruit and vegetables, plus you can make homemade jerky. They don’t take up lots of room, and they allow you to save that amazing harvest you’ve had.
If you have kids, a food dryer can be a great benefit as well. Instead of letting the kids eat unhealthy potato chips, you can offer them chips made of apples, kale, carrots, or bananas! They’ll love these unusual “chips”, and you’ll know they’re getting better nutrition.
But what if you don’t grow veggies or fruit? A dehydrator may still be useful for you. If you do floral arrangements, you can dry flowers in it. And there’s always the option of buying a bunch of produce while it’s on sale and storing it away in dried form.
Let’s not forget that a dehydrator isn’t limited to just drying out stuff. It can be used as a warming location for proofing bread or making yogurt. And if you do crafts, you can use it to dry out papier mache items or to speed up paint-drying times.
All things considered, it’s a really useful tool to have at hand. It’s a wonder that most of us don’t already have one!
Food Dehydrator Features
The best food dehydrator has flexibility in terms of how it can be used. But there’s some definite features which vary from model to model. Let’s go over some of the different possibilities.
Is Shape Important?
There’s round ones, rectangular ones, and large units that look like boxes. But is there any difference between the three?
Turns out, the answer is yes.
Round ones typically have their fan unit in the center of the device, leaving you with less drying rack space. The rectangular ones also often have the fan in the center of the unit. Fruit, vegetables or meat that are positioned at the outer edges of the rack may take longer to dry.
Most commercial-grade food driers are square, with a fan at the back of the unit that blows evenly across the trays. This ensures that the airflow is extremely good for all items. The dehydration will be even for everything inside.
All three do work, though. It simply takes a bit more time for some of the round or rectangular models.
In addition, those larger square models allow you to do a lot more than simply dehydration. They’re great for proofing bread or making homemade yogurt because you can keep an even warmth inside.
They also have much more capacity on each tray, as there’s no fan in the center. You’d be surprised how much more you can dry without that!
Metal or Plastic?
All dehydrators have some amount of plastic used in their construction, but some are fully plastic, where others are metal.
With metal, remember that metal conducts heat. A metal model may be much easier to clean or sterilize, butt may also become warm to the touch while it’s in operation. These are usually best used in areas where the kids or pets aren’t likely to go.
By comparison, plastic can stain with repeated use, and can easily get scratched. Over time, it will develop cracks. So a plastic model will not have the potential longevity that metal will have.
It’s a bit of a trade-off based upon what needs you have. If you’re looking for something that will last for a long time, get metal, but a plastic model can still give you years of use if maintained well!
About The Fan
Let’s talk about fan placement. There’s three common locations in dehydrators where the fan will be positioned: at the bottom of the machine, on top of the machine, or as a side-mount (usually on the back).
The fan placement makes a difference because where the air blows is where the moisture is being directed as it’s pulled out of your food.
Bottom-mounted fans typically blow the air straight up the sides where it crosses the food, escaping through a vent in the center. Trays close to the bottom dry out first, and you may need to wipe condensation off the lid occasionally.
Top-mounted send the air downward, preventing condensation at the top. These models usually have side vents, and the air goes down the center, then spreads to the sides across the food.
A side or rear-mounted fan will evenly blow across the trays, sending the moisture to the opposite side of the unit. Usually these tend to be the best, but they also tend to only be available in square-shaped models, which tend to be more expensive.
The power of the fan will vary between different models, and is optimized to the particular design being used. However, I’ve found that the best food dehydrator models tend to have a fairly strong fan that blows consistently-warm air across your food.
Everything About The Trays
There’s two types of trays used in dehydrators: stackable, or sliding.
Stackable trays are most common with round and rectangular models. As the name suggests, these stack atop each other. You may need to rotate the trays during the drying process to ensure everything dries out evenly.
In addition, stackable tray models are slightly expandable, but with limits. You don’t want to stack 24 trays on top of a cheap dehydrator because the fan can’t handle it. Some models are built with a stronger fan that can handle more trays.
Sliding trays work like oven racks. These typically are made of either a heavy plastic mesh or metal, and some come with additional tray liners that can handle fine or semi-liquid materials. To me, these are the easier trays to use.
Let’s talk about the tray material. If you’re concerned about BPA-free plastics, you’ll likely prefer metal trays. They last longer and are easier to clean. Stackable trays are usually plastic, where sliding trays can be either.
Plastic trays can be damaged more readily, and repeated cleaning will mar the surface. Over time, these may become brittle, but it’ll take a while before they start to need replacements. These also allow you to see the drying process more readily, which is a plus!
Are you going to be dehydrating a lot of food? Just a little? Planning on making fruit leathers or dehydrated soup mixes?
Many factors change your capacity needs. Most round or rectangular models have the fan directly in the middle of the unit, which takes away a lot of capacity. It also makes it more difficult to turn thick liquids like applesauce or strawberry puree into a reasonable fruit leather.
Square models have the most capacity per tray, as the fan is on the side of the unit and not in the drying area. These also make it much easier to handle larger items, or to use silicon tray liners (for semi-liquids) or parchment paper (for fine products like herbs) on top of your trays.
Remember, the more trays of stuff you have drying, the more power your fan is going to require to run the unit, and it’s possible it may take longer to dry it all. However, higher capacity models tend to be best for large families or people who want to preserve a lot of food.
Since temperature can be a factor, it’s important to be able to adjust the temperature that your dehydrator operates at.
As an overall recommendation, herbs should be dried at the lowest temperature setting, between 90-110° F.
Most fruits and vegetables do well between 125-135° F to create a softer external skin, but can be set higher if you want the exterior harder and the interior soft and chewy.
Meats require a hotter temperature because they are partially cooked in the drying process, so a setting of 145-160° F is fine. I actually tend to go on the high end for jerky, just to heat it to a minimum of 160 to kill off bacteria.
The majority of dehydrators tend to have a range between 95-165° F but individual models vary slightly, so it’s important to check and see what your model can handle.
The best food dehydrators tend to have the widest range of temperature settings. Most digital options work extremely well, as they aren’t limited to a few set temperatures but can be optimized for your needs. Older dial-operated versions are limited, but still do the job!
While it’s rarely a concern, using too high of a heat and dehydrating your food for too long can cause it to have a burned flavor. To prevent this, many of the higher-end units now include an automatic shutoff.
This automatic shutoff is doubly useful if you’re constantly on the go. People who’re not home for long periods may want this just so drying stops on its own, and they’re not wasting power and potentially overdrying food.
I consider it a peace of mind addition rather than an absolute requirement, but it’s nice to have!
Replacement Parts And Add-Ons
What if you’d like to pick up extra trays? Or maybe you’d like more tray liners?
It’s essential that before you select your machine, you find one which has replacement parts like lids or trays. Expanding the capability of your model with add-ons like tray liners or silicon baking mats is also good, but you’ll need to be sure they fit and work with your machine properly.
Some companies sell these readily and they can be found both online or at stores. Other companies require you to order them directly from the company, and availability is limited to the production time of that specific model.
Needless to say, you don’t want to discover that you can’t get parts after only a year or two of use! So keep your eyes out for any required add-on components or possible weak points in your particular machine.
Reviews: Budget-Friendly Food Dehydrators
Not sure if you’ll actually use your dehydrator? No worries, I have you covered. Here’s some budget-friendly options for you to start out with. If you find you like them, you can always upgrade to a better unit later!
Best Round Food Dehydrator
Presto 06301 Dehydro Digital Electric Food Dehydrator
A bottom fan and digital thermostat are highlights of this six-tray round Presto food dehydrator. It’s expandable up to twelve trays, and can provide temperatures between 90-165° F.
What I particularly like about this model is that it stores compactly as the trays nest in each other. The plastic for all Presto-brand dehydrators are BPA-free and food-safe, so that’s not a concern here.
Presto has a wide selection of available add-on components, all of which are readily available. That’s really helpful, as you don’t have to search or customize other manufacturer’s items to make them fit.
This is not meant to be a high-capacity model, but for a good budget price, this is a great unit and will work well for most home use. So I have to consider it the best food dehydrator for a low price!
Best Square Food Dehydrator
Ivation 480w Electric Food Dehydrator Pro
There are many, many options for square food dehydrators out there. A very definite price range exists, too. Either it’s in the $100-130 range, or it’s up in the $250+ range.
So when I was looking through the choices for the best food dehydrator, I looked at a wide range of the lower-priced models. I was pretty impressed with this Ivation food dehydrator by the time I was done.
BPA-free in construction, this unit features a clear front opening that allows you to monitor the dehydration process without disruption. The trays are also plastic, but most budget models avoid using more expensive steel or aluminum trays.
It’s constructed in China, and because of that, each temperature setting is 9 degrees offset from the next to mirror the Celsius range. While it will take a little bit to become accustomed to that, the range of heat is from 95-158° F, and it works surprisingly well.
The biggest drawback in this model is its lack of replacement parts or add-ons. But at a really low price for the six-tray model, that’s somewhat expected. It works beautifully, and for a budget square model, it’s the best food dehydrator I’ve found.
Best Rectangular Food Dehydrator
L’EQUIP FilterPro Food Dehydrator
Let me start out by saying that this is not the cheapest model. In fact, it probably shouldn’t be in the budget category. However, for what you get, you’re getting a real bargain, and it’s better than all of the other rectangular models without question.
First off, this includes something which most of the other dehydrators don’t: a filter. This L’EQUIP food dehydrator ensures that there is no chance of pet hair, dust, or anything else getting into and on top of your food, which can be a real plus.
An LED timer and digital temperature display provide visual references for your settings, accompanied by dials to adjust. The FilterPro heats in a range of 95-158° F, giving you a wide variety of materials you can dry. And it has a 24-hour shutoff, so it automatically stops once done.
It’s constructed of BPA-free plastics, and comes with six trays. It’s expandable to fifteen trays if needed. Two of its trays are extra-deep, providing room for larger items or the included yogurt cups to make your own homemade yogurt!
Unlike most budget models, six mesh screens are included so that you can use all six of the racks it comes with for fine items like herbs. It only has two fruit leather sheets, but more are readily available.
I’m not a huge fan of rectangular models. But if I had to get one, this is the best food dehydrator of its type, and definitely worth the few extra dollars you’ll spend.
Reviews: Food Dehydrators For Specific Uses
If you just know that the main purpose for your food dryer is going to be making jerky, you’ll want something that’s optimized towards making jerky. The same applies for fruit.
If you’re looking for an overall “best of” category that is relatively uniform in function across all types of food, we’ve got an overall choice too!
Best Food Dehydrator For Jerky
Excalibur 3526TB 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator
Excalibur food dehydrators are towards the high-end, but for a reason. This 5-tray model has a temperature range of 105-165° F, putting it in the warmer category. As jerky needs to be heated to an internal temperature of at least 160 for food safety reasons, this is a no-brainer.
While it may be too warm for herbs at longer drying times, this can easily take on nearly any fruit or jerky. Made in Sacramento, CA, Excalibur’s dehydrators have phenomenal warranties (some up to 10 years) and loads of extra parts available.
They have many different sizes, from 4-tray through 10-tray. I particularly like this model because it has a 26-hour automatic shutoff, metal construction, and poly-screen tray inserts to prevent sticking.
You can easily remove racks to dry bulky items, make yogurt, or proof bread dough with this model as well. The entire front panel slides off for ease in cleaning. No door will be in the way,catching food particles!
These are extremely sturdy and well-constructed dehydrators with many, many years of lifespan. They are higher-priced than other models, but you’re supporting an American business while getting a dehydrator that won’t just die on you. And that’s worth paying for!
Best Food Dehydrator For Fruit
LEM Products 1152 5-Rack Food Dehydrator
I very nearly opted for the Excalibur as the best food dehydrator in this category as well. After all, it’s certainly capable of dehydrating fruit extremely well!
But if you’re drying fruit like apples that has a tendency to curl up, or which start out a bit thicker (like crinkly kale leaves), you may find the larger spacing between the LEM’s five racks to be a real benefit. There’s just enough extra room that fruit won’t be brushing the bottom of the rack above it.
In addition, it has a removable drip tray in the bottom of the unit which makes clean-up easy. The front door is a fold-down, but you won’t have to fight with trying to keep crumbs from getting stuck in the hinges as it folds flat.
With a digital timer and automatic shutoff, the LEM model is really giving Excalibur a run for its money, especially at half the price. And so I can’t help but to include it as the best food dehydrator for fruit in this list.
Best Overall Dehydrator
Excalibur 3926TB 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator
Let’s face it: if you’re doing a lot of dehydrating, you want something that can handle both jerky and fruit at the same time.
And that’s where the Excalibur 9-tray model comes into play. With 15 square feet of drying space, you can handle a massive harvest of both fruit and vegetables, or you can make pounds and pounds of jerky. Or you can do both! The choice is up to you.
I just have to give Excalibur credit for forty years of making high-quality dehydrators in the US. They’re reliable, they’re repairable, and the ten year warranty is unbeatable. With the same functionality as the 5-tray, this 9-tray model works beautifully. And that’s important if you have a lot to dry.
Reviews: High-Capacity Food Dehydrators
You know you’re going to be using this machine. Perhaps you’re starting a dried fruit business, or you’re feeding a large family. Regardless of the reason, if you absolutely know you’ll be using your dehydrator constantly, here’s some choices for you to pick from!
Best High-Capacity Round Dehydrator
Nesco FD-1040 Gardenmaster Food Dehydrator
This is not the highest possible capacity available in a round dehydrator. However, the Nesco Gardenmaster Food Dehydrator is the most reliable in terms of an expandable stacked-tray dehydrator, which I find to be important. It comes with four trays, but can handle up to twenty.
Unlike most other top-fan models, this one forces the air down along the sides, as well as across the trays into the middle. It’s essentially the reverse form of a bottom-fan model, but has less issues with condensation on the top than a standard bottom-fan would.
The adjustable thermostat can be set for anywhere between 90-160° F, allowing for a good range of temperatures for different materials. The trays are BPA-free plastic, and it comes with a variety of extra items including fruit leather trays and fine particle trays for herbs.
While I would love it if it weren’t opaque so I could view the dehydration process, that’s a minor quibble. All things told, this is the best food dehydrator for this category!
Best High-Capacity Square Dehydrator
Magic Mill Commercial Pro XL Stainless Steel 10 Tray Dehydrator
If you want stainless steel construction, this Magic Mill food dehydrator definitely delivers. Ten stainless steel racks, a stainless steel exterior, ten fine-mesh trays, and five nonstick sheets come with this model. It features a 24-hour timer, and a heat range of 95-167° F.
Those of us who want to make a business out of our gardens will find this food drier to be both strong and long-lasting for mild commercial use. It can do everything from herbs to jerky without difficulty. However, it is significantly larger and heavier than other models, so be prepared for it to take up space!
Best Massive Capacity Food Dehydrator
Oliver and Smith Professional Series 20 Tray Digital Food Dehydrator
Is it best to have a dehydrator the size of an apartment refrigerator? Well, if you don’t want to have side-by-side Magic Mills or Excaliburs, it is. This 20-tray dehydrator has BPA-free trays, a digital timer capable of running for up to 41 hours, and an automatic shutoff.
The biggest complaint that most users have is that it can get damaged in shipping due to its extreme size. And as it’s not cheap to ship, that is a concern. But it does have a warranty, and the company is more than willing to assist with replacements if necessary.
I personally find that a pair of Excalibur or Magic Mill dehydrators is an easier option, and their reliability is better in the long-term. But if you want to have an all-in-one cabinet dehydrator, this offers you 30 square feet of drying capacity. And honestly, that could be really beneficial.
Other Useful Equipment For Dehydrating
When you plan on using a food dryer as part of your regular storage regimen, you still need to take storage into consideration.
You can use mason jars, but those can take up a lot of space, so most people opt for mylar bags.
I find that quart or gallon sized mylar bags are the best sizes for me. Quart bags are perfect for storing snacks or small amounts. Gallon bags I use for making homemade soup or stew kits, as well as preserving large quantities.
One of the trickiest aspects of storing your dehydrated food is that it has to be air-tight and free from moisture. If oxygen gets inside, it can allow in moisture, and your food can spoil!
If I’m using mason jars, I may also put a food-safe moisture absorber in the bottom of the jar. These 5g paper silica gel packets are great. I don’t use these with mylar bags as mylar can absorb small amounts of moisture. But they’re useful in glass jars.
Silicone Non-Stick Sheets
Finally, if you’re doing a lot of superfine, semi-liquid or paste stuff (herbs, seeds to store, thick soup mixes, fruit leathers, etcetera), having extra silicone non-stick sheets is really helpful. I’m fond of ParaFlexx, but finding the right type for your particular dehydrator is essential.
So have you decided which dehydrator is best for you? I really want an Excalibur, myself! Have you used other food dehydrators, and if so, how did you like them? What’s the strangest thing you’ve dehydrated? Share your drying tales in the comments below!
Last update on 2018-10-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API