Let’s put food dehydrator reviews aside for a moment (there are plenty of them on this blog to ponder). Instead, I want to address a question that has been asked to me increasingly over the past few weeks: “What is the best food dehydrator that you recommend?”
To be honest – for you – it depends on your needs. But if we had to choose…
The Top Rated Food Dehydrator- Excalibur
If we had to choose one brand, it would have to be Excalibur. Why?
Three reasons (among many):
Unmatched warranty - Excalibur has an astounding 10 year warranty. Now, if that doesn’t demonstrate a commitment to the consumer, than I don’t know what does. Nesco, by comparison, the other leading brand, offers only a one year warranty. Nesco makes solid units which stand the test of time, but I wish their warranty were longer.
Rear mounted fan - readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of this setup (no pun intended). Fans placed in the rear of the unit dry food more evenly, and eliminate the troublesome need to rotate trays.
Made in the USA - since the Company was founded in 1973, Excalibur has made its units in good ol’ Sacramento, CA. Ok, I know some people don’t care about this. But consider that your food will be in contact with the surface of the unit for hours. In an instance like this, I prefer the comfort of a US made materials.
To get a better sense of Excalibur’s flagship product, check out our post below.
There are other advantages of the Excalibur. For example, it is the only brand that cycles temperature while drying. In other words, the temperature of the Excalibur slowly, and ever so slightly, fluctuates up and down. This prevents food from hardening or growing mold.
Having said all of this… Excaliburs can be pricey. And given their much lower price, Nesco may be the brand for you. For example, if you are just going to dry some fruit occasionally, or make beef jerky twice a year (on Super Bowl Sunday or in deer hunting season), then I would go with a Nesco.
Comparison of Top Selling Dehydrators
Now let’s discuss some specifics. For example, are you a jerky-junky? Then perhaps you really just need a dehydrator for making awesome jerky.
Or are you a complete newbie to the world of dehydrating? If so, then you may want an inexpensive starter model. Or perhaps, like many folks, you simply want a good all-around model that will cover all the bases.
Below, we give our best picks for five popular ‘shoppers’ that vary by intent and usage levels.
Best Dehydrators for Novices
Just starting out but can’t decide on a machine? There is nothing wrong with starting out with a top-of-the-line machine if you have the budget to do so, though a smaller “starter model” would likely be a better choice. For that, you want to look for the Nesco name. We have reviewed a few Nesco models on this site, so take a look at those posts.
For a bare-bones starter machine, try their Nesco FD 37A American Harvest model. Presto also has some simple models to get you started, like their #06300 unit, which don’t cost too much.
Best Dehydrators for Budding Enthusiasts
This is a step up past the complete newbie, when you start to really get the hang of dehydrating and plan on doing it more often. Now you will want machines with timers, adjustable thermostats and possibly more drying racks. This lets you have a bit better control over your drying process and it makes your efforts a bit more efficient.
To start, the Nesco FD 75 Snackmaster is a great option. Still reasonably priced but with a few more bells and whistles than the newbie models I mentioned above. Or the Waring Pro DHR30 is another choice at this level.
Out of all the categories we’re talking about, this is the biggest one. There are many Nesco models that are at this point (like the FD-80A and the slightly larger FD-1040). Really, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding mid-range machines.
If you’ve got the money, you can step right up to the cabinet dehydrators if you really think that your needs are going to take off. You can see my suggests for those in the next section.
Best Dehydrators for Large Harvesters
You don’t necessarily need more power at this point, you’re looking for capacity to handle all that seasonal food. That means you should look past the smaller stacking dehydrators, and find a good-quality cabinet style for more square feet of space.
You’ll start to see more Excalibur models at this point, like the big Excalibur 3900B that has 15 square feet of drying area. This model has pull-out trays for much easier access if you need to remove one part of your batch and not the rest, which is very handy when your dehydrator is packed with a variety of stuff with each load. If you want to stay with the Excalibur name (and you probably should), models like the 2900ECB and the 3926TB also have loads of space and sophisticated features.
As the fine art of dehydrating becomes more popular with home food growers, you can expect more models to come out that can handle a big load.
Best Dehydrators for Jerky Lovers
For some people, the only reason to have a dehydrator is to make jerky. If that’s you, then you are going to want a machine with a lot of power and a higher heat setting than the cheaper units. Check the specs and make sure whatever unit you choose can maintain a steady 140F or more.
The STX International Dehydra stands out as a powerful choice that can hold temperatures up to 155F. You can also get temperatures around 150F with the L’Equip dehydrator, so that is another jerky option.
If you are going to make jerky, just make sure you learn about the right techniques so that your meat stays safe to eat. It’s not enough to just have the perfect dehydrator, you have to know how to use it too.
Best Dehydrators for Dried Fruits and Snacks
This is a bit more of a tricky category to really talk about because you don’t need a special type of model of dehydrator to do dried fruits. The most important thing for fruit-drying-people is the access to the non-stick liners. Fruit is super sticky when drying, so non-stick sheets or other types of tray liners that are easy to clean is a must. Also, for fruit leather, you need the solid (not the fine mesh) liners as well.
So if you plan on doing a lot of fruit, either leather or not, make sure your model either comes with non-stick sheets or they are at least available as an extra purchase.
As you read through our food dehydrator reviews, think about your usage level or intended dehydrator hopes, as well as the budget you have to work with and see which one suits you best. The cheapest models can go for under $50, and mid-range one will be just around $100 or more. And then you can spend between $200 and $300 for the really big models. With all this in mind, you should easily find the best food dehydrator.
Food Dehydrator Buying Guide
Choosing to purchase a food dehydrator is the first step to creating delicious, additive free foods for your pantry. However, it definitely pays to do your homework in this area. First, you’ll need to know what foods you intend to dry most, because this can influence which model will be best for you.
Price, quality, and even type of dehydration method may also be factors in your ultimate purchase decision. This buying guide will offer information on the most pertinent of these considerations. It will offer you a foundation from which you can craft your search, according to you parameters.
Basic Types of Dehydrators
Beyond differences between models and manufacturers, there are actually several different types of dehydrators available for purchase on the market. Your ultimate choice should be guided by several criteria:
• What foods are you interested in drying?
• How much product do you want to dry, and how frequently will you use the dehydrator?
• What is your price range?
• How much counter space can you devote to the unit?
• How versatile do your drying specifications need to be? Fruit leather and meat jerkies require different specs.
Standard Trays Versus Expandable Trays
This will be an important criterion when it comes to both the space you can devote to a dehydrator and the amount of food you intend to dry. Most seasoned pros will agree that if the amount of food you dehydrate doesn’t vary much—one batch of apple chips, one of jerky, one of fruit leather per week, for example—consider a model with trays that slide out.
They’re the same size, and offer a standard measure for you. If you plan to produce varying amounts of foods, think about models that offer expandable trays. These are often stackable, and allow you to customize the size of your batch, smaller or larger as your need dictates.
Vertical Flow Dehydrators
This is often a standard type heat distribution used by dehydrators, with the fan and heating element either on top or at the very bottom of the unit. Between the two positions, those models with fans on the bottom do tend to provide the best heat distribution, since heat rises.
However, experts caution that this can cause moisture from the foods being dried to drip onto the fan—a messy clean-up job in many cases. Accordingly, top-down drying units will dry foods nearest the top most quickly. This can be useful if you’re planning on drying a range of foods that require different amounts of time to completely process. The downside for these models is that flavors from your various products can cross between trays, since the heated air passes directly between trays.
Horizontal Flow Dehydrators
Models that employ a horizontal method of dehydration do take up more counter space than their vertical flow counterparts. As well, they tend to be at the more expensive end of the spectrum. That’s because this method is often considered to be the best for even distribution of heated air across foods. In addition, flavor transfer between different foods is minimized; the air passes across food as opposed to down or upward between trays.
What You Want Will Determine What You Need
Different foods require different heat and time allotments in the dehydrator.
Jerkies: If you’re keen on creating your own jerky, look for a model that offers at least 155 degrees, to ensure safe processing. As well, the drying method will matter—top down, sideways, bottom up? Several models with a top-down heat distributor are designed to minimize the need to check your jerky’s progress or rotate the trays to equalize drying.
Fruit Leathers: You’ll want a dehydrator that allows you to set the temperature between 130 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit. As well, solid trays or inserts are a bonus, although you can make do with plastic wrap. Circular trays are also a plus here.
Raw Food Diets: Those who are observing a raw foods only routine will need to consider temperature ranges at the extreme low end—typically, these models will offer the capability to dry herbs as well. Generally, you’ll want to go with a narrow temperature window between 116 and 118 degrees. This will help to preserve the maximum level of nutrients and enzymes in your foods. While some sources may recommend 105 degrees, this can encourage fermentation and bacterial growth, so consider what you’re drying.
For Homesteading: If you’re interested in increasing your self-sufficiency and stocking foodstuffs, you’ll want a larger capacity machine with a track record for durability. You’ll be depending on this piece of machinery, so a model that can handle a lot of heavy use is important. Of similar importance, you’ll want to find a machine that runs the temperature range and has plenty of power—don’t go lower than 600 watts, usually.
Other Features to Consider
If you’re a dab hand at dehydrating, perhaps a timer isn’t quite to your taste, but it can be helpful for those becoming accustomed to how long their favorite foods require in their new model. Alternatively, an automatic shutoff feature can be a blessing or a curse, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. Consider your particular needs before buying any model with or without these features. You’ll want your trays and overall dehydrator housing to be simple to clean and maintain and safe for your home. That means a few features are desirable, no matter what type of drying method or overall configuration you choose:
• Dishwasher safe trays that will actually fit in a dishwasher or even just your kitchen sink.
• If those trays or the housing is plastic, make sure you’re getting a BPA-free product.
• If your product is metal, make sure its insulated in such a way that it poses no threat to young, curious fingers that may be tempted to touch.
The All Important Price
Another feature to investigate is the price range. Dehydrator models are available for sale and range from $35 to above $200. While you might think that a lower price means lower quality, this tends to be incorrect. What it does typically entail is plastic construction, stackable tray assembly, and a vertical flow heating system. It also generally entails a more limited or standard warranty on your purchase. With the more expensive models, what you are usually paying for is a higher grade of materials and construction, as well as horizontal flow heat distribution.
While the more expensive models also have much more extensive warranty coverage, with part replacement, and an optimum heat distribution method, they also typically have a much larger footprint. For those who have limited dehydration needs, limited counterspace, or limited budgets, an intermediate model—between $60 and $80—will likely be worthy of consideration.
A Closer Look at the Two Top Selling Brands
Two of the top-competing manufacturers of dehydrators on the market today are Nesco and Excalibur. We’ll compare and contrast some of the most popular models from both of these companies, taking into account the criteria discussed above.The Nesco® Snackmaster Express offers consumers a number of beneficial features for a very reasonable price at the lower end of the expense spectrum.
It boasts an adjustable thermostat ranging from 95 to 160 degrees, opaque plastic housing to protect foods from damaging light, and sturdy, easy-to-clean circular stacked trays. While it also possesses a vertical flow, top-down method of heat distribution, the air isn’t forced down through the trays. Rather, it is directed through a patented pressurized chamber in the exterior housing. This prevents flavor transference and allows you dry a variety of foods simultaneously. With four trays and a minimal counter top footprint, this model offers high quality results for those with a small workspace.
For those who need a bit more power and variation, Nesco® offers all the same great benefits of the Express with a few added perks in the Snackmaster Pro model. With five stackable trays that offer the customer the option to expand their stack up to 12 trays, a digital thermometer, opaque housing to save nutrients, and 600 watts of power, this model permits the production of even more types of meat jerky, as well as the low-temperature, slow, steady drying capability needed to dry herbs perfectly. As well, it combines vertical and horizontal-flow components to create a perfect distribution of heat and air.
A little farther up the cost/capacity scale is the Nesco® Gardenmaster Digital Pro. This model offers all the great features of the smaller models along with 1000 watts of power and the ability to expand up to 20 trays. The patented drying technique allows you to forgo tray rotation, no matter how many different types of foods you’re drying in a batch. Additionally, it comes with a fruit leather sheet that allows you to dry semi-liquids such as soups and sauces as well.
But how do Excalibur® models measure up?
One of the most popular models currently on the market is the Excalibur 3926. While this is obviously for the more dedicated individual—the craftsperson, tradesperson, or individuals with a large family—it’s one that delivers consistent high-quality results. Nine trays offer 15 square feet of interior drying space, and a fan at the rear of the unit delivers consistent heat across all the food. With an adjustable thermostat that ranges between 95 and 155 degrees Fahrenheit, you can dry herbs, make fruit leather, or safely make quantities of delicious jerky from a variety of meats.
The trays are removable for easy cleaning and absolutely no tray rotation is needed. While it is definitely a larger machine best suited to the individuals who consistently need to dry large quantities of various foods, it’s worth every penny of it’s higher price. Another nine-tray model by Excalibur® model, the 3900 Deluxe, offers all these wonderful features, while also bringing to the table an automatic shut-off function.
Its adjustable thermostat ranges from 105 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, for a slightly higher overall temperature capability. As with the 3926, this model is perfect for those with a greater dehydration demand; those with large gardens, tradespeople, and individuals with large families will find this unit ideal for their needs.
Excalibur Nesco Throwdown!
Overall comparisons can really only be made in how satisfied customers who used either Nesco® or Excalibur® models were. They’re both excellent brands with a number of suitable models, but they cater to different capacity needs.
Those who purchased the Nesco models described above spoke highly of them. There have been a few minor mechanical issues with the heating elements or faulty parts, but with any product, there will be individual units that malfunction. Nesco produces a variety of models that are cost-effective, use space efficiently, quiet, easy-to-clean, and durable.
Excalibur® models brought resounding praise, with the biggest issue beyond occasional mechanical difficulties, the lack of solid mats for fruit leather or drippy jerky meats. Excalibur makes machines that are quiet, large-capacity, and excellent for constant use over long periods of time. Their extra power allotments also make them perfect for a variety of dehydration projects.
However, the two brands are equals in many regards of quality products and performance. It will come down to balancing your dehydration needs with your space and budget requirements. The Nesco lines utilize a cyclical, forced air approach modeled on the vertical flow, top-down idea. The Excalibur lines rely on the horizontal flow concept, with a rear-mounted fan.
Remember, when shopping for your dehydrator, assess your needs—space, cost, and work-load—first. Then, you can assess the models that make the first cull based on other attributes that suit your tastes, such as temperature range, power, included timers or auto on/off functions, and airflow model. Both companies offer extensive and high-quality warranty coverage for their machines, packaging that will ensure your model reaches you with a minimum of fuss or confusion—no assembly or baffling construction required—and are made with excellent quality standards. Whichever brand you select, whichever model you choose, you are almost certain to have a dehydrator that will serve you well in the seasons to come.
Now that you’ve embarked upon an exploration of how to dry your favorite foods, it’s important to discuss the various methods for storing the produce of your dehydrator. While most fruits and vegetables will keep for up to a year in a cool, dark, and dry environment, you have several options when it comes to storage containers. Noodles should be eaten within a year. Dried meats should be consumed within a few months. Let’s explore storage, as well as various trouble-shooting tips.
Freezer weight, sealable bags make great storage tools for most of your dehydrated goods. Plus, they can be washed, air dried, and reused if you’re minded to be conservative. Depending on how quickly you cycle through your dried foods, this may be the best option for some of your favorite projects, such as dried apples. Chances are, whether you find them online or in your neighborhood, food storage wholesalers will offer heavy duty, sealable bags in a variety of sizes to suit your needs.
If you plan to reuse your bags, be sure to wash them thoroughly to prevent possible mold issues. This can also be a great opportunity to test the tightness of the seal and detect any punctures in the plastic. Rinse each bag well and make certain they’re perfectly dry by propping them open over an upturned drinking glass.
Glass jars are, of course, my favorite containers for a variety of dried foods. Jam jars and larger Mason jars are both ideal and economical for my purposes—mostly dried fruits and vegetables. They’re easy to clean, easy to label, and it’s a breeze to see what I need more of at a glance. One thing you need to keep in mind if you use this method is making sure the lids and collars remain in good order. If a tight seal is not achieved, your dried foods can be exposed to changing humidity levels. That will cause the foods to spoil more quickly, and allow mold or moths and other insects a foothold in your snacks.
Another issue with some fruits is stickiness. They tend to clump together, making removing a portion from your container more difficult. Waxed paper is your friend. Simply use the mouth of the jar as a template and trace a circle on a sheet of waxed paper. Cut it out and insert it between predetermined amounts of food product. You can do this several times per jar, if needed. Paper can also be used to line clear glass and plastic container if pantry space is at a premium. Light can destroy the nutrients, such as vitamin A. Simply line the inside of the jar with paper, and label the exterior.
If you’re a serious practitioner of dehydrating foods, investing in a kitchen system that vacuum seals bags or containers may be ideal for you. Vacuum sealing can extend the life of many dried foods, simply because it so completely removes air from the container. As well, dried foods intended as trail rations are often easier to pack when sealed in this way. This is not ideal if you require frequent access to bulk stores, but it can prove an excellent method for portioning, storing, and distributing the produce of your dehydrator.
Refillable Rigid Plastic
This is by far the most available and diverse permanent storage option. Depending on what you want to store, opt for clear or opaque containers. These are great if you have small children, since they permit you to seal your foods away without worrying about shattering glass if you happen to drop one by accident.
Storage options are diverse and all you really need to do is determine what will work best for your needs and the produce of your efforts. In many cases, a combination approach works best—resealable plastic bags, mason jars with waxed paper dividers, and burpable plastic containers that provide a good seal and other desirable features.