Let’s put food dehydrator reviews aside for a moment. The best food dehydrator – for you – depends on your needs.
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.
Food dehydrators are quite a hit with kids. Dehydrators offer your kids the opportunity to be creative in making their own snacks. Kids love making things, so you can involve them in snack preparation. Then, as the food dries, their curiosity will rise as they wait expectantly for their creation to take final form. The new textures and tastes of dried food treats will keep them asking for more.
Here are four popular dried food recipes that will have your kids salivating and begging for more.
Crispy, Crunchy Granola Mix
• 3 cups rolled oats
• 5 apples
• Various dried fruits, 2 cups worth
• 2 cups almonds (if your child has a nut allergy consider using additional seeds)
• 2 cups sunflower seeds
• dash salt and allspice
• 30 dates
• 1 cup agave nectar or honey
Process the fresh apples, spices, and the dates until it makes a paste mixture. Add the remaining ingredients into a bowl to combine. Spread the granola out on the dehydrator and set for about 5 hours at 135 degrees or until the level of dryness is achieved. This will make a large batch for a week to be stored in a cool place in a mason jar.
Fruit Leather “roll-ups”
Fruit leather roll-ups are a fun and healthy alternative to the store-bought version. A variety of fruits are used. They are processed into a pulp and placed on a plastic dehydrator sheet without the holes to make a fruit leather. A high pectin fruit should be added to add to elasticity such as an apple or apricot. The fruit should also be washed in a lemon juice and water mixture of 1/4 cup ratio to prevent browning.
Here are some fun toppings for kids to choose for their own fruit roll-ups:
• Mixed nuts
• Fruit “swirl” (adding another colored fruit on top of the mixture)
• Spices such as allspice or cinnamon
• Other dried fruits
Tacos are a real hit with kids because of the flavor and variety of toppings to choose from. This treat can be handy on the go by dehydrating several ingredients that make a delicious taco-flavored chip:
• 1 cup cheese, cheddar
• 1 TBSP chopped onion
• Dash cayenne pepper
• 1/2 TSP chili powder
• Dash cumin
• 1/2 Cup red or green peppers, chopped
• Dash salt
Process all ingredients in a blender or food processor until well combined. This mixture will need to be placed on a plastic sheet used for fruit leather. Dry at 130-135 for approximately 10 hours until fully dry. Break the ring into several pieces for chips.
Tips: Sprinkle some of the Superman Green Powder as shown below for an extra flavor kick. Guacamole makes a great dip for this chip as well.
Slicing pieces of fruit are a great way to incorporate a healthy sweet into a child’s diet. Kids love the colors and crisp flavor of fruit chips. The fruit should be dehydrated at 130 degrees and be placed in a single layer.
Slicing thin 1/8″ slices of banana is one of the most popular fruit chips to include in a mix.
• Strawberries and Apples
Apples and strawberries will brown in the dehydrator unless they are steamed or prepared with ascorbic acid ahead of time. 1/4 cup of lemon or lime juice in 1 cup of water will have enough acid to keep the fruit from browning.
The fruit can be sliced thin and placed in the dehydrator in a single layer for 6-10 hours at 135.
Tips: Fruit will need to be “acclimated” to ensure full dryness. Prevent wet spots by placing the fruit in a baggy and shaking every so often for an hour. Place in the dehydrator again for another hour. The fruit should have no wet spots at this point.
• Apricots and Kiwi
Apricots and kiwi can be sliced and dried for their slightly leathery texture. They are a great addition to trail mix or cut into small pieces for the above chips.
Superman Green Powder
An abundance of leafy greens can be dehydrated for use in several dishes. This recipe can be sprinkled on any dish and give a huge boost in vitamins and phytochemicals.
•10-15 bunches of greens
•Large bunch of celery
•1 medium onion, chopped
Place a single layer of chunks of leafy greens such as spinach and kale on a dehydrator tray. Several trays are best to get the most out of timing. The dehydrator should be at approximately 125 degrees and set until the vegetables are quite crisp and flakey. Process and pulse the greens in a bullet mixer or food processor until it becomes a powder. Place the powder with a label that gives kids a fun twist on eating greens. The powder can be used as a snack in soups or seasoning for bruschetta type bread.