In today’s world, the number one asset for every person is their health. With the latest research exposing the dangers of processed foods, fresh, organic, responsibly-sourced produce and meats are in high demand. Needing a safe and natural way to preserve food, heath-conscious consumers have turned to dehydrating. We here at Food Dehydrators HQ have meticulously evaluated over a dozen commercial food dehydrators from the top brands to find the truly best products within the market. We are dedicated to providing in-depth, reliable product reviews to ensure that the food dehydrator you choose consistently performs to keep your family happy and healthy.
Our #1 Pick: Excalibur 3926TB Food Dehydrator
The Excalibur 3926TB Food Dehydrator is perfect for large drying needs and for larger families because of the high capacity. The unit comes with 9 trays. While it is not expandable this will provide all of the drying capacity needed for even large families. Trays can be removed for smaller drying jobs or when you want to dry items that are larger in size. Read the full review.
Our #2 Pick: Nesco FD-1040 1000-watt Garden Master Food Dehydrator
The Nesco FD-1040 1000-watt Garden Master Food Dehydrator is a stackable dehydrator with a top mounted motor. This prevents any liquid from dripping on the fan or motor. The motor is 2400 RPM providing the power needed for fast drying. Although it provides vertical air flow, the patented design creates even air flow and heat distribution which eliminates the need to rotate trays. The unit was created in a white color allowing it to fit in with other kitchen appliances and kitchen decor. The unit has a powerful motor and will quickly dehydrate food creating tasty and healthy snacks. Read the full review.
Our #3 Pick: Nesco Snack Master Pro Food Dehydrator
The Nesco Snack Master Pro Food Dehydrator has a unique air flow system, which is called the Converga-Flow drying system. This creatively designed air flow system pushes the air down the outside chamber. This chamber is pressurized allowing the air to be evenly distributed to each tray containing the food you are drying. Once the air is pushed down into the chamber it is forced to distribute the air horizontally to each individual tray. The motor is a top mounted motor, with vertical air flow. With the patented airflow system each tray gets the same amount of heat and air, eliminating the need to rotate the trays. This feature decreases drying times and retains the foods nutrients. Read the full review.
Food Dehydrator Comparison Chart
|Model Name||Excaliber 3926TB||Nesco Garden Master FD-1040||Nesco Snackmaster Pro FD-75A|
|Price||View on Amazon||View on Amazon||View on Amazon|
|Review||Full Review||Full Review||Full Review|
|Warranty||10 Year||1 Year||1 Year|
|Dehydrator Type||Shelf Tray||Stackable||Stackable|
|Fan or Convection||Fan||Fan||Fan|
|Timer||Yes, up to 26 hours||Yes, up to 48 hours||No|
|Need to Rotate Trays||No||No||No|
|Material||Black Plastic||White Plastic||White Plastic|
Food Dehydrator Buyers Guide
Food has been dried for centuries and is a popular way to preserve fruits, vegetables, herbs and meats. The process of drying foods is simply taking the moisture out of food, which preserves the nutrients and extends the life of the fruits, vegetables, herbs or meat. The dehydrating process is very economical and can be significantly less expensive than canning and freezing.
With the popularity in healthy eating and a move to organic products, the use of dehydrators for drying food has become more popular than ever. While drying food is pretty straightforward, unless you live in a very dry climate natural drying methods can fail because of humidity levels. Dehydrators provide a constant temperature and even heating for moisture removal. This prevents bacteria and mold growth which can ruin dried foods. The other consideration is where the food comes from. For the highest level of health benefits use fruits and vegetables grown on organic farms, or food you have grown yourself.
Most foods have high water content, and food drying reduces that water content to 15 or 20 percent. The key to drying foods, preserving nutrients, and preventing spoilage or bacteria growth is in the speed and consistent temperature. This is a critical part of food preservation. In climates with higher levels of humidity an electric dehydrator is a very effective and inexpensive way to preserve foods.
As drying food becomes more popular many manufacturers have begun producing products to meet the demand. This has led to a market that is flooded with dehydrators that range from $30 to several hundred dollars. Knowing which one is the best for your uses can be overwhelming.
Here we have done the research for you. This buyer’s guide will allow you to determine which features are important to you. We have then selected the top three dehydrators and provided extensive reviews of these specific products. Our goal is to give you the tools needed to buy the right dehydrator for your needs. This buying guide covers all of the features and considerations needed to make a good decision.
Parts of a Dehydrator
A dehydrator comes with four basic elements: a tray to place the food on, a heating element to extract the moisture, a fan to circulate the air and heat, and vents to pull the heat and moisture out of the unit. The process will take several hours depending on what is being dried. The other critical element is steady temperature control. For fruits and vegetables the temperature should remain at around 130 degrees, where meats require a higher temperature of around 155 degrees.
Types of Dehydrators
There are two main styles of dehydrators; these include stackable units which may be round or square, and a shelf tray.
Stackable unit food dehydrators are found in all price ranges. The least expensive units are nearly always stackable units. Yet more expensive models with a lot of useful features are also available in the stackable design. Customers like the stackable dehydrators because many are expandable, the designs are compact and they do not take up much storage space.
They can come with as few as 4 trays and some can be expanded to 30 or more trays. This offers tremendous flexibility when drying foods. You can purchase a unit with a few trays and then add to them as your drying habits call for it.
A typical stackable tray will have the fan and heating element at the bottom of the dehydrator. This can lead to uneven heating if you have a large number of trays stacked. More expensive units have elements that circulate the air providing for more even heat distribution during the cooking process. Higher end stackable units have the heat sources sealed off and then funneled through the unit for even heat distribution.
To compensate for uneven heat distribution you need to rotate the trays, during the drying process. The food closest to the heat source will dry faster than trays that are higher up. Rotating trays creates more even drying during the process.
The fan pushes warm air up from the bottom vertically. As the food gets heated, the moisture is released. Fans then push the moisture out through air vents. The units are compact and great for drying small amounts of food at a time. The heat source is generally electric with a fan, although some units use convection, which does not have a fan.
Shelf tray food dehydrators does not come at the lowest price points. These units are typically more expensive than lower end stackable units but offer additional features and benefits for those who will be drying a lot of food or using it for other drying needs. There are several advantages that the stackable units do not have. These units are best for those who want a larger variety in what foods and items can be dried, due to the higher level of versatility.
The shelf tray is set up like a box. They are not as compact as a stackable unit. The box will have shelves that can be pulled out like an oven rack. The advantage of this is it is easy to place food in the tray and remove it. The other advantage is that there is space between the trays which allows you to dry larger items. It is possible to utilize fewer trays, and when pulling unused trays out it leaves more height for larger items. This increased flexibility can be useful when making yogurts, drying flowers or drying larger pieces like broccoli. The square design is also convenient for making things like fruit leather and homemade fruit rollups.
Most shelf trays have the heating unit and fan in the back providing horizontal air flow. This method gives each tray the same amount of heat and air for even heat distribution, eliminating the need to rotate trays. These units, however, are less likely to be expandable. Some units will plug in and automatically start while others will have more features like an on/off switch and temperature controls.
Fan and Convection Options
For air circulation units will use either fans or convection. Fans are generally either mounted on the bottom or the back of the unit.
When the fan is mounted on the bottom the heat distribution is often not even. In order to gain even heat distribution with vertical air flow, additional features must be added to the dehydrator. If not the trays closest to the heat source will dry faster than those further away. When trays are stacked high, rotation is necessary. If you fail to rotate trays then the food at the bottom will become over dried and tough. The only exception to this is on higher end units where the heat is channeled throughout the unit to ensure even distribution of heat. This heat is said to be vertical as the air circulated from the bottom of the unit to the top.
When the fan is mounted on the back, it creates horizontal air circulation. The heat will blow over the trays and provide even heat distribution. Even heat distribution is important because it provides even drying on all of the shelves. With the horizontal fans you can set the unit and leave it for the full duration of the drying without tray rotation.
Convection dryers do not use a fan. This provides for a quiet operation and uses less electricity than fan ovens. The biggest downside of the convection is that it takes longer to dry the foods which can impact the quality.
Other Things to Consider
Heat Distribution will be determined by the fan placement. If the unit provides even heat distribution then the unit can be left unattended for the several hours it takes to dry the food. If the heat distribution is uneven it is necessary to rotate the trays. Failure to do so will result in the trays that are closest to the fan or heat source drying faster. If they are not rotated then these trays can result in food that is over dry and becomes tough. The trays at the top can be under dried which could result in mold and bacteria growth during storage.
Capacity. When you purchase a dehydrator it will come with an initial maximum capacity based on the number of shelves offered. This ranges from 4 shelves to over 30 shelves. Some dehydrators offer the option of expandability. This feature will allow you to start out with a smaller unit and then expand to more shelves as your usage increases.
Temperature Range will determine what foods can be dried. Temperature ranges are generally between 90 and 175 degrees. Herbs are dried at the lowest temperature. Fruits and vegetables can be dried at the lower temperatures around 125 or 135 degrees, where meats need higher temperatures of at least 155 degrees. With higher temperatures you can also make yogurts, leaven bread, jerky and more.
Price. The cost of dehydrators runs from $25 at the low end and over $400 at the high end. The price is determined by the quality of the materials and the features offered. The quality of the fans and motors, material (either plastic or metal), and added features like timers and temperature controls will all impact the price of a unit.
Bells and Whistles. The two most common bells and whistles on dehydrators include thermostats and timers. Thermostats allow you to dry different foods at different temperatures and control the temperature of the unit. Higher end units will have more precise temperature ranges which will help to control the quality of the finished product.
Timers give you the ability to set it and then return when the food is finished, or should be checked. It will also allow you to schedule rotation times should the trays need to be rotated. Dehydrating is not a process that should be started, stopped and then started again. This can lead to bacteria growth during the time the temperature falls. It is important to complete the drying process once it has been started.
Gaining Access to Trays. With all dehydrators, trays need to be loaded and unloaded and on some units the trays must be rotated during the drying process. Shelf trays generally slide in and out like an oven. Most stackable trays are stacked in such a way, which getting to something in the middle requires moving all the trays above it.
Nonstick Features. Some products offer nonstick surfaces for the food to sit on. This feature will make for easier food removal along with easier clean up. The units can be sprayed with a nonstick spray but products like aluminum foil or parchment paper can impede air flow and impact the quality of the drying.
How Versatile is the Dehydrator? The amount of space between trays will determine what foods can be dried. The temperature range will also be a factor in the versatility of the machine and which foods can be dried. Stackable trays are more likely to be expandable than shelf trays. Size, storage and accessibility can impact the amount of use your dehydrator gets.
Quality of Materials. Dehydrators can be made of material ranging from plastic to stainless steel. Warranties run from 90 days to 10 years depending on the brand. When evaluating the material used to build the dehydrator consider the grade of plastic or metal to determine how much wear and how long the unit can be expected to last.
The other factors include the fan and motor. The better quality of the motor, the longer lasting the unit will be. Each dehydrator will also use different wattage depending on the power of the motor. This will impact drying times. Dehydrators can be rated for home or commercial use, with the commercial models being higher quality and also more expensive than home versions.
Foods for Drying
Fruits are one of the most popular items for drying. You can simply cut fruit up and dry it as is. Making fruit leather is also a popular option. Drying foods provides a healthy snack that is preserved for long periods of time. The process is easy and with a few pre-treating suggestions can make food with no preservatives that will last for years.
The two most common pretreating methods are steaming and soaking. Steam the food for 3 to 4 minutes and then drop them in cold water to stop the cooking. When this is completed before drying the food is crunchier and tastes more natural.
Soaking is done in a 4 to one ratio with water. Using citrus flavors like lemon juice, lime juice or pineapple juice. This method helps the fruit maintain its color and provides a better texture. The fruit does not take on the citrus flavors. You can also add seasoning like cinnamon to add variety to the finished fruit.
To determine if the fruit is finished, put a few pieces in a plastic bag and fold it over or seal it. If any condensation develops, they have too much moisture in them and need to dry longer. If you take it out too early then bacteria and mold can grow and the fruit will become inedible. If cooked too long it can get a burnt flavor. When it is finished fruit can be both leathery and chewy, or more like crunchy chips depending on how long you dry them.
Popular fruits include apples, bananas, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, and grapes.
Vegetables, when dried offers fresh tasting products year around. Common foods that are dried include peas, corn, celery, potatoes, broccoli, kale chips, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, carrots, squash, onions, and green beans. Dried vegetables work great in soups all winter long. The liquid from the soup will help to reconstitute the vegetables.
Vegetables should be dried at between 125 and 135 degrees. This allows them to dry without hardening. When they get a hard crust on the outside, the inside does not completely dry, which can lead to spoilage. If you are drying frozen vegetables, they do not need any additional preparation. For fresh vegetables wash and clean them and slice them thinly or otherwise prepare them for drying.
Pretreatment for most vegetables includes blanching the vegetables for a couple minutes in boiling water. This will seal in the colors and flavors. Arrange the vegetables on the trays ensuring that they have room for air circulation and do not overlap. A number of vegetables do not need to be blanched and can be dried with no preparation. These include mushrooms, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, peas, peppers and celery. Other vegetables like potatoes and butternut squash need to be cooked until tender before they are dried.
Herbs are easy to dry. Simply clean the herbs, dry and remove the stems. Then place in one layer on a dehydrator tray. Dry on the lowest setting available on the dehydrator. Crumble herbs and then store. Dried herbs have a more intense flavor than fresh herbs so recipes require less dried herbs than fresh herbs.
Meats are typically dried in the form of jerky. Jerky is not hard to make, but there are certain steps that need to be taken in order to create jerky that will kill the bacteria. The first is the selection of meat. Choose a lean meat and cut off visible fat. The fat does not dry and will cause the meat to go rancid.
If you freeze the meat for a couple hours it will make slicing the meat thin easier. The thicker the slices the longer it will take the meat to dry. ¼” or thinner is recommended. Once the meat is cut season it. If you make a marinade the longer it is marinated the deeper the flavors will be. A 3-4 hour marinade will result in mild flavors. 6 hours or more will create bold rich flavors. Rubs also work well when making jerky.
It is best to preheat the dehydrator for 10 to 20 minutes depending on the unit. Then place the meat on the trays giving it room for air circulation. The temperature should be between 155 to 165 degrees, leaning towards the higher temperatures. The drying times will depend on the thickness. If it gets overcooked the meat will become brittle.
When the jerky is finished drying it will last for around 2 weeks. If you need longer storage you can freeze or vacuum seal the jerky.
Other ideas. Yogurt, bread, sprouting, nuts, granola, and more can be made with a dehydrator. The use of a dehydrator is only limited by your imagination.
Health Benefits are significant. The drying process maintains nearly 100% of the vitamins and minerals for dried foods. This is higher than both canning and freezing. The dried foods, when stored properly can last for decades without losing food quality (fruits, vegetables and grains). Dried foods are as healthy as eating raw fresh foods giving you healthy food options even when the fruits and vegetables are not in season.
The drying process produces food that is low in fat and high in fiber. Storage should
be in air tight jars or bags in order to get the longest lasting shelf life.
Maintenance and Warranties will vary depending on the dehydrator brand. Warranties range from 90 days to 10 years. Care and maintenance are included with the instructions on the dehydrator. In order to extend the life of the unit it is recommended that these instructions be followed carefully. Things like washing the trays and keeping the fan free of dust will ensure quality dried foods.
When using meats be sure the wash the unit with soap and water both before and after placing meat in the unit. This will prevent cross contamination that can occur with raw meats.
There are a wide range of dehydrators available on the market today. We have selected the top three units, which will save you time and money and have you enjoying homemade treats in no time.
The units we have selected are top quality brands that are easy to use. You will gain all of the health benefits and none of the frustration found with inferior products. Look over the reviews and then select which one will best meet you and your family’s needs.