Unless you have a kitchen that could serve a banquet facility, there’s never “enough room” for another appliance on the counter. There’s one appliance for which you really should make the space, though, and that’s a food dehydrator.
Dehydration was the world’s first method of food preservation, as the ability to dry food in the hot sun existed long before cans or freezers. Rudimentary, non-electric dehydrators were used in Europe in the late 18th century, but modern versions have become popular in recent years, from the cheap TV-infomercial variety sold several decades ago to the more advanced and highly effective units now available.
Dehydratortips.com is designed to help you make an informed choice on what machine is best for you. We compare and take real user feedback to give you a comprehensive review.
- Top 10 comparison table
- Summary of each model
- Popular brands
- Benefits of a food dehydrator
- How they work
- Considerations before you purchase
Top 10 Dehydrators Compared
|4.5||$$||5 to 12||600||Yes||No|
|4||$$||4 to 8||700||Yes||No|
|4||$$$||4 to 20||1000||Yes||Yes|
|4||$$||6 to 12||750||Yes||Yes|
|3.5||$||5 to 20||250||No||No|
|3||$||4 to 7||400||No||No|
|3.5||$||4 to 8||600||No||No|
Here is a quick summary of our top picks. Although there are many great machines on the market, we found these to the best food dehydrators for various reasons. Click through to read the full review.
In our opinion Excalibur are the experts when it comes to dehydrators, as it is what they specialize in. They have been producing food dehydrators since 1973 and most of their machines are still produced in the USA, unlike some other machines which are manufactured overseas. They may not be the prettiest machines, however they certainly produce great jerky.
Excalibur dehydrators make use of both their Hyperwave™ fluctuation and Parallexx® horizontal airflow technologies to produce faster, better, and safer dried foods.
Hyperwave™ fluctuation works by changing the heat through the drying cycle. It does this by raising the temperature to evaporate moisture on the outside of the food and then decreasing the temperature to draw out moisture from the center of the food.
This prevents what is called “case hardening”, which is a dry surface with moisture trapped inside. Ordinary dehydrators just produce constant non changing heat which makes them prone to case hardening which can cause yeast, mold, and bacteria growth.
Parallexx® Horizontal Airflow is an exclusive design to Excalibur which truly eliminates the need for tray rotation.
It achieves this by drawing in cool air from the back, heated and then distributed evenly across all trays.
Our reviews of these all products showed that Excalibur produces the most even dehydrating.
NESCO® / American Harvest® has been one of the leading manufactures when it comes to food dehydrators. They have been in the game for well over 30 years and offer a range of machines to suit all budgets and expertise.
Nesco American Harvest dehydrators have been designed with patented technology that helps dry your food faster and more evenly. Although we found it was not perfect, their Converge-a-Flow air flow system does help especially as this is one of the draw backs of vertical airflow.
Converge-a-Flow forces air down the sides of the machine and then across the trays to replicate horizontal airflow, which helps with the even drying times.
As our reviews mentions, it is not perfect, as we found the top tray usually dried out slightly quicker than the rest, however, it definitely makes a difference compared to standard vertical systems which require constant rotation.
National Presto began by producing pressure cookers back in 1939, which it soon became a leader in. Some years later they started expanding their electrical range.
Although they do not specialize in producing food dehydrators, they do have a good track record of making affordably electrical machines for the kitchen. They are well worth considering if you are on a budget.
They currently have only 3 models available to buy which are:
Presto does not have any special technolofy of their own that seperates them from their competitors, however, one cool feature they do have that others do not, is their ability to collapse trays when not in use. This saves on space when storing your machine away.
How they work
Dehydrators use a very simple method to remove moisture from fresh food. It’s not all that different than the way our ancestors would dry food by putting it out in the sun – but it’s definitely more efficient.
The central portion of a food dehydrator is the chamber, where food is spread out to dry. The food is spread out on a tray and exposed to hot, dry air over a long period of time, with the air evenly distributed throughout the chamber by fans. Low temperature heat (usually between 100° and 160° and easily controlled by a thermostat) is used for the process because it doesn’t disturb the food’s enzymes, meaning the food’s nutrients remain intact. Some of the most critical vitamins and minerals which remain largely preserved during dehydration include Vitamin C, beta carotene, magnesium and potassium.
The amount of time it takes to dry food depends greatly on the type and thickness of the items and your model of dehydrator, but roughly speaking it will require 4-12 hours for vegetables and 8-24 hours for fruits; herbs and spices will take only an hour or so while most proteins can be turned into jerky in 4-6 hours.
Dehydrators are relatively small appliances these days with most no bigger than a rice cooker or Cuisinart, so it should be easier to find a home for one on your counter than you might guess. And they’re a far superior way to dry food than simply putting it into an oven, because there are no fans inside an oven where it’s impossible to properly regulate the low temperatures needed to dehydrate food.
Considerations before you purchase
The most important difference in food dehydrator models is where the heating element(s) and fans are located, because that determines how effective the unit is and how much work is required during drying.
In less-expensive units the heat is generated vertically, from either the top or the bottom of the dehydrator. Bottom placement is more efficient, because as you remember from science class, hot air rises. Fans then blow the heat throughout the chamber. This leads to uneven distribution of the heat, since the trays closest to the heat source will dry more quickly than those furthest from the element and fans. For this reason, so-called vertical-flow dehydrators generally have a “stacking” configuration allowing trays to be removed, added and moved. Rotating the trays on a regular basis will allow those which have spent a while closest to the heat to be moved further away so those initially far from the heat can get their turn at more thorough drying. Many of these vertical models have holes in the middle of their trays to make it easier for air to flow. There’s one additional negative with units that have heating elements and fans at the bottom: drippings from the food get into the works, making cleanup difficult.
Horizontal-flow dehydrators position the heating element and fans at the back of the chamber, creating a more even distribution of heat and eliminating the need to rotate food trays. It also prevents “secondary” transmission of heat as it rises from tray to tray (because the fan is blowing the heated air horizontally) as well as the mixing of flavors that can occur when one type of food is being dried above another. It also makes cleanup a simple matter of wiping down the solid bottom of the chamber. Since rotation of trays isn’t required, these models are generally “shelf” dehydrators with individual shelves that simply slide out from the unit. There’s another big advantage to this method of dehydration: it doesn’t require the rounded-off design of vertical-flow machines used to funnel heat upward, so horizontal dehydrators are usually larger and can accommodate more food. That also means, however, that they’re generally more expensive.
The size of a dehydrator will naturally determine its capacity, another important factor to consider before buying. The capacity of vertical models will often be judged by the number of trays they can hold rather than their overall volume, because the more trays they can accept, the more available drying space they will have. Most of these units are “expandable” to allow you to put in more trays than come with them. A rule of thumb for size, though, is that small food dehydrators will have anywhere from 5-10 square feet of usable drying capacity, while large ones will provide more than ten square feet of dehydration area. If you’re measuring vertical unit capacity in terms of trays, a four-tray capacity is a small model while large machines can hold ten or more trays.
Another specification to check on food dehydrators is the amount of power they use, because units with the ability to reach maximum recommended temperatures will require lots of power to maintain those temperatures for as long as 24 hours. Some large horizontal-flow dehydrators will have several fans which will use even more power (and they can be rather noisy, approaching the sound level of the exhaust fan on your stove), so that’s one more factor to check before making a purchasing decision. Generally speaking, a food dehydrator will use anywhere from 150 to 1000 watts of power.Any good dehydrator will have an adjustable thermostat, and being able to reach between 150 and 160 degrees is important if you want to be able to do things like make jerky. Digital thermostats are a much more desirable feature for dehydrators than other appliances, because a five or ten degree difference can be critical when drying food at low temperatures. Timers are a very nice feature as well, because if you start a dehydrating process during the day that can last 12-15 hours, it’s likely to be finishing while you’re asleep and unable to shut the machine off. Again, digital timers are more convenient and reliable than manual ones for that purpose. You can also find food dehydrators with interior lighting, which will come in handy if you want to see if your food is drying properly – especially if you have a vertical-flow unit and are rotating trays.
It goes without saying that, at least in most cases, the more you spend the more you’ll get. For less than $100, expect to find smaller vertical dehydrators with four-to-eight trays, usually expandable; some will have just one default temperature and some will have manual thermostats, but there will be very little else in the way of features. If you’re just giving food dehydration a try, these models are worth considering – and it’s worth sacrificing a little size for better quality.
If you’re willing to spend up to about $300, you can get some quality horizontal-flow models from well-known dehydrator manufacturers and the extra cash will be money well-spent. Expect these to be small-to-medium sized units with adjustable thermostats and decent power, but they won’t be likely to have double-fans or digital timers. For a large, top-quality food dehydrator with all of the bells and whistles, expect to pay more than $300 – but also expect to have all of the nutritious and delicious dried food you have room to store.