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Make Your Own Dehydrated Fare – It’s Easy
You can purchase food dehydrators that are reasonably priced and make your own dehydrated grub. These appliances are usually very simple to use and they’re a great way to store your summer surplus.
It really is fun to buy the freshest plums, apricots, grapes, apples and bananas to make your own healthy snacks.
Bottom Line Up Front: Foodal’s Most Recommended Model – Excalibur 3926T
I love and use the Excalibur 3926TB and it is, in my opinion, the best you can buy.
The Excalibur 3926T is a very reputable shelf tray model that provides fast and efficient drying as the air moves horizontally from back to front across all nine trays.
Each tray can be removed individually for easy handling, and with the back mounted heater and fan, there’s no chance of liquids dripping onto electrical components.
With 15 sq. ft. of drying surface, a 7” fan and 600 watts of power, this model meets the needs of large families, large gardens, sportsmen and crafters alike.
Made in the US of durable plastic, the Excalibur offers easy to use controls, an adjustable thermostat and a programmable timer for up to 26 hours.
Its superior quality and whopping 10-year warranty makes the 3926T one of the best on the market – and it gets top marks in in the Foodal kitchen.
Let’s look at how the best dehydrators work and the features and benefits of well designed examples.
How They Work
Dehydrators are usually small sized appliances that are perfect for drying fruits, vegetables, seeds, herbs, fish and meats.
If you grow your own fresh vegetables or have producing fruit trees, grape vines or berry bushes, you would probably really appreciate being able to put some up without using up valuable freezer space (or having to dig it out – especially from a chest type).
Or you can go through the more labor intensive process of canning it which, in the case of fruit, generally adds more sugar to the end product.
For those that do not have the luxury of owning your own garden, you can take advantage of seasonal offerings by shopping the sales in the produce market and benefiting from reduced prices.
Simple to use dehydrators come in many sizes with varying numbers of shelves or trays for drying.
You place the food on a tray and the appliance slowly distributes heated air throughout the mesh-covered trays.
The machines generate a very gentle heat (at least the good ones) that dries the food at a slow and even rate, preserving the organic matter and preventing “case hardening” on the outside.
Case hardening occurs when the fruits, vegetables, or meats are heated too fast, forming a seal on the outside and trapping in moisture.
It is very important to remove as much water as possible in the drying process.
Each dehydrator will work a little bit differently and the rate at which foods can be dried will vary accordingly.
For example, thicker, denser foods will take longer to dry compared to something like soft fruit, which breaks down more easily.
As you begin to work with a new machine, you will come to learn the appropriate sizes to cut different fruits, meats and vegetables to obtain the most efficient drying process.
Check out all the main features of a dehydrator so you may choose the best product for your purposes. Look to see how many drying levels or trays come with the machine.
Consider the average amount of food you will be drying at any one time. Check the location of the heating element to see that liquids will not drip directly onto it.
When comparing models, try to look for products that have at least 500 watts of power. 1000 is even better.
A built-in timer is a nice dehydrator feature, but not a requirement. I personally prefer to have a timer since it is possible to over dry your food and basically burn it.
With a timer, you can leave the house, sleep, etc. with the machine still operating and you don’t have to worry about burnt apple rings when you wake up or return.
Sure, things may not be dehydrated all of the way, but it is better than having toasted roma tomatoes (by the way – that’s one of my favorites to dehydrate, and they’re great in our recipe for Sicilian pasta salad!).
Consider better-designed dehydrators with adjustable thermostats for drying different types of grub. This is another feature that I consider non-negotiable.
Different foods case harden at different temperatures. Meat can be heated much faster than most fruit, and meat is something that you want to finish off quickly to prevent bacteria and mold growth.
Having the fan on the top or side prevents droplets from hitting the heating elements, which can blend different flavors throughout the machine. Onion flavored strawberries don’t sound too appetizing.
Consider the size of any machine that you purchase so that it can be stored in a kitchen cabinet or on the counter top if desired. I keep mine on top of the extra “beer” refrigerator in the garage.
Also, you should compare warranties and check out customer reviews online.
- You can put up foods for dehydrating as often as you like.
- If you grow your own fruits and vegetables, you are able to dry them in season and keep them without the need for additional electrical power such as you would need if they were frozen. Moreover, they are still safe when if the power goes out.
- Dehydrating your produce is also not nearly as labor intensive as home canning (although I do both regularly). You can also preserve the shelf life of many types of home-dried produce even further, using oxygen absorbers and dessicant packets.
- Hikers and campers can take advantage of these devices to dehydrate favorite foods for outdoor activities. They can pack of a lot of good calories and vitamins in a very small and lightweight package that can be rehydrated at any time.
- Have a little (or big) kid that loves jerky but you don’t love the cost? Make it on the cheap! Use cheaper and leaner cuts of beef and it’ll taste better than store bought. Want to spice up a stew or soup? Throw a few handfuls of dried tomatoes, corn, peppers, etc in the mix and it’ll put a smile on your face. A complete stew can actually be made with 100% dehydrated materials.
Highest Rated Food Dehydrators
And here are Foodal’s current recommendations for 8 of the best food dehydrators on the market (+1 for the excellent Excalibur model that has already been covered).
Nesco FD-1040 Gardenmaster
The Nesco FD-1040 Gardenmaster offers some very sweet features usually only found in higher priced units, and they score big points with the home-dehydrating hobbyist.
With 1,000 watts of power, Nesco’s patented air flow system, and the top mounted heater and fan, this model’s performance is well above that of comparable stackable tray units.
Constructed of BPA-free plastic in the US, it has good quality construction for the modest price tag. And its timer and adjustable thermostat make operation simple, easy and hassle free.
With a limited 1-year warranty and plastic materials, it’s not designed for beginning your own home-based jerky business. But, it is ideal for taking advantage of sales, a small garden harvest, or for making healthy snacks.
This four-tray stackable model offers great value for a compact drier.
Presto 3601 Dehydro
From Presto comes the Dehydro Electric Food Dehydrator, a six tray stackable model with a bottom mounted heating unit and fan.
Expandable up to 12 trays, the Dehydro also includes a generous array of accessories for making fruit leather and for drying smaller items such as herbs, nuts and spices.
The 700 watt heater and fan provide the ideal conditions to dehydrate many different foods, and the programmable timer and adjustable thermostat ensure optimal exposure to the correct temperatures.
Easy to use and clean, the Presto 3601 Dehydro has found a welcome niche in many kitchens with its convenient size and economical price tag.
A reliable dryer for the price, the Presto customer service shines as well.
Ideal for those who want to dry smaller sized batches, for occasional use, or for those who simply don’t want to invest a lot of money in a dehydrator.
Nesco Snackmaster Pro
The No. 1 Bestseller on Amazon in Dehydrators, the Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator is a simple and easy to use stackable food dehydrator.
It will easily dry fruit, veggies, herbs, nuts, berries, and jerky in a matter of hours – perfect for you to enjoy home preserved goodness.
Nesco has developed a patented drying system called Converga-Flow, which creates vertical and horizontal air flow for fast, even and nutritious drying.
The top mounted fan and heater eliminates the mess of liquid dripping into the heating chamber, and the 700 watts of power provide all the energy needed for the adjustable thermostat.
Perfect for the beginner, the Snackmaster offers easy, reliable results and the option to expand for larger quantities once you get your technique down pat – it’s a best seller for good reason.
If you need a well-built unit that will dry foods effectively, and in great enough quantities to make it worthwhile, then a model such as the L’Equip 528 may have value for you.
A top of the line stackable tray dehydrator, the 528 is affordable, easy to use and comes with a very substantial 10-year manufacturer’s warranty.
More than just a handsome profile, the L’Equip comes with 12 square feet of usable drying space on 6 trays, and can be expanded all the way up to 20 trays.
With a solid state variable temperature control, the L’Equip features a microprocessor controlled heating sensor that constantly monitors the heat to provide a stable drying environment for uniform results. And, its sleek and timeless design is easy to clean and use, making it a valued addition in any kitchen.
A reliable performer, it’s a good choice for those who enjoy dependable results and the ability to change batch sizes.
Aroma Professional 6 Tray
Are you looking to advance from stackable tray food dehydrators to the more advanced shelf tray models? If so, you may want to consider the Aroma Professional 6 Tray Food Dehydrator.
With a mid-size capacity and the reliability of shelf tray performance, the Professional offers all the features needed for outstanding results.
It’s designed to provide uniform and consistently heated horizontal air flow for dependable, reliable results with all ingredients
The spacious front mounting trays slide on guides just like the racks in a standard oven, and the transparent door makes it easy to check progress as foods dry.
And cleanup is easy with the included drip tray that collects any juices and residue during the drying process.
Perfect for the home enthusiast, backpacker, or anyone trying to be a little more health-conscious, the Aroma Professional is ready, able and willing to take on any duties assigned to it.
STX Dehydra 1200W 10 Rack Stainless Steel Model
For the serious food dehydrating enthusiast, the STX Dehydra offers a powerful drying system with a large capacity, and is designed to deliver both quantity and quality.
It offers optimal drying times via the variable thermostat and 16 square feet of usable drying surface, and the rear-mounted heater and fan provide ample air flow to ensure proper dehydration.
Both the generously sized trays and housing unit are constructed of durable 304 grade stainless steel, and this large commercial grade unit boasts a fully digital control panel for added convenience, with a 12-hour shutoff timer.
Located at the higher end of the price scale, it’s for the purist who appreciates quality stainless materials, an extra-large capacity, and the power and durability to run almost continuously.
A sturdy and dependable performer.
Are you looking for an advanced shelf-tray model that’s going to perform to a higher level once it’s all loaded and ready to go?
On the higher end of the price scale, the Tribest Sedona SD-P9000 offers an advanced, digitally controlled dehydration system.
It boasts an elegant package with see-through glass door, and claims unsurpassed performance due to its digital dehydrating technology, with accurate temperature control.
It features a simple, effective design that makes operation easy, with clearly marked controls and bright LED digital display on the front panel.
And the timer can be set for up to 99 hours of worry-free operation.
However, the Sedona is not without its problems – and they include a sub-standard level of quality control, and poor after sales service. Despite its many attractive features, for the price, you can do much better.
Food dehydrators are simple to use, and the healthy snacks and ingredients that they produce are great for dieters, and for spicing up your meal times. I know I couldn’t do without one in my kitchen.
Read all of Foodal’s comprehensive reviews before making your purchasing decision.
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First published August 19th, 2014. Last updated April 15th, 2017.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!