For health buffs, snacking on dried fruits is a great way of getting nutrition without dealing with empty calories. That’s because dehydrating preserves the nutrients while intensifying the flavor of fresh food.
It’s also a practical way to store an abundant harvest from your garden. Whether you're working with fruits, herbs, or meat, dehydrating them preserves them indefinitely, making them bacteria-proof so that all of that food won’t become rotting waste.
In the old days, dehydrating used to be done under the heat of the sun or in a cool, dry area. That process is tedious and takes too long but now, with the invention of electric dehydrators, the process is now quicker and easy because of precise temperature controls and efficient air circulation.
For those who haven’t seen one, a food dehydrator generally looks like a microwave machine that uses a built-in fan and a small amount of heat to dry out food. It lightly circulates a flow of hot air over a series of trays to reduce the moisture content in herbs, fruits, meat, and veggies.
Cooking hobbyists use it to make beef jerky, fruit leather, or dry home-grown herbs. Farmers love this type of tool because they can dehydrate their produce and stock them for leaner months. Hunters meanwhile use it to turn fresh venison into jerky that can be stored easily on a shelf instead of crowding space in a freezer.
For campers and hikers, a food dehydrator offers many possibilities for making your own trail food. Whether it’s high energy dried fruit snacks or dehydrated meals, it’s a cheaper and affordable option to stretch your food budget than buying prepackaged freeze-dried meals.
And for those with food allergies, a food dehydrator lets you make your own version of commercial snacks. You can even tailor it to your own food preferences by only including ingredients that are palatable for you.
But while it’s very useful, this type of tool may not be to everyone’s liking. Even with a food dehydrator, food dehydration remains to be a time-consuming and laborious process. Imagine peeling and slicing 10 pounds of fruit so that it can be placed in the drying trays. But once you’re over that, a dehydrator will make short work of the dehydration process.
Should you even buy one? Only if you want to make vegetable chips or dried apple slices on a regular basis instead of buying brands from the grocery store. Those looking for a kitchen hobby will also find this appliance very helpful. Instead of going the DIY route by using the kitchen cooling racks in your oven set to low, a food dehydrator is a more energy-efficient and makes the process much easier.
There many affordable and efficient food dehydrators in the market. But only a few are really good enough to make you consider going into the food dehydration thing for real. Here are my top 5 recommendations.
Table of Contents
- The Best Food Dehydrators
- 1. COSORI Dehydrator Machine with Timer and Temperature Control,5 Trays, ETL Listed
- 2. NESCO FD-75A, Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator
- 3. EXCALIBUR 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator with Adjustable Thermostat Accurate Temperature Control
- 4. Magic Mill Food Dehydrator Machine, Digital Adjustable Timer and Temperature Control, 7 Stainless Steel Trays
- 5. Brod & Taylor SAHARA Folding Food Dehydrator, Stainless Steel Shelves
- Buyers Guide to Picking the Best Food Dehydrator for your DIY Needs
The Best Food Dehydrators
- COSORI Dehydrator Machine with Timer and Temperature Control,5 Trays, ETL Listed
- NESCO FD-75A, Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator
- EXCALIBUR 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator with Adjustable Thermostat Accurate Temperature Control
- Magic Mill Food Dehydrator Machine, Digital Adjustable Timer and Temperature Control, 7 Stainless Steel Trays
- Brod & Taylor SAHARA Folding Food Dehydrator, Stainless Steel Shelves
1. COSORI Dehydrator Machine with Timer and Temperature Control,5 Trays, ETL Listed
This food dehydrator is easy to use for a beginner. It has a Touch Control LED Display that allows you to adjust the temperature setting and set the timer. You can set the timer in 30-minute increments up to 48 hours. The temperature settings range from 95ºF to 165ºF.
Other than fruits and veggies, this appliance can be used for dehydrating meats. Because you can customize the temperature for each meat item, this produces flavorful beef or turkey jerky.
It also comes with a Memory Function and an Auto-Shut Off feature to prevent overheating. Just press the Start button and then you can leave it overnight without worrying. It’s also relatively quiet, generating less than 48dB. The manufacturer says that the sound is the equivalent of the background hum in a library.
Designed in California, this food dehydrator comes with 5 BPA-Free Trays, 1 Mesh Screen, and a 1 Fruit Roll Sheet. The trays are dishwasher safe but the cover, mesh screen and roll sheet are for handwash only. This product has a 1 year warranty.
- Programmable time and temperature settings
- Reliable After Sales Support
- Machine parts aren’t removable for easy cleaning
- Not dishwasher friendly
2. NESCO FD-75A, Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator
This food dehydrator uses a patented Converga-Flow drying system that dehydrates food items faster than a standard dehydrator. The hot air is forced down the exterior pressurized chamber and horizontally across each tray, converging in the center. This method reduces flavor mixing and the need to rotate trays.
Its 600W fan is mounted on top to prevent moisture from dripping into the center. For optimal retention of flavor and nutrients, its exterior is coated with an opaque Vita-Save to block harmful light.
It has an adjustable thermostat with a range from 95º to 160ºF. The unit comes with 5 BPA-free trays that can be washed on the top rack of your dishwasher. You can also purchase more trays to expand it into 12.
Accessories include 2 fruit roll sheets which can be used to dry soups, sauces, and fruit rolls; 2 Clean-A-Screen flexible screens, for drying herbs, spices and potpourri; and 3 original jerky spice packets for making jerky. The manufacturer says that the product is made and assembled in the US, except for the powerhead which is imported from China.
- Easy to use and clean; great for newbies
- Made and assembled in USA
- Doesn’t have a timer
- No OFF/ON switch; just unplug it to turn it off
3. EXCALIBUR 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator with Adjustable Thermostat Accurate Temperature Control
This food dehydrator comes with dual drying zones so that you don’t have to rotate the trays to get even exposure to warm air. It uses a patented parallax horizontal airflow which they call Hyperwave. This speeds up the dehydration process while retaining more flavor. The fan and heating element is at the back of the unit so that cool air is drawn in, heated and then circulated evenly over each tray.
It has a built-in On/Off switch and an adjustable thermostat with temperature settings that range from 105-165°F. It can dehydrate fruits, herbs, and meat but it can also be used for raising bread or making homemade yogurt.
The trays are made from easy-to-clean poly-screen and do not need to be moved or rotated when dehydrating. Altogether, the drying space of the nine trays is equivalent to 15 sq. feet.
- Can be used to proof dough
- Made in the USA with a 10 year limited warranty
- No timer
- Big and bulky; about the size of a microwave
4. Magic Mill Food Dehydrator Machine, Digital Adjustable Timer and Temperature Control, 7 Stainless Steel Trays
This food dehydrator uses a rear-mounted drying fan and an air flow circulation technology that evenly dries food items without rotating the trays.
It comes with a digital thermostat and a timer. The temperature settings are adjustable in 30-min increments and range from 95°F to 165°F. It has a Keep Warm function which allows you to maintain a stable 95°F temperature for another 24 hours.
It also comes with an Auto-Shut Down function as a safety feature. The timer will count down the hours during the dehydration process and then shut down the dehydrator when it’s done to prevent overheating.
This machine uses stainless steel trays instead of plastic. The regular ones can be used for food, while the mesh up tray can be used for nuts and herbs. They are all dishwasher safe.
The dehydrator also has a see-through cover to allow you to monitor the dehydration process. Additional accessories include a hanging rack for beef jerkies, 2 fruit leather trays which also be used as drip trays, and an oven mitt.
- Easy to clean 304 Stainless steel trays (wash and dry to keep them rust free)
- Lightweight and easy to use; elderly-friendly
- Plastic exterior tends to warp outward over time, causing the metal trays to fall out
- Some found it noisy
5. Brod & Taylor SAHARA Folding Food Dehydrator, Stainless Steel Shelves
This is a high-end, heavy duty food dehydrator that’s made from stainless steel and high temperature resistant plastics.
Designed to fold into 1/3 of its original size in just seconds, this dehydrator is made with high-quality material and has state-of-art features.
It has automated dual time and temperature controls, glass doors, internal power cord storage, filtered air intake, and digitally-controlled 700W dual heaters.
It’s capable of 198 hours of continuous automated operation. You can set it up so that it runs on a high temperature during the initial drying and then shift to a lower temperature to retain the flavor and nutrients.
It features a quiet and efficient radial fan that evenly circulates fresh and recirculated air for faster and energy efficient drying. With its reusable air filter, it guarantees that dust and contaminants will not be drawn into the dehydrator.
It’s easy to use and very durable, with shelves made from high grade stainless steel. It comes with a custom zippered case for convenient shelf storage.
- Foldable, state of the art design
- Energy-efficient curved blade rotary fan
- Knobs are tiny and hard to grip
Buyers Guide to Picking the Best Food Dehydrator for your DIY Needs
There are three basic things to a dehydrator: its heating element, the circulating fan, and the number of open racks for the warm air to flow about. But some brands perform much better than others because of the quality of the design and materials used. Here’s what you should be looking for in a food dehydrator.
Type of Dehydrator
There are two types of food dehydrators: those that have vertical airflow and those that use horizontal airflow to dry out food.
Vertical airflow models rely on stacked trays fitting together to make a sealed drying chamber. They also usually have their motor mounted at the base so that when the hot air rises, all trays will be heated leaving no dead of stagnant air.
A horizontal airflow model, meanwhile, looks like a small convection oven. The heating element and fan are located in the back of the unit and blow hot air over the slide-in trays. Because of this design, the machines generally tend to be bulky.
The box design is also not efficient. The hard right-angled corners don’t promote even airflow. That’s why you need to rotate the trays throughout the process or else they’ll dry unevenly. To address this issue, the high-end brands tend to have bigger fans that move more air, which lessens the need for rotating trays.
Between the two, however, vertical-flow models are cheaper and have a smaller footprint. But the horizontal flow ones have more versatility because you can take out the trays to make room for bigger food items, like if you want to dehydrate yogurt, for instance.
Pick the dehydrator that can handle the amount of food you want to dehydrate. Its food drying capacity is measured by the number of trays that it has.
A 1.5 square tray is enough for a half-pound of sliced strawberries, three sliced bananas, or two sliced tomatoes. A dehydrator with nine trays will more or less give you 15 square feet to dry your food with.
Some dehydrators will allow you to purchase additional trays. If you feel like you might want to go into the jerky business in the future, you should pick one that will allow you to expand the capacity. Avoid trays with a hole in the center because it just means it has a smaller space for drying when compared to a tray without a center hole.
If you want to focus on dehydrating herbs or fruits, an appliance that has a temperature range below 100℉ is good enough. But if you prefer making jerky instead, a dehydrator that can reach at least 160℉ or higher is the best and safest way for dehydrating meat.
Each category of food item requires a specific temperature for optimal dehydration. That’s why it's good to have a food dehydrator that has an adjustable thermostat. It will let you set the correct temperature according to the kind of food you’re dehydrating.
Most basic dehydrators don’t have an Off and On switch. To turn them on, you just have to plug them. One feature that offsets this inconvenience is a programmable timer. Pick one that can be programmed in 1-hour intervals.
Having a timer will let you run the dehydrator overnight without worrying about over-drying your food or the appliance overheating. Instead, the dehydrator will automatically shut down the machine when it’s done.
Finally, pick a model that has the best warranty. A 1-year warranty is fine but if you can get a product that has a longer warranty, that’s better. Since this is basically a drying machine it should be durable and efficient enough for long-term use.
Also, consider the brand that has the best after-sales service. This is important especially if you plan to purchase a relatively expensive food dehydrator. A reliable customer support service will lessen your worry in case the item turns out to be a dud.