Dehydrating food is a rewarding and healthy hobby for anyone to get into.
Some people however love going all the way and making a unit of their own.
It's a fascinating subject and you'll need to make sure you have done your research to the fullest before you get stuck in.
When it comes to making a homemade food dehydrator there are a range of key points that you need to consider and plan for to a much greater degree than when you are buying a pre-built unit.
If you do your reading and know what you can and can't do with a DIY build however you can have some fantastic fun and end up with a unit that does the trick for an absolutely rock bottom price. Great!
Let's talk the most important subject right away.
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No surprise. This needs to be kept in mind!
Dehydrating food can bring with it a range of health issues if you aren't careful. These are usually taken care of during the preparation process or by pre purchased machines.
If you're building your own unit you'll need to be doubly careful.
It's nothing to worry about too much – proper precautions and chiefly awareness of what can go wrong will keep you in the clear and away from nasty bacteria and illness.
We recommend taking a look at the university of Minnesota sanitation and illness page to get a run down of the most common issues that can arise. The page has a fantastic range of written articles as well as slide shows and videos that describe in detail the dangers of dehydrating and how to avoid them.
Fruit and vegetables are of course more safe to handle in general but still can trip you up when it comes to some types of bacteria.
If you plan to dehydrate meat to make items like jerky then you'll need to be doubly careful. Take a look at the link above and make sure you always have soapy hot water nearby when preparing and that your DIY unit is safely built.
The core parts
Let's talk the vital parts of your home grown dehydrator.
The heat source is an obvious first point to think about. Happily this is quite a straightforward part of the build with a range of heat lamps usually being capable enough to do the job.
If you don't want to work with a heat lamp or can't with your own set-up you can also take a look at electrical heating coils. In a pinch a crock pot or other heat retaining item can also work in a pinch.
Temperature needs to be kept in mind. Fruit and veg will need to be kept in the range of 130F to 140F for the process to work. Meat needs more, requiring a range of 145F to 170F for most products. Herbs are a little easier needing only 95F to 110F for most types.
The container is the next part to consider.
You need to make sure that your food is well covered and self contained while the magic is going on. You can get inventive with this subject and can even go as far as to use a suitable cardboard box.
Alternatives for the shell of the unit can be items such as a cooler shell or a broken down or unused refrigerator. Microwaves can also be useful containers but be extremely careful when taking them apart to gut the insides! Many have had accidents when doing so – microwaves are no joke even when they are turned off completely.
Make sure you remain mindful of ventilation in your shell. The less there is the more moisture will be kept within the unit while the dehydration goes on. That means that the efficiency of it will be lowered and it will take a lot longer for your food to be dehydrated fully. Moisture is, unsurprisingly, bad news for drying out food!
Racks come next.
The biggest point to make here is that your racks are all the same size and are easily removable. You need to have them as such for ease of general use and also for cleaning. You don't want a tray that can't take a vigorous clean now and then.
You also need to make sure that there is room for the air to circulate between the racks. This isn't too tough as you can find a range of oven racks in scrap yards or for sale second hand online or in speciality shops. These are absolutely perfect for a DIY build – easy to clean, rugged and in a range of sizes to suit the shell of your unit.
An example from us
Let's go over a step by step example of what you can do. We have to repeat ourselves here, make sure you keep safety in mind. With that said let's go on!
1. The Shell
Pick a suitable sized container. Surprisingly as we mentioned a sturdy cardboard box is fine for this and usually has suitable ventilation. You'll need to line the interior of the shell with aluminium foil. You can use standard tape to fix it to the interior. Don't be stingy – you need a full coverage to make sure the heat bounces around and gives an efficient and even coverage.
2. The Heat Element
The simplest way to do this is cut a suitably sized hole in the shell (another reason a box is great) and push your heating source through it. A heat lamp goes great for this very reason.
Make sure you don't have exposed wires or electrics touching the foil – this is because moisture will gather on the foil and might sneak into the wiring. You don't want that!
3. Slats for racks
It's a simple matter of cutting the right sized holes in the sides of the shell so that you can put your racks inside. It's best to start at the top in this case with one rack at a time to make sure you don't mess up one whole side in one go and need to start from scratch.
You need to poke a series of holes around the top side of the unit. This will help moisture escape, although you'll never fully escape that when you're using aluminium foil.
We find it's best to use a range of small holes instead of punching your fist through the top. You might find that if you don't have a consistent series of holes you can have condensation build up quickly. Particularly if you're using a box that's bad news.
Small holes will work great and won't compromise the integrity of the shell. Pay good attention to the sides.
5. Add the food!
After all that it's a simple matter of putting in your trays with the produce placed on them.
It's a very important point to note that you can't leave a DIY unit unattended. Keep a close eye until you turn it off once the job's done.
6. Optional extras
If you're DIYing it you are likely looking for a cheaper product or want to enjoy the process.
Some useful extras for your own build are a thermostat to keep an eye on the temperature. This can be very useful if you are alternating fruit and vegetables or herbs which have different optimum temperatures.
A timer is also useful. A simple alarm clock even can be used well to make sure you don't overdo your product.
Here's a video which describes in detail how to make your own homemade dehydrator
It's not too complicated to make your own budget dehydrator and it's certainly a fun craft project!
Keep your mind on safety and take each step carefully and you'll have a fun end product at very little cost.
It's a great way to have fun and get into the subject.