Table of Contents
A food dehydrator is an excellent household appliance that gives you the capabilities to dry and store your own food, and enjoy tasty snacks and cooking options that were previously unavailable.
This food dehydrator buying guide will walk you through the factors to consider when buying one, and also the major models on the market that are worth your money.
You will learn about the benefits of a food dryer and the different types of food dehydrators. Our comparison table will give you an overview of the best food dehydrators on the market and at then end of this guide you will find full descriptions and reviews of each product.
Comparison Table of the Most Popular Food Dehydrators of 2017
|Image||Name||Air Flow||Temp Range (F)||Trays||Wattage||Reviews||Price Range|
|Excalibur 3926TB||Horizontal patented systems||105-165||9-15||600||4.6 out of 5 stars1145 reviews||$258.99 - $264.94|
|Nesco Snackmaster Pro FD-75A||Vertical and horizontal 'Converga-flow' system||95-160||5-12||600||4.5 out of 5 stars2457 reviews||$59.88 - $89.00|
|Presto 06300 Dehydro Electric||Vertical with bottom-mounted fan||135-145||4-8||600||4.4 out of 5 stars1019 reviews||$32.42 - $35.99|
|Nesco Gardenmaster FD-1040||Converga-flow system||90-160||4-20||1000||4.6 out of 5 stars502 reviews||$96.95 - $122.30|
|STX International Dehydra STX-DEH-1200W-XLS||1200||4.4 out of 5 stars76 reviews||$329.80|
|Excalibur 3926TB||4.6 out of 5 stars1145 reviews|
|Nesco Snackmaster Pro FD-75A||4.5 out of 5 stars2457 reviews|
|Presto 06300 Dehydro Electric||4.4 out of 5 stars1019 reviews|
|Nesco Gardenmaster FD-1040||4.6 out of 5 stars502 reviews|
|STX International Dehydra STX-DEH-1200W-XLS||4.4 out of 5 stars76 reviews|
What Is A Food Dehydrator and How Does It Work?
A food dehydrator contains several stacked trays that can hold different foods. With them, you can dry out vegetables, fruits, seeds, herbs, fish, and meat.
The relatively small appliances use heating elements to gently circulate warm air throughout, to reduce the level of moisture in food.Moisture content in food generally accounts for around 50-90% of its weight.
This moisture gives life, but in this context it creates bacteria. With a lot of the water removed, food becomes safe for long term storage – for several months or even for several years.
To use a food dehydrator, all you have to do is cut the food that you want to dry, and stack the shelves with it. You will get a feel for how thick to cut each item of food in order to get an even dehydration throughout. Once prepared, you simply place the trays in the dehydrator, turn it on, and await results
Types Of Food Dehydrator
There are basically two types of food dehydrator; the stacked version, and the box and shelf.
Stacked food dehydrators
Stacked food dehydrators include several racks, with each containing a tray to hold food. The stacks are placed one on top of the other, and can be sealed to keep in the heat. They usually contain no outer shelf, and the fan is located at the bottom with a vertical heat circulation.
Stacked dehydrators use less energy, and the size varies according to the volume of food you are dehydrating. The main drawback is that food which sits closer to the heating element (i.e. on the bottom shelf), tends to dry faster. You will therefore have to shuffle the racks around regularly to get an even effect.
Box & Shelf food dehydrators
These types of food dehydrator contain an outer shell, with inner shelves and trays. They function more like electric ovens, and the fan is located at the back of the box to blow hot air through the food on the shelves.
The box and shelf units offer better insulation, and a more even dehydrating process throughout all shelves. The main drawback is that they tend to be bulkier and more expensive.
Benefits Of A Food Dehydrator
Food dehydrators offer many benefits to your everyday life. They give you the capability to dehydrate food for a number of purposes, without resorting to using your oven – which can overheat foods, trap in moisture, and generally are not as efficient. The main benefits are:
- Food dehydrators dry out food using much less energy and space than an oven
- You can preserve foods without the need for additives and preservatives
- Gardeners can easily store excess foods that they have grown
- Food can be safely stored, and enjoyed many months later
- The process is much easier than canning food for storage
- Hikers, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy healthy and nutritious snacks, without carrying lots of weight and using lots of space
- You can eat out of season foods – for example, enjoy summer fruits in the winter. Great for kids, and for anyone who wants to eat healthily
- Opens up cooking options... make your own beef jerky and dried meat snacks, or use your dried seasonal vegetables to make a nice stew
Check out this video which explains in more detail what the benefits are and which food to dehydrate:
Factors To Consider When Buying
The world of food dehydrators is not so complex, and there isn't too much difference between many of the high quality models that we discuss here.
However, as with any purchase there are a number of factors to consider when making your choice. You want to find the right dehydrator for you, and one that suits your lifestyle and your needs. Food dehydrators are available in a range of different sizes and shapes, and some have special features that can be attractive.
Size & Capacity
One importance decision, is to decide on the size and capacity of the food dehydrator that you will need. Some dehydrators come with a limited number of trays, as little as five. This might be perfect if you only use them to dry a small amount of food, but most people will want to broaden their capabilities with a 12-20 tray model.
Stackable dehydrators offer scalability, and can be reduced to the size of a large lunchbox if you are only using a few racks. You can add more and scale up vertically, without taking up more space in your kitchen. A box and shelf model takes up whatever space it takes up, and they are usually bulkier.
Your choice may often depend on the amount of space you want your dehydrator to take up in your kitchen, but this must also be balanced by the amount of food you will want to dry on a regular basis.
The power of your dehydrator effects the temperature and drying speed of your device. You can find units with as little power as 125 watts, and as high as 1000 watts. More powerful dehydrators tend to be more effective and desirable, but also more expensive. The size often correlates to the power, with larger units requiring more power to be effective. Ideally, you should aim to buy one with over 500 watts of power.
There are two main ways in which food dehydrators distribute heat. Both use heating elements, but the placement of these can vary across units.
Stacked dehydrators tend to use vertical heat from fans that are usually placed at the bottom of the unit. This can give a quicker drying time, but an uneven heat distribution. If the fan is on the bottom, food can drip and this can cause other foods to adopt unusual flavors. You don't want your pears tasting like onions!
Box and shelf models are more likely to have fans located on the sides, which give a horizontal heat distribution. This prevents dripping and the blending of flavors, and also gives a more even distribution that no shelf shifting, though the food generally takes longer to dry out.
There are a few extra features available that can really seal the deal when it comes to your preferred food dehydrator:
- Timer – While not essential, the timer function makes dehydration pretty much effortless. If you leave food drying for too long, it can become over-dried and even burnt. The timer negates this risk. It also allows you to dry food overnight or while you are out of the house, and to continue your busy day.
- Thermostat – A built-in thermostat gives you more control over your cooking process, allowing you to adjust the temperature depending on the food you are drying. For example, meat can be dried much quicker. This also means you can decide how dry and crisp you want your dehydrated foods.
- Interior Lighting – A simple but useful feature is interior lighting. It allows you to see how dry your food is, without removing the trays and loosing heat.
As with all household appliance purchases, the other factors will be considered alongside your budget. Is it worth spending those extra pennies to get a larger dehydrator? Are you willing to fork out a little more cash for those extra features?
Stacked dehydrators come much cheaper than box and shelf types. They tend to retail for below $100, and come as low as less than $50. The box and shelf models usually cost somewhere in the range of $200-350, and are a much more serious purchase, but the extra space, reliable heating distribution, and features tend to make them stand out as a valuable choice.
Food Dehydrator Reviews
Here you can find full details of the food dehydrators from the comparison chart above.
The Excalibur is widely regarded as the best food dehydrator on the market. The quality of the unit is unmatched, and it is full of features that make it a complete and wholesome choice for anyone serious about drying their veg. It has a huge 15 sq feet of drying space set over 9 large trays, expandable to 15, making it suitable for large families and avid gardeners.
The Excalibur 3926TB has a modest motor that runs at 600 watts, but the fanning system itself is where it excels. It combines 'Parallex Horizontal Airflow' with 'Hyperwave Fluctuation Technology'. In plain language, this means that cold air is sucked in, heated up, and then can escape the unit with the moisture.
The Excalibur is extremely effective, and usually takes around 3 hours to dry fruit and veg, which it does really evenly using a 7” rear-mounted fan. In terms of features, the model comes with polyscreen trays, which prevent food from sticking. It also has a thermostat for temperature control, and a 26 hour timer for absolute convenience.
The main drawback of the Excalibur 3926TB is that it is bulky, weighing 22 pounds and occupying quite a bit of kitchen space. The large trays do not fit in a conventional dishwasher, and must be washed by hand. It is also not the cheapest model in the list, at over $250, but then you get what you pay for. The Excalibur really is a quality food dehydrator!
Nesco Snackmaster Pro FD-75A
A bestseller on Amazon, the Nesco Snackmaster has a very good rating with a lot of reviews. There is good reason for its popularity. The first is the price. The Snackmaster retails for less than $60, making it a bargain for anyone who wants a highly effective dehydrator. It may not have all of the features of a premium model, but it does a great job of drying fruits and veg in under 12 hours.
The Snackmaster utilizes a patented Converga-flow system, which creates horizontal and vertical airflow with a top-mounted fan. It has 600 watts of power, enough to reach temperatures of 95-160 Fahrenheit, and an adjustable thermostat for more control.
This model is compact, and won't take up much counter space. It comes with 5 trays, and includes two screens for sticky foods and two fruit roll sheets. If you need to expand it, you can purchase extra trays, and up to 12 can be used at a time. The Vita-Save exterior casing helps to retain nutrients and vitamins when drying.
It may seem a little bit gimmicky, but the Snackmaster also comes with a useful 52 page recipe book to help you make the most of food dehydration. It also comes with jerky seasoning!
The main drawbacks of the Snackmaster food dehydrator, is that it lacks an on/off switch. Users have to resort to plugging and unplugging the machine. The trays are also not dishwasher friendly. However, for the price it is a really great all-round dehydrator that is suitable for most users.
Presto 06300 Dehydro Electric
The Presto has 600 watts of power for its bottom-mounted fan, which gives an effective vertical airflow for quick dehydration, especially for the bottom shelf items. This is also its biggest drawback; the top shelves may dry slower, and trays need to be rotated to achieve an even dehydration. The top shelf is transparent, so you can easily check the progress of your veggies.
The Presto also lacks a timer and adjustable thermostat, features that are most often reserved for higher-end models. This can be problematic for dehydration of meats and jerky, which require higher temperatures. The temperature range of the Presto Dehydro is 135-145 Fahrenheit, which is plenty, but the lack of control may put some people off the purchase.
Despite this, the Presto excels as a basic model, and will suffice for most home users. It is compact, it works well, and it costs less than $40. It also comes with clear instructions and a handy recipe book. Anyone who wants to enter the world of dehydrated food, will find the Presto a great starter dehydrator.
Nesco Gardenmaster FD-1040
We could choose many Nesco brand dehydrators for our top rated products, but the Gardenmaster makes our favorites list as an excellent mid-ranged option that is refined, full of features, and reasonably priced at less than $100.
The Gardenmaster boasts 1000 watts of power, which is useful if you want to expand the number of trays while still obtaining decent dehydration times of just 4-6 hours for most fruits and veggies. You get four trays as standard, but you can use up to 20 trays at a time, and we recommend buying at least a few extra to expand the capacity.
For effective heating and air circulation, the Gardenmaster utilizes the patented Coverga-flow air flow, which uses a top-mounted fan to push air vertically, and then horizontally across each tray. You don't need to sway the trays around at all, as the heat distribution is very even. The 2400RPM motor further speeds up the process.
In terms of features, the Presco FD-1040 Gardenmaster has a programmable digital timer, so you can just set the food to dehydrate, and leave it be while you sleep or get on with your day. The adjustable thermostat gives temperature control from 90-160 Fahrenheit, while the Vita-save exterior blocks light and preserves nutrients in the food.
A few customers have complained about the noise that the model makes during dehydration, but this is a relatively small issue when you consider the power of the machine, as well as the value. The Gardenmaster is a great choice for those who want a powerful, effective, and feature full dehydrator, without paying for a top of the range model.
STX International Dehydra STX-DEH-1200W-XLS
The STX is not as popular as the less expensive models in this list, but that is because most people are looking for a beginner level model. For the serious food enthusiast or gardener, and those who want to dehydrate food regularly, the STX DEH is an excellent choice, and a sturdy and reliable option.
Made from 304 stainless steel, rather than the plastic that most models make, the STX will last for a long time to come, and has a 3 year warranty to prove it. It has 1200 watt of power, and a 95-155 Fahrenheit horizontal airflow, for effective and well distributed heat flow via a rear-mounted fan. It has 10 large metal trays, offering a very decent capacity.
In terms of features, the STX DEH offers a 12 hour shut-off timer, and adjustable thermostat. It doesn't offer anything sci-fi, but the price is reflective of the quantity of food it can dehydrate, as well as the overall quality and durability of the dehydrator.
We can highly recommend the STX to anyone who is looking for a high-grade model, and who is willing to pay the price.
Which brands should you be looking at?
There's a wide variety of different brands that fall between the two main categories of vertical and horizontal flow units.
As with any area of product you've got some companies that are well known for providing quality units and parts, always at a price!
It's good to keep in mind all the way through your buying decisions what you actually need.
We discussed already the range of extra bells and whistles that dehydrators can have.
These include details like variable temperatures, fancy timers and digital displays among others. Some of these are justifiable additions to a standard dehydrator but you can also fall into the trap of buying a shiny unit with a lot of extras that you just never use.
While we go over the details of these different units and our own recommendation it's on you to keep present in your mind what you are looking for. If you aren't sure just yet make sure you take a look at our article describing the (hyperlink) differences between a vertical and horizontal flow dehydrator.
Considerations of the kinds of items you want to dehydrate and the variety and volume you expect to need to put through your unit should also be at the front of your mind.
We also recommend taking a look at some of the many University published guides on dehydrating food such as this article provided by the University of Georgia.
With that out of the way let's get started and look at some units. These recommendations come from extensive reviews and a lot of reliable accounts of personal use and will cover both vertical and horizontal flow units.
Cabela's is a fantastic brand when it comes to dehydrators. The Cabela's Commercial Food Dehydrator is a serious unit backed by a well known company. You're looking at a high price tag for this unit but if you have serious need to dehydrate a wide range of products at a high volume then you can't go wrong with this item.
There's some key features we'll go over in bullet points to give you the scoop.
- Wheeled base – easy to relocated and shift around a busy kitchen
- Fifty six square feet of storage! A mammoth amount of tray space to let you have a wide range of items on the go
- Easy slide out trays – effortlessly take out and put in trays to keep your unit at maximum capacity all the time. It's a great consideration for something like a professional kitchen such as a gourmet restaurant
- 24 racks total – in addition to being easy to remove an impressive 24 racks means you can have a huge potential for varied products in the unit at a single time. This makes it unbeatable for experimentation. You can make small alterations to a single recipe and put them all in for processing at once, saving a huge amount of time as you work out the kinks on that perfect product
- All digital – thermostat, timer and digital controls. Perfect accuracy in controlling temperature
- Auto shut off – once your timer and temperature are registered as completed the unit will turn itself off. That's invaluable for keeping it efficient. Try filling a full tray and coming into the kitchen in the morning stress free with a full set of perfectly dried racks
- Interior lighting – it's easy to see all the way inside the unit in any lighting condition thanks to its interior lighting system. Small quality of life features like this really bring a product up and Cabela truly provide in this case
This is a serious piece of kit. If you're playing around and dipping a toe into the world of dehydrating this might not be for you. If you're a head chef in charge of a busy kitchen and you need a wide range of items processed fast then look no further.
The L’equip 528 Expandable Dehydrator is a very interesting unit with some novel technology behind it.
It comes in at a lower price range than the monstrous Cabela's and is very well suited for a family kitchen full of food enthusiasts.
One of the most interesting points about this is the airflow. It's actually a vertical flow unit with a twist. While the fan and heating element are located at the bottom of the unit there is a specific channel located right in the middle of the units base that directs the air evenly across all levels of the unit
That means it's a vertical flow piece that avoids the usual problems these dehydrators have. Neat.
Let's talk features.
- 500 watt gives a great range and maximum temperature. No transferring to an oven with this one.
- Six trays in total giving twelve square feet of tray space for your foodstuffs. We find this is a perfect amount for a family unit that will be using this regularly
- A ten year warranty! L'equip products are manufactured by L'Chef, a consistent brand and company with some great customer support. An extensive warranty like this is proof of confidence in their dehydrator
- A fantastic instructional manual that includes some great starter recipes and advice on drying items that are specific to the unit and its capabilities
As mentioned above this is a fantastic unit for a flat or family house. If you live with a handful of other foodies and you're itching to try out a range of recipes but on a smaller scale you'll be overjoyed with this unit.It's great construction quality with a fantastic warranty and a novel way of avoiding vertical flow pitfalls via that ingenious air channel. Fantastic.
We've gone over some units now that are a little on the pricey side. They're fantastic products if you need that size, power and the advanced features but what about the one person wanting to get into the scene without breaking the bank?
We've got you covered. Look no further than this recent offering by Presto. A great company with a very accessible product.
The Presto 06300 Dehydro Electric Food Dehydrator is a great small scale unit that offers a cheap way to get into the world of dehydrating food. Don't let the price tag fool you, this is a perfectly functioning and serviceable unit.
You do need to be realistic about capabilities though. This is right at the low end of the price range for units we are happy to recommend and that means less space and less features. Let's go over what this unit can do for you.
- Unquestionable value for money while still working well. We won't recommend products we aren't confident in. Presto's machine does the core job at a knockout price
- See through cover on the top makes it simple to view the progress of your drying
- Storage is simple – the cord winds up into the base and the trays nest together for more compact storage of the unit and its innards• Four drying trays that can be expanded up to eight
You won't be having any advanced features like digital timers and auto shut offs with this. You'll need to know the recipes you want to work with and time them yourself.
What you will get is a dehydrator that does the job and has a little room to expand the tray count. It's a fantastic place to get started.
Once you use this for a while and try some recipes you'll know well what you need more. It might be more tray space or some features like auto shut off to let you put items in and leave it while you go to work safe in the knowledge you won't overdo things.
The final decision is all yours to make. With this guide, we have given you several reliable options in a number of different price ranges, as well as introducing you to the main factors that you should consider before making your purchase.
The food dehydrator that you choose should reflect your needs. If you are just starting out, or you just want to dehydrate a few snacks every now and then, the Nesco and Presco models are perfect and inexpensive.
Anyone who is dehydrating a lot of food, or using the product regularly, should consider investing in the STX or Excalibur models, which offer a greater capacity, durability, and all the features you need.
Whichever food dehydrator you choose, we hope you enjoy your new capabilities and cooking options.