Food dehydrators are not the most common appliances in kitchens, but they have a lot to offer, especially for the health and budget conscious cooks. Food dehydrators dry out food while allowing the nutrients to remain.
Whether you’re interested in making some delicious homemade jerky, crackers, or want to attempt something even more ambitious; I’m confident I’ve reviewed the best food dehydrators on the market today here in this article.
Let’s get started!
How Do Dehydrators Work?
Food dehydrators use a fan and low heat to circulate warm air over the food, causing the water in the food to evaporate. The dehydrating process removes about 75% of the moisture in food.
Once the food is dehydrated, it won’t spoil as quickly and is less susceptible to many types of bacteria.
What are the Benefits of Using a Dehydrator?
In my opinion, the greatest benefit is that you can dehydrate all sorts of foods from fruits and vegetables to meats. There are hundreds of yummy recipes to make veggie chips, jerky, fruit roll-ups, and other delicious foods.
The opportunities to explore and experiment are essentially endless.
Dehydrators dry out food at low temperatures to keep the nutrients inside. During the dehydration process, food retains nutrients like vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and fiber, especially in fruits and vegetables.
Dehydrated foods can serve as a healthy addition to several diets.
Another benefit of using a food dehydrator is that you can preserve fresh fruits and veggies longer. If you have a garden or are part of a produce coop (or you like to purchase fruits and vegetables while they are in season) a food dehydrator is a great way to preserve produce before it goes bad.
Dehydrators are cost-effective, too.
If you enjoy snacking on dried fruits or veggie chips, you know how expensive these healthy snacks can be! You can make these delicious snacks at home for a fraction of the cost—and you will know precisely what is in them!
What Kinds of Things Can You Make in a Food Dehydrator?
It’s surprising how many things you can make in a dehydrator, from fruit rollups to yogurt!
Do you like to drink herbal teas? With a dehydrator, you can make your own delicious teas with fresh herbs from your garden or a local market.
If you enjoy camping or backpacking, a dehydrator is an excellent investment. Those freeze-dried meals you buy in the stores are expensive and packed with sodium. Use your dehydrator to make your own healthy, lightweight backpacking meals. That way you can enjoy your favorite soup, stew, or other recipes out on the trail.
Do you ever need fire starters for camping or your fireplace?
Dried orange peels make excellent fire starters! The oils in the peel burn long enough to help the surrounding tinder catch fire, and they smell good, too!
Speaking of smelling wonderful, you can also make your own potpourri with a dehydrator. There are many recipes for simple potpourri and even essential oil-infused potpourri. You won’t have to wonder what chemicals are in your air fresheners when you make your own naturally!
Of course, we don’t want to leave Fido out of the fun! There are countless recipes on the Internet for dehydrated dog chews and puppy treats. They’ll love the great taste, and you’ll like how easy and cost-effective it is.
Types of Food Dehydrators
There are two main types of food dehydrators:
- Vertical flow
- Horizontal flow
Vertical Flow Food Dehydrators
Also referred to as “stackable dehydrators,” vertical flow dehydrators have the heat source and fan at the top or bottom of the dehydrator.
These are usually the most affordable types of dehydrators on the market.
Vertical flow dehydrators are small, making them easy to store, and they won’t take up too much counter space. Another benefit is that you can often buy more trays or shelves to add to the vertical flow dehydrators.
The disadvantage of vertical flow dehydrators is that they tend to spread heat unevenly through each tray of food, so some trays of food will dehydrate faster than others. These dehydrators work well on small batches of fruits and vegetables, but you will have a difficult time making things like jerky unless you are attentive enough to switch the trays throughout the drying process.
Horizontal Flow Food Dehydrators
Sometimes called shelf dehydrators, horizontal flow dehydrators work similarly to a conventional oven. You’ll find the heating source and fan located in the back, to distribute the heat evenly over all the food trays. Horizontal flow dehydrators are far more efficient than vertical flow dehydrators.
Horizontal flow dehydrators are more expensive, but they dehydrate more evenly and can dehydrate meats, making jerky, and other complex recipes. Once you start the dehydrator, there is no need to move trays around.
Other than the more expensive price point, the only disadvantage to a horizontal flow dehydrator is their larger size, which take up more counter space and can be challenging to store.
Things to Consider When Purchasing a Dehydrator
The main thing to consider is what you plan to do with your dehydrator. They aren’t particularly complex appliances, and most are very easy to use.
Here are a few things you may want to keep in mind.
Food dehydrators range in price from $30 to well over $300. High-end dehydrators can process large amounts of food and distribute heat accurately to dehydrate everything evenly.
On the other end of the price spectrum, basic food dehydrators require more involvement in the process and may present limitations on the recipe types you can cook, but they are generally effective.
Most first-time buyers lean toward dehydrators in the middle price range, between $50 and $200. For this price, you can find a good quality horizontal dehydrator that is easy to use and will handle most recipes. It might not have all the bells and whistles, but most people are perfectly happy.
Size and Overall Capacity
How much food do you plan to dehydrate at a time? If you are a prolific gardener with bushels of produce to dehydrate you should consider purchasing a dehydrator that can handle large batches of food (provided you have the space to store a big appliance).
But if your goal is to make the occasional batch of kale chips or puppy treats, then a small dehydrator will probably serve you well.
There are dozens of extra features built into some dehydrators that are nice to have.
A built-in thermostat allows you to adjust the temperature in the dehydrator for each recipe. Different food types dehydrate best at different temperatures. If you hope to dehydrate many types of food or recipes, a dehydrator with an adjustable thermostat may be a good choice.
An auto-shutoff feature is very convenient since the dehydrating process takes hours and hours, depending on the recipe. With an auto-shutoff, you won’t have to stay home to babysit the dehydrator as it works its magic.
You can start the dehydrator before you go to bed or as you head out the door and the auto-shutoff will make sure everything powers down when the timer goes off.
Noise is another thing to consider. Most dehydrators have a fan to distribute the heat. The overall noise level varies from one model to the next, and most dehydrators don’t list the decibel rating. If noise is a concern for you, find a dehydrator that has a good reputation for running quietly.
Top 5 Food Dehydrators
We reviewed dozens of dehydrators, and while there are many excellent models on the market, here are five that we believe stand out from the rest.
The Presto is a nifty little vertical flow dehydrator with a few extra bells and whistles. It comes with six trays, two nonstick mesh screen trays, and two fruit roll-up sheets. All the trays and sheets are BPA-free and dishwasher safe.
The six trays give you about 6 square feet of drying space. For reference, you can fit about 6 pounds of strawberries or 2 bunches of kale in that amount of space.
If that’s not enough drying space for you, one of the benefits of this vertical flow dehydrator is you can purchase more trays. The Presto can handle up to 12 trays of food at a time.
This little dehydrator has a wide temperature range and one of the lowest temperature settings, giving you excellent flexibility to try all kinds of recipes.
The Presto has a digital thermostat and timer and an auto shut-off! The digital control panel lets you customize all the settings, and the timer allows you to run the dehydrator overnight or while you are at work.
The transparent cover makes it easy to keep an eye on the dehydrating process (though you’ll only be able to see the top shelf).
Even though Presto says you won’t have to rotate the trays, you will probably find that the top trays take longer to dehydrate than the bottom trays. This is typical of vertical flow dehydrators.
- Digital timer and thermostat
- Auto shutoff
- You can purchase more trays
- Easy to clean and dishwasher safe trays
- Wide temperature range
- Power cord stores in the base and trays nest inside each other for easier storage
- One-year limited warranty
- Bulky size takes up a lot of space
- Food on top trays takes longer to dehydrate
- Noisy fan may be an issue for some users
The NESCO Snackmaster is a vertical flow dehydrator with a unique “Converge-Flow” drying system with a top-mounted fan that forces air down through the exterior walls and across each tray.
This “Converge-Flow” system allows you to dehydrate food quickly and more evenly. Because the airflow is better than many other vertical flow dehydrators, you probably won’t have to rotate the trays as often, if at all.
Because the fan is at the top instead of the bottom, you don’t have to worry about dripping food making a mess.
The Snackmaster comes with 5 BPA-free trays, but you can purchase additional trays. It easily expands to up to 12 trays at a time. There are two solid sheets, two mesh sheets, three jerky flavor packets, and a recipe book to get you started.
The exterior is opaque and designed to block harmful UV rays and retain more vitamins and nutrients during the drying process.
It has an adjustable thermostat with a range of 95 degrees to 160 degrees F.
There is no digital display, timer, or fancy settings; just a dial to set the temperature. One solution is to plug it into a light timer if you want an auto shut-off feature. There is also no On / Off switch, just plug it in, and it starts right up.
- Great budget-friendly dehydrator
- Easy to clean
- Very simple to use with no digital settings
- Dries surprisingly evenly
- Expandable to 12 trays
- The fan is quieter than many others
- No On/Off switch
- No timer
- Trays are dishwasher safe but don’t tolerate the dishwasher well
This multi-tier vertical flow food dehydrator is a great budget-friendly choice for anyone wanting to occasionally dehydrate fruits, veggies, herbs, and simple recipes.
It has a maximum temperature of 180 degrees F., allowing you to dehydrate a wide variety of foods. While NutriChef advertises, you can make jerky; food safety sites publish warnings about using simple dehydrators for meats. Be sure to do your research carefully if you would like to venture into dehydrating meat.
This dehydrator operates with just one button and the temperature dial. Simply turn it on, set the temperature, and wait. There is no timer or auto shut-off feature.
Five removable trays come with this dehydrator, but you can purchase more for larger batches.
However, the more trays you add, the more likely you’ll need to rotate the trays for even cooking.
- Good temperature control up to 180 degrees F.
- Simple to use
- Removable trays are easy to clean
- Purchase more trays to expand cooking capacity
- Great for occasional dehydrating and simple recipes
- Dehydrate meat with caution
- It does not have a lot of tray space for large quantities of food
- No auto shut-off or timer
One person described this dehydrator to me as “the Cadillac of home food dehydrators.” If you plan to dehydrate often and cook many different recipes, this dehydrator will do it all.
The Excalibur has 9 BPA-free drying trays that give you 15 square feet of drying space—more than most stackable dehydrator models. That means you can dehydrate large quantities of food. However, it is a large dehydrator and takes up a fair amount of counter space.
This model is a horizontal flow dehydrator, so the fan is located in the back of the unit. Heat circulates evenly over each tray throughout the entire drying process. You won’t need to rotate trays up or down. However, you might find that some foods will dry faster at the back of the tray near the fan. If that happens, rotate the trays halfway through the dehydration process.
Cleaning this dehydrator is very easy. Remove all the trays and wash them or put them in the dishwasher then wipe down the bottom of the Excalibur. There is no fan or engine at the bottom to make this difficult.
There are only two dials on the control panel. One sets the temperature, and the other sets the timer. The timer also serves as the On / Off switch. When the time is up, the dehydrator shuts off.
- Large capacity
- Easy to use and clean
- Simple controls with timer and On / Off switch
- Mesh drying tray covers are easy to remove, flexible, and dishwasher safe
- 10-year warranty
- The 7-inch fan is loud
- Solid sheets for liquid foods are sold separately
- The unit sometimes vibrates from the fan
The Gourmia may be newer to the dehydrator market, but it’s delivering a high-quality dehydrator for a great price. This model comes with nine drying trays that give you about 9 square feet of drying area.
The trays are clear, hard plastic and do not come with mesh inserts like many dehydrators. It comes with just one “protective food sheet” for dehydrating small pieces of food, but you can’t purchase more, at least not currently.
It has an easy to read LCD digital display with a countdown timer. The thermostat is adjustable from 95 degrees to 158 degrees F.
If you plan to make jerky, the USDA recommends heating the meat to at least 160 degrees F. to kill any bacteria. The included recipe book recommends putting your jerky in the oven at 250 degrees F. for 10 minutes after it is dehydrated to compensate for not being able to dehydrate at higher temperatures.
That said, if you plan to perfect your jerky recipe, the Gourmia might not be the dehydrator for you.
The front cover is clear so you can monitor the drying process in all the trays, unlike stackable dehydrators, where you can only see the top shelf.
- Digital timer and thermostat and auto shut-off
- Easy to read LCD
- Easy to clean removable drip tray
- Nine removable BPA-free trays
- Excellent air flow throughout the dehydrator
- Surprisingly quiet fan
- Highest temperature only 158 degrees F.
- Unusual preset temperature settings
- Replacement trays and sheets not currently available
While all of the dehydrators have their benefits, our top pick for the best overall dehydrator is the NESCO FD-75A Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator. It has all the necessary features in a home dehydrator at a budget-friendly price.
One of the biggest perks of the NESCO Snackmaster is that it is surprisingly good at circulating heat for a vertical flow dehydrator so, you get some of the benefits of a horizontal flow dehydrator with the compact size of a vertical flow dehydrator. It has a wide temperature range that allows you to make many recipes, and it’s easy to use.