Food dehydrators are not the most common of kitchen items. If you have one, you’re probably pretty addicted to it, and if you’re thinking about starting out, you’ve arrived at the right place. Some of the best food dehydrators are relatively affordable and also make the perfect gift. From large capacity to the compact and convenient, we’ll also look at the best dehydrator for herbs and flowers, as well as the best jerky maker.
Benefits of Food Dehydrators
- Cut down on food waste, and dehydrated food is easy to store.
- Replace store bought jerky, or dried fruit with your own cheaper, seasonal, additive free alternatives.
- Save money on snacks for school or work lunches, day excursions, camping trips and pet treats.
- Add variety to vegan and raw food diets.
- Dry and save garden herbs and flowers, or even make granola.
Different Types of Food Dehydrators
There are three different designs you can choose from, and each has its pros and cons.
- Stack tray type with motor at the bottom
- Stack tray type with motor at the top
- Horizontal oven type with motor at the back
1. Stack Tray Type With Motor at The Bottom
Food dehydrators with the power unit at the bottom are generally more efficient because hot air naturally rises. The main disadvantage is drippings, especially from jerky, that can get into the unit and it can be a hassle to clean. There are ways around this such as putting a fruit-roll or puree sheet on the bottom tray.
2. Stack Tray Type With Motor at The Top
With the top motor units, hot air is forced downward, and they are slightly less efficient than units with a bottom motor.However, they are much easier to clean and maintain, most people prefer this, so many of the top selling machines now have the motor on the top.
3. Horizontal Oven Type With a Motor at The Back
These food dehydrators look like small convection ovens, with the power unit and fan located at the back, creating a horizontal airflow across the trays. These have a fixed capacity, but a more adaptable space. You can take out trays and make room batches of granola, yogurt culturing, or dough proofing. Although they take up more space, they tend to be quieter than the stack tray models.
How To Choose a Food Dehydrator
- Time and Efficiency
- Temperature Control
- Price Range
The typical round, stack tray dehydrator averages between 13 to 15 inches in diameter. Square or rectangular stack tray models tend to vary between 10 to 15 inches in length or width. These are slightly less effective than the round type, but are more ergonomic with space. Horizontal oven type models vary more in dimension, but rarely exceed 19 inches in width or depth.
Food dehydrators have a fairly audible background noise and require lengthy running times.More powerful motors aren’t necessarily noisier because noise depends more on the quality of the motor and fan design.
It’s nice if you can operate your dehydrator in a closed room like a laundry room, or a basement. On average, you’re dealing with the continuous humming sound of a small fan, or sometimes a little louder.
Cleaning can be a chore so you need to make sure that tray sizes match up to your dishwasher or sink. Manufacturers will usually mention if trays are dishwasher friendly, but as a rule, you should not put them through high-temperature dry cycles as this may deform the plastic trays.
4. Time and Efficiency
All manufacturers like to claim that tray rotation is not necessary. The reality is that few models accomplish perfectly even drying, so a little rotating brings better results.
In general, trays nearer the heating unit will dry a little faster despite the heat distribution technology used. There are also trade-offs in terms of time and efficiency as you cram more food on trays, or the number of trays you stack. It’s always best to stack thicker, or longer drying foods nearer the motor heating unit.
5. Temperature and Time Control
Most dehydrators will have a maximum thermostat range of up to 165 °F. This is quite sufficient for killing off bacteria and pathogens with meats. The more basic models will often have one preset temperature between 160 °F to 165 °F—the recommendedtemperature range to kill pathogens in meat.
Mid-range models generally have a fixed selection of adjustable temperatures using a knob dial. Slightly higher priced models have digital controls for incrementaltemperature adjustment, as well as a timer with automatic shutoff.
6. Price Range
Fortunately, even an average food dehydrator is quite affordable and excellent value for money. For the popular stackable tray types, you’re looking at around $50, with bargains taking you even lower. Models that cost less than $40 will rarely offer any good value or satisfactory performance.
Top performing models with extras like incremental temperature adjustment anda timer, will range from above $50 to over $100. The larger horizontal, oven-like dehydrators are much more affordable these days and can range from anywhere between $80 to over $300.
Additional Parts for Food Dehydrators:
Food dehydrators have a few additional parts that sometimes come with the machine, and sometimes don’t. Depending on what you want to dry, you may also need to purchase additional items on top ofthose included.
Clean-A-Screens prevents foods from sticking to the drying surface. They are flexible so can be curled to peel off foods. You may need these for small foods like herbs and spices. You can also buy silicone sheets made by various third party suppliers. Fruit Sheets are solid trays for drying out purees and making fruit rolls.
Dehydrators and Food Safety
Food dehydration is perfectly safe if it’s done in a contained environment rather than outdoors. Moulds, yeasts and bacteria require water to live, so if you extract enough moisture out your food, and tightly seal or vacuum the produce afterwards, there’s nothing to worry about. When dehydrating meats, you must be extra sure to follow the guidelines for temperate, time and storage precisely.
Reviews of The Best Food Dehydrators in 2021:
1. Nesco Gardenmaster Dehydrator– Best to Buy 2021
The Nesco Gardenmaster has the performance and flexibility you should expect from a good food dehydrator. It can stack 20 trays and has an incremental temperature range. It dries as well as you could expect, and is not too noisy.
Adjustable digital settings
Temperature guides on the lid
48 adjustable timer
Trays BPA free
Only 4 trays
Over 8 trays requires rotation
The Nesco uses an air flow system that pushes air horizontally across each tray and into the center chamber. This helps deliver faster drying times, but a typical user observation is that drying consistency is compromisedafter 8 trays.
The 1000 watt motor is about as powerful as you will get, but stetching it to 20 trays is probably not what most people will need to do. The quality of the motor shines more through its moderate to low noise level, which most users are quite happy with.
The temperature can be adjusted in 1 °F increments from 90to 160 °F. People report that it maintains a consistent high temperature for jerky meats, as long as you don’t stack more than eight trays.One convenient feature that all Nesco models have is an easy temperature guide on the top.
Although an all-round good machine for whatever you want to dehydrate, it doesn’t quite manage consistently good quality without rotation after eight trays. Additionally, it only comes with only four trays, which is the bare minimum, so you may have to spend extra.However, the trays are certified BPA free.Check Latest Price on Amazon
2. Presto 06301 Food Dehydrator– Best Food Dehydrator for Beginners
The Presto 06301 has the best of everything for a newbie. Stylish and reasonably priced, it comes with not four, but six trays. There’s a timer which will automatically shut the machine down to prevent over dying, and its nesting trays are super easy to store away.
Fully adjustable settings
Timer with automatic shutdown
Easy nesting storage
Great for herbs and flowers
A little noisy
Not the best for jerky
The incremental temperature control, 90 ℉ to 165 ℉ by 1°F increments, and the 48 hour programmable timer, makes this machine a good choice for delicate herbs, flowers and specialized drying operations. It performs well with all other dryables, and the trays are dishwasher safe.
Other extras included are two fruit roll sheets for drying out purees, two non-stick mesh screens for drying herbs, a jerky starter kit, and a comprehensive guide.
A lot of people found this food dehydrator to be little louder than anticipated, but the noise level is comparatively middle of the road. With the motor and fan on the bottom, you have to be careful of jerky drippings or other liquids, but you can put the fruit roll sheets on the bottom to collect juices.Check Latest Price on Amazon
3. Nesco Snackmaster Pro– Best Affordable Value Food Dehydrator
The Snackmaster Pro is the little sister of out top pick the Gardenmaster. Its performance is the same, but it is more basic with limited temperature control and no timer, but it’s more affordable.
Easy to clean
No timer or automatic switch-off
Trays are a little flimsy
Compared to our top pick the Nesco Gardenmaster, the thermostat of this model is adjustable, but within a selected range using a knob dial.Another difference is that it comes with five trays and not four, which is a real plus, and you can stack up to 12 trays. There is, however, no timer or automatic shutdown.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The top motor unit makes it a good choice for jerky, but people find it’s better to stick to five trays, rather than going higher, because the jerky comes out better with more intense heat and faster drying. Average thickness jerky can be done in 4 hours, which is a pretty good standard. The package also includes three original jerky spice and cure packs, two clean-A-screens, and two fruit roll screens.
A disadvantage of this price point trays is that the trays are not the strongest, so you should soak them, and take them out the dishwasher before the heat-intensive dry cycle.Check Latest Price on Amazon
4. Nesco FD-28JX Jerky Xpress– Best Jerky Maker
Although a food dehydrator with limited programmability, this niche jerky maker does what it claims to do at a very affordable price. This dedicated Jerky Express comes with a jerky gun, cure packs and the instructions are easy to follow for first timers. It’s great for gift giving too.
Simple to use
Makes good jerky
Perfect for gifting
Great money saver
A little noisy
No temperature control
If you intend to make a lot of jerky, then a top-down, fan-driven powerhead is better because fat drippings won’t get into the unit area. Although noiser compared to other Nesco dehydrators, this small 350 watt motor accomplishes a lot with less power consumption.
It only comes with four trays, but can be expanded up to seven.With 7 trays you get over seven square feet of drying space, which makes up to seven pounds. Thinly sliced meat takes 3-4 hours while thicker slices take 5-6 hours. The temperature is factory set at 160 °F, which is common with the lower priced models, and the recommended safe temperature for jerky making.
Although sold as a dedicated jerky maker, it can be used for other foods too. If you need to expand its versatility, solid fruit roll sheets and clean-A-screens can be bought separately for a small additional cost.
This jerky maker doesn’t have a timer or automatic switch-off, so you have to be around to check on things. If you’re a light sleeper, you can get a batch done overnight. Some users report that a little rotation is better for maximum results. The solution is often to have thicker meats near the top and thinner near the bottom.Check Latest Price on Amazon
5. Hamilton Beach Food Dehydrator– Best Compact Design Food Dehydrator
The Hamilton Beach is a good pick for more crowded kitchens, or places with limited space. For its price tag and size, it has some additional extras like a digital thermostat adjustment and a 48 hour timer.
Easy to clean
Longer drying times
A little noisy
This compact food dehydrator looks like a large lunch box and measures 13 inches wide and 10.5 inches deep. It has a fixed capacity of five trays and you have to operate the machine as such, even if you don’t stack all the trays.It’s very easy to clean, and an easy fit for any sink or dishwasher.
The incremental thermostat ranges from 100 ℉ to 160 ℉, so it’s not ideal for more delicate types of flowers (which require 95℉ or less). With other driables its performance is not top class, but good enough. It only comes with one mess sheet and one fruit roll tray, but you can buy more or additional screens on their homepage.Check Latest Price on Amazon
6. Nesco Square-Shaped Food Dehydrator– Best Angular Design Food Dehydrator
Square food dehydrators are slightly less effective, but some people prefer them because they fit corner spaces more easily. The internal space can be used more efficiently and as long as you don’t put thicker items in the corners, they do okay.
Easy to clean
Good jerky maker
Good for herbs and spices
No on/off switch
Nesco is usually the best choice for food dehydrators because they perform well, and this square shaped models is no different. This model is also quite popular as a jerky maker. It has an above average 700 watt top motor, and it comes with a jerky starter kit.
Measruing 14 inches across and 14 inches deep, it’s a little smaller than most round shaped models, but it fits a lot inside and it can take an additional four trays and stack to eight levels high. Unfortunately there is no timer, and it doesn’t come with a fruit sheet or clean-A-screens, but these can be purchased separately.
The thermostat is fixed to a knob control ranging from 95 °F to 160 °F and like all Nesco’s, there’s a convenient temperature guide on the lid. Most people find tray washing to be much less of a chore than the round shaped models.Check Latest Price on Amazon
7. Magic Mill Food Dehydrator - Best Oven Type Dehydrator
If you want to dry out larger batches ofproduce, or prefer a more adjustable, versatile space, a horizontal oven-type food dehydrator is the way to go.Magic Mill has a nice range of machines, and their 6 tray model with a clear door is the most popular.
Adjustable thermostat and timer
Clear detachable door
Makes yogurt and proofs dough
Fixed temperature selections
Drying times a little slow
A key feature of this machine many people like is the clear door, which is easily removable for packing and unpacking trays. All plastic parts of this machine, including the door, are BPA free. The tray size is a standard 13 inches by 12 inches, so it is quite easy to buy replacements if you need them. This model has metal trays and they are also dishwasher safe.
The Magic Mill gives you the choice of increasing the temperature from 95 °F by 9 °F increments up to 158 °F. The guide recommends 95 °F for herbs, flowers and dough proofing, 114 °F for making yoghurt and other ranges for different types of foods.
For most people, the thermostat range is sufficient, but if you need a more specialized range, then high-end stackable food dehydrators will give you that. The timer is adjustable by 30 min increments up to 19.5 hours, and the machine will automatically shut down after the set time is up. You can also adjust time and temperature midway if you need to do so.
The majority of users are very happy with this food dehydrator, but some found thatdrying operations took longer than the suggested time. The machine is also very quiet and doesn’tget very hot, so it’s fine on the counter top. The package comes with two fine mesh trays, two non stick trays and a set of oven mitts.Check Latest Price on Amazon
Top-rated Best Food Dehydrators Comparition Chart
|Nesco FD-1040 |
|15.5 x 15.5 x 9.5||4 to 20||Digital increments||Yes||1000W
|Presto 06301 Digital Dehydro||14.5 x 15 |
|6 to 12||Digital increments||Yes||750W
|13 x 13|
|5 to 12||Knob presets||No||600W
|14 x 14|
|4 to 7||Fixed |
|Hamilton Beach 32100A||13 x 10.5 |
|Nesco FD-80A Square||15.2 x 15.6 x 10.2||4 to 8||Knob presets||No||700W
|Magic Mill 6-Tray||15 x 13.5 x 19||6||Digital 9 °F increments||Yes||480W Rear|
The best food dehydrators in 2021 range from affordable models with limited programmability, to more advanced models with incremental temperature and timer controls. If you have any experience with these food dehydrators, have something to add, or want to ask a question, please use the comment feature below. We are always here for you.
A writer and entrepreneur, Luna’s day doesn’t start at the computer keyboard, but in the kitchen.
Half of her working hours are spent on mixing ingredients for her recipes. The other half involve working with the tech team to research and test the tools and appliances that promise to make kitchen work effortless and mess-free. From a kitchen knife or water filter to the Instant Pot, if it can help save time and effort for the home cook, Luna and her team are on it.
Luna’s extracurricular pastimes include camping, travel, and photography.