Your Essential Food Dehydrator Buying Guide

Your Essential Food Dehydrator Buying Guide

food dehydrator buying guideIf you’ve gotten as far as looking for a food dehydrator buying guide then you’ve already figured out at least some of the benefits and had a look at any drawbacks of a home food dehydrators, of which to be honest there are none I can think of including the low cost of a basic model.

I’m not going to try and convince you one way or the other on whether you should get a dehydrator.

With these you either need or want one to dry food with in which case they are hugely useful, but may not be a good gadget if you don’t cook much, don’t grow your own fruit and vegetables, or never buy in bulk to save money.

Apples, pears, apricots and plumbs dehydrate with awesome ease and provide delicious low calorie healthy snacks on demand, best of all once you’ve bought the tree the fruit is a free bounty every year with very little effort from you.

You don’t have to grow your own to benefit from a food dehydrator, but you do need to be a regular keen cook or this could easily be a one hit one summer wonder. For us, we needed a viable alternative to freezing for zucchinis and tomatoes, plus a back-up for onions, all of which froze solid into inedible missiles in the shed one year, then thawed and rotted.

The first one (from Westfalia) was the cheapest available and absolutely all we could afford at the time, but even that utterly basic model (on or off and three tiers only) was completely magic and saved a whole load of money in lovingly grown vegetables that wouldn’t have stored through winter.

Anyway, down to the business in hand today.

Choosing a  Food Dehydrator

The main difference in price are for the motor, drying capacity and extra features which home drying folks don’t need anyway. Really, there are just three things to consider here.

  • How much food you anticipate dehydrating (aka how big is your family)
  • The Motor
  • The Fan

The three points above are inextricably linked in that more expensive models have a larger and more powerful motor driving the fan which logically is also larger to cope with much more drying capacity per square foot of drying space.

One thing to consider in terms of size is how much and for how long you’ll use a home food dehydrator, as trying to dehydrate large quantities of vegetables over a long period of time may burn the motor out. To be fair mine never did that and was eventually given to a neighbor who still uses it today! Smaller machines do take correspondingly longer to dry food, which doesn’t matter unless you have a huge pile waiting.

cchoosing a food dehydratorThe picture here on the right shows apple slices in a food dehydrator with a 15ft drying area – now that’s a lot of drying space.

If you’re new to home food dehydrators and drying food but want to have a go, you might want to look at a budget model such as the Nesco outlined below. Really inexpensive, this will cater for a small family or limited amounts of produce easily.

However, if you cook a family meal every night for a family of four or more, or you grow your own vegetables and face the same headache every year trying not to waste a precious crop, the more powerful food dehydrators may offer faster performance and help you keep up.

None of the home food dehydrators are very big or intrusive, the bigger they get the louder the fan becomes, but modern ones are a lot quieter! There is one minor but regularly mentioned niggle with many cheap food dehydrators which is the lack of a timer, but I wouldn’t let it put me off – if you need a timer just get a timer plug and away you go – Simples!

Our first was very noisy, but that’s a long time ago and modern models are quiet, more of a background hum. You can use them in a utility or even the garage if the gentle fragrance they emit is a problem, personally I love the scent of herbs drying, but open the window for onions and garlic!

Storing Dehydrated Food

They are fairly economic to run, though I’d say the power bill may rise a little if you dry a lot, it get compensated for in the free food. One question I often get asked is about storing the dried food – how much room do you need to store it all in. Well compared to other preserving methods, very little is the honest answer.

Don’t forget, the liquid is being reduced and the size shrinks to about a third of the original volume. The best way to store dehydrated food is in zip-lock bags or plastic lock tight boxes – old fashioned candy jars look wonderful filled with your own preferred dried stew mix and it keeps well too. If you’d like to read the official word, then here’s what the National Center For Home Food Preservation has to say on food dehydrators.

So which models would I look at if buying right now? I asked cooking mad colleagues and friends what they use at home if anything and from that compiled the current best buy list.

Nesco American Harvest FD-37 400

Nesco FD-37AFor a budget buy, the Nesco American Harvest FD-37 400 Watt Food Dehydrator. Why? Well in the $35 dollars bracket it stands out for having the most positive reviews, so that’s where I’d start.

With only four drying trays, if I needed to go a bit bigger, then there are several others in the Nesco range, the Snackmaster Pro being another stand out.

Something to point out is fruit rolls and other drippy drying. With all the models featured here, for a few dollars you can add extra fruit roll sheets and swop out as needed.

Two colleagues have this model and have had one for years, are happy with what it does and find it adequate for their needs. It’s slow but sure and turns out perfectly dehydrated produce.

Nesco American Harvest FD-61WHC Snackmaster Pro

Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food DehydratorPopular with six colleagues, two other friends and my sister, the Snackmaster Pro is more expensive but appreciably larger in size and motor. I’ve used this on loan from my sister when zucchinis threatened to overcome us and I couldn’t dry kitchen garden produce fast enough.

Simple to load, operate and clean (essential!), if it were a bit bigger I’d buy this and be happy with it.

It has a massive 1600 plus reviews which are mostly very positive and enough to convince others to buy it – and they are all very happy with the bang they got and still get, for their bucks.

With five trays which don’t need rotating, you can pack a lot into the Snackmaster Pro each time you use it and for the average family, chances are this model is both large enough and powerful enough to take care of your needs. You can get additional trays and accessories if you want them.

Presto 06301 Dehydro Digital Electric Food Dehydrator

Presto 06301 Dehydro Digital Food DehydratorPresto also make a very good range of home food dehydrators and in fact my sister-in-law has a Presto 06301 Dehydro. Slightly more expensive than the equivalent models from Nesco, this Presto model has deeper trays – you can easily expand the capacity with extra trays too.

Now it does make sense that the more space air can circulate in, the faster and more efficiently food will dry for you.

With a six shelf basic set up you get more drying area than with those featured above, making this one taller too and you can expand up to 12 shelves, again she hasn’t so I can’t really comment on that.

I haven’t gotten my hands on this one yet to use, but have been informed sticking with Nesco is dumb, these are great too. I’ll post an update shortly when I’ve used it – she got it late in September 2013 so hasn’t used it a full year yet.

That said it looks nice, feels robust and like I said, there’s plenty of room between the six drying shelves. Right now if my Excalibur broke down, with the extra shelf capacity available this Presto would probably be just about big enough, I’d buy this and give it a go.

The Big Boys – For Serious Growers & Smallholdings

For heavy use, grow your own veg gluts – and a heftier price of around $200, my own choice and what I have is the Excalibur 2900ECB 9-Tray Economy Dehydrator. The next model up has a timer switch which would have been nice, but this works perfectly well for us with the addition of a $9 timer plug.

My neighbor has a smallholding and grows to sell at farmers markets – she sells plenty of the fruits but also makes fantastic zucchini cakes (there’s a lovely zucchini cake recipe here) to sell as well and they fly off the stall – so moist and light.. Her choice for dehydrating semi-commercial amounts of fruit and vegetables is the LEM Products 10 Tray Food Dehydrator with Digital Timer. These are quite greedy on counter space so worth finding another place to site it if you can, the garage works well.

This is a really serious piece of kitchen kit and sells for around $2,000, though is reputed to be cheaper than the equivalent Excalibur. Like I said, serious growers only.

Look, there are literally dozens on the market out there from every maker including Cuisinart and George Foreman – yep, he didn’t stop at grills! So have a look at the ones picked out above and compare them to any others you like the look of – then read the reviews and somewhere along the way, you’ll know which one is right for you.

Other posts you might find useful if you’re researching food dehydrators are here on the site. Try What Is a Food Dehydrator? to find out more about the machines themselves, or if you are considering what to do with all that lovely dried produce, checkout the post on Dehydrated Food Storage Tips for plenty more advice and if you like your apples peeled before frying, checkout this neon 70’s looking apple peeler – works great and fun to use.

I first got inspired to dry our kitchen garden food by Fiona Neville from The Cottage Smallholder, so go get inspired yourself and read her post Tales of A Busy Food Dehydrator, get a coffee first, you’ll find plenty to keep you there for a while.

I hope this ‘essential’ food dehydrator buying guide has answered those need to know questions and inspired you or decided you, but if there’s anything else you’d like to know just drop a comment or hit the contact link above.