NOT ALL DEHYDRATORS are created equal. As with any appliance, you get what you pay for. If your family, troop or crew is considering purchasing a food dehydrator, don’t waste your money on a cheap dehydrator that doesn’t have a fan or adjustable temperature settings. Efficient dehydration depends on air circulation and the appropriate temperature for the food being dried.
Here are the important features to consider when purchasing a dehydrator:
The fan carries moist air away from the food and replaces it with drier air. Without a fan, food will dry slowly and at different rates between the top and bottom trays. Fruit leather is nearly impossible to make without a fan. Look for a food dehydrator with a top- or side-mounted fan and heating element. Bottom-mounted fans require more care to clean. Liquid and food particles may get into the fan motor.
Adjustable Temperature Settings
Different foods require different drying temperatures. Avoid dehydrators that have only one preset temperature. They may dry vegetables too crispy while under-drying fruit.
Recommended Food Drying Temperatures:
- Meat: 145 degrees to 155 degrees
- Fruit: 135 degrees to 145 degrees
- Vegetables: 125 degrees to 135 degrees
- Herbs: 95 degrees
Most dehydrator trays are round with a hole in the middle. The hole in the middle and round shape reduces capacity per tray by 20 percent to 45 percent per tray, compared to a square tray with no hole in the middle. See below for more information about how the round vs. square trays perform.
Ease of Use
You can spread more blended foods when making bark or fruit leather on trays with no hole in the middle.
Mesh screens and non-stick sheets or inserts might be included with the dehydrator or may need to be ordered separately. Mesh screens keep small dried foods from falling through. Because they are flexible, it is easier to pop off dried food like bananas, which tend to stick to hard plastic. The non-stick sheets are excellent for making fruit and sauce leathers.
Timer With an Automatic Shut-off
A timer with an automatic shut off lets you load up the dehydrator and go to bed or work. The dehydrator shuts off when you tell it to. If drying different foods at the same time, such as broccoli and apples, you can set the timer to shut the dehydrator off when you expect the broccoli to be dry, and then turn it back on to finish the apples once you get home and remove the broccoli.
Only the more expensive dehydrators come with a timer. You can purchase a timer separately, but because dehydrators pull a lot of power, you’ll need to purchase a timer that is recommended for use with appliances.
Price vs. Features
Dehydrators in the $40 to $100 range may have no fan or run at one pre-set temperature. Dehydrators in the $100 to $200 range will usually have fans and adjustable temperature settings. As you climb the price ladder to dehydrators costing more than $200, the appliance will offer higher capacity, better ease of use and optional timers with an automatic shut-off.
Read more about making your own dehydrated backpacking meals:
Backpacking Chef Glenn McAllister is the author of the book, Recipes for Adventure: The Ultimate Guide to Dehydrating Food for the Trail and the companion workbook, The Backpacking Chef Menu Planning & Food Drying Workbook. Visit his website BackpackingChef.com and sign up for a free monthly newsletter, Trail Bytes.