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Food Dehydrator Guide: What Are They & Which Should a Person Buy?

Last update on 2021-09-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

There’s a growing buzz around a very handy line of devices – food dehydrators.

A food dehydrator is a convenient device for numerous reasons. It’s a modern take on an old practice – the practice of preserving food and extending its lifespan as long as possible.

The name speaks for itself. Dehydrating food has been something people have done for decades, and even centuries. And the resurgence in popularity of this method has shown that what is old can become new again.

A dehydrator is a prime example of how modern technology can make old-world traditions easier to carry out. The tried and true process of dehydrating food is easier to accomplish than ever before. A person doesn’t need to be an expert chef, a scientist in the field of food preservation, or even a person who has worked with food extensively – all they need is the right food dehydrator.

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Last update on 2021-09-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Dehydration units can be thought of as alternatives to canning units and could fall in line with other appliances like crock-pots in terms of its size and complexity of controls.

In this food dehydrator buying guide piece, we’ll cover the history of food dehydration and talk about why it is so popular. We’ll talk about the various instances where this technique, and the devices used to accomplish it, could prove useful.

We’ll also cover ten great food dehydrating units to help anyone who may be shopping for one to get some ideas. That guide will list the pros of each model, and talk about which models excel in certain areas.

Let’s begin talking about the process of dehydrating food, how it works, and how it has proven useful throughout the ages.

Food Dehydration: A Brief History and Background

For as long as humans have been preparing food, they have been preserving it and storing it away for later. Which means they have been looking to get the most out of their food (including the most extensive shelf life) and they’ve been dependent on proven methods like these.

When we think about how to preserve food today, the first thing that comes to mind is the refrigerator. But that wasn’t always an option, as people of previous generations didn’t always have such a luxury. But they did have science on their side, and they figured out the technique that has endured through the ages.

Food dehydrating falls into the family of techniques like fermenting, curing, and pickling. However, this technique is even older. Let’s discuss the history, and then the specifics behind the actual process of food dehydration itself.

A History of Dehydrating Food

It’s not likely that food dehydration was invented by scientists who understood the exact chemistry behind it. Instead, given how old it is, it is much more likely it is a discovery people made by accident. However, it is one that stuck around because it is useful.

Food dehydration is likely thousands of years old, with evidence of it being done by the Egyptians as early as 12,000 B.C., in an effort to preserve fish and poultry. With the sun functioning as their heater, early humans dried out food as best they could.

As technology crept up in complexity, more complex methods began to emerge. Though still primitive by our standards, they were ahead of their time. The Middle Ages saw rooms specially constructed to dehydrate food. These stillhouses stored food, vegetables, herbs, and plenty of other types of food.

Now in the modern age, a food dehydrator is a portable appliance a person can have in their home, business, or even their vehicle as they take it along for a trip. Before we discuss specific places and environments where the best food dehydrator would prove useful, let’s talk about the process itself.

How and Why to Dehydrate Food

The term dehydration usually applies to human beings – as in, someone is dehydrated. It generally isn’t good for them. But as far as food goes, it can actually be a good thing in some instances. It essentially means the same thing in both cases. But, taking the water out of food offers many benefits.

The nasty microorganisms and bacteria that grow in food and cause it to spoil thrive in a moist environment. Without moisture to grow in, these things have a smaller chance of posing a problem. That means the food could enjoy a longer shelf-life than it may have otherwise had.

While it is possible to lose some of the nutrients when the food is dehydrated, it is often considered an even trade-off, as it will allow people to keep their food fresh longer.

Dehydration, whether accomplished by the sun or with a portable dehydration unit, is one of the cheaper ways to preserve food. Because of its cost-efficiency, this method has seen (and continues to see) use in multiple situations.

Where Would a Food Dehydrator Prove Useful?

Food dehydrators are more popular than ever. The uptick in popularity is for two reasons. The first is that people once again see the value in this method of preservation. The second is that technology has made food dehydration more practical through portability and streamlining of the process.

But where could a person use one of these units? After all, a dehydrator isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when a person thinks of a handy food appliance. This is because most appliances are used for preparing food, rather than preserving it.

To know when this would prove useful, we need to think in terms of where exactly the dehydration process would be most helpful. Or in other words, where is it critical to dehydrate food to ensure it doesn’t spoil?

Here are a few instances where a dehydrator could be an extremely useful tool to have:

  • Backpacking and Hiking: Dehydrated food for backpacking is a perfect match. People who take to the woods, the mountains, and the dirt trail to camp and see nature will get hungry if they stay out there long enough. And given it’s a little hard to lug a freezer around if you’re traveling on foot and not in an RV or jeep, a dehydrator is handy to bring along. For those multi-day trips, it can ensure meat, fruits, and vegetables remain edible and don’t succumb to mold or other contaminants.
  • Emergency Situations: People who are in areas where disasters are common or where utilities are somewhat unreliable may benefit hugely from a food dehydrator. Imagine a place that has been devastated by weather that knocked out power – how can those people keep food fresh for a long time? A food dehydrator doesn’t require much energy for the task it performs, so that it can be a big asset in emergencies.
  • Preparatory Shelters: For some people, they don’t need to wait until a disaster hits to prepare for one. They believe that surviving tough times requires a person to get ready beforehand. In prep shelters and emergency facilities, it isn’t uncommon to store tons of food. And while canned goods and non-perishables are common to see in these types of locations, a food dehydrator can allow them to preserve even more types of food, providing a greater range of options.

We’ve covered the main situations where a food dehydrator would be useful. But the truth is this type of device could prove useful in many other situations. These are just some of the ways that people use dehydrators. Whether someone wants dehydrated food for backpacking or as a preservation tool for general purposes, it is important to know what functions they will need.

Next, we have our top ten list of best food dehydrator nominees to consider – but before delving into specific models, we’ll discuss what buyers should look for in general when picking a dehydration unit.

What Does a Good Food Dehydrator Offer?

When someone is thinking about buying a food dehydrator, either for themselves or as a gift for someone else, it helps to know what they need. There are a few criteria you should consider when they begin browsing their options.

Knowing these before you begin shopping can make it easier to compare options and determine which is better for the money and to understand there is a certain degree of subjectivity when it comes to picking the best food dehydrator.

This doesn’t mean some devices aren’t objectively better than others – it just means different people with different needs and budgets may shop for different things.

Cost, Warranty, and Extras

When a person is looking to buy any appliance, food dehydrators included, the cost is a factor to consider. What type of budget does the buyer have? It’s good to set a range before starting shopping. Shoppers may need to adjust it once they start considering features (more on that later), but a starting point matters.

The warranty also matters too. People who invest in a device meant to make food last a long time expect the device itself to have longevity as well. If a device is on the pricier side of the cost scale, buyers may want to consider finding a model with a warranty.

Extra features also help – does the device come with replacement parts or cleaning tools? Or, at the very least, are those extras easy to come by if a person needs to buy them separately?

Heating Efficiency and Airflow

The factors that determine whether a dehydrator will be truly useful are its ability to heat up and its ability to cycle air throughout the unit. Both of these factors work together to pull the moisture from food and help preserve it efficiently.

Shelf dehydrators, for example, often have superior airflow because they have plenty of space in between their inner components. A unit made from higher-quality materials like stainless steel is also more efficient at maintaining a suitable temperature.

A unit doesn’t have to be hugely expensive or even generally large to have these qualities. But it is essential to look at parts and reviews to ensure a dehydrator has these two critical qualities.

Specialty Features

Sometimes the best way to choose one dehydrator over another is to see which one has better features. But we aren’t just talking about the unit’s materials– we’re talking about those extra add-ons that offer greater user convenience and improved performance.

One example of a useful feature is a thermostat. It lets users try out different heat levels and get better results when dehydrating foods of specific sizes or consistencies. A thermostat is just one type of feature that can be useful on a food dehydrator.

There are also features like automatic shutoff and digital controls. Remember – it all comes down to what each individual needs for their specific situation and the type of food they’d like to dehydrate.

We’ve talked about some critical characteristics that anyone should look for in a food dehydrator. But which models have these characteristics? Which are, all things considered, the best choices a buyer could find on the market in 2019?

Here we’ll cover the top of the best food dehydrator options on the market.

Best Food Dehydrator: Which Models Made Our List of 10?

We know what makes a good food dehydrator and also understand that there is a bit of subjectivity involved in determining which model is the best for each buyer. In no particular order, here are ten options any shopper should consider trying.

1.     Flagup Food Dehydrator w/ 5 Trays

This model is one of the more popular in this category with its standard 5-tray configuration. From Flagup, this dehydrator has gotten some great sales numbers, indicating customers are enjoying it and that it is serving its purpose properly. It is capable of mustering 250-watts of drying power.

The makers boast this model’s potential for drying fruits, vegetables, jerky, and even pet food. Now the owner and their furry friends alike can both enjoy well-preserved food. This model comes with an adjustable thermostat which lets users pick accurate temperature settings ranging from 35-70 degrees Celsius (95-158 degrees Fahrenheit).

It is dishwasher safe for easy cleaning and comes with an automatic shutoff feature for added safety. It also has additional configurations available. Shoppers can buy it with 7 or 8 trays. There’s also an electric model for the 5 and 8 version. Overall, this is a versatile and cost-efficient choice anyone should consider when shopping for the best food dehydrator.

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2.     Luckdeal 5-Tray Dehydrator w/ LCD Controls

For those who want to preserve their food in accordance with very particular settings, it is imperative to have a good interface. This model makes it easy to see what you’re doing and to know exactly how hot the food’s temperature is.

Dry out fruits, vegetables, and many other food types while monitoring things with the easy-to-read LCD screen. The timer lets users dry food for precise intervals of up to 72-hours, with a temperature range of 35-70 degrees Celsius (95-158 degrees Fahrenheit). The fan mounted on the bottom-most of the 5 trays allows for good airflow, and the trays can be rotated to get different positioning.

This model is available in many different variants, including here in its LD 5-tray configuration. For buyers who aren’t crazy about the digital controls, they can save a little money by opting for the standard button model. There are also options for those who need 7 or 8 trays for their dehydration needs.

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3.     Kioles Food Dehydrator w/ Digital Timer and 8 Trays

This upgraded model is currently topping categories and showing just how fast food dehydrators are evolving. It is a versatile product and comes in several configurations, including ones with 5 and 7 trays. The model we’re spotlighting is powerful – to be specific, it is capable of producing 400-watts worth of dehydrating prowess.

This option is another model that provides users with a substantial range of options, including a 72-hour window for the timer and a temperature range of 35-70 degrees Celsius (95-158 degrees Fahrenheit). The bottom-mounted fan means there is constant airflow, so there’s never a worry about having to rotate the food in its position to make sure it dehydrates correctly.

And despite its compact size (14*12*10), it has a stylish appearance that makes it look great in any kitchen, RV, or food storage unit.

4.     Zolko Dehydrator w/ LCD Display

Here we have another dehydrator that offers a digital display. The digital display is a testament to how dehydrator manufacturers realize that user interfaces matter as much as the heating power their units provide. The model is another that offers the standard temperature range of 35-70 degrees Celsius (95-158 degrees Fahrenheit).

The digital-displayed temperature control lets users get precise temperatures, perfect for different settings for different foods. Fruits, vegetables, and plenty of other food types can be dehydrated to perfection in this high-quality unit, which is built for precise performance across various food groups.

For those who are on the fence about purchasing a dehydrator or are doing it for the first time, this is an excellent model to try. Why? It’s BPA free, guaranteed safe, and even backed by a 2-year warranty. Owners can use this model with confidence knowing it is a good investment with a little extra protection when buying.

5.     Jaketen BPA-Free Food Dehydrator w/ Nesting Tray

This dehydrator from Jaketen is one of their best sellers, with plenty of people already seeing just how capable this machine is. It comes with an impressive 7 trays, which allows you room to dry numerous different types of food items at the same time.

It has a powerful wattage that lands in the 250 range, and there’s even an option to upgrade to a 400-watt model if there is a need for it. This variant has 7 removal trays which are positioned in a unique stacking system, allowing users to adjust the heights to accommodate foods of different sizes. In that way, we could say this model’s greatest strength is its versatility.

It has an excellent temperature adjustment system and an automatic shutoff feature for added safety. Speaking of safety, this is another model that is free from BPA so users can feel comfortable eating the food that is dehydrated in it.

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6.     Excalibur RES10 Smart Dehydrator

This model is an example that bigger is sometimes being better. For people who dehydrate large amounts of food to preserve it for emergency situations and large facilities like warehouses which need a bigger dehydration unit. This model is built like a convector oven, with a cabinet-style design and an impressive 10 trays.

While dehydrator reviews and best-of lists usually target the smaller, more compact models, these are worth mentioning as well. With 9.3-square-feet of drying space, it lets users dry plenty of food in the same session without having to swap foods out like they’d have to do in a smaller unit.

There is a digital, backlit display on the front to show users exactly how long is left on the timer. Users can set the timer on this model for up to 99 hours and 59 minutes. On top of that, it is even programmable. Users can save up to 30 of their favorite recipes in it.

7.     Nesco FD-75PR

The Nesco FD-75PR is another model that deviates away from the first five on our list. It looks less like a compact oven, and more like a crock-pot. It’s a rounded design which gives it a modern look, and it also offers some impressive performance.

There are 5 trays, and the unit can dry the food within hours, while some models of the same size take days. This one can dry various foods thanks to the circular design without allowing the foods and their flavors to mix.

This model comes with plenty of extras, including a recipe book, 5 trays, 2 fruit roll sheets, 2 clean screens, 3 original flavor jerky spices, and 3 cure packets. It’s also more affordable than the other models on our list, perfect as a gift or an all-in-one kit for a first-time buyer.  

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8.     Magic Mill Professional Dehydrator w/ Digital Controls

This model is unique in the fact it falls somewhere between the smaller, more compact models on our list and the larger options you’d find at largescale facilities. It’s priced accordingly and will require more maintenance than your standard unit – however, it is worth it for those who need a lot of dehydration power.

This model has 9 trays, a fantastic mid-point for those who have a lot of food to dehydrate but want to do it all in a single device. The fan is mounted in the rear, allowing even drying for all the trays without posing a danger of overheating. This is another unit free of BPA additives for improved safety.

For those who like the setup but want a different tray number, they’ll be happy to know it comes in configurations with 6, 7, and 10. There are also two oven mitts included as an added gift for purchasing.

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9.     Ivation 9-Tray Premium Dehydration Machine

Another model that lands right around the middle of the road in terms of both its size and its price, this unit from Ivation brings 9 trays packed into a sleek, stylish, modern looking cabinet. It is capable of producing up to 600-watts worth of power, letting users achieve the heat levels they need for proper dehydration.

What about those who feel that 9 trays are too much? Shoppers can cut that number down to 6 if they wish, and enjoy a lower price and less maintenance as a result. This model features a digital thermostat with 8 different temperature levels. It is a model built for large families, outdoor enthusiasts, and many others.

It is built in compliance with US Electrical Safety Regulations and features an automatic shutoff timer to avoid overheating and fire hazards. It has a sleek appearance, modern features, and plenty of space for any food you’d want to dehydrate.

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10.  NESCO FD-1018A Gardenmaster

Another dehydrator that looks closer to a crock-pot than it does a small oven, this model can look right at home in any kitchen or food-prep location. It is a great choice for those who want a smaller or beginner-range dehydrator in both price and capabilities.  

The model is capable of producing wattage of up to 1000, which is plenty of power to dry the food you need in hours, not days. It also has 8 trays so users can space the food out evenly – and all the trays are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning and maintenance.

It comes with 8 roll-up sheets and clean screens, a recipe book, and an original jerky spice pack with a cure. This model relies on both global and domestic parts and was constructed in the USA.

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Buyer’s Guide and Recap

As we can see, dehydrators come in many shapes, sizes, and configurations. Some are a little more modern, while some were built with an old-school approach, and others were made with largescale applications in mind. No matter what kind of need a person has, any model on this list is worth considering.

As far as knowing which one to buy, it all depends on your need and budget. Try to consider price alongside features to determine value, then read over reviews to see if there is anything else to know about – shoppers can usually learn it from those who have purchased the product and used it.

Final Thoughts: Why Food Dehydrators Are Making a Comeback

Buying a food dehydrator is a big decision. These devices are a complex invention, and while it has a very specific purpose, it offers a number of potential benefits. The first is that it opens the owner up to a new method of food preservation which they may not have known about before.

It also helps them get the most shelf life out of their food items, especially in environments where they are easily subject to perishing. A food dehydrator is also the perfect tool to round out a set of appliances in the kitchen or food storage unit. It can also be the ideal addition to camping, backpacking, and outdoor equipment setups.

No matter why a person is seeking a food dehydration unit, there are plenty of great options out there. Keep food fresh and ensure it gets the most longevity possible. Food dehydrators are coming back in style once again. Whether it’s an outdoor enthusiast who wants dehydrated food for backpacking or just someone who wants to keep their food fresh for longer, a quality dehydrator can prove to be a major asset in any kitchen, RV, or storage unit.