I bought my first dehydrator about 7 years ago from a thrift store. It was one of the best things I’ve ever bought.
Thanks to my dehydrator, I’ve been able to do things like:
- Make my own MREs and backpacking meals
- Preserve surplus food from my garden
- Save money by buying produce in season and then dehydrating it for times when it is pricier
- Build up a stockpile of emergency foods
But, after 7 years, my dehydrator has taken a beating, and some of the trays are cracked.
I’ve been thinking about buying a new dehydrator for years, but I don’t like to buy something new when the old one is still working perfectly!
There is too much waste in the world with people buying the “newer and shinier” versions that they don’t need (Yep, I’m thinking of you, iPhones!).
Now, you can find lists of the best dehydrators of the year. But our goal is to find the best dehydrator for you.
Has some limitations but offers good quality at an affordable price.
What to Consider When Choosing
Tray vs Shelf
All modern dehydrators can be broken down into either stacking tray dehydrators or shelf dehydrators. Each type has its pros and cons.
These are the most common dehydrators and are generally very affordable.
They have trays that stack on top of each other. The trays have holes in them so air can flow through them. A center hole serves as a channel to ensure air gets to all of the trays.
The heating device and fan are located at the top or the bottom.
- You can adjust the number of trays
- Some models can hold lots of trays to dehydrate lots of food at once
- Are usually smaller, so good for people pressed for space
- The trays closest to the heater tend to dehydrate fastest; you’ll have to rotate the trays for even dehydrating
- You have to unstack the trays to see whether the food is done
- If the heater is on the bottom, juices from the food can drip down on it
These dehydrators look like mini ovens with lots of racks inside them. At the back there is a heater with a fan to blow warm air over the food.
- Because the heater is located at the back, the air flow is distributed horizontally across the shelves for even drying
- Shelves can be pulled out easily to check on the food
- You can put thicker foods into one, such as whole bananas
- You can use them to make yogurt
- There is no air channel in the middle, so it is easier to dehydrate liquids like tomato sauce
- You can’t adjust the number of shelves
- They are harder to clean
- They tend to be pricier
- They take up more space
The capacity of a dehydrator is usually measured by the number of shelves or trays it has. However, the power of two different 7-tray dehydrators can vary depending on the tray sizes.
If you only plan to do occasional dehydrating (such as for making camping meals), then a smaller model dehydrator will be fine.
If you have a lot of food at once to dehydrate (such as from your garden), then go for a larger model.
Some cheap dehydrators don’t even have temperature controls. Avoid these at all costs!
Without the temperature controls, you’ll be limited to what types of recipes you can make. Also, no temperature controls are a sign of a bad-quality dehydrator.
Most dehydrators will reach 140 ° F. However, even quality dehydrators will fluctuate a bit in temperature.
Thus, if you want to make jerky, getting a dehydrator with a temperature of 155° F or above is best.
It is hard to determine which dehydrators have good airflow design and quality heaters just by looking at them. Even if you read the manufacturer’s description on websites, it still won’t give you much (unbiased) info.
Instead, consider looking at the reviews on sites like Amazon. The number of stars will give you an idea of the quality.
I have a separate pantry where I do my dehydrating, so the noise doesn’t bother me. However, the noise can drive you crazy if it’s near your living space!
Good dehydrators will have their decibel rating listed. Choose a low rating if noise matters to you.
Cool Features to Have
- Clear Trays: If you get a stackable tray dehydrator, go for clear shelves. You’ll be able to check on the food more easily without lifting all the trays.
- Timers and Auto Shutoff: Because dehydrating food takes hours, you might forget about it and end up with overly-dehydrated food. These features prevent that from happening.
- Multiple Temperature Settings: Only advanced dehydrators (like the Excalibur model listed below) have this feature. It allows you to set one temperature and then switch to another one after a specific time.
- Dishwasher Safe: Dehydrators get sticky, so you want trays or shelves which can be cleaned easily.
Best Food Dehydrator Reviews
Excalibur 9 Tray
Best For: People who are serious about preserving food
- Has a temperature range of 105 to 165° F, meaning it is safe for making jerky
- 15 square feet across 9 shelves
- 26-hour timer
- Other than the price, there is nothing wrong with this dehydrator!
Best For: People who occasionally dehydrate food and want a quality yet affordable dehydrator.
- Top mounted fan reduces the mess
- 600 watts of drying power
- Adjustable temperature from 95 to 160 degrees
- High temp means it is safe for making jerky
- Trays aren’t clear, so it is harder to check on the progress of food
- Some users report longer drying times than advertised
Read our full Nesco Snackmaster review.
Ivation 9 Tray
Best For: People who want to easily dehydrate lots of food without hassle.
- It is one of the most affordable shelf dehydrators available
- Good airflow ensures even drying
- Digital thermometer and timer
- 9 shelves
- Has a drip pan for easier cleaning
- Highest temperature is 158° F – might not be safe to make jerky
- Can only use preset temperatures – no fine control
- Timer maxes out at 19 hours 30 mins – could be annoying if dehydrating large batches
Hanging Pantry System
Best For: People who want to experiment with solar dehydration but don’t want to build their own system (the trays on this are great and would be hard to make yourself)
- Don’t have to rely on grid electricity
- No noise
- Keeps insects out
- Trays are perforated for better airflow
- Kind of pricey for something you could easily make yourself
Don’t Forget about Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers!
If you want to use your dehydrator to dry foods for long-term storage, you must seal them in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers.
The oxygen absorbers remove oxygen which would cause spoilage. The mylar bag prevents light, moisture, and oxygen from getting in.
For extra protection, put the sealed mylar bags into buckets. The buckets protect them from rodents, insects, flood water, and other damage.
You can read more about this in my article on Food Preservation Methods.
Leave a comment
I have a Presto 6300 and a 6301. They are both the round stackable tray machines. I rarely, if ever, see a review of the Presto Dehydrators. The 6300 I purchased from Amazon for $35. it did not have a temperature gauge, it was permanently set at 140 deg. I wanted more, so I also bought the 6301 for about $65. It has a timer and a temperature setting knob. I use both and put the appropriate foods in the 140 deg fixed setting machine, and use the other for everything else. I love my Prestos. Have you checked these machines? Very reasonable and easy to use, wash and store.
No haven’t used a Presto before but thanks for the heads up, sounds like a decent option.
I used a stackable dehydrat or with no temp control for years then upgraded to an Exca liber shelf unit. I love it and have had for 15 years! These last a long time so you can look at them as a long term investment.
Thanks for this info I now know what too look for.
Re: the xxxxx, I was reading the questions & reviews for it and stumbled across this info for making jerky in the 95°F- 158°F temp range:
Question: So my jerky is supposed to be cooked at 165 so many are set to only go to 158 ? Help please
Answer: It only goes to 158 but their directions say after the required time, to remove jerky and put into a preheated 250-275 degree Oven for 10 mins and then return to dehydrator trays to cool completely.
Thought this was an interesting workaround.
I need to know how to make a solar drier.
Hi.. no mention importance of wattage? Varies greatly for some reason, yes.
High wattage will heat up faster (which is important if you want to dehydrate meat or dairy). High wattage also usually means a stronger fan, so the drying is usually better. However, high wattage isn’t really that important when drying smaller amounts of food or things which dry quickly anyway (like greens or thinly-sliced fruit) so you just end up using more energy unnecessarily. So, I wouldn’t worry too much about wattage. The Excaliber only has 600 watts and does a great job of drying foods.
After you dehydrate the fruits and veggies. How do you store them for long term. I keep seeing Mylar bags. How would you use those. Thanks. Total Newbie
Start with this article: https://www.primalsurvivor.net/mylar-bags-food-storage/