I bought my first dehydrator about 7 years ago from a thrift store. It turned out to be one of the best things that 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 honestly 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 well!
There is simply too much waste in the world with people buying the “newer and shinier” versions that they don’t actually need (Yep, I’m thinking of you iPhones!).
Now, you can find all sorts of lists of the best dehydrators of the year. But our goal is to find the best dehydrator for you.
Our Top Picks
Best For Quality
The Excalibur 3948. This machine oozes quality and will tackle any food you can throw at it. Comes with a hefty price tag to match!Check On Amazon
Best For Value
The Nesco Snackmaster. Has some limitations but offers good quality at an affordable price.Check On Amazon
What to Consider When Choosing
Tray vs Shelf
All modern dehydrators can be broken down as 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 which stack on top of each other. The trays have holes in them so air can flow through. A center hole serves as a channel to ensure air gets to all of the trays.
The heating device and fan are either 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 capacity of two different 7-tray dehydrators can be very different 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 will 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 cost!
Without the temperature controls, you’ll be limited to what types of recipes you can make. Also, no temperature controls is 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, it is best to get a dehydrator with a temperature of 155° F or above.
It is hard to determine which dehydrators have good air flow 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 numbers of stars will give you an idea of the quality.
I have a separate pantry where I do my dehydrating, so noise don’t really 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 easier without having to lift all of 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 really advanced dehydrators (like the Excalibur model listed below) have this feature. It allows you to set one temperature and then switch to another temperature after a specific amount of time.
- Dishwasher Safe: Dehydrators get sticky, so you want trays or shelves which can be cleaned easily.
Best Food Dehydrator Reviews
Excalibur 3948 Shelf
Best For: People who are serious about preserving food
- Has a temperature range of 95 to 165° F, meaning it is safe for making jerky
- 15 square feet across 9 shelves
- Can set two temperatures for two times for lots of control when drying (such as starting with a higher temperature and then automatically switching to a lower temp)
- 48-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 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 progress of food
- Some users report longer drying times than advertised
Best For: People looking for a cheap-yet-reliable food dehydrator.
- Very affordable
- Clear trays means you can check progress easily
- Can add extra trays
- Some users report uneven drying
- Might not be safe for making jerky
Gourmia GFD1950 Shelf
Best For: People who want easy dehydrating of lots of food without any hassle.
- It is one of the most affordable shelf dehydrators available
- Good airflow ensures even drying
- Digital thermometer and timer
- Lots of shelves
- Has a drip pan for easier cleaning
- Highest temperature is 158° F – might not be safe for making 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 air flow
- Kind of pricy for something you could easily make yourself
- Frustrating design makes it difficult to set shelves up
Don’t Forget about Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers!
If you want to use your dehydrator to dry foods for long-term storage, then you will have to 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 an extra level of protection put the sealed mylar bags into buckets. The buckets will keep them safe from rodents, insects, flood water, and other damage.
You can read more about this in my article on Food Preservation Methods.
Recommended Reading: Dehydrating Food – Expert Level Tips and Hacks
Diane Vukovic spent her childhood roaming the woods of upstate NY, making brush shelters, backpacking and orienteering.
Now she is the proud mother of two adventurous girls whom she takes wild camping and teaches survival skills and self-defense. Learn more about Diane here.