Choosing a Food Dehydrator

David Cavagnaro provides a guide to choosing a food dehydrator, including test results for four dehydrator models, the differences between stackable dehydrators and box-and-shelf dehydrators and dehydrator buying tips.

| June/July 2003

  • Cost comparison of a variety of dehydrators.
    Cost comparison of a variety of dehydrators.
    DAVID CAVAGNARO
  • When choosing a food dehydrator you'll find they come in many shapes and sizes. (Left to right: L 'Equip Model 528, Nesco/American Harvest's Gardenmaster and Excalibur's Large Garden dehydrator.)
    When choosing a food dehydrator you'll find they come in many shapes and sizes. (Left to right: L 'Equip Model 528, Nesco/American Harvest's Gardenmaster and Excalibur's Large Garden dehydrator.)
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • The Excalibur Large Garden dehydrator, with its rear mounted fan, performed exceptionally well in our trials.
    The Excalibur Large Garden dehydrator, with its rear mounted fan, performed exceptionally well in our trials.
    DAVID CAVAGNARO
  • Box-and-shelf dehydrators, like the Living Foods' Jumbo dehydrator pictured here, accommodate a bountiful variety of garden goodies.
    Box-and-shelf dehydrators, like the Living Foods' Jumbo dehydrator pictured here, accommodate a bountiful variety of garden goodies.
    DAVID CAVAGNARO

  • Cost comparison of a variety of dehydrators.
  • When choosing a food dehydrator you'll find they come in many shapes and sizes. (Left to right: L 'Equip Model 528, Nesco/American Harvest's Gardenmaster and Excalibur's Large Garden dehydrator.)
  • The Excalibur Large Garden dehydrator, with its rear mounted fan, performed exceptionally well in our trials.
  • Box-and-shelf dehydrators, like the Living Foods' Jumbo dehydrator pictured here, accommodate a bountiful variety of garden goodies.

Learn the pros and cons of four leading food dehydrators designed for drying fruits and vegetables before choosing a food dehydrator for the homestead.

When I lived in California, land of eternal sunshine, preserving food by drying was virtually effortless. Using big redwood trays salvaged from an old prune orchard and spread out on a huge barn roof in full sun, hundreds of pounds of peaches and pears were dried each summer. We also dipped and dried our own prunes and figs, made raisins from seedless grapes, and dried the walnut crop in the fall for winter storage. In the shade of a big fir tree, I dried and processed all our own herbs from the garden.

Life in the humid Midwest, where I now live, is another matter entirely. Even the thin leaves of basil start to mold on the drying trays unless I am extremely careful. I tried using the electric oven and, for wetter fare, the warming oven of the wood cookstove, but space limitations and the difficulty of controlling temperature stymied my efforts. Finally, the promised success of electric food dehydrators got the upper hand. I decided to find out just how well they worked.

Many different electric dehydrator models are available; I settled on four that best represent the various designs available: L'Equip's Model 528, Nesco/American Harvest's Gardenmaster, Excalibur's Large Garden and Living Foods' Jumbo dehydrator.



Home-food dehydrators fall into two categories: those with stackable trays, and those constructed of a rigid box with removable shelves. Size is a factor; most fit on a countertop, but larger models are free-standing and require more space. Some models have base-mounted fans that move hot air vertically; one has a rear-mounted fan for moving air horizontally; yet another uses convection drying, with no fan at all.

I put these four different models through their paces during the peak of the humid harvest season here in Iowa. Each dehydrator dried lots of herbs and vegetables with comparable ease, but the fleshy crops, like tomatoes and peaches, put the dehydrators to the ultimate test, determining their maximum capacity, efficiency and overall effectiveness.

Kismet
5/11/2019 7:31:38 PM

I also have a 20 year old Excalibur, it was a hand me down from a friend, so I don't really know how old it is. I use it quite a bit and it has never let me down. The only thing wrong with it is that one of the "pins" that hold the door is broken, but it was that way when I got it. I just stick something heavy in front of the door so it stays shut.


Cookiepress
10/8/2018 2:47:37 PM

I love my Excalibur. 20 years old and still going strong


Julie
4/19/2018 9:15:47 AM

I have had an Excaliber since 1981. The plastic tray frames are starting to show "aging" and one has cracked. I have not had any other problems with the unit and will probably replace it with another Excaliber. It also does maintain high enough heat to safely dehydrate jerkey. I have also learned to use silicone molds, designed for candy making, to hold wet purees like for fruit leather. I even dry bone broth that way, after cooking it down to a thickness like gravy.







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