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

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.

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.

5/3/2016 8:27:24 AM

I agree that Excalibur is the best on the market . I have Excalibur 9-Tray Clear Door Stainless Steel Dehydrator . A lot of research went into choosing this dehydrator. While I like the look better of some of the square, black models on the market, the functionality of this machine won out. I liked that the heating element is on top, so if there are any drippings I don't have to worry about it leaking into the motor. There is a fan that evenly distributes the heat to make it faster and more efficient. It is also extremely easy to clean. All of the layer come apart and can simply be wiped down. The thermostat and timing features are easy to operate and read and it comes with a great instruction manual that helps you determine the heat and time setting of a wide variety of foods. Finally, I liked that additional trays can be purchased and up to 20 trays used at a time. I purchase large quantities of fruit when it is in season, and can now process it quickly. I sat on the sidelines for a long time looking at dehydrators but when I finally jumped in I'm glad I chose brains over beauty. I have and would recommend it to anyone considering a dehydrator. I found this site earlier and has great reviews about it :

10/20/2015 2:30:55 PM

The lure for having a food dehydrator is increasing with trend of eating green and all fruits and vegetables throughout the year. A food dehydrator is one of the safest, easiest and most efficient process for dehydrating seasonal fruits that you can enjoy throughout the year without really altering the taste. Excalibur is one of the best dehydrator in the market . You can check and find great and informational reviews on it .

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