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

Chart: Cost comparison of a variety of dehydrators.

Cost comparison of a variety of dehydrators.


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.

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 .

6/16/2015 9:56:17 AM

I finally bought one after being overseas with 220V electricity for so long. So far I've made: tri-color peppers, parsnips, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and avocados!!! I basted the avocados in lemon juice and dusted with red pepper flakes. If you do avocado, make sure it is not over-ripe. Mine would have been better a little firmer and easier to work with. My only complaint is everything is nice and crunchy when I take it out of, but gets chewy during storing. Next up - celery sticks. I put these items into little snack bags and munch on them when I am hungry. Any ideas to maintain crispness?

2/8/2015 11:35:48 AM

I'm thinking of replacing my built in microwave with a large food dehydrator. Have any of these stacking dehydrators been used this way?

1/21/2015 12:13:53 PM

Oh I just found this page last night as I was looking at Dehydrators. One thing I am not finding is can we use a Dehydrator for homemade pasta. Spg, macoroni, etc. In case you are not aware after we make the pasta it needs to dryout lets say. Kitchen aid does have dryers but I am wondering if a Dehydrator would work better. Please reply we are looking for input. Thanks.

danielle patterson
2/6/2014 8:52:41 AM

Great review, but these reviews on Amazon really helped my decision: - Got free 2 day shipping as well.

12/26/2013 7:18:03 AM

Nice article. I would also like to point out that the features are also an important aspect for looking at a dehydrator. There are important stuff to look at like timer, auto shut off, temperature control which are essential to use them conveniently. There are more such tips at Thanks

1/24/2011 10:22:19 PM

Peggy, I've been looking for quite awhile for a food dehydrator that has a built in temperature display and I found a new one that is manufactured by Tribest and it's called the Sedona food dehydrator. I ordered mine last week and just received it today, so I don't have much experience with it yet. It's about the same size as the 9 tray Excalibur and has digital displays on the front that show the time, temperature, etc... and you can set the timer up to 99 hours or it says you can select continuous operation. So far I'm happy with my purchase (even though I've only had it just a few hours! :) I got mine through (they seemed to have the lowest price that I could find) but it is available on a few other sites, too. Even at the sale price I got mine for, it still runs about $100 more than the Excalibur, but the time and temperature features and the fact that it has two fans instead of one (so you can just run one if you're only dehydrating a few trays worth of stuff) make it worth the extra $$ to me. Deaglan

peggy m
9/29/2010 12:01:38 PM

My concern with all of the dehydrators on the market is the accuracy of their temperature settings. I have an Excalibur Parallexx ED-700(four-trays)whose dial settings do not produce the temp indicated. I use a digital probe thermometer twist-tied to the top rack to keep an eye on the ACTUAL temp. At a dial setting of 105 degrees, for example, the actual temp read closer to 120. Has anyone else encountered this problem? I would love to find a dehydrator with a built-in temperature display so that I can see the actual temperature without having to rig up my own method. Is there such a dehydrator on the market??

kara iribarren
9/2/2010 2:07:58 PM

I am wondering about plastic leeching in the dehydrators. I found excalibur's testimonials of its safety but was considering buying a cheaper NESCO. Anyone know about this issue?

steve thyng
11/6/2009 9:57:44 AM

I'm using the large garden 15 sq ft drying area 9 tray Excalibur model for the first time this year to dry lots of hybrid Argonaut winter squash. I peel and slice lots of it and fill up the trays, and when a batch is done I pull out bins from the refrigerator of squash slices and fill the trays up again and again. I take the dried slices and break them up in my Vita-mix blender to granule size, then pour them into clean dry plastic fruit juice bottles. Next year I hope to make watermelon/lemon juice/sugar fruit leather.

8/24/2009 3:05:48 PM

I have a magic chef stackable dehydrator that I've used for years. My mom bought it about 10 years ago when she decided that we were going to go on the raw foods diet. well, needless to say that didnt even last a month and I don't believe that she ever usd it again. I however, have used it to dry numerous fruits and jerkys and beans. It came with a cook book, I don't know where it is now. I just rotate the trays every few hours and pull off the ones that are done. I absolutly love my dehydrater.

8/20/2009 10:01:29 PM

To dehydrate potatoes I boil them until they are still firm, but cooked. Drain the hot water and plunge in cold water until cool, then drain. Then put the potatoes in the refrigerator overnight, slicing them in the morning then putting them on the dehydrator. I have done slices and small chunks and gotten along very well. If you are storing with a vacuum packer, the slices tend to break apart when vacuum-packed and need to be double bagged. Hope this helps. :)

8/14/2009 11:40:56 AM

The best place to do your price comparison is on Amazon. They have a wide selection, from Excaliburs to Nescos to more obscure ones. I found to have some useful reviews to read in addition to the Amazon ones. For potatoes, how thin were they sliced? Potatoes have always been troublesome for me, so I don't usually dry them and just bake them instead. You definitely do need to blanch them, otherwise they'll turn dark brown. The electricity consumption is something like five cents an hour. Even running it for a day is cheaper than buying pre-packaged dry stuff. The fan doesn't need to be blasting the air; it just needs to move it around.

janet s
8/13/2009 8:31:07 PM

karen m; Have your potates dried yet? I have not started dehydrating yet, but how did you prep your potatoes? Dried ptatoes could be a real help to me, instead of buying store bought boxes of mixes. Thanks for any advise you can share.

karen m_2
7/1/2009 10:16:09 AM

Mike, Your article at the end of your website was helpful. Perhaps I am overloading my new dehydrator. Do you think I should just put food on one half of the ten trays and see what happens?

karen m_2
7/1/2009 10:08:57 AM

I purchased a VegeKiln and am trying it out for the first time. I placed blanched potatoes in the kiln, and turned it to the recommended temperature. It has been on for almost 24 hours and only about 1/3 of the potatoes are dried. I don't hear a very loud fan, although I do hear a slight wurring; I do see the heater element burning though. I am very worried about the electricity consumption and am concerned that it may not be working correctly. Does it take a long time to dry the items out, or should the fan be much faster? How much "wind" should be going through the dehydrator? HELP!

8/21/2008 3:12:38 PM

I was wondering how these dehydrators compare in cost. I notice you didn't discuss this part of the decision-making process. Do you have any recommendations on where to buy the dehydrators for the best price? Thanks

1/10/2008 12:10:56 PM

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