Dehydrators are fantastic machines, allowing you to make your own dried fruit and vegetables, jerky and a variety of other foods with ease. In this guide we aim to provide you with everything you need to know before buying one. This will cover all the basic features and specifications you will need to think about before making a purchase, so read below to get all the info! Once you have a better idea of what kind of features you need, then it will be much easier to pick out the best food dehydrator machine for your home.
Stack-able or removable?
Now the first main choice you will need to decide on is whether to invest in a dehydrator that has stack-able shelves, or one that works with removable trays. Let’s discuss some of the pros and cons of each kind.
In general, the stack-able models are a bit cheaper, so that is one of the draws to them. However, there are some disadvantages when it comes to these models. The main disadvantage is the heat distribution method. Most stack-able units tend to have a bottom or top mounted fan, and this means that the trays closest to the fan heat up much faster that those trays farthest from the fan. In other words, if you have a top mounted fan unit, those trays on the top will dry out much quicker than those trays sitting at the bottom.
This can be problematic if you are doing several trays of the same fruit or jerky, as one tray will dry out quicker than the others. There is a way around this however, and this is to rotate the trays during the drying process. This is not a problem for most people, but it does take away some of the convenience points for these particular machines.
Something else you need to be careful of is buying a dehydrator that has a bottom mounted fan. Why is this considered a bad choice? Drying certain kinds of foods will often end up being rather messy, and some of the drippings from the food can end up dripping into the bottom mounted fan, which can cause all kinds of problems. So if you are intending to buy a stack-able model, then we would strongly suggest you invest in the kind with a top mounted fan.
Another potential issue with these types is that the flavors could get mixed. Assuming you have a top mounted fan type, what would happen if you have onion at the top, and some apple in the tray below? The air is blown onto the onion first, which then passes onto the apple below. Some of the flavor of the onion is then transferred onto the apple, which is also known as “flavor sharing”.
This is far less of an issue with removable tray kinds of dehydrators, however it will not be an issue if you only intend to dry similar kinds of food at once. It isn’t all bad news with these cheaper models however, as they often take up a bit less spaces then the removable tray types. Also if you only plan on doing smaller quantities of food, then this kind may actually be the preferable choice. Generally most folks who are new to the whole food dehydrating experience tend to invest in a cheaper stack-able models to begin with, then work their way up to the bigger and better removable type models as their dehydrating needs expand.
A removable type (as seen in the picture up top) are what most people consider to be the best dehydrator machines, as they have a few advantages over the cheaper stack-able types. Most removable types have a fan mounted at the rear of the unit. This kind of design ensures that heat is perfectly distributed throughout the trays, which means there is no need at all for any kind of tray swapping. Most removable kinds are also square or rectangular in shape, which means you get more overall drying space then you would with the the round stack-able models.
Another advantage of these types are that they are much more accommodating when it comes to bigger and taller kinds of food, as all you would need to do is remove the tray above to get a little more vertical space if needed. You don’t really have this option with stack-able types, as you are limited to the height of the trays. As mentioend above, these models do cost more, but are the preferred choice if you are dehydrating large quantities at a time.
What other features should you consider?
There are some other important features and options you will need to consider.
On many cheaper dehydrators you will only find options for low, medium and high temperatures. Different foods require specific temperatures to dry out, so this can often be a little confusing since you can never be sure if you have the exact required temperature. You should look out for a model that has full temperature control, which will allow you to use specific temperatures.
Some of the best food dehydrator machines come with a built in timer. If you are looking for a fully automated solution, then a timer will come in very handy. If you find a machine that fits all your needs, but doesn’t have a timer, then this doesn’t matter too much.
You could always invest in what is known as a mechanical timer. This is essentially a plug that your food dehydrator will connect to, which will then allow you to specify a time which the plug will switch off. These kind of plugs cost as little as $8, so don’t let a lack of timer be a deal breaker for you, as this is quite cheaply are easily fixed with a mechanical timer.
You should also look at how much power each particular model has. In most cases, more power means faster drying times. This is quite important when it comes to meat and fleshy fruits such as peaches, as these kinds can take the longest time to dry out. A more powerful unit will make quicker work of these, so remember to think about this before making a purchase. Many lower end models will only be around 250 watts, while the more powerful units will be in the range of 800 watts. Anything 400 and up should be more than enough for home use.
If you use a dishwasher, then you should also double check which parts are dishwasher safe (if any). The stack-able trays tend to be a little more brittle, so be sure to check the manual to see if these can be used in the dishwasher. Otherwise if you plan on hand washing the parts, be sure to check out some user reviews to get an idea of how much work goes into cleaning the unit. Does it have lots of small fiddly parts to clean and dry? Is it difficult to clean certain parts? Remember that all this information is quite important when it comes to the maintenance and day to day operation of the dehydrator.
What kind of accessories do you need?
The last thing to consider when searching for the best home food dehydrator are the accessories that are included. Stack-able models are often upgradeable, which means you can purchase more trays to add to the model. Be careful though, as the costs of these trays can often cost more than you think, so remember to included these in the cost if you think you may need more drying space. If you plan on making fruit rolls, then double check if your particular model comes with fruit rolls sheets. These are solid sheets, which are used to make fruit rolls and other semi-liquid types of foods.
If you intend to dry smaller items such as herbs, you should look at a model that comes with Clean Screens. These aren’t solid sheets, but they do have quite a fine mesh which ensures that the herbs or whatever you are drying do not fall through. These kinds of sheets are also easier to use with sticky items such as pineapple, as they tend to peel off much easier when you use these sheets.
If you plan on doing a lot of jerky, then some dehydrators come with a jerky gun. If you want to make the perfect jerky each time, then the jerky gun will allow you to get a consistent thickness each time you make jerky.
So that is all you info you should consider before making a purchase choice. We hope this little starter guide has been informative, and that it will help you find the best food dehydrator machine for your personal needs. If you are looking for a good place to start your search for the perfect dehydrator, have a look at our dehydrators section for a look at some of the current most popular dehydrators available on the market.