3 Things to Consider Before You Buy a Dehydrator

Preparing healthy fruit, vegetable, or meat snacks is simple and easy if you have the right appliance

Nesco dehydrator
A dehydrator allows you to create your own snacks for much less than you’d pay for the same munchies at a store.Nesco

Dehydrators are the perfect appliance for creating healthy snacks at a fraction of the cost of store-bought fruits and jerky. And they’re a perfect way to preserve vegetables or fruits from your garden to eat later on when items are out of season. Choosing the right model for you will depend on what you want to dry and how large a quantity you wish to process. Here are three tips that will set you up for success to find the dehydrator that’s just right for you.

Check the Flow

Presto food dehydrator
Drying trays on this model nest for easy storage and trays are dishwasher safe for easy clean-ups.Presto

When shopping for a dehydrator, there are basically two options to choose from. Vertical-flow hydrators have a fan either in the lid or in the base that circulates heat either up or down through slotted trays on which you place food items. These tend to be the most affordable models out there. They're great for dehydrating batches of fruits and vegetables, but they are not as well-suited for making jerky or drying tougher vegetables, which require more of an even flow of heat all around. Trays on most vertical-flow models are dishwasher safe, however, which does make these easy to clean.

Horizontal-flow hydrators are similar to a convection oven. The heat source is in the back of the appliance and fans push the heat across the drying racks. This tends to provide a more even heat distribution all around, so you don’t need to worry about rotating racks. Most models have a built-in timer so you can simply turn it on and walk away. Horizontal models tend to cost a bit more, but if you’re looking to make jerky, these are the models you should consider.

Size Matters

Excalibur electric food dehydrator
Great for large families and sportsmen who want to make jerky, this model offers 15 square feet of drying space, a built in on/off switch, and an adjustable thermostat with a 26-hour timer.Excalibur

How much you want to dehydrate at any given time will drive your size requirements. If you want to dry a few simple fruits and veggies for snacks, a smaller unit will probably be fine. If you're looking to dry larger quantities of things or ramp up to dry a bunch of deer or elk meat for jerky, you'll want a larger model. Bear in the mind that the larger the dehydrator you choose, the more countertop or pantry space you'll need to store it when it's not in use—something to consider for those who have smaller kitchens.

3 Features to Look For

Nesco food dehydrator
This model has a powerful fan that forces hot air horizontally across each individual tray for fast, even drying without having to rotate the trays.Nesco

Timer: It's really easy to get a batch of fruits or veggies drying and forget you need to check on them. Having a model with a built-in timer that pings you when it's time to check on things is a nice feature.

Thermostat: Different foods dry better at different temperatures. Having a model with thermostat allows you to dial in the perfect setting for whatever you're drying. A thermostat also makes great sense if you intend to dry a lot of different types of things.

Auto Shut-off: This is a must. Having an auto-shut-off feature allows you the freedom to get things going then head off to run errands or work in the garden. Set your dehydrator up at night and you can be assured you'll wake up to great-tasting snacks.