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Published Oct. 29, 2021

With the endless array of dehydrators on the market, there are important considerations before purchasing. What is the best dehydrator for making jerky, and what are the essential features to look for to meet your needs?

Hunters are starting to put away ducks, geese, and different types of venison. As we process game, we preplan to save the best cuts for making jerky. Long-grained meat cut with the grain is ideal for muscle-cut jerky, but ground meat is the base for extruded options. No matter your preferences for jerky, how you heat it and dry it will dictate the final consistency.

Nobody likes undercooked jerky. If you have ever tried a batch that is crunchy and brittle, you know what to avoid. A dehydrator should be looked at as a control chamber, where the perfect heat is added. A fan circulates the air to help remove moisture from the meat slowly. The result is jerky with the perfect texture, flavor, and consistency.

I went through the offerings on the market to select the best dehydrators for jerky to eliminate the guesswork. So, you can concentrate on turning your hard-won meat into delicious treats that will last until the next season opens.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Dehydrator for Jerky

Capacity

The capacity and number of trays in the dehydrator is an important consideration. Dehydrating is a long process, so you want to get as much done at one time as possible. The size of the dehydrator is not critical if you are making small batches of jerky. But if you plan on doing a big lot, you don’t want to spend days filling and refilling a machine.

Heat Range

The heat range is critical; you do not want a dehydrator to get too hot. Low heat over time is how a dehydrator works best. An upper temperature of 165°F also ensures food safety for meats that need to reach an internal temperature to kill parasites or bacteria.

Material and Ease of Cleanup

If you plan on using a dishwasher to clean trays and drip pans, make sure the dimensions match your dishwasher’s capacity. Large dehydrator trays can be cumbersome in the sink and often don’t fit in household dishwashers.

Design

Dehydrators come square, round, cylindrical, and rectangular. It might not seem like a big deal at first, but meat cut or extruded in long rectangular strips do not fit well in round trays. Consider the foods you want to dry and how they would fit for maximizing space during use. The shape is also a consideration for storage, as some units will not fit in a cupboard.

Timer and Digital Temperature Control

Dehydrating can be an exact science, where controlling the temperature is critical to the end product. Having consistent and precise heat is important. Dials will get you close to a temperature, but a digital unit is exact. A timer ensures you can set the dehydrator and let it do the work over time.

Usage

How often and how long you use your dehydrator plays a big role in the model you select. Consistent use demands higher quality or even commercial grade equipment. Higher wattage, heavy-duty stainless steel trays, and larger capacity are all welcome if you make a lot of jerky. But if you don’t plan on using a dehydrator often, a smaller, less expensive unit may be perfect for your needs.

Best Meat Dehydrator for Jerky: Weston Food Dehydrator

Key Features

  • Temperature Range: 84ºF to 155ºF
  • Size: 10 trays, 15.4 x 21 inches
  • Power: 620 Watts

Why It Made the Cut

The Weston Food Dehydrator offers everything the home butcher and jerky maker needs to dry meat and other foods efficiently. Ten trays provide 10 square feet of space, with a rear-mounted fan creating even airflow and drying for all trays.

Pros 

  • Consistent and even airflow
  • Easily adjustable thermostat temperature control
  • Large capacity trays

Cons 

  • Upper temperature 155 ºF
  • Plastic construction

The Weston Food Dehydrator is the best dehydrator for jerky because it’s a large, easy to use, and easy to clean powerhouse. It is ideal for any size drying job at home, from making jerky to fruit leather. The extra power and capacity make this dehydrator perform like a commercial unit.

This dehydrator has more wattage than most home-use units. With 620 watts, it is closer in power to commercial units. The dehydrator holds 10 trays for large-capacity projects, offering 10-square feet of drying space. The trays are bottom vented for better airflow and drying conditions to ensure each piece comes out just right.

The thermostat temperature control is accurate and consistent with a temperature range of 84ºF to 155ºF. The upper limit is a bit low if your jerky projects involve meats that require internal temperatures of 165 ºF, so take that into consideration. A rear-mounted fan circulates air over all the trays and ensures the heat from the powerful element flows evenly through the dehydrator.

Trays are stackable and can be rotated to increase capacity to house more oversized food items. They are designed to prevent food from sticking and reduce cleaning. The plastic housing and trays clean up quickly and store as a single unit. The rectangular design is easy to store with no wasted space, making the most of cluttered countertops and over-stuffed closets. The Weston Food Dehydrator Machine is a fantastic value for the price.

Best Dehydrator for Jerky Under $100: Homdox Food Dehydrator

Key Features

  • Temperature Range: 95ºF to 158ºF
  • Size: 8 trays, 12.6 x 9.84 inches
  • Power: 400 Watts

Why It Made the Cut

With eight trays, digital timer, and temperature control, the Homdox Food Dehydrator is a great value.

Pros 

  • Clear construction allows for viewing
  • Digital temperature control and timer
  • Large capacity trays

Cons 

  • Upper temperature 158 ºF

The medium-sized Homdox Food Dehydrator is the ideal dehydrator for home use, jerky recipes or drying fruits, vegetables, bread, or herbs. It is easy to use, does not take up much room to store, and is easy to clean. As the best dehydrator for jerky under $100, it’s hard to beat this dehydrator.

A digital touch panel makes for easy setting and use, perfect for beginner jerky makers. And the dehydrator features a clear plastic body, which allows you to keep an eye on the drying process without opening a lid and slowing the drying process. Eight trays offer plenty of capacity.

With 400 watts of drying power, the Homdox is in-line with most dehydrators for home use. The digital temperature and timer are consistent, even drying with a temperature range of 95ºF to 158ºF. Unique overheating protection automatically activates to prevent over-drying of food. You can set the timer from one to 72 hours to tackle the biggest jobs. But with a temperature limit of 158ºF, you can’t reach the 165ºF internal temperatures needed for some meats.

Though the fan is mounted on the bottom, you do not have to rotate trays to ensure even drying thorough the process. BPA-free clear plastic trays are stackable to increase capacity and can accommodate food items a bit more than an inch thick. The trays rotate to provide different heights for a variety of food items. Both the housing and trays clean up easily when your project is done.

Best Dehydrator for Home Use: Premium Food Dehydrator

Key Features

  • Temperature Range: 95ºF to 158ºF
  • Size: 6 trays, 12 × 10 inches
  • Power: 400 Watts

Why It Made the Cut

The Premium Food Dehydrator is the perfect unit for home use, with good capacity and consistent heat and drying power.

Pros  

  • Digital temperature control with easy to see LED panel
  • Stainless steel trays and drip pan are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning
  • A rear fan offers 360° even heat and dehydrating

Cons 

  • Upper temperature 158 ºF

The Premium Food Dehydrator is the best dehydrator for home use, with all the bells and whistles to make jerky and other dried foods. If used seasonally or on a sporadic basis, like only when you are craving jerky, this unit will provide years of consistent results.

The digital temperature and timer are easily configured using the LED touch screen. Set the timer from a few minutes to 24 hours to get the results you need with whatever cuts of meat or vegetables you put in the trays. The dehydrator has a glass door to monitor progress visually without opening the unit and losing heat.

Six tray capacity ensures plenty of meat is converted to jerky in each batch. A rear-mounted automatic fan ensures consistent results for even drying with a temperature range of 95ºF to 158ºF. Once again, the upper limit isn’t high enough for some meats.

The trays are durable stainless steel, making them an ideal choice as a green life product. A drip tray in the bottom of the unit will catch extra moisture or drippings during the drying process, ensuring the machine is easy to clean. The drying and drip trays are removable and dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.

Best Commercial Dehydrator for Jerky: Ivation 10-Tray Commercial Food Dehydrator

Key Features

  • Temperature Range: 95ºF to 167ºF
  • Size: 10 trays, 15.6 x 15.6 inches
  • Power: 1,000 watts

Why It Made the Cut

If you plan on making lots of jerky, the large capacity and high output of the Ivation 10-Tray Commercial Food Dehydrator is just the ticket.

Pros 

  • Commercial-grade construction is built to last
  • Digital temperature control for consistent and controlled heat
  • Dishwasher-safe trays are easy to clean

Cons 

  • 1,000-watt energy draw is high
  • Stainless steel cleaner required to maintain the finish

The Ivation 10-Tray Commercial Food Dehydrator is the best commercial dehydrator for jerky. It’s a big unit with lots of drying power, built for the rigors of everyday use. If you plan on using a dehydrator often to create jerky, or anything else, this is the right unit for you.

If you have a couple of deer on the meatpole, the Ivation 10-Tray Commercial Food Dehydrator is ideal. This unit has excellent capacity, so you can dry big batches of jerky at one time. The 10-tray unit is larger than most dehydrators and is deep enough to handle thickly sliced meat, fruit, bread, buns, or whatever you want to be dried. Create enough snacks for a long time in one session.

Slowly dried jerky has the perfect texture, so set your dehydrator and let it do the work overnight while you sleep. The digital temperature and timer are intuitive to use and set with a temperature range of 95ºF to 167ºF. This is high enough to reach the 165 ºF needed for all meats. The timer can be set for 30 minutes to 24 hours and automatically turns off the dehydrator when timed out.

Uneven heat in a dehydrator means rotating trays and products to finish everything. A rear-mounted automatic fan ensures even drying on all trays. The unit is quiet, so it won’t distract you as it makes tasty treats. A drip tray contains the mess, and all the trays are dishwasher safe for easy cleanup.

Methodology 

I have been preparing game for decades now. My experience with dehydrators has included a variety of units with different capacities, air circulation, and power. All play an important role in producing butcher shop-quality jerky and other dried foods.

  • Capacity and power: Units without enough power prolong the drying process and can be frustrating to use.
  • Durability and cleaning: Trays and outer housing must be easy to clean, and dishwasher-safe components are ideal.
  • Temperature control and timer: Precise temperature control is paramount to adequately dried foods. Digital controls are easy to use and read to ensure all settings are correct.
  • Overall cost: Capacity and power relate directly to cost to determine the best value.

FAQs

Q: Can you dehydrate jerky too long?

Yes, jerky that is overdried becomes brittle in texture and will have a concentrated salt flavor. Jerky should be dried to the point where it is still flexible but firm. Remember, jerky will continue to dry after coming out of the dehydrator. So, remove it while still flexible.

Q: What is the best meat for jerky?

Round roasts of the hindquarters make the best jerky. The long-grained meat off the leg muscles does not have sinew lines and makes consistent jerky that dries evenly. If you do not have round roasts to work from, grind any meat and make extruded jerky. Whole muscle and extruded jerky have a different consistency, but are great options when you want more jerky and to utilize more meat cuts.

Q: What temperature should I dehydrate jerky?

A dehydrator should reach a minimum of 145°F to be used for making jerky safely. The lower temperature could allow bacteria to grow. The proper heat and air circulation will ensure jerky is dried evenly, consistently, and safely.

Final Thoughts on the Best Dehydrators for Jerky

Consider how often you will use a dehydrator before making a purchase. All units are designed for slow and consistent drying, but more power is always advantageous when used regularly. If you see yourself using the dehydrator monthly, look at a more powerful or commercial-grade unit. Seasonal and occasional use will allow you to consider the best value and how the unit can be stored when not in use. Cleanup should not be overlooked, so keep the size of trays in mind and make sure they are dishwasher safe.

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