Are you excited to start dehydrating to take advantage of grocery store sales or garden produce? There are so many on the market, it can seem a daunting task. Here are some tips to help you with making the decision easier for buying a dehydrator the first time.
Before jumping into the first dehydrator that someone recommends you to, do a little research - you'll save yourself a lot of time, frustration, and hopefully a lot of money!
Tips for Buying Your First Dehydrator
Here are some good rules of thumb for purchasing a dehydrator:
Your budget will be the biggest factor in determining what kind of dehydrator you get.
The price ranges I'll be talking about are under $50 (small budget), $50-100 (mid-range budget) and $100+ (large budget)
Of course, there are some good machines in the lower price ranges, but there are some great ones if you have a few more dollars to spend or are very patient to scour those thrift shops, garage sales or Facebook marketplace.
But remember...the worst dehydrator is the one you don't get or don't use. You do not have to have a big fancy machine to put up amazing produce for your family for snacking or for your extended pantry. Don't be caught up in the need for the biggest and most expensive machine. Be wise with your money - that's more important!
Temperature adjustment is a vital feature of a dehydrator. It allows you to change the temperature for delicate greens, raw foods, all the way to a high enough temperature to make beef jerky safe.
Machines that have a simple on and off switch are usually a single temperature machine. They are a fixed temperature that may or may not be safe enough to do jerky, so read the manual to find what the fixed temperature is. If you already have a single temp machine you can test your dehydrator to find what it's true temperature is.
Machines that have an off, low, medium and high button tend to stay within the range of the recommended temperatures. You can easily look at their manual online by downloading a .pdf from a quick internet search of the model name and .pdf manual.
Get the most you can afford. A 250-watt machine will take too long to dry those things that need longer drying times. It wastes energy and costs you more in electrical costs in the long run. Wattage varies per machine, so make sure to compare wattage as well as price and settle in the space you can afford.
Electrical use: Of course, more wattage means more initial electricity usage, but you'll have to balance that with a lower wattage machine having to run longer for the same results.
Know the space you have to store your dehydrator when in use and out of use.
Look not only on where you'll use it, but also where you'll store it when not in use. Do you have a spot in the garage you can tuck it? Or a closet where it can stay during those seasons that you're not using it?
It's well known in my dehydrating community that I store and use my Excalibur on my dryer in my laundry closet. It's the only place that I can keep it where it is handy. I use it so often that I want to keep it handy, but I can't afford the counter space because my kitchen is on the small side.
There are basically two types of fans:
Horizontal Fan - works from front to back across all trays. Think of the slide-in tray machines like the Excalibur.
- Pros: the airflow affects all trays at the same time across the food. Full use of the tray.
- Cons: rotation may still be needed for long-drying times with fruits as airflow still concentrates mostly in the middle trays at the back of the machine. Tend to be more expensive and larger.
Vertical Fan - stackable trays with a fan on the top unit or the bottom base unit. There is usually an open channel for upflow created with center holes in each tray.
- Pros - many of these can be stacked with additional trays to expand your drying.
- Cons - not as efficient as the horizontal trays and need to be rotated during use. Each tray has a hole in the middle to help with airflow, reducing how much you can get on a tray
Ultimately, a good machine that has a strong motor will work for you, regardless. I personally prefer the horizontal fan now that I've used both kinds, as I feel it is a more efficient machine, but your budget might play a larger factor for you and a vertical fan will work just fine!
Skip the 4 or 5 tray machines that you can't add to. You'll lose half those while doing anything like greens as you have to make room. Go for expandable vertical trays or 7+ tray horizontal machines.
Also, think in terms of the trays for the above fan configurations. Trays from vertical fans all have holes in the middle to allow for airflow, which then decreases the amount of space to put produce on.
One way that the inexpensive machines keep the cost down is to cut back on materials used. The trays are done from a flimsy plastic that can be broken easily when handling the trays. It's usually a clear polycarbonate that will be quite fragile.
Another downside to an inexpensive machine (the under $40 range) is that many of them will have trays that warp from the heat of the fan. Aldi's least expensive dehydrator has a big reputation for this.
You want a machine with trays that are made from sturdy plastic or stainless steel, that don't feel they'll crack at the slightest touch.
Stainless vs Plastic - this is a personal preference. The plastics used in most modern dehydrators are BPA free, but you'll want to do due diligence to read the manufacturer specifics on any machine you want to use. Be sure to look at not only the cabinet construction but the tray construction when making your decision.
A word about California's Proposition 65. In California, a warning label must be placed on any device that MAY contains one of over 900 chemicals in the manufacturing process which may contribute to cancer. While a machine (such as Excalibur) may meet all federal and state safety standards, it is a label that California requires, regardless if the said machine actually does contain those substances. You can read more about it on Excalibur's website.
Don't skip the 5-star and 1-star reviews, especially if they are the majority, but focus on those middle reviews. They can tell a better story about the pros and cons of machines, and cut through a little of the hype.
1-star reviews, if they are 7% or more of the overall review content, need to be read to understand some serious issues with machines. But often, they tend to be reviews of people who don't always understand how a product works, or are giving reviews based off another product (Amazon is famous for it), or of a shipping issue or other customer service issue that didn't really relate to how the machine worked.
Also, ask your friends, or people in your favorite food preserving Facebook groups about what they use and how they like it. Those can be a great way to get real-life reviews from people who are using their dehydrators all of the time.
I also tend to stay away from Dehydrator Review sites. They're usually marketing sites that are set up specifically to get your affiliate marketing money, and aren't always created by people who actually use them day in and day out. They're convenient for specs, but I prefer real-world reviews by people who use the machines for more than the review and some photos.
Shop for Sales
Get 20% off selected Excalibur Dehydrators through 5/25/20. Use coupon code MD2020 with my affiliate link.
Look around for a good deal on the dehydrator you want.
- Shop thrift stores and charity shops
- Scour garage sales
- Ask friends if they have one they never use any longer
- Facebook Marketplace
- Check the manufacturer’s websites, or get on their newsletters to be reminded of sales and coupons.
- Look for Lightning Deals on Amazon or Woot! These tend to be refurbished or returned models, but are usually certified and hold the same warranty.
- Check out box store sales especially around seasonal buying time
Other tips for Buying Used
- Borrow from a friend - this can be one of the best ways to try out a dehydrator that you've been looking at to see if it will work for you!
- Test a machine - if you are looking at a used machine, ask to plug it in first to see if it actually heats up. Pull out an oven thermometer if you have one handy (because you always carry one in your pocket, don't you?!) and test the temperature in the machine while it runs.
- Look for the manual online - you can read and make yourself familiar with how the machine works, and discount it immediately if it won't suit your needs.
- Ask for an honest review - ask why the person is selling it, if they ever used it, how it's been stored, how much it's been used.
Of course, if you are a fan of DIY and wanting to go off-grid, you can always build a solar dehydrator!
If you are ready to buy now, and want some recommendations, these are the ones I recommend at different price points. I've not used all of the machines, but my recommendations are based on experience in how machines work, as well as the years in the community and learning from others about them.
I am sharing from Amazon because it is a convenient one-stop shop, but you can purchase many of these machines at different stores convenient to you or from the manufacturer's websites. These are just a few of the suggestions I have - and there are many fine machines that you might choose instead.
Dehydrators Under $50
- Any great machine, based on the above factors, that you can get used!
- Presto 06300 (600 watts) While this machine doesn't tick all the boxes of what I consider a great machine, if you're tight on budget, need a machine today, and don't mind that it only has one temperature, this is a good, solid starter machine. But my recommendation is to save a little longer and upgrade your purchase.
Dehydrators Between $50-$100
- Nesco FD-75 (The "Round" one -- 600 watts). I use this one now as an overflow machine. The trays can be finicky, and the top-down fan doesn't work as efficiently as a horizontal fan, but it's a good solid machine.
- Nesco FD-80A (The 'Square' one -- 700 watts)- I used this machine for years and love how sturdy it is and what a workhorse it is.
- Nesco FD-1040 (Gardenmaster -- 1000 watts) - is expandable to many trays and the wattage allows it to work efficiently even through them all.
- COSORI CO165-FD (450 watts)
Dehydrators Between $100-$170
- Excalibur Economy 9-tray (600 watts) - this usually comes as a special on WOOT! or Amazon, so you'll have to watch for this price. But it does happen and sometimes you can even get it from Excalibur.com on sale, as well. But, the newer versions of this machine go only to 105°F now, instead of 95°F, which is too high for effective herb drying.
- COSORI Premium Food Dehydrator (600 watts)
- LEM Bite series (800 watts) Stainless steel trays, a brand that has been around for a very long time but isn't as well known. They are also available through Home Depot.
Gourmia GFD1950-- can no longer recommend this machine.
Dehydrators Over $170-250
- Excalibur 3900B 9-tray - this is one of the economy models that now only go to 105°F - and since most of their machines except the highest priced ones are also set only as low as 105°F, there's no use spending more just for the timer.
- LEM Products 1154 (Stainless Steel -- 700 watts) However, the machine run is tied into the timer, which you'll have to start over after 30 hrs. for things that may take more time drying like whole blueberries or bananas. Presets can be changed to run longer.
- Avantco Stainless Steel Dehydrator -- 1,000 watts - This machine is available only at Webrestaurantstore.com
Dehydrators Over $250
- Excalibur 3948CBD - 600 watts. Machine comes with digital display, timer, and a temperature range of 95°F/165°F (get it at Excalibur (be sure to check for sales) or Amazon).
Dehydrators over $400
• Cabela's 160L (24 tray) Dehydrator - the machine for serious dehydrating! If you have a large garden or homestead, or want to begin your own farmstand business of herbs & other dehydrated products - this is the way to go!
• Weston Pro - available from Home Depot, 24 trays with a lighted cabinet.
What about Alternative Options?
- Air Dry In a Layered Net
- All American Sun Oven - not only does it dehydrate, but you can also cook meals in it, too!
- Solar Dehydrator Plans
What Do You Use and Love?
What's your recommendation for a dehydrator someone might like to have? Do you have questions about any of the above dehydrator? Post in the comments below to let me know what you think about your favorite dehydrator!