Have you ever wished you could make your fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and herbs last longer? We all want to get the most mileage out of our food, especially when budgets are tight. That’s where a digital food dehydrator comes in handy!
Food dehydrators are an easy way to preserve foods for months while retaining more nutrients than other drying methods. The controlled, low temperature heating circulates air evenly around your food, removing moisture gently over time. Without moisture, bacteria and mold can’t grow.
But all food dehydrators are not created equal. Newer digital models have precise, adjustable settings that older style dehydrators lack. This gives you more control for customizing the drying process based on what you’re making.
We compared the features and performance of the top five digital food dehydrators on the market today. Keep reading to learn which one is right for your needs, plus tips for choosing, using, and maintaining your dehydrator.
Overview of the Top 5 Digital Food Dehydrators
After extensive product research and testing, we picked these digital models as the best food dehydrators currently available:
1. Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator
With its patented Converga-Flow drying system, the Nesco Snackmaster Pro circulates air down through the trays and back up on the exterior for consistent drying temperatures. It has an adjustable thermostat up to 160°F, a built-in timer up to 24 hours, and 5 trays made from BPA-free plastic.
Benefits: Very efficient at dehydrating large batches evenly, no flavor mixing between trays, can expand by stacking additional trays.
Considerations: One of the more expensive models, requires substantial counter space, and the fan is noticeably loud when operating.
2. Excalibur 3926TB Food Dehydrator
As a trusted brand in food dehydrators, Excalibur offers superior performance. The 3926TB model comes with a 26 hour max timer and temperature range of 105-165°F across 9 BPA-free trays. The fan and heating element are in the back instead of the bottom.
Benefits: Very large capacity, excellent for big batches and bulky foods. Quiet operation and excellent temperature regulation.
Considerations: It’s on the pricier side, and takes up a lot of counter real estate with its square footage.
3. COSORI Premium Food Dehydrator
This affordable dehydrator comes with 6 stainless steel trays and is packed with features. It has an adjustable timer up to 24 hours, temperature range of 95-165°F, and the fan on top blows air downward for efficient drying. The contemporary design is available in black, white, or silver.
Benefits: Dries food evenly at a great price point. Trays and door are easy to clean. More compact size than many competitors.
Considerations: Smaller overall capacity and limited temperature settings compared to pricier models.
4. Chefman Food Dehydrator Machine
New cooks looking for a budget-friendly option should consider this Chefman model. It includes 6 removable BPA-free plastic trays, an easy-to-use digital touchscreen, temperature range of 95-158°F, and 19.5 hour timer. The rear-mounted fan and heating element promote air flow.
Benefits: Very affordable for beginners. User-friendly digital controls. More compact for smaller kitchens.
Considerations: Build quality doesn’t compare to the pricier brands. Capacity is lower than other 6-tray models.
5. NutriChef PKFD06 Food Dehydrator
For an entry-level dehydrator that still offers adjustable settings, the NutriChef PKFD06 is a great value choice. It comes with 6 BPA-free trays, adjustable digital timer and temperature settings, and a transparent viewing door to monitor drying progress.
Benefits: Budget-friendly price while still offering temperature/time customization. Trays are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
Considerations: Lacks an integrated timer. Smaller capacity than larger models.
How to Choose the Best Digital Food Dehydrator for You
Now that you know the top models available, keep these key factors in mind when choosing one for your needs:
- Capacity: Consider how much food you’ll regularly dehydrate. Larger families or big batch preppers need a model with 9-10 trays. For 1-3 people, 5-6 trays is usually sufficient.
- Adjustable thermostat and timer: Look for a model with a wide temperature range and timer settings you can customize based on different foods. This allows more precision.
- Size: Make sure the dehydrator will fit comfortably on your countertop or storage space when not in use. Larger units are bulkier.
- Quality: Choose a reputable brand with good reviews and durability. Pricier models typically last longer.
- Price: Digital food dehydrators range from $40 on the low end, up to $400 for the premium brands. Compare materials and features to decide what makes sense for your budget.
- Air flow: Models with the fan/heating element on the back or top promote better air circulation for fast, even drying.
- Materials: BPA-free plastic trays and accessories are ideal. Look for dishwasher-safe parts for easy cleaning.
- Noise level: If using your dehydrator in a high-traffic area, consider noise output, as some fans are louder.
How to Use a Digital Food Dehydrator
Follow these tips to safely prep, dry, and store your food:
- Refer to your owner’s manual for model-specific guidance. Always start by washing trays, accessories, and your hands before use.
- Prepare foods by slicing evenly into 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces, removing inedible parts and cores. Some foods like grapes and mushrooms do not need slicing.
- Load trays evenly and don’t overpack them. Leave space between pieces for air flow. Rotating trays periodically helps the drying process.
- Set the temperature and time based on what you’re dehydrating. Most fruits and veggies dry at 130-140°F for 4-12 hours. Meat needs higher heat (155-165°F) and takes 12-24 hours.
- Check food at intervals to monitor dryness. Most items should have no moisture inside when cut. Jerky is properly dried if it bends but doesn’t snap when you tear a piece.
- Let food cool before transferring to airtight containers or bags. Store in a cool, dry place away from light. Most dehydrated foods last 6-12 months.
- Label containers with the contents and date before storing. Stored improperly, food can spoil quickly.
Frequently Asked Questions About Digital Food Dehydrators
If you’re new to dehydrating, chances are you have lots of questions! Here are answers to some of the key topics:
What foods can be dehydrated?
You’d be surprised at the variety of foods that dry well, including fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs, and more. Good options are berries, mango, bananas, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, beef jerky, salmon jerky, and herbs like basil, oregano, and parsley.
How long does dehydrating take?
Drying time depends on factors like the food’s moisture content, density, and thickness or slices. On average, fruits and sliced vegetables take 4-12 hours at 130°F. Meats and thicker produce take longer – around 12-24 hours.
What temperature should I set the dehydrator to?
130-155°F works great for most fruits and vegetables. Meat and thick cuts need higher heat, around 155-165°F. Refer to your owner’s manual for specific guidelines.
How can you tell when food is fully dehydrated?
It should be dried all the way through, but not burnt or crispy. Jerky is done when you can bend it but it doesn’t break. Test fruits and veggies by cutting a piece – there should be no moisture inside.
Is using a food dehydrator healthier than other preservation methods?
Yes! Since no preservatives or chemicals are added, the nutrients and enzymes remain intact. The low-heat process preserves more nutrients than blanching, freezing, or canning.
How should I store dehydrated foods?
Let foods cool completely before storing in airtight containers or freezer bags. Keep in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Stored properly, most dehydrated foods last 6-12 months.
Get Creative in the Kitchen with Your Digital Dehydrator
With the convenience of a digital food dehydrator, you can make tasty and nutritious snacks like fruit leathers, veggie chips, and beef jerky with your own twists. Make large batches when seasonal produce is fresh and affordable. Get your kids involved in preparing their favorite healthy treats. Experiment with herbs and spices to add new flavors to dried fruits and vegetables.
Dehydrating is also great for preserving the harvest from your garden. And you can customize jerky, backpacking meals, and healthy homemade trail mixes for your next camping trip or road trip snack. Store extra batches in your pantry or gift homemade goodies to family and friends.
So don’t let your fresh foods go to waste! A digital food dehydrator makes it easy to enjoy preserved fruits, veggies, and proteins all year long while saving money and getting the most from your food. Hopefully this guide gave you a helpful overview of popular models plus tips for choosing and using one.
With the right dehydrator, you’ll open up countless options for wholesome homemade snacks and meals your whole family will love. What foods are you excited to start dehydrating?