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Whether you’re looking to be a hero on your next road trip or make more exciting snacks when you’re stuck working at your desk, a food dehydrator offers you the chance to explore new types of jerky and dried fruit.
If your experience with dehydrated foods starts and ends with the dried cranberries you add to your apple salad, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We consulted the Good Housekeeping Institute and Nicole Papantoniou, director of their Kitchen Appliances & Culinary Innovation Lab, to delve into the world of food dehydrators and why you might want to consider purchasing one to sit alongside your air fryer.
“While you can dehydrate in an oven or air fryer, the advantage of a standalone model is that it works at a much lower temperature and usually has more shelves than an oven or air fryer,” says Papantoniou.
From high-powered, professional machines to dehydrators with collapsible shelves for easy storage, we found models to fit every size kitchen and type of snacker (we see you, beef jerky fans). Read on to find out what to which buy.
Our top picks
How we picked these products
We’ve got plenty of options for you to chew on. To find the best food dehydrators, we talked to our friends at the Good Housekeeping Institute. Their team of on-staff experts—which includes all types: engineers! data analysts! registered dietitians!—rigorously put everyday products to the test (and then more and more tests) in their New York City-based labs to determine which ones you can trust. They evaluated the food dehydrators by drying apples, parsley, and beef jerky. They compared the models on a variety of factors, including performance, ease of use, noise levels, features, included accessories, and how easy it was to clean the trays and machine.
What should you look for when buying a food dehydrator?
With a host of different sizes and shelf formations, finding the right food dehydrator can feel a bit like searching for M&Ms in a bag of trail mix. Here’s what to consider when comparing food dehydrator models.
Size: Think about what you want to dehydrate and how much space you have for a new appliance. Some models have collapsible or removable shelves that can take up less drawer space, while other models have built-in shelves and enough weight (more than 30 pounds) that you’ll want to find them a permanent home on your counter.
Shape: Food dehydrators are like a lesson in geometry. You can find square, oval, round, and rectangular machines. Papantoniou prefers rectangular models as round food dehydrators have a center hole, which means less surface space for drying fruits and herbs.
Shelf type: While stainless steel shelving may feel more sturdy, plastic shelves are often dishwasher safe. Papantoniou notes that clear shelves allow you to check what’s happening without interrupting the dehydrating process.
Features: Models with higher price tags often have additional features like the ability to control the temperature or time in smaller increments. As you use your dehydrator more often, you’ll likely come to appreciate the ability to be more precise in order to get the texture of dried turkey jerky exactly how you like it.
Accessories: Some food dehydrators include fruit leather trays, which Papantoniou notes can double as drip trays, or mesh screens for drying herbs. Pay attention to whether the accessories and shelves are dishwasher safe or if they have to be washed by hand.
How does a food dehydrator work?
When you place sliced apples in your food dehydrator and turn it on, ever wonder what happens next? A food dehydrator has a heating element and a fan (or occasionally two fans) that circulates the air around the apple slices.
“It cooks the food at a very low temperature to draw the moisture out,” explains Papantoniou. “When moisture is drawn out of the food, it changes the texture and makes it more shelf stable so you can enjoy it longer.”
Food dehydrators can be set to a much lower temperature—typically between 95 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit—than an oven or air fryer. Herbs tend to be tried at the lowest temperature, fruit in the middle (between 110 and 135 degrees), and meat at the top end of the range.
What are some unexpected uses for food dehydrators?
You might regularly make beef jerky in your food dehydrator; but that doesn’t mean you have to stop there. It’s the kind of appliance that will surprise you with its versatility.
“A lot of people use food dehydrators to make dog treats,” says Papantoniou. “You can also dry flowers for potpourri or arts and crafts with a flour and water mixture for kids.”
Since it’s a closed environment, Papantoniou says that you could even use your food dehydrator to proof bread dough.
Jonathan Bender is a food writer who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. He regularly tests kitchen appliances for national publications and recipes on his children. He's also the author of a pair of cookbooks: Stock, Broth & Bowland Cookies & Beer.
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