October 1

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Save More, Spend Less: A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

By trk

October 1, 2020

food dehydrators

If you're one of the many people who are on the fence about whether a food dehydrator would be a good investment, this article will help you decide. We dive into the world of food dehydration, talk pros and cons, safety, health, technical issues and more--and we provide a list of the best food dehydrators to buy (as well as some we passed over). 

The Best Food Dehydrators at a Glance

Here are the specs and buying information on our top four best food dehydrators. For detailed reviews, you can skip to the Reviews section. To buy, click on the Price links at the bottom of the table.

Header

Best Consumer Model

Best Accessory Package

Best for Small Spaces

Best Commercial Grade

Characteristic 1

Nesco Gardenmaster

FD-1040

Nesco Snackmaster FD75A/FD61

Brod and Taylor Sahara DR710S

STX International Dehydra

Cell
A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators
A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators
A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators
A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

Power

1000W

600W

700W

1200W

Air Flow

Vertical (fan on top)

Vertical (fan on top)

Horizontal
(fan in back)

Horizontal
(fan in back)

Drying Area

4sf
(expandable to 20sf)

5 sf
(expandable to 12sf)

11 sf

16 sf

Temp. Range

90-160F

95-160F

85-165F

97-165F

Timer

Up to 48 hrs

No timer

99hr/198 hr total (with dual timer)

15 hrs w/auto shutoff

Shelf Material

Plastic (BPA-free)

Plastic (BPA free)

Stainless steel
(Plastic also avail.)

Stainless steel

Size/Wt.

15.5x15.5x9.50",
9 lb

14 x 14 x 11",
7.75 lb

Open: 22x14x11"
Closed: 22x12x4"
20 lb

20x16.5x14.5",
32 lb

Made In

USA and China

USA and China

China

China

Warranty

1 year

1 year

1 year/3 year w/registration

3 year w/registration

Accessories Incl.

4 trays,

1 mesh screens,

1 fruit roll sheet,

3 packs jerky seasoning and cure,

instruction booklet.

5 trays,

2 mesh screens,

2 fruit roll sheets,

3 packs jerky seasoning and cure, instruction booklet.

7 shelves,
carrying case,
instruction booklet.

10 shelves,
stainless drip tray,

instruction and recipe booklets.

See Price At:

*This link goes to the FD61 model, which is 500W but comes with a jerky gun.

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What Is a Food Dehydrator?

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

A food dehydrator is simply a device that removes water from food; most commonly, meats, vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

To be considered fully dehydrated, 95% of food's water content must be removed. (NOTE: To do so, you must follow the time and temperature guidelines for each type of food--not doing so may result in mold and spoilage.)

Removing moisture is an excellent way to preserve food. Humans have been preserving food this way for thousands of years. This method retains a high percentage of nutrients and also allows food to be kept at room temperature. Dehydrated foods can last for years or even decades.

Removing moisture from food is a simple process, and a food dehydrator is a simple machine, consisting of a container, a fan, and shelves that allow plenty of air flow through the device. You can find easy instructions online to make a dehydrator out of a cardboard box or other simple ingredients.

If you don't want to make your own food dehydrator, you can buy one. They start around $40 and go up to several hundred, depending on quality and features. Our recommended models start around $80 and range up to about $375.

We get into detail about the features and buying considerations below. (So even if you don't like any of our recommended models, you will still have enough information to pick out a dehydrator that suits your needs.)

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How Do You Use a Food Dehydrator?

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

If you're trying to decide if you need a food dehydrator, this section will be a huge help. 

Though many people buy a food dehydrator for a specific task, such as making their own dog treats or preserving their garden veggies, there are dozens of different ways to use one. Here are some of the most popular uses:

  • Dried Fruits and Vegetables (for use in cooking and baking)
  • Fruit and Vegetable "Chips" (for snacking)
  • Fruit Leather/Rollups
  • Jerky (made of steak, ground beef, poultry, fish, and more)
  • Pet Treats (made of poultry, liver, or other ingredients)
  • Granola
  • Herbs and Spices
  • Raw Crackers and Breads
  • Beans
  • Homemade Pasta
  • Bouillon (from boiled down stock)
  • Fermenting Yogurt
  • Proofing Bread
  • Rescuing Past-Its-Prime Food (of all kinds).

You can also use a food dehydrator for non-food purposes:

  • Pot Pourri/Sachet
  • Citrus peel (which can be used for cooking and baking, homemade cleaner fragrance, perfumed firestarters, and more)
  • Drying Tea Leaves and Herbs (for homemade infusions)
  • Making Paper
  • Drying craft projects (clay cutouts, dough cutouts, carved apples, etc.).

Not all food dehydrates well: food with a high fat content, for example, tends to not ever really dry out well enough for long-term storage (think avocados, butter, and supper fatty meat). So you can't use a food dehydrator for everything.

But for foods that dehydrate well, this device is genius. 

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What Are the Benefits of a Food Dehydrator?

The benefits of a food dehydrator are many. Here are some of the most significant ones:

  • Save money (more on this in a minute)
  • Know exactly what's in your food
  • Know exactly what's in your pet treats
  • Increase your food's shelf life 
  • Store food at room temperature
  • Rescue on-the-verge foods instead of throwing them out
  • Make your own camping and traveling foods
  • Have a stock of healthy emergency food on hand.

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What Are the Drawbacks of a Food Dehydrator?

While the benefits of a food dehydrator are many, these machines aren't for everybody. Here are the drawbacks you should also consider before deciding whether or not to buy:

  • Big, bulky, and hard to store
  • Can be heavy and hard to move (especially the box-type dehydrators)
  • Many need a lot of open space around them to work properly (up to a foot of open space behind the fan)
  • Can produce unpleasant smells when drying certain foods (esp. aliums and some meats)
  • Is not good for all types of foods (e.g., high fat foods do not dehydrate well)
  • Some models require monitoring and moving of trays to get food to dry evenly (especially if filled to capacity)
  • You may need to spend more on accessories (fruit leather trays, for example) to be able to make everything you want to make
  • BPA off-gassing: Though most dehydrators have BPA-free shelves, the bodies can contain BPA, which can off-gas at the higher dehydration temperatures (more on this in a minute).

Finally, the biggest question to ask yourself is, "Will I actually use it?" Because despite all the wonderful things you can do with a food dehydrator, if you don't use it, none of these things matter.

A food dehydrator, much like exercise equipment and crockpots, is one of those things that sounds good in principle--but will you actually use it? 

If you're concerned about healthy eating, healthy pet snacks, saving money, and/or reducing food waste, you will almost certainly use a food dehydrator. If you have a garden and a lot of produce to preserve at the end of summer, you will also get a lot of use out of a dehydrator. If you want to have a lot of food for long-term storage and emergency prepping, a food dehydrator is an incredibly valuable tool.

If you just think drying food is kind of a cool idea but aren't really that into making your own foods, then a food dehydrator may not be a good purchase.

Only you can decide.

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How Much Does a Food Dehydrator Cost?

Prices of food dehydrators range from under $50 to several hundred dollars. The price range is based on quality, durability, and design. 

Consumer grade food dehydrators start around $40. At this price, they have a bottom-mounted fan that pulls air down to dry the food:

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

This design is efficient and works well; however, liquid and food particles can drip into the fan, making it a hassle to clean. This is why we don't recommend any bottom-mounted fan dehydrators, even though there are several that get great reviews on Amazon. 

More expensive dehydrators use a similar stackable--and expandable--design but have a top-mounted fan:

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

This eliminates the mess issue and makes the dehydrators easier to clean and maintain. However, you may find that you have to rotate trays to get even drying (yes, even if the maker says you don't have to). These dehydrators are also a pain because you can't check drying progress or remove a tray without disassembling the entire unit. Though stackability has the advantage of expansion that box driers don't have, we can't really imagine having more than 8 or 10 trays without the process becoming a huge pain. 

Higher quality food dehydrators have a rear mounted fan and are more expensive, usually starting at about $250. They look like this:

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

Though they are not expandable in size, they tend to be large--the Sahara shown here has 11 square feet of drying space, and it's one of the smaller ones. The rear-mounted fan has better air flow than top- and bottom-mounted fans, so drying tends to be faster and more efficient (i.e., less rotating of trays required).

The drawback of these models, in addition to being the most expensive, is that they are big, bulky, and harder to store than the smaller round ones (although the Sahara shown here actually folds up to a third of its size, largely eliminating the storage issue--which, along with its excellent build quality and great performance--is why it is our overall favorite of all the dehydrators we tested).

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But Can a Food Dehydrator Really Save You Money?

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

The answer to this question is an extremely enthusiastic "Yes!"

In fact, one of the best things about a food dehydrator is how much money it can save you. 

If you've ever priced dried foods, dog treats, or herbs and spices, then you know that dried food is expensive--and if you calculate what you're paying per pound, you might be astonished. For example, a popular brand of dried thyme costs $8.59 for a 1 ounce bottle on Amazon. This means that you're paying $137.44 per pound of dried thyme! The same is true for other dried herbs and spices, too.

Spices do tend to be considerably cheaper if you buy a larger bottle, but many people can't use up a large container before it loses its flavor--so we're stuck paying outrageous prices for small bottles of dried herbs and spices.

Another popular product on Amazon is freeze-dried dog treats, such as this freeze dried beef liver. If you buy the largest (most economical) size, you pay about $1.41 per ounce. That doesn't sound so bad until you compare it to the price of fresh beef liver, which is about $0.31 an ounce--about 25% less. When you add up all the dog treats you buy over the years, making your own amounts to huge savings.

The same is true for dried fruits, veggies, jerky, and more. In general, dried foods are expensive to buy--but very cheap to make. A food dehydrator can pay for itself in less than a year's time in all the savings you'll reap by making your own dried foods.

You will also save money another way: by drying overabundant produce and other foods you can't possibly eat before they spoil, you are rescuing food that you may otherwise have had to throw out. This can also add up to considerable savings.

Yes: there are other ways to rescue old food--canning and freezing, for example--but dehydrating is one of the easiest.

Is a Food Dehydrator Expensive to Run?

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

No! Dehydrators are quite cheap to run: even big, powerful dehydrators use a fairly small amount of electricity. In most locations, you can run an average dehydrator for 10 hours for around a dollar. This will vary depending on the wattage of the dehydrator, temperature setting, where you live, and possibly other factors, but the takeaway here is that food dehydrators are cheap to run. 

Why Can't You Just Use an Oven to Dehydrate Food?

You can use an oven to dehydrate some foods. It works okay for drying tomatoes, for example. But for most foods, an oven is not a good tool for dehydrating. 

For one thing, most ovens can't be set to a low-enough temperature. Most ovens' lowest temp is 175F or 200F. This is too high for almost all foods to dehydrate properly: if the temp is too high, foods dry on the outside too quickly, which traps moisture on the inside. This is a recipe for mold and spoilage. 

For another thing, an oven doesn't have a fan, which is necessary to facilitate fast, even drying. Even if your oven has convection, that partially solves the problem--but it won't work well for dehydrating if you can't set it lower than 175F. 

Also, using your oven to dehydrate is extremely inefficient and will cost several times in electricity what it costs to use a food dehydrator. 

Thus, an oven is an expensive, inefficient tool for food dehydrating that will usually result in improperly dried food.

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Is Dehydrated Food Healthy?

Yes: Because of the low temperatures used, dehydrating food is one of the best ways to retain nutrients. So, dehydrated food is very healthy.

You do have to be careful about portion size, however, because the lack of water creates a few areas of concern. For example, dried fruits are high in sugar, so you should eat less of them than you do fresh fruit. And dried meat (jerky) can be high in salt, depending on the seasonings you added to the meat--so if you're watching your sodium, you should also watch your jerky intake. 

You also have to be sure that you dry your foods at the right temperatures. If you use too-high heat, food can dry too quickly on the outside and seal in moisture, which can result in mold and spoilage. So always follow directions and use the recommended temperatures when drying. 

Other than that, there are few issues with dehydrated food. It's one of the easiest ways to ensure long-term preservation of flavor and nutrition.

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Are Food Dehydrators Safe to Use?

Overall, food dehydrators are safe. They are simple devices that circulate heated air, so if you follow all the directions for your model--ensuring proper ventilation around the unit, for example--it is a very safe device.

The one issue worth mentioning is BPA ("bisphenol A"), a chemical found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins (according to the Mayo Clinic site) that has been shown to possibly have adverse health effects on humans. BPA is found in many consumer products, most notably water bottles and canned food liners. It is also found in some food dehydrators.

BPA is released when plastic is heated. According to this article, plastics start to give off BPA at 158F. This makes BPA a possible concern in food dehydrators because many foods are dried at temperatures above 158F--for example, for food safety reasons, you must dry jerky above 160F, and for poultry products, drying should be done at 165F. 

All of the food dehydrators we recommend in this article have BPA-free shelving. However, the polycarbonate bodies of the Nesco dehydrators may contain BPA. The Sahara is completely BPA-free. The STX Dehydra is stainless steel throughout, so is also BPA-free.

BPA is also the primary reason we do not recommend the Excalibur, which is otherwise an excellent dehydrator (that everyone else loves); while the shelves are BPA-free, the polycarbonate body is said to contain BPA. 

Is BPA actually something to be concerned about? The truth is, we don't really know. There's a lot of conflicting studies about it on the Internet, and the science remains incomplete. Many people say that food dehydrators don't get hot enough to release any BPA, particularly if it's only found in the outer body and not the trays. Others disagree, saying BPA is a valid concern for any food-related product.

Since we can't be sure, we think it's best to err on the side of caution. Ideally, we would like to see all food dehydrators made of stainless steel and contain no plastics at all, but that isn't feasible for most people. It would result in a very heavy product that is cost prohibitive for most buyers.

We think you should be aware of the BPA issue so you can make the right choice for yourself. If you think it's a concern, for example, you may want to buy the Sahara or an all stainless model, or you may want to buy a polycarbonate dehydrator and be careful to not use it at temps above which BPA can be released (again, 158F). 

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Are Food Dehydrators Noisy?

People can have very different ideas of what constitutes "noisy." Some people don't mind the drone of a fan running in the background. Some people hate it. 

For reference, a normal conversation takes place at about 60 decibels, while dishwashers operate at 55-70 decibels. Most food dehydrators run between 45-60 decibels; in other words, they are actually not very loud at all: about as loud as a microwave, or a range hood on a low setting. 

Are they quieter if you spend more? Yes and no. As you go up in price, the fans are more powerful, so they can be louder. However, the build quality is better, so you won't have the rattling, buzzing, and high-pitched whining you sometimes find on cheaper products. 

If you're sensitive to background noise, you may want to figure out a solution for a food dehydrator. For example, place it in a spare room or in the garage, where you can't hear it. 

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What's the Difference Between Dehydrated and Freeze Dried Food?

Dehydrating is a simple process that removes water from food. Freeze-drying is a more complicated process that involves flash-freezing food, then creating a vacuum so that the water in the food sublimates: that is, it turns into a gas and evaporates. 

Freeze-dried foods are as useful as dehydrated foods are; in fact, freeze-dried food is even better in many ways (it has a longer shelf life and retains more nutrients, for example). However, freeze-dryers are large, heavy, and expensive, starting around $2000 for home-use models. 

If you want to learn more about freeze-drying your own food, we recommend this article.

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What to Know Before Buying a Food Dehydrator

We've already discussed a number of important issues, but this section gets into the details about buying. To get the best food dehydrator for you, these are the most important factors to consider.

Design: Vertical or Horizontal Air Flow

Dehydrators come in two basic designs: vertical-mounted fan, and horizontal-mounted fan. Vertical-mounted fan models tend to have round designs, though they can be square or rectangluar; horizontal-mounted fan models are always box-shaped (either square or rectangular).

Vertical-mounted fans are on either the top or bottom of the food dehydrator and pull or push air over the food. The round, inexpensive food dehydrators have vertical-mounted fans and can be on either the top or the bottom of the unit. Top-mounted fan models are more expensive, but they are easier to use and much easier to clean than those with bottom mounted fans. Both Nesco models we recommend here have top-mounted vertical fans. They are smaller and lighter weight than rear-mount dehydrators, but they tend to have all plastic parts and aren't built quite as well.

Horizontal-mounted fans have a fan on the back of the dehydrator. The air flow tends to be better on these models, so there is less need to rotate trays to get even drying (though rotating may be necessary at times, especially if the dehydrator is packed full). They also tend to be more expensive, larger, and harder to store.

Which one to buy? If you're just starting out with food dehydrating, you may want to go with the smaller and less expensive vertical-mount model. If you're a serious dehydrator with a large garden or other reasons to use a dehydrator frequently, you may want to go with a larger, heavier duty rear-mounted fan model. 

Header

Looks Like:

Pros

Cons

Vertical-mount
Fan:

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

-Inexpensive

-Expandable

-Small/lightweight

-Not as durable

-Not as powerful

-May lack features (timer, temp adj.)

Horizontal-mount Fan:

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

-Durable

-Powerful

-Better air flow

-Wider temp range

-Big and heavy

-Not expandable

-Expensive

Size

Size is often the prohibitive factor for people when buying a food dehydrator. Since it's not an appliance that most people want sitting out all the time, you probably need to consider where you're going to store it before you buy.

Even the smaller models are bulky: they range from around 13 inches in diameter to around 15 inches in diameter and are about 12 inches tall (with the trays they're shipped with). This is about the size of a large crockpot or Instant Pot--so plan your storage needs accordingly. 

The big box models can need as much space as a large dog crate (and are a lot heavier, as well). You can find smaller models, but plan for needing at least as much space as for a medium-to-large dog crate. 

The Sahara reviewed below has largely solved the storage issue: it folds down to a third of its full size to about the size of a small suitcase (less than 4 inches wide). This makes it much easier to store, as it can fit onto a shelf or slide in easily next to a wall in a closet or pantry. Unfortunately, it's also one of the most expensive dehydrators on the market, starting at around $280 for plastic shelving and going for about $100 more if you get the stainless shelves (which we recommend).

Consumer Grade Vs. Commercial Grade

Consumer grade products are marketed to home users, while commercial grade products are marketed to business users. The main difference is that consumers are considered casual users who require a minimal level of durability, while commercial users are considered heavy users who require maximum durability. Therefore, commercial products tend to be more expensive, but also more durable, with a longer life span than consumer products.

While you can save a lot by going with a mostly plastic, consumer grade food dehydrator, we always like to provide commercial-grade options. Commercial-grade products cost more initially, but they tend to be more powerful, to last longer, and to stand up to hard use for years on end. 

Commercial-grade products are also usually repairable, while many consumer grade products these days are designed to be thrown away and replaced rather than fixed. If you want to avoid contributing to landfills, it's smart to buy longer lasting, fixable products than to buy all-plastic, throwaway products. 

If you're on a tight budget or aren't sure how much use you'll get out of a food dehydrator, a consumer grade model is a fine choice. However, if you can afford a better one, you probably will not regret the purchase. Even if you decide you don't like it or won't use it, you can easily sell a commercial-grade unit secondhand and get back most of your investment. 

Note that there are excellent, durable consumer grade products on the market. The Sahara dehydrator is one example: though it is expensive and well built, it is a high quality consumer grade product and not a commercial grade product. In this instance, you are paying mostly for the storage convenience, and not for commercial-grade durability.

Power

Power, as measured by wattage, is an indication of how fast a food dehydrator will do the job. It isn't all that clear cut, however; that is, a 600 watt dehydrator isn't going to be twice as fast as a 300 watt dehydrator. There are other factors involved, including brand, size, and other features (that draw power). 

In general, though, it's accurate to say that a 600 watt dehydrator is going to be faster than a 300 watt dehydrator, and a 1200 watt dehydrator is going to be faster than a 600 watt dehydrator. 

High wattage is generally a plus, but keep in mind that higher wattages use more electricity, and so will be a little more expensive to run. Higher wattages can also cause blown circuits, especially in older homes. 

So while power is a good thing, it isn't everything. Any dehydrator that is 500 watts or more is probably going to provide enough power for most uses.

Temperature Range

Temperature range is most important for making jerky, which, for food safety reasons, has to dry at a temperature of 160-165F (165F for poultry, 160F for everything else).

If you're not planning on making jerky, temperature range is less important because most other foods dry well at a wide range of temperatures (although herbs dry best below 100F).

Surprisingly, not all dehydrators have a temperature range that goes below 100F or up to 165F. (In fact, the very cheapest dehydrators don't have an adjustable temperature at all.) 

A typical temperature range for consumer dehydrators is 90-160F or 105-160F. If you want one that goes up to 165F, you'll probably have to buy a more expensive model.

Of the models we recommend, the Sahara and the STX go to 165F; the Nesco dehydrators go to 160F. In fact, it's rare to find a consumer grade dehydrator that goes to 165F.

You can work around the jerky issue by starting it in an oven and, once it's brought up to a safe temperature, finishing it in the dehydrator. But if you want a dehydrator to do all the work, you have to buy one with a temp range that goes to 165.

Be sure you get a dehydrator with a temperature range to dehydrate the foods you want to dehydrate--this is one of the most important features of a dehydrator, and not something to overlook!

Timer

Not all dehydrators have a timer. Some just start running when you plug them in and keep going until you unplug them.

Dehydrators that do have timers have a huge range of run times, from 48 hours up to 198 hours. 

While a timer isn't a necessary feature, we think it's a really nice one. It makes it possible to set the dehydrator and walk away without worrying about forgetting to check on it. In other words, it makes for peace of mind. 

If you want to save a little money, you can find many dehydrators without timers. The Snackmaster we review here has no timer, and there are other models without them, as well. But for the peace of mind a timer supplies, we think it's worth it.

Ease of Cleaning

If you want to make using your dehydrator as painless as possible, be sure to consider ease of cleaning before buying.

This is the main reason we don't recommend any dehydrators with bottom-mounted fans: though they work just fine--maybe even better than those with top-mounted fans--foods can drip into the fan area, and it can be a real mess to clean. Trust us: you do not want that. 

Most top- and rear-mounted fan models have a removable drip tray in the bottom that makes them super easy to clean. You can just remove the tray and wash it in the sink or throw it in the dishwasher (if it's stainless).

Also, stainless steel shelves are easier to care for than plastic shelves because they can go in the dishwasher. Most plastic shelves must be hand washed--or at least, hand-dried, which actually amounts to the same thing in practical use. 

For easiest cleaning, buy a dehydrator with:

  • A removable drip tray (preferably stainless)
  • Stainless steel or dishwasher safe shelves/trays.

Accessories

You will find a wide range of accessories (or lack thereof) among different brands of dehydrators. 

If you're on a tight budget, buying a model with a lot of accessories is a good way to get a lot of equipment in one purchase; you won't have to shell out any more to experiment with fruit leather or jerky-making. 

On the other hand, you can get fewer accessories but a more powerful, more durable machine.

It all depends on what you want and how much you want to spend. 

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Best Consumer Model: Nesco Gardenmaster FD-1040

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

See Nesco Gardenmaster on Amazon (FD 1040)

See Nesco Gardenmaster at everythingkitchens.com (FD 1040)

If you're not sure how much you'll use a food dehydrator or aren't sure how much you want to invest, we recommend starting with one of the Nesco models reveiwed here; you can find less expensive models (even ones with positive reviews), but we strongly recommend a top-mounted fan model, like one of these.

At 1000W, the Nesco Gardenmaster is one of the most powerful consumer grade dehydrators on the market. It gets the job done quickly and has overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon. It is also more powerful than the Snackmaster (which is 600W) and has a slightly larger temperature range as it goes down to 90F. 

It's easy to use, as you can see from this close-up of the controls:

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

It also has a list of foods printed conveniently on the lid so you don't have to look up dehydrating temps every time you use it:

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

Nesco has a patented air flow design they call Converga-Flow that supposedly makes it unnecessary to rotate shelves and allows you to dry different foods without the problem of co-mingling smells and tastes:

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

In reality, however, you may find that it is necessary to rotate shelves to get proper drying, as some reviewers said, although we did not have to do this in any of our testing. You should also be careful about which foods you dehydrate together. For example, don't mix strong-smelling aliums (onions, garlic) with fruit. 

The fan is also surprisingly quiet for being so powerful. No, it's not unnoticeable, but it will mostly blend into the background when it runs, and you will be able to hold conversations at normal levels or listen to music while it's in operation.

We also love the top-mounted design, which makes it easy to use and clean. (In fact, we love this design so much that we do not recommend any dehydrators with a bottom-mounted fan.)

The Gardenmaster FD-1040 also has a couple of drawbacks: if you want to check progress on lower shelves or remove them, you have to take the whole thing apart; there's no way to pull out a lower shelf without disassembling the unit. If you have more than 4 or so shelves in, this can be a real pain. 

The trays are also pretty flimsy, and Nesco says they are "top-rack dishwasher safe, though you have to pull them out before the drying cycle." Which to us means that they are not dishwasher safe. We wonder how long these trays will last, although they are replaceable for not a lot of money. You can also buy more fruit leather trays, but many users say parchment paper works just fine for this task.

On the other hand, the holes in the trays are small enough that you can dehydrate very small foods--berries, for example--without worry that they will fall through the trays.

Also keep in mind that the trays do not interlock--so you must always pick the unit up from the bottom. Not a huge drawback, but something to keep in mind.

Finally, the large size is a mix of good and bad: the large trays allow you to spread food out and it will dry faster than in dehydrators with tighter space, which is great. However, the large size makes the Gardenmaster bulky to store. 

Features

  • Vertical flow dehydrator with fan on top (no drips)
  • 4 sq ft of drying area expandable to 20 sq ft
  • Temp range of 90-160F
  • Programmable timer up to 48 hrs with auto shutoff
  • 1000 watts
  • Patented Converga-Flow drying system moves air efficiently so you don't have to rotate trays
  • Opaque exterior blocks light to retain more nutrients in food
  • Recessed top handle for easy carrying
  • Ships with 1 tray, 1 mesh screen, 1 fruit roll sheet, 3 packs of jerky seasoning and cure, and an instruction booklet with recipes.
  • Fan made in China, rest of unit made in USA
  • 1 year limited warranty.

Specifications

Material: Polycarbonate housing and shelves, BPA-free

Power Requirements: 120V/15amp plug in (standard) outlet

Power: 1000W

Total Drying Area: 4 square feet, expandable to 20 square feet

Size: 15.5 in. diameter x 9.5 in. tall (height with 4 shelves installed)

Weight: 8.95 lb 

Temperature Range: 95-160F

Timer: Programmable up to 48 hrs.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Powerful and fast
  • Converga-Flow design so no rotating of trays necessary
  • BPA-free mesh shelves
  • Opaque exterior protects nutrients in food
  • Foods listed on lid so you don't have to look them up
  • Fairly quiet operation
  • Partially made in USA/partially made in China.
Cons
  • Trays are somewhat flimsy
  • Trays are not dishwasher safe
  • No On/Off switch (starts when you set timer)
  • Expensive for a consumer grade dehydrator (though less than higher end box models)
  • Have to disassemble/reassemble entire dehydrator to remove food or check food on lower shelves
  • With a max temp of 160F, this dehydrator is not safe for use with raw poultry.

Recommendation

If you will be an occasional dehydrator and want a good consumer grade model, or you aren't sure how much you'll use your dehydrator and don't want to invest a lot, the Nesco Gardenmaster FD-1040 is a great choice. It's BPA-free, and we prefer it over the Snackmaster (reviewed below) for its greater power, temperature range, and the fact that it has an auto shutoff feature the Snackmaster lacks. For about $20 more, the Gardenmaster is a better choice, even though you'll have to buy more accessories separately.

The top-mounted vertical fan of both the Gardenmaster and Snackmaster makes this design preferable over cheaper food dehydrators with bottom-mounted fans, which we did not recommend because they can be so messy to use and clean.

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

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Best Accessory Package: Nesco Snackmaster FD-75A

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

See Nesco Snackmaster on Amazon (FD75A)

See Nesco Snackmaster at everythingkitchens.com (FD61)

The Nesco Snackmaster comes with a full accessory package so you can hit the ground running with your food dehydrating projects. It has some nice features for a consumer dehydrator, including a top-mounted fan that eliminates drips and messes and the Converga-Flow fan system that moves air efficiently and requires no rotating of trays--it also allows you to dry different types of foods at the same time without the smells or flavors mingling.

We like the easy-to-use control panel, with different foods and times listed for easy reference: 

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

The Snackmaster did the job, no question. But there were a few things we didn't like about it, too:

As with the Gardenmaster and other stackable designs, if you want to check progress on lower shelves or remove them, you have to take the whole thing apart; there's no way to remove a lower shelf without disassembling the unit. 

Also, you have to run it with a minimum of 4 shelves or it won't work properly--this isn't a big issue, but if you're doing a small batch, it's a little bit of a pain to have to use more shelves than you need.

We also didn't like that there's no On/Off switch (it just starts running when you plug it in), and no timer--though this is less of an issue than you might think, because you can just use another device (smart phone, oven, microwave, etc.) to time the batch. As long as you remember to turn off the dehydrator, you'll be fine.

Note also that the top temperature of 160F is not hot enough to safely make jerky from raw poultry. The easiest workaround is to cook the poultry jerky in the oven before putting in the dehydrator, and many people do this without a problem. However, if you're excited about making jerky from low-fat poultry meat, you may want to consider a different dehydrator.

Finally, Nesco says that the trays are "top-rack dishwasher safe--as long as you remove them before the drying cycle." In other words, the trays are not dishwasher safe. The trays are also a little on the flimsy side.) 

Also keep in mind that, as on the Gardenmaster, the trays do not interlock--so you must always pick the unit up from the bottom. Not a huge drawback, but something to keep in mind.

It's also on the noisy side, but we figure you know that going in when you buy a food dehydrator.

This may sound like a lot of drawbacks, but if you're looking for a beginner level food dehydrator that's well built and comes with a lot of accessories, the Nesco Snackmaster is actually a really good choice. The top-mount vertical fan, powerful 600W motor, quality build, and expandability are features that are hard to find in other dehydrators at this price point.

Features

  • Vertical flow dehydrator with fan on top (no drips)
  • 5 sq ft of drying area expandable to 12 sq ft
  • Temp range of 95-160F
  • 600 watts
  • Patented Converga-Flow drying system moves air efficiently so you don't have to rotate trays
  • Opaque exterior blocks light to retain more nutrients in food
  • Recessed top handle for easy carrying
  • Ships with 5 trays, 2 mesh screens, 2 fruit roll sheets, 3 packs of jerky seasoning and cure, and an instruction booklet with recipes.
  • Fan made in China, rest of unit is made in USA
  • 1 year limited warranty.

Specifications

Material: Polycarbonate housing and shelves, BPA free

Power Requirements: 120V/15amp plug in (standard) outlet

Power: 600W

Total Drying Area: 5 square feet, expandable to 12 square feet

Size: 13.5 in. diameter x 11 in. tall (height with 5 shelves installed)

Weight: 7.75 lb 

Temperature Range: 95-160F

Timer: No timer.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • ConvergaFlow design so no rotating of trays necessary
  • BPA-free mesh shelves
  • Opaque exterior protects nutrients in food
  • Foods listed on lid so you don't have to look them up
  • Partially made in USA.
Cons
  • No On/Off switch 
  • No timer
  • Trays are somewhat flimsy
  • Trays are not dishwasher safe
  • Fan is louder than Gardenmaster's fan
  • Have to disassemble/reassemble entire dehydrator to remove food or check food on lower shelves
  • With a max temp of 160F, this dehydrator is not safe for use with raw poultry.

Recommendation

If you're in the market for an inexpensive yet powerful consumer model that comes with a generous accessory package, the Nesco Snackmaster is a good choice. It has a number of great features, but also a number of drawbacks (no timer, only goes to 160F), so be sure you're willing to live with its limitations before you buy. 

In all honesty, we like the Gardenmaster (above) better: it's more powerful, and it has an auto shutoff feature the Snackmaster lacks. But it costs about $20 more, and you get more trays and accessories with the Snackmaster.

Since they both have fans on the top, we recommend either of these models over cheaper food dehydrators with a fan on the bottom, which can be really messy to clean after use.

Other options: The Nesco Snackmaster FD-61 (or see it at everythingkitchens.com) is only 500W and the same size, but it has an even better accessory package, including a jerky gun.

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

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Best for Small Spaces: Brod and Taylor Sahara (It's Foldable!)

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators
A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

See the Sahara on Amazon (stainless shelves)

See the Sahara on Amazon (polypropylene shelves)

See the Sahara at everything kitchens (stainless or polypropylene shelves)

Brod and Taylor make a variety of top notch kitchen equipment, including meat grinders, bread proofers, and this amazing food dehydrator. (See their Amazon page for more information.) As far as we know, this is the only food dehydrator that folds up for easy storage. And it's an ingenious design. If you've been wanting a food dehydrator but lack storage space, the Sahara now makes it possible for you to have one without sacrificing precious space. 

When closed, the Sahara is less than 4 inches tall and about 22 inches long, so it can easily fit into most cupboards or on most shelves.

You may think that the foldability could detract from the build quality, but it doesn't. This is top quality gear, and one of the best food dehydrators on the market. As of this writing, the Sahara has 86 reviews on Amazon with 96% positive ratings and no ratings less than 3 stars--that's phenomenal. People really love this dehydrator.

It has 750 watts of power, 375W per one high speed fan and 375W per one low speed fan. This dual fan speed allows you to dry food at maximum speed, then slow down to help it retain maximum levels of nutrients. 

The Sahara was Brod also a finalist in the 2019 Global Innovation Awards ("gia") housewares product design category. 

Here's what the control panel looks like:

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

Here's a short 40-second video that shows how you fold the Sahara (and a few other neat features):

Features

  • Foldable to one third its full size for easy storage
  • Includes carrying case for shelves
  • 750W
  • 11 square feet of drying space
  • 4.25 in. diameter fan
  • Digital control panel
  • Washable air filter (spare filter included)
  • Removable drip mat for easy cleaning
  • Dual speed fan helps foods dry quickly yet retain maximum nutrition levels
  • Stainless steel shelves (or polypropylene)
  • BPA free housing
  • 3 year warranty with registration
  • Made in China.

Specifications

Material: Polycarbonate housing (BPA free), stainless steel or polypropylene shelves, glass window

Power Requirements: 120V/15amp plug in (standard) outlet

Power: 750W

Total Drying Area: 11 square feet

Open Size: 22x14 x11 in.

Closed Size: 22x12.25x3.75 in.

Weight: 20 lb 

Temperature Range: 85-165F

Timer: 99 hrs high fan/99 hrs low fan/total of 198 hrs.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Folds up for convenient storage
  • Washable air filter
  • Dual fan speed with two timer options
  • BPA free housing
  • Stainless steel or polypropylene shelving options
  • Fairly quiet operation
  • Excellent temperature range
  • Programmable up to 198 hours of run time.
Cons

Recommendation

The Brod and Taylor Sahara is an excellent choice for people with limited space who don't want to sacrifice quality or power. Even if you don't have space issues, we highly recommend the Sahara: it's one of the best food dehydrators on the market today.

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

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Best Commercial Model: STX International Dehydra

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

See the Dehydra on Amazon

See the Dehydra at STX International website

The STX International Dehydra food dehydrator is commercial food drying at its finest. This unit is made almost entirely of stainless steel--including the shelves--and offers a powerful 1200 watts of drying power. This means your food will take less time to complete the drying process than with other dehydrators.

It also has plenty of room, with just over 16 square feet of drying space. 

One of the coolest features is that the entire back control pan and fan area is removable, so you can wash the shelving area down with a hose or power washer and clean out the electrical components separately. This makes use and cleaning easy and convenient. It also is almost entirely constructed of stainless steel, including the shelves, so it's extremely durable and contains no potentially harmful chemicals.

The Dehydra has a huge number of positive reviews on Amazon. If you're looking for a big, powerful food dehydrator, the Dehydra is the one to get.

Here's what the control panel looks like (so you can see how easy it is to use):

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

Features

  • All stainless steel construction, including shelves
  • Horizontal drying with 7-inch fan on back of unit
  • 1200W
  • 16.1 square feet of drying space
  • Digital control panel with 7 pre-set temperatures
  • 15 hour timer with auto shutoff, programmable in 5 minute increments
  • 10 stainless steel shelves
  • Stainless steel drip tray
  • Removable electronic panel for easy cleaning
  • Food guide printed right on control panel
  • ETL approved
  • "Dehydrating Made Easy" PDF cookbook included
  • Excellent customer service
  • 3 year warranty with product registration
  • Made in China.

Specifications

Material: Stainless steel construction, glass window

Power Requirements: 120V/15amp plug in (standard) outlet

Power: 1200W

Total Drying Area: 16.1 square feet

Size: 20x16.5x14.5 in. fully assembled

Control panel (removable) size: 16.4x14.5x4.5 in.

Weight: 32 lb

Temperature Range: 97-165F

Timer: Up to 15 hours in 5 minute increments, with auto shutoff.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Powerful
  • No plastic parts/BPA
  • Removable control panel for easy cleaning
  • Good temperature range
  • Auto shutoff 15 hr timer.
Cons
  • Very large and heavy
  • Needs 12" of space behind fan to operate properly
  • Expensive.

Recommendation

If you're looking for a large, heavy duty food dehydrator, the Dehydra is an excellent choice. You won't get a lot of accessories with it, but you're paying for the power, quality, stainless steel construction and design. However, if you have limited space for use or storage but you want a top build quality, we recommend the Sahara (above), as the Dehydra is a true behemoth.

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

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Other Food Dehydrators We Looked At

Here are a few other dehydrators we researched and decided not to review for the reasons given.

Excalibur: This dehydrator is the favorite of an overwhelming majority of serious dehydrators. It has 15 sq of drying space, a temperature range of 105-165F and a 26 hour timer, plus it's made in the USA and has a 10 year warranty (yes: ten years). Excalibur makes a number of models (see the Excalibur store on Amazon), in different sizes and features; not all of them have a timer, for example. Why wasn't the Excalibur one of our top picks? Well, even though it has BPA free shelves, the housing itself contains BPA--this is confirmed by the makers on the Amazon page--check out the questions section. This may not be an issue, but then again, it may be: BPA begins to offgas at 158F, so we actually can't in good conscience recommend any polycarbonate containing BPA. If you aren't concerned about BPA offgasing--and there is evidence that it may not be dangerous--then Excalibur is a powerful, durable dehydrator with a lot of great features.

Presto 06301: Presto makes a number of affordably priced food dehydrators (as low as about $39). It's a decent brand and gets good reviews. However, the bottom-mount fan makes it a no-go for us. Liquids drip into the fan, making it hard to clean; unless all you care about is a rock bottom price, this is just not a smart design. (This is true for all other food dehydrators with a bottom-mounted fan--NutriChef, Hamilton Beach, etc.).

Samson "Silent" Dehydrator: Samson makes several models of higher-grade food dehydrators. We like a lot of things about this brand, including the compact sizes available and the 5 year warranty, but the temp range only goes to 158F, which isn't quite hot enough to make jerky safely. We also couldn't determine whether or not the housing had BPA in it, so like Excalibur, we didn't want to recommend it. However, their all-stainless model has a temp range of 95-167F and is more affordable than some other stainless models; if you don't mind the size, this could be an option, too. (There are many other brands that make a very similar stainless model, so we suspect this is an OEM product sold under several different brand names. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be aware of.)

Tribest: This dehydrator is great looking and has some nice features, but it had a lower percentage of positive reviews than we'd like to see, and many reviewers had quality issues such as incorrect temperature, poor customer service, and units dying after just a short amount of time and moderate use. Tribest is an innovative company that makes a number of cool products, but they just can't quite seem to get all their eggs in the right basket.

Weston: Weston makes a lot of great products (we love their vacuum sealers, especially their higher end edge sealers), but we weren't impressed enough with any of their food dehydrators to test them. All of the dehydrators we tested had really good reviews, and the Weston reviews were largely just lukewarm. This doesn't mean they're poor products; it could mean Weston buyers have higher expectations than other buyers, which is often the case for this brand. If you find a Weston dehydrator that you like, we recommend that you go ahead and buy it. You probably won't be disappointed.

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Final Thoughts

A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

A food dehydrator is a great tool for anyone who wants to save money and reduce food waste. If you have the budget and the storage space, we highly recommend buying one.

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A Guide to the Best Food Dehydrators

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