Best Food Dehydrator for 2018 – A Buyer’s Guide

Dehydrators keep growing in popularity so it’s not a surprise that the number of manufacturers making them is growing as well. The dehydrator was made to dry food, it is mostly associated with fruits, but it is also great for things like drying meat, vegetables and herbs.

The main advantage of food preparation that involves dehydrating is maintaining the same amount of vitamins and minerals as in fresh food. Another huge upside of having a dehydrator at home is that food that is dried at home is 100% natural and doesn’t contain any additives as is the case with commercially dried food, which very often contains different kinds of additional substances.

Another significant upside is the economy, just look how much dry meat or fruits cost at stores. You can prepare your own dried food of much better quality at home while spending much less money.

All those benefits contribute to the ever growing popularity of dehydrators and I’m not surprised at all. Personally I am the most impressed with dried meat and fruits which is why a dehydrator became a permanent addition to my household.

Already having plenty of experience with this device, I know how many different dehydrators one can find at stores and how hard it is to pick the right one. In order to make it easier for you to choose a new dehydrator, I have prepared a guide for you with my suggestions that will let you pick the best food dehydrator based on your own needs.

There are several models that are worth your money, but they differ in quality, price, size etc. I have spent a lot of time and money comparing several dozen dehydrators, then I divided them into different categories so that everyone can choose something good for themselves.

If you’re a complete newbie in the topic and don’t know where to start, I have also prepared answers for you to the questions of why you need a good dehydrator and what to pay attention to before the purchase.

Best Food Dehydrators 2018 – Comparison Table

MODEL

Trays

Temperature

PRICE

TOP 3 Pick 

Excalibur 3926TB 9-Tray

Best Overall

Excalibur 3926TB

9

105-165

Magic Mill Professional Food Dehydrator

Best Mid-Range

Magic Mill Professional

5

95-158

Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster Pro

Best Budget Pick

Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster Pro

5

95-160

Competition

Presto 06301 Dehydro

Also Great

Presto 06301 Dehydro

6

90-165

Presto 06300 Dehydro

Presto 06300 Dehydro

4

165

How did I pick the best ones ?

pick the best one 01

I start with the most time-consuming task which is analyzing the offer at brick and mortar and online stores. I think that everyone would like to skip this frustrating and often annoying task but only this way I can select the good dehydrators. One has to admit that it takes a whole lot of time because one can truly find many different products at stores.

The next stage is creating a list where I divide them into different categories ( price, quality or size ). It makes my subsequent tests fair and the final selection easier when comparing different dehydrators at similar prices. Speaking of prices, I have to admit that they are very different which is why making categories is a good solution for me.

The first criterion is always the price, the next is features and parameters. I check out the temperature range, the number of trays, the overall drying surface, the power, the warranty etc. I pay attention to what materials a food dehydrator was made of and what material the trays are made of ( steel ones are the best ). When it comes to features, on the other hand, a timer is very useful.

All of that allows me to create the initial table where I slowly compare the size, features and quality relative to the price. At this stage I give the initial ratings, which nearly always change significantly after the practical tests.

So once I have a finished list of initially selected dehydrators, I move on to buying them. That way I can very often also see what the delivery is like when shopping at an online store. Having all the ordered dehydrators at home already, it’s time for fair and objective practical tests that you will read about below.

How did I test?

test03

The practical tests are the best occasion to see how a dehydrator really works. For that purpose, I put all the dehydrators on my list to the same tests, the tests take place in honest conditions so that the end rating is honest and objective. You need to know that all the below reviews are based on my daily life experience and mostly on practical tests.

So over the next few days I was testing all the models in order to gain as much knowledge on them as possible. It allowed me to create an honest and objective ranking of the best dehydrators in which everyone can find something for themselves depending on their budget.

What are the tests like? First I evaluate the quality of workmanship, check what materials a dehydrator was made of, what material the trays are made of and I check all the possible details. That way I evaluate the quality of workmanship and I compare it with other models for a similar price.

The next step was when I decided to prepare several forms of fruits (apples, strawberries, kiwi etc ), and then I obviously prepared meat in the dehydrator, bacon jerky to be exact ( a bit of advice,  remember about safe drying of bacon to make sure that it is free from bacteria ). Throughout the entire process I was comparing maintaining the exact temperature, even spread of heat, then in the end I evaluated the end result and efficiency of each device.

Of course I kept making notes all the time on the whole process of testing so that I could write this guide based on that. I have to admit that my tests significantly changed the order from my initial ranking. Plenty of dehydrators turned out to actually not be a very efficient device or simply poorly made for this kind of money. The current list of the best rated food dehydrators can be found in the table above, whereas the reviews are right below.

1. Best Overall Excalibur 3926TB - 9 Tray – Perfect for meat

Versatile and well made food dehydrator with plenty of useful features that make it possible to dehydrate whatever you want ( good for fruits and perfect for meats ), great for bigger families due to its very large surface and for those who expect better quality and functionality.

The Excalibur brand has earned renown among clients after many years which is confirmed by its popularity and numerous positive reviews from buyers. A huge advantage compared to competitive models is a warranty for many years which proves the quality of this product ( 10 years ) and the price that is adequate to the quality.

A great quality device for a low price, that’s exactly Excalibur 3926TB 9-tray version. I really like the wide range of temperatures (105◦F to 165◦F ). It makes it possible to set a low temperature that is perfect to fully maintain all the enzymes and values of fruits as well as a high temperature ( 165 degrees F ), which is crucial when it comes to the proper and healthy way to dry meat ( a temperature this high meets the safety standards as required when dehydrating meat for jerky ).

Another advantage of this model is a very big drying surface, which is whole 9 trays 15 square feet of surface each. I think that many people will use a surface that big really rarely.

Another advantage in my view is the horizontal air flow. In some dehydrators I have witnessed a vertical air flow where the heater was located right below the trays which posed a risk of the heater being directly exposed to dripping and often ended with malfunctions. When it comes to this model from Excalibur, the heater and the engine are located in the back behind the trays so there’s no way for anything to have contact with them.

The air flow levels are also much more efficient, especially when it comes to a big dehydrator ( it dries all trays evenly at the same time ). Such solution eliminates the need to flip the trays manually as is the case with other competitive models in order to dehydrate food evenly.

Of course the trays as well as the whole construction were made of FDA-approved materials.

This version comes with an adjustable thermostat and a 26 hour timer, which is a very useful feature that is worth those several dozen extra dollars. The timer takes care of turning off the dehydrator at the right moment, it is not uncommon to forget about it after many hours of drying which makes it a neat little feature.

PROS

  • Inexpensive
  • 3 burners
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Not a heavy-duty model

The timer raises the price by about $50, if you believe that you don’t need a timer and wish to save some money then check out the Excalibur 3900B version which has no timer. Speaking from my own experience and that of my many friends, however, I suggest you buy the version with a timer, which is really very useful.

In conclusion, it is the number one among food dehydrators to me, the price is one of the higher ones but for this kind of money you get a great looking device made of good quality materials. A well thought-out construction allows you to find plenty of space inside to dry on 9 trays. It’s a very efficient device when you often need to dehydrate a large amount of food, a selection for those more demanding.

Let me also remind that it is a product made in USA which might matter a lot to some.

2. Best Mid-Range MAGIC MILL Professional Food Dehydrator

A middle class food dehydrator that is definitely smaller than the Excalibur 3926TB that I recommended and significantly cheaper which might be the key indicator to many when choosing a new dehydrator.

This middle class product from MAGIC MILL is not only significantly smaller, but it also comes with a smaller temperature range which means that it’s not a model that would allow you to prepare fully safe meat for jerky without properly preparing the meat first. It is a great device, however, for anything else like vegetables, fruits, herbs etc .

Behind the front door, there is place for stainless steel 6 trays sized (13" X 12") and made of good quality approved materials. I believe that it’s a lot of space for an average family, if you need a dehydrator with a lot of space to dry then I can only suggest you the Excalibur offer.

Compared to competitive models, the Magic Mill dehydrator stands out with its digital thermostat and timer which at this kind of price was quite a surprise to me. The timer makes it possible to program the drying process up to 19,5 hours whereas the digital thermostat has a temperature range of 95º to 158º F. The minimum temperature is adequate whereas the maximum one might be too low to meet the requirements that apply to meat drying.

In order to 100% safely prepare something like bacon jerky, you have to warm up the meat at temperature of 165 degrees F, sadly this doesn’t reach temperatures this high which means you’ll have to put the meat into an oven for a short while, and then you can safely dry it in this device.

Just like with Excalibur, here the fan, the heater and the motor are installed in the back which completely eliminates the need to rotate the trays, all the food trays dry evenly.

I also like how it utilizes transparent front door, which makes it possible to control the food being dried without having to open the door.

PROS

  • Inexpensive
  • 3 burners
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Not a heavy-duty model

I believe that MAGIC MILL Professional Food Dehydrator is a very functional and efficient device that makes a great alternative to the much bigger and more expensive Excalibur 3926TB. It’s a product for those who want to buy a small and good-quality affordable dehydrator that will be efficient for every average family.

What I liked the most in this model compared to Excalibur 3926TB was the stainless steel rack, despite its high price Excalibur comes with plastic racks.

The main advantage of this device is its horizontal air flow, the digital thermostat, the digital timer, enough space to dry, stainless steel drying racks and affordable price. A mid-size well-made food dehydrator available for a decent price that will live up to the expectations of every medium-sized family.

3. Best Budget Pick Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster Pro

Probably the best selling food dehydrator the target group of which are mostly those with a limited budget who want a decent, functional and efficient product for a low price. That’s exactly what Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster Pro is, being able to dry food at low cost. It is not a high quality food dehydrator, but a simple device made of approved materials that comes with everything one needs at the lowest possible price to start their food drying adventure.

In my view it’s a good device for someone who will use it sporadically or is just starting on their adventure with food dehydration, and once you get enough experience or simply start expecting something more, in the future you can always buy something better.

The thermostat makes it possible to regulate the temperature within a range of 95º-160º degrees F.

What does Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster have to offer? The set includes 5 trays which should be enough for plenty of people but one advantage this dehydrator has is the ability to add more trays ( the maximum number is 12 trays ). All the trays are plastic and made of approved materials. Therefore depending on your needs you can buy several extra trays, but in such case wouldn’t it be better to pay a little more and buy something like Magic Mill Dehydrator with stainless steel racks? The choice is yours.

What is the significant difference in this dehydrator compared to the previous suggestions I have described? The main difference is the air flow, which in case of Nesco FD-75A is forced horizontally through a Converga-Flow system. Is it a bad thing? No, but one has to admit that it is much less efficient option than a typical horizontal air flow where the fan and heater are installed in the back of the dehydrator and not on the top. Even though the manufacturer declares that it’s not necessary to flip the trays, speaking from experience I can say that there is still a huge difference compared to a dehydrator with a typical horizontal air flow. Such air flow ( horizontal ) dries all the trays effectively and evenly while also eliminating the need to flip them over.

PROS

  • Inexpensive
  • 3 burners
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Not a heavy-duty model

What it lacks is a timer feature which is understandable for this kind of price. Another small downside for me is the round shape, it is much better and more convenient for a dehydrator to be square/rectangle shaped. The last downside is a pretty short warranty period, only one year whereas excalibur for instance is covered by whole 10 years of warranty.

Nesco FD-75A is the best choice for those with a limited budget and those who still have no experience with food dehydration and wish to find out if it’s a device for them. In my view, it works the best when drying fruits, herbs and vegetables, but it is also possible to dry meat. For a product with this kind of price I was really surprised with the ability to increase the number of trays from the standard 5 to 12 at maximum.

Taking all the features, downsides and upsides into account, I can quite honestly say that it is a product that is worth its price.

4. Also Great Presto 06301 Dehydro

Another slightly cheaper and small-sized food dehydrator for an affordable price. A very mobile model that doesn’t weight much and comes with 6 trays with ability to expand it to 12 trays. A choice for those who are looking for not only a cheaper dehydrator, but also a lightweight and mobile one, a product recommended by those who like to travel. Made entirely of plastic (BPA-free ) which makes it lightweight, cheaper, but also more delicate because of that.

What really surprised me was the precise digital thermostat and timer ( up to 48 hours ) and a huge temperature range (from 90 to 165 degrees f ). A temperature this high makes it a dehydrator that is not only good for fruits, vegetables or herbs, but also a great device for meat – which is another advantage because such temperature range is mostly present in more expensive models.

The timer is really worth the extra money, I’m surprised that it is not present in certain more expensive models. It allows to avoid having to get up in the morning or in the middle of the night for instance in order to turn off the dehydrator plus it assures you that if you forget about it it will simply turn itself off and the food won’t be getting dried for too long.

What is the air flow like in this device? It is vertical, whereas the fan and heater were installed on the bottom. It is much less efficient than a horizontal air flow and a slightly poorer solution than a fan installed on top. Still, Presto Dehydro provides optimal conditions for drying food without having to rotate the trays. Is that really so? In most cases yes, but when you fill all the trays then after some time you can notice a slight difference between the food from the lower and upper trays. In this situation you either flip the upper tray over or simply  leave the upper tray for a little longer in the dehydrator.

How does it differ from the winner in the best budget pick category ( Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster Pro ). They both have similar prices but they differ a lot, the first important thing is the fan which in Nesco is located on top ( which is a better solution ). Another difference in favor of Nesco is a much more solid upper lid, Nesco comes with 5 trays ( with an option to increase it up to 12 trays ). One downside of Nesco is not having a timer, which is a very useful feature. Another significant difference is the control panel, Nesco doesn’t have a digital thermostat and timer. The last thing is the noise level, Presto is slightly more noisy than Nesco. Why would I choose Nesco FD-75A? Mostly due to the better lid, the noise and the most important thing to me which is the fan’s placement.

PROS

  • Inexpensive
  • 3 burners
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Not a heavy-duty model

In conclusion, Presto 06301 Dehydro is a good choice for those who will just have their first time dehydrating food or those with a lower budget who don’t want to spend a large sum on a high quality dehydrator like Excalibur.

It’s an efficient device and it serves its purpose very well. It has plenty of drying space with ability to increase it plus a digital thermostat and timer. One downside in my view is a high noise level, a delicate lid and the fan’s placement ( on the bottom ). Despite that, I believe it to be another good choice for beginners or those with a smaller budget.

If you’re looking for something even cheaper then I encourage you to read my another suggestion which is the older version of Presto 06301 as in Presto 06300 Dehydro.

5. Presto 06300 Dehydro

The cheapest dehydrator on my list, I chose it because despite its low price it offers quite a decent efficiency and it should be enough for less demanding people. Presto 06300 Dehydro is also very small, it comes with only 4 food trays with ability to expand it to 8 trays.

I have to admit that it is also a very lightweight and mobile model. It is definitely not a durable product that will last for very long due to being made entirely out of plastic which means one has to watch out for mechanical damages, especially when it comes to the thin lid. Seeing the overall construction and individual elements, however, I have to admit that it looks very good for this kind of price.

One huge downside is lack of thermostat and timer, there’s no temperature adjustment here. Presto 06300 works only at one temperature of about 165 degrees F. Everyone with more experience in drying food knows how crucial a perfect temperature is. Sadly, this model doesn’t come with temperature control which I think is its biggest problem.

If you have a very limited budget and don’t dry much food then you’ll be satisfied. If you’re a more demanding person, however, then I definitely recommend to pay a little more and take a version with a digital thermostat and timer. Trust me, these two options are worth it.

Not having a timer or adjustable temperature means you’ll have to control the food being dried a lot.

PROS

  • Inexpensive
  • 3 burners
  • Lightweight

CONS

  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Not a heavy-duty model

Presto 06300 is pretty noisy, but it’s not a bothersome noise level. Of course if you control the drying process then you’ll get great results but do remember that it is the most basic version of a dehydrator. For many people, not having a timer or temperature control will be a crucial aspect.

After the whole analysis I can certainly conclude without any doubt that it is a good choice for beginners at food drying. Presto 06300 Dehydro is very cheap and easy to use, doesn’t come with temperature control or thermostat, but it gives good results so for this kind of money one cannot complain too much about  this product.

Buyer’s Guide

buyersguide02

Today’s food dehydrators are mostly made of plastic ( cheaper versions ) and of metal ( high quality models ). Their task is to lower the moisture content in food so that the food is easier to store ( it can be stored for long ). Such procedure is most often performed on fruits, which are later stored and eaten out of season or simply food is dehydrated and later turns into a very delicious snack. One can dehydrate plenty of things such as vegetables, fruits, herbs or even meat although when it comes to raw meat one has to take some precautions in order to avoid bacteria in food.

Types of Dehydrators

Stacked Food Dehydrators Type

stackable type dehydrator

They are characterized by vertical air flow, the fan and the heater are located on the top and bottom of the device. Judging by the market these days I can say it is the most popular type but it does have its flaws.

What I could see for myself was definitely the difference between a vertical and a horizontal air flow. A stacked dehydrator with a vertical flow, no matter if it has extra accessories that support air flow or not, will always be less efficient than a dehydrator with a horizontal air flow that you will read about below.

This type works well when drying fruits, vegetables or herbs but with bigger quantities, many models require food control. It very often turns out that the lower food shelf differs significantly from the one on the very top ( when the fan is on the bottom of the device ) and in such case it is necessary to rotate the shelves. Therefore it is not a bad type, but simply a less effective one and it sometimes requires control which is not a bad thing.

A downside of this type is also lower drying area, usually such dehydrator is small, lightweight and portable which might be an upside to some. It also makes it possible to increase the number of trays, the basic versions have 4-6 trays with an option to increase that number up to 8-12 trays.

Box and Shelf Food Dehydrators

shelf and box type dehydrator

Shelf and Box dehydrator is always characterized by a horizontal air flow. The heater is located right behind a side wall, one upside of such solution is even drying of all trays. They tend to be significantly more expensive than stackable dehydrators and made of metal which makes them more durable.

They tend to be much bigger, the shape of trays and their quantity make the overall drying area very big. I especially recommend this type to those who dehydrate a lot of food ( especially meat ). Due to the horizontal air flow and the heater located behind a side wall there is no need to rotate the trays here, the food on all trays dries evenly.

I believe that it is an option for informed/experienced individuals who expect better efficiency and quality. I also have to note that this type is significantly more expensive which is certainly bad news for many. But speaking from experience I can say that it’s a good choice to invest in a Box and Shelf Dehydrator if you dry food very often.

What to pay attention to?

It all depends on your wallet and then your expectations regarding features, quality, size etc. Shopping very often means trouble these days, it’s hard to choose a product when there are many different models at stores. Below I will present the most important things to pay attention to before buying. Read the tips below and carefully think about which dehydrator model will suit you the best based on my advice.

  • Dehydrator Type / air flow – The first thing to pay attention to is air flow ( horizontal or vertical ). You can read about upsides and downsides a little above, but now let me just briefly remind that horizontal air flow is much more efficient and effective although usually such dehydrator costs much more than one with vertical air flow.
  • Temperature and controlling it – Next pay attention to the temperature range, the bigger the better. If you’re planning to dry meat then pay attention to maximum temperature range of at least 165 degrees F. When it comes to drying fruits, vegetables, herbs etc then a lower range of 150-160 degrees F is completely enough. I advise against buying devices that can’t adjust their temperature. Such dehydrator requires a lot of time from you to control the food being dried.
  • Versatility and features – A shelf type dehydrator is more versatile thanks to the better shape of trays and bigger drying area. If you’re planning to dry large quantities of food then consider this type. A very useful feature in both types, however, is a timer, if you have a little more cash then you should definitely look for models equipped with a timer. I guarantee that you won’t regret that decision, a timer allows to program how long the device has to be drying food and after a specified amount of time passes it simply turns it off. Drying usually takes many hours so it is often necessary to watch the drying process or get up at night or in the morning for example in order to turn the device off.
  • Check Circle
    Quality of materials and durability – Most of cheap devices are made of plastic, which is not as durable as metal for example. Stackable type dehydrators are usually made of plastic which is why their prices are so low, if you want a decent and durable product then check out shelf & box type dehydrators, their price is very often several times lower, but when it comes to Excalibur you get as many as 10 years of warranty which is a huge advantage.Size and number of trays – The biggest drying space is in shelf type dehydrators, they also take a lot of space in the kitchen. If you’re looking for a dehydrator that will be lightweight, mobile and with customizable number of trays then this time the best choice will be Stackable food dehydrators. Depending on the model and your needs, you can increase or decrease the number of trays as you please ( 4-8 trays in smaller models whereas in bigger ones it’s usually 5-12 trays ).
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    Price – A high quality box and tray type dehydrator usually costs about $150-$400+ and it is an option for those who value quality or simply need something better. A solution for those with a limited budget or looking for something simple to start with, however, would be a stackable type dehydrator, the price of which is much lower, it is usually within the range of $50-$100.

Conclusion

I hope that thanks to my guide and reviews you know now which food dehydrator will be the best for you. I can’t say which dehydrator won because each of them is actually good for its price range and intended for a specific target group. I did pick several different choices for you, however, divided into several categories so that everyone can pick something perfect for themselves. If you want quality and efficiency then pick something more expensive, if you want a decent product at the lowest possible price then check out my suggestions from the lowest price range.

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