Scientifically, food dehydration is a pretty simple concept. You merely need to keep the food at a consistent, high enough temperature for a long enough time to dry out a portion of the moisture. In practice, the biggest challenge is ensuring that the heat is evenly distributed for all the food you’re drying. Since some food items will necessarily be further from the heat source in the dehydrator than others, ensuring that the product is set up to have an effective airflow helps achieve this.
Before you buy a food dehydrator, research what the manufacturer has to say about heat distribution and airflow for each model. What have they done to ensure the food in the dehydrator will dry out all of its contents evenly? Horizontal flow food dehydrators tend to have the best design for this, but many vertical flow models include fans and other design elements meant specifically to help improve airflow.
For the most part, food dehydrating is easy and you won’t find that different models make just a huge difference in how much work goes into it. That said, there are a few features that can make the food dehydration process easier on you. The main one is having a dehydrator that will cook evenly enough that you don’t have to bother switching around the shelves. That means the difference between having to make an effort to regularly check on your food during the dehydration process, or just being able to leave it, walk away and not worry until it’s done.
If convenience is an important factor for you, the other thing to keep in mind is how much work will go into cleaning the different models. The number of parts the food dehydrator has, whether or not pieces are safe to put in the dishwasher, and where the fan is located (on top is best) are all factors in how much work will go into cleaning it after each use.
The price of a food dehydrator can range anywhere from $30 to over $300, with some commercial-sized units priced at well over $600. On the higher-end, you’ll find food dehydrators with a large capacity so you can dehydrate a lot of food at once, impressive heat distribution so everything cooks evenly, and lots of little perks like thermometers and timers that make the entire process as easy as possible. On the lower end of the price range, you’ll find some basic food dehydrators that can accomplish drying out some foods, but will require more maintenance, have a few more limitations on what types of foods you can dehydrate, and likely won’t last as long.
For most people interested in buying a food dehydrator, especially those purchasing one for the first time, the right model will fall somewhere in between the pricing extremes. Based on what particular features you value most and what type of food dehydrator you choose to go with, you can probably expect to spend somewhere around $50-$150.
As with most small kitchen appliances, you need to consider both how much food you’ll be wanting to make in one batch, and how much space you have available when adding a new appliance in your kitchen. While smaller models, particularly vertical flow ones, will take up less counter space, they typically have a smaller capacity and won’t hold as much. However, they will take up less space and be significantly easier to store when not in use.
However, if you have a lot of food from your garden that you’ll want to dehydrate in a short span of time, or if you aim to buy produce in bulk with the goal of dehydration in mind, then a larger model is probably the best fit for you. If you just want to make a few snacks at a time here and there and save the kitchen real estate, a smaller one will probably make more sense for you.
Since it’s typical for food dehydrators to come with a fan, you can expect many models to produce some noise. However, the overall decibel level will vary from unit to unit. If it’s important to you to stick with an appliance that is as quiet as possible, then seek out a model known for not making much noise.
That covers the main factors to consider when buying a food dehydrator. But, there are also a few extra features that are built into some models that can make a big difference in how easy they are to use.
Different types of foods will dry best under different temperatures, so being able to adjust the temperature in your unit is important in order to achieve the best results. Look for a dehydrator with an adjustable thermostat if you plan to dry more than one food type.
Food dehydration takes hours, which makes it potentially easy to forget about. A dehydrator with a timer helps ensure you can check on your food when needed and be alerted when it’s ready.
If you want to start the food dehydration process and then go run your errands or go to sleep for the night, a food dehydrator with an auto shutoff feature is the way to go.