Despite the many brands of food dehydrators on the market, they all fall into two major types/categories. When you are shopping for the best food dehydrator, you will be forced to choose between these two types of food dehydrators because the models in each category work differently and come with advantages and disadvantages over the other. The two main types/categories are:
- Vertical Flow Food Dehydrators (also called stackable food dehydrators).
- Horizontal Flow Food Dehydrators (also known as Box and shelf food dehydrators).
The difference in the two types of dehydrators can be seen based on their orientation and whether the food is stacked vertically, or lined up side by side.
Stacked Dehydrators (Vertical Flow Food Dehydrators)
These types of dehydrators are the most reasonably priced in the market and work well for dehydrating vegetables, fruits, herbs, and spices. They can have their heat source at the base or the bottom of the unit. The fan is always located at the base of the appliance, and it circulates the hot air upwards and spreads it to all the trays. The device is made up of a stack of racks placed on top of each other. On each stack is a tray onto which the food to dehydrate is placed and vents on the circumference.
Advantages of stacked food dehydrator types (verticle flow food dehydrators)
- They have a small footprint because they are usually small and compact.
- Because of small and compact size, they also allow for easy storage.
- They usually reasonably priced and hence affordable for those who want to try out dehydrating foods but don’t want to start with a higher-priced unit.
- They are usually expandable with more trays, depending on the volume/ quantity of foods you want to dehydrate. You just buy more trays and expand the unit to dry more food at a go.
The main disadvantage of this design is that the heat doesn’t spread uniformly. This means the food closet to heating element will dry faster. Also, the unit may not hold a consistent high heat through all the stack, which is required to dry beef jerky. But With a little extra effort, jerky can be efficiently dried in this type of dehydrator. You just have to ensure that all of the beef in a tray receives uniform heating by periodically rotating the trays during the dehydrating process.
Horizontal Flow (Box and shelf) Food Dehydrators
Horizontal flow food dehydrators have their heating source located at the back of the unit. Similar to a conventional electric oven, horizontal flow dehydrators have a box design (also called an outer shell). Inside the Box are trays (also called shelves), inserted in a predetermined fashion. Inside the box is also a fan (also usually at the back). The fan which blows and uniformly circulates heated hot air through each tray and across the food being preserved.
Benefits/ pros of horizontal flow Food dehydrators
- Though they are more expensive than the verticle flow dehydrators, they offer a more stress-free use. Offer a uniform hot air circulation across all the trays, which do not necessitate you to rotate the trays periodically. The foods also get evenly dehydrated at the same rate, hence consistent results.
- Their ability to consistently supply hot air at a uniform temperature makes them a perfect choice for dehydrating tougher foods. Foods such as meat, beef jerky, poultry, and fish, while they also dry veggies, fruits, and herbs without a pinch.
- The box design also offers better insulation, avoiding energy leakages and wastages.
- More expensive than the stacked food dehydrators.
- They have a bigger footprint because of their bulky shape.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A BEST FOOD DEHYDRATOR [What makes a good food dehydrator?]
Size and Capacity
The capacity you chose will depend on the space you have in the kitchen as well as how much food you intend to dehydrate. With a large capacity dehydrator, you will save time drying large batches of food than in a smaller device. Meanwhile, a smaller dehydrator will be best for you if you will be drying small batches and have a small kitchen space. Additionally, you will get a more usable dehydrating area if you purchase a machine with a small footprint and a rectangular shape. With some rounded models, they have a hole in the center of each tray, and this decreases the dehydrating area.
2. Drying efficiency and consistency
A good dehydrating machine should be able to “evenly”/ uniformly dry a batch of food. A food dehydrator model with more trays will ensure consistent drying. This is because it gives you more room to spread out your food. This is because trays increase the usable dehydrating area without adding to the footprint. However, uniform drying of your food is achieved if you correctly space out your food and use a uniform and small thickness.
3. Temperature range
To get a more controlled dehydrating, a wider temperature range is required. The dehydrator should have the ability to efficiently work at lower temperatures needed to dry delicate food items like herbs and spices. At the same time, it should maintain higher drying temperatures required to safely make other snacks like meat jerky. The model should also have small and precise temperature intervals. With most foods, you can dehydrate at 130 °F (54 °C), although some foods like herbs would require temperatures between 95°F to 115°F. For meats jerky, a higher dehydrating of 155 °F (68 °C) may be required.
4. Jerky-Making; Is It up to the task?
Is jerky-making (meat drying into a jerky) high on your priority list? If so, you need to buy a model that will enable you to do just that. Not all food dehydrators are capable of drying it safely. This is partly due to the nature of meat which tends to spoil faster than vegetables and needs a higher temperature to dehydrate.
5. Programmable timer
A programmable time could be handy in avoiding over-drying when you are dehydrating at night or when you are not at home. A good model like our top-rated can be programmed to turn off when done. The timer can be programmed in intervals of one hour or less. However, the basic or some cheap dehydrator models have no programmable timer, they simply turn on when they’re plugged in and off when unplugged.
HOW TO USE A FOOD DEHYDRATOR FOR PRESERVING FOOD
Using a food dehydrator is usually straight forward that even a first time will be dehydrating their food the very first day they unbox their units. However, perfection takes a few days as some brands may need to get used to in terms of determining the correct settings for dehydrating various food types. Regardless, the procedure of using how to use a food dehydrator remains almost the same, and some units will come with recipes for dehydrating certain foods.
Below are the steps on how to use a dehydrator to preserve your garden produce
Ready the food (raw materials): Wash then, sort them, and slice or dice those that need doing so (e.g. the bananas). Slicing into small thickness on a cutting board quickens and shorten the drying time, yielding perfect results.
Arrange the food on the dehydrator’s drying trays. Ensure to properly space out the food on the tray. This avoids overlapping so that air can evenly circulate through the food.
Set the temperature: This will depend on the food you want to dry. Most brands will come with a manual and recipe book. From there, you may be able to get the correct drying temperatures for specific foods. As a guide, at 130 °F (54 °C) most fruits and veggies will dehydrate adequately. Herbs require lower temperatures between 95°F to 115°F, while to dehydrate the infamous meat/beef jerky, a higher drying temperature of 155 °F (68 °C) and above may be required.
Set the timer and start the drying process: Not all dehydrator brands/models have a timer. For those that have, you can set the timer and leave the machine to run. It then turns off when the timer runs out. No need to babysit the process. For those models without a timer, you should regularly check the progress of the drying process. Check whether the machine is working correctly. Also, don’t forget to rotate the trays when you are at it. As a guide, fruits and vegetables will take between 2-19 hours for drying. Beef jerky (depending on thickness) would take between 4-7 hours to dehydrate at 165 °F.
Cool, package, and Store: When the dehydrating is finished, and you are satisfied that your food is entirely dehydrated, cool it and store it in an airtight container. Then, store the container in a dark and dry place.
CONCLUSION ON OUR TOP FOOD DEHYDRATOR PICKS
Dehydrating foods is not a luxury for us. It is a hobby and a necessity for us, borne out of the desire to live a healthier life. Also to reduce the wastage of our garden produce. To sustain this desire, we seek out for the best dehydrator that will deliver consistent results. One that is reliable, durable, and at the same time affordable or cost-effective. In our top picks, we have tried to look out for the models that could meet the different needs. Whether you are just starting with food dehydration or a seasoned veteran, from our picks, you will find one that fits your needs. From Excalibur 3926TB, the Best Overall and best large capacity electric food dehydrator at Amazon, to our most budget-friendly pick – the Presto 3601 Dehydro digital electric food dehydrator at Amazon.