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Four Key Factors to Consider When Buying a Food Dehydrator
If you think about it, food dehydration isn’t really rocket science. A dehydrator really needs to maintain temperature and airflow. Most dehydrators have a temperature thermostat to maintain the desired temperature and a fan to circulate fresh dry air. I strongly recommend staying away from any dehydrator that doesn’t come with a fan and thermostat. Because they all maintain the same temperature and airflow, all models of dehydrators take the same amount of time to dry the same food. So when you’re shopping for a dehydrator, it’s not worth looking for one that dries faster than the other. But there are other important factors to consider when deciding which dehydrator to buy. There are four key factors when deciding which dehydrator to buy:
- Heat and air flow
- Materials and quality
There are two basic dehydrator designs: Stackable tray dehydrators; And Shelf tray dehydrators. Each of these two dehydrator types has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. I will refer to these two designs as I review each of the components below.
Heat and air flow
The most important thing when buying a dehydrator is heat and air distribution. There’s nothing more frustrating than having one part of your batch drier than another. Uneven heating and airflow can cause food closer to the heat and air source to dry much faster than food further away.
- Heat and Air Flow – Shelf Tray Dehydrators – The heat and air flow of shelf food dehydrators is usually very even due to the nature of the design. The trays in shelf dehydrators slide out and look and function like the trays in your conventional oven. This type of food dehydrator usually has a heating element and fan mounted on the back of the unit, and warm air flows evenly horizontally across all the trays. The most common shelf dehydrators are made by Excalibur.
- Heat and Air Flow – Economy Stackable Dehydrators – Uneven heat and airflow is a problem almost exclusively found in certain stackable food dehydrators, especially less expensive department store models. Stackable food dehydrators typically have their heat source mounted on the bottom of the unit, so the bottom tray gets the lion’s share of the heat and airflow. Many economy models don’t even include a fan. Because of vertical heat and airflow, owners of economy stackable dehydrators must rotate their trays periodically to prevent some trays from becoming over-dry and others from becoming under-dry. I suggest you avoid the economy stackable dehydrators.
- Heat and airflow – quality stackable dehydrators – Newer and higher quality stackable food dehydrator models are engineered to provide much more heat and airflow than cheaper models. For those who prefer stackable tray dehydrators, I recommend the L’Equip and American Harvest/Nesco brand dehydrators. The L’Equip and Amercian Harvest dehydrators are designed in such a way that the fans and heat source are almost completely sealed off from the tray to avoid overheating the bottom tray. Warm, dry air from these dehydrators rises through tunnel-like ducts in the center of each tray and is distributed to each tray just as a home’s central air system delivers conditioned air to every room in the home. L’Equip and American Harvest/NESCO food dehydrators do not require tray rotation.
Another factor to consider when purchasing a dehydrator is easy access to the tray. When preparing and setting up food for dehydrating, you need to go to the dehydrator tray when you check the progress of the food during the drying process and when you are ready to remove the dehydrated food from the tray for storage. Setting up, checking and removing food in a shelf dehydrator couldn’t be easier. Each tray ejects separately, just like the trays in your conventional oven. With a shelf dehydrator, there’s no need to mess with the trays above or below the tray you’re working on. The story is completely different for stackable dehydrators. If you want to access the tray in the middle of the stack, you need to lift all the trays above it. Not only can lifting a tray from a height be a burden, but it can also lead to frustrating accidents and spills if the tray falls. Some stackable dehydrators have 6, 10, 12 or even 20 trays. It’s important to consider how working with multiple trays stacked on top of each other can be a little tricky.
When you invest in a piece of equipment like a dehydrator, you want it to be as versatile as possible. When considering between shelf tray dehydrators and stackable tray dehydrators, each has a distinct advantage over the other when it comes to versatility. First of all, shelf tray dehydrators have a great advantage of allowing clearance between trays when you want to dehydrate “tall” items. Just like a conventional oven, you can simply remove the trays to get as much vertical clearance as you need between the trays. For example, a stackable dehydrator allows you to make dried flowers and beautiful crafts (eg dough art, dried apple art, some clay crafts, etc.) that otherwise wouldn’t fit in the small space in a stackable tray. You can make yogurt in your own jars in a shelf dehydrator which is not possible in a stackable dehydrator. Although stackable dehydrators don’t have much clearance between trays, they do have one advantage that shelf dehydrators lack: expandability. Stackable dehydrator models usually come with 4, 6, 8 or 10 trays out of the box. However, as your dehydrating needs grow you can purchase additional trays to increase the capacity of your dehydrator. Stackable dehydrators have enough heating and airflow capacity to expand at least twice the size of the tray they originally came in. On the other hand, due to the limitations of their box design, shelf dehydrators cannot be expanded. If you are expanding your shelf dehydrator, you may need to purchase a whole new unit to increase your drying capacity rather than buying a few extra trays.
Materials and quality
After all, when buying a dehydrator, you want it to last. All the dehydrators we offer at Meat Processing Products are top quality models that come with a multi-year warranty. Most are made of durable food-grade FDA approved plastic materials. However, many people are concerned about the possibility of plastic fumes or chemicals leaching into foods at warmer temperatures. While we haven’t been able to confirm whether this is true, and the FDA’s indication that the ingredients are safe, it’s food for thought. For this reason, as well as the great looks and obvious durability, many people choose to purchase all-stainless steel model dehydrators. Stainless steel shelf dehydrators are made by several manufacturers, including The Sausage Maker and LEM products for home and commercial use.
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