None one likes to waste food, but a harvest often produces more than you can eat right away. A good dehydrator provides an easy way to preserve a wide variety of delicious and nutritious food for use throughout the year.
All of the dehydrators on our elite list are quality machines that do their job very well.
We do not accept products directly from manufacturers; we use our own funds to purchase the same “off-the-shelf” products that you do.
And when we've finished our testing and consumer reviews, we donate all these products to charities and other non-profit organizations.
The top contenders are:
Dehydrators come in a number of shapes and sizes. Given the fact that you must find somewhere to put it while in use — and somewhere to store it — these specs may impact your decision! Stackable (or racked) dehydrators save you the most space, of course, but our ratings examine the size and tray capacites of all contenders.
Household food dehydrators use either convection systems or fans, but no two are the same. (Factors such as where the fan is mounted can have a considerable effect on drying efficiency.) We examine each dehydrator's drying method and, where possible, we present owner feedback concerning drying times.
From see-through covers that allow you to monitor progress to set-and-forget timer options, today's top dehydrators offer a variety of additional features. In this part of the ratings, we look at each appliance's features and the benefits they bring.
How much should you expect to pay for a quality food dehydrator? We look at each model as a whole and draw some conclusions about value.
Susan Sano Tuveson has been cooking for people for five decades. Educated in music, law, and languages, she left her legal practice to establish Cacao Chocolates in Kittery, Maine. A three-time Best of Seacoast New England winner, the shop was popular for its high-quality artisanal truffles flavored with unusual local ingredients.
At roughly 14.5 inches diameter and 7.5 pounds, the Presto Dehydro Electric Food Dehydrator is relatively portable and shouldn't be any trouble, space-wise, to store and use. Trays nest together, and the electrical cord can be stored within the machine, allowing owners to tuck the entire appliance neatly away when not in use. The Presto dehydrator comes with four trays as standard. Assuming a 14-inch usable diameter on each tray, you get roughly 4.25 square feet of drying space. However, the motor has been designed to accommodate up to eight trays, so if you want to invest in the extra, that gives you the potential for up to 8.5 square feet in total. Power comes by way of a 600-watt motor which, according to one owner, produces a "tolerable" amount of noise. (Some have likened the Presto's noise output to somewhere between the noise of a ceiling fan and a hair dryer.)
With a diameter of 13 inches and a weight of slightly over five pounds, the Ronco 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator is similar in size to the Presto and equally easy to store. The Ronco comes with five trays as standard, giving an approximate total drying space of 4.6 square feet. Unlike some other models, however, drying space can't be increased by adding more trays. The motor is rated at 125 watts. Owners tell us that it runs quietly. However, the way it operates (which we'll look at in a moment) is different than many dehydrators, so power shouldn't be compared directly.
The Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator is a relatively compact and easy-to-store model. At slightly under 14 inches in diameter and weighing 6 pounds, this 600-watt motor appliance comes with five trays as standard, giving owners a basic usable area of nearly five square feet. In addition, the Nesco is much more expandable than some other models, taking up to 12 trays as a maximum. Adding extra trays will cost more, but this addition could increase your drying area to nearly 12 square feet! Noise levels are fine, according to most owners — just a little more than a background hum.
At around seven pounds, the Waring Pro Dehydrator is a little heavier than some, but it is is by no means a big or cumbersome machine. Diameter is around 12 inches and there are five trays in the stack, resulting in a working area of about four square feet. This drying space is smaller than some other models, but it's unlikely to make a lot of difference in everyday use. The 620-watt motor has been criticized by some for producing noise and unpleasant vibration, but these complaints occurred only in a few isolated incidents.
It could be argued that a rectangular shape yields a more useful drying area than a round one, but you do need a bit more space for the 17 x 19-inch Excalibur Food Dehydrator. It also weighs a hefty 22 pounds, so you wouldn't be moving it around as easily as the others we've rated. The upside, of course, is the drying area you get: the Excalibur's nine trays provide you with a total of 15 square feet. In spite of all that space, the motor is a fairly standard 600 watts. However, like the Ronco, direct comparison of this motor to others doesn't tell the whole story.
A fan sits in the base of the Presto food dehydrator. As such, drying occurs by way of "vertical airflow." It's claimed that this drying method prevents flavors from mixing. (Flavor mixing isn't a common problem, but it it happens occasionally when you dry different foods at the same time.) Vertical airflow drying occurs from the base up, so the items on the lower trays will dry faster — something to bear in mind when loading food. If this is a problem for you, you could always re-stack your trays part way through the drying process — but that would be a bit of a nuisance. Drying times depend on portion size and moisture content, among other things, and they vary considerably. Nevertheless, we can report one owner's experience that sliced fruit (apples and pears) took about an hour, whereas tomatoes took around three hours. Actual operating temperature is between 135 and 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
There's no fan in the Ronco dehydrator. Instead, food is dried with a heating element. The principle in operation here is not unlike older-style electric cookers, although the unit itself differs. The idea is that, instead of blowing heat through the stack, it rises naturally and eventually reaches a stable temperature throughout — in this case, 133 degrees Fahrenheit. There are two minor downsides to this process. First, it tends to take longer (one owner told us that1/2-inch apple slices took a day and 1/4-inch jerky strips took 30 hours). Second, moisture and fat from the food gets onto the heating element and can be difficult to clean.
Nesco claims to have solved the uneven drying problem that is inherent with base-mounted fans. The company does this by putting their heating unit in the lid of the Snackmaster. They call it the "Converga-Flow" system, and while the clever air flow design undoubtedly helps drying and should prevent flavor mixing, we have trouble seeing how this is an advantage over putting the fan at the bottom. Nesco says there's no need for re-stacking, and it's true that there's no danger of liquids getting on the heating element. One big bonus is the variable operating temperature, which can range from 95 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This variance enabled one owner to make beef jerky in as little as five hours. Nesco is a bit more conservative in its time estimates, however. While the company is happy to promote the Snackmaster as faster than "ordinary" dehydrators, stated drying times range "from 6 to 18 hours."
Although the Waring Pro dehydrator has a fan mounted in the base, this appliance approaches the problem of uneven drying by incorporating a design that blows hot air horizontally. According to owners, this method renders truly even results. As you might expect from a dehydrator that calls itself "Pro," there are several temperature settings. First is a "fan only, cool air" option. Three further settings, marked as "low," "medium," and "high," round out the list. In our opinion, that's not the most precise way of marking them, but tests suggest that the corresponding temperatures are roughly 110, 140, and 175 degrees Fahrenheit. User feedback is generally very positive about drying times. For example, cherry tomatoes cook in a couple of hours; chicken jerky and thick apple slices take around four hours.
You might expect a top-of-the-range model like the Excalibur food dehydrator to have a fancy name for its rear-mounted, fan-driven system. Sure enough, the manufacturer combines "Parallex Horizontal Airflow" with "Hyperwave Fluctuation Technology." This clever and effective method draws in cool air, heats it, and blows it across the food before allowing it to escape. As such, none of the moist air is ever trapped inside the appliance. The result is more thoroughly dried produce in a shorter period of time. Variable temperature settings from 105 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit enhance owner control even further. With this appliance, most fruit and vegetables dry in a few hours. One owner said he was able to produce six pounds of beef jerky in just eight hours.
The Presto food dehydrator is an entry-level model. Given the price, you shouldn't expect many extras. There's a clear lid so you can check progress — on this machine, that's particularly important because there's neither a temperature control nor a timer. (Cheap kitchen timers are widely available, so this shouldn't be a problem.) Trays are dishwasher safe, which you might think was a given with the kind of food being prepared, but on many models, they are not. Mesh screens, fruit roll sheets, jerky guns, and jerky spice kits are all available for the Presto at an extra cost.
Like the Presto, the Ronco food dehydrator has neither a timer nor a thermostat to vary the temperature. There's a lot of clear plastic so you can see what's going on, but that's the only "feature" you'll find on this budget model — apart from a recipe book. We were unable to find out if trays are dishwasher safe or not, but given some of the owner comments about general tray performance (see next section), we're assuming they're not.
With the Nesco Snackmaster dehydrator you do get a few useful extras, including a carrying handle that is built into the lid. (This is a small detail, but Ronco is the only manufacturer in our ratings that thought to include one.) You also get two solid sheets, two mesh sheets, and three packets of jerky spices. (Not of huge value, perhaps, but a thoughtful inclusion which many others haven't bothered with.) The instruction and recipe book runs 52 pages. Unfortunately, the Snackmaster Pro's trays are not dishwasher safe.
Even when you look further up the pricing scale, it's common to find dehydrators with trays that are not dishwasher safe. That's the case with the Waring Pro DHR30 Professional Dehydrator. Also, while it does offer thermostatic control, no timer is provided. A fruit roll sheet and instruction/recipe booklet are included with the package, but given the higher-quality nature of the Waring Pro, it's a little surprising that you don't get some of the extras that cheaper models include.
There's some debate as to whether Excalibur dehydrator trays are safe for the dishwasher or not. However, at 15 x 15 inches, many owners say that they don't fit anyway. (A quick rinse in warm, soapy water usually does the trick.) In addition to the temperature control, you also get an excellent 26-hour timer. Once you become accustomed to how the Excalibur works, it is very much a "set-it-and-forget-it" appliance. Another invaluable feature: the trays are racked rather than stacked. What this means is that you have no height restriction with your food. If you need more vertical space, simply remove a tray or two. Some owners even use the Excalibur to raise bread dough.
List price for the Presto dehydrator is $36. In spite of its low cost, this is an appliance with a lot going for it. It's relatively small, but it's expandable if you need it to be. While it doesn't have the timer or temperature control of more expensive models, it does offer an effective and inexpensive introduction to food dehydrating. Warranty is one year, and quite a few owners are surprised at just how well it's made. Most are satisfied with their purchase.
Like the Presto, the $28 Ronco dehydrator is a machine aimed at those looking for an inexpensive, entry-level dehydrator. The low-wattage motor is inexpensive to run and very quiet. Quite a few people have owned a Ronco for years with few problems, but a disturbingly high number report that the trays often melt or break. Unfortunately, this flaw can't be put down to a problem with a particular batch because customer complaints of this kind seem to be ongoing.
The Nesco Snackmaster food dehydrator sells for $58. That's an impressively low price for a good machine, especially when you consider that the Snackmaster sports many of the features you would normally find on more expensive models. The five standard trays are expandable to twelve, so only the Excalibur tops it in terms of usable space. While there's no timer, there is thermostatic control for temperature and a top-mounted fan system that yields fast drying results. Praised for its flexibility and performance, the Nesco Snackmaster is a popular product among both reviewers and owners. A few people criticize the fact that it has no on/off switch (you have to unplug it), and a small percentage of owners have experienced electrical failures. The Nesco comes with a one-year warranty.
Although the $84 Waring Pro dehydrator doesn't include some of the extras you often find on cheaper machines, it would be unfair to complain too much, as the product earns plenty of consumer praise overall. Quality construction and durability are underlined by a five-year warranty. The horizontal air flow design comes close to the efficiency of the Excalibur and gets high marks from owners for productivity and ease of use. In fact, many people have bought more than one — you can't get a better recommendation than that! No dehydrator is perfect, and a few users report problems with the motor, but those few complaints are far outweighed by comments like "Great machine!" and "Works like a pro!"
With a list price of $255, the Excalibur food dehydrator is the most expensive of our machines by a large margin. Fortunately, everything about this excellent product underlines its value. It's an appliance that's designed to work hard and last for a long time, as evidenced by its ten-year warranty. On top of that, it offers plenty of drying space, great flexibility, and undoubtedly the best dehydrating system of all our finalists. There are sporadic complaints, but they seem to concern manufacturing or delivery faults that should be rectified under the extensive warranty. Compliments, on the other hand, are plentiful and effusive. The most extraordinary one we've heard was from a man who owned the same Excalibur for 35 years. He recently bought the 3926TB on the off chance that the original would some day wear out!
Each of our finalists has merit, but if you're going to dry large amounts of food regularly, there's no doubt that the appliance of choice is the Excalibur.
Everything about this model says "workhorse," and while this model is heavier and more expensive than our other contenders, your investment is rewarded with a class-leading dehydration area of 15 square feet. (BPA-free drying sheets are included -- another plus.) The Excalibur is the most flexible appliance on our shortlist, too, as there is practically no height restriction to what you can dehydrate. If you need more vertical space, simply remove a tray or two. In fact, some owners use this appliance to raise bread dough.
Driven by a 600-watt motor, the Excalibur's fan is mounted at the back, where it issues its patented Parallex Horizontal Airflow. This flow ensures thorough, even drying thanks to Hyperwave Fluctuation Technology. While that might be a bit of a mouthful, suffice it to say that the machine works quickly and efficiently. A few people have criticized it for being noisy, but that's not a common complaint.
Features include variable temperature control (anywhere from 105 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit) and a timer that can run for up to 26 hours. The Excalibur will dry fruit, vegetables, and herbs. It will also make beef, chicken, or fish jerky, fruit roll-ups, pet treats, and even potpourri. There have been sporadic problems with manufacture and delivery, but the vast majority of these concerns should be covered by the industry-leading ten-year warranty. Manufacturers don't offer that kind of support unless they're quite confident about the quality and durability of a product!
Owner feedback is also positive, with comments like "Love it!" and "Simply the best dehydrator on the market!" being the norm. Indeed, the Excalibur is just that, and we give it our wholehearted endorsement as the Best of the Best food dehydrator on the market today.
The Waring Pro isn't expensive, and the Presto has a lot going for it, too. However, the Best Bang for Your Buck food dehydrator is the Nesco Snackmaster.
The design is neat and tidy. It's light and easy to store, yet if you choose to add more trays to the four-tray standard, you get around 12 square feet of drying space -- an excellent deal. With a decent motor of 600 watts, this appliance is sufficiently powered by top-mounted fans. Some consumers question how evenly top-mounted fans dry food, but that doesn't seem to be a problem with this particular model -- perhaps because of the air-flow control built into the structure.
The Nesco comes with few extras, but at a price of just $58, extras aren't really expected. Drying sheets, mesh sheets, and other items are available for the Nesco, but you would have to buy them separately.
Given that this is one of the least expensive food dehydrators on the market, you might expect there to be a question mark over quality. However, most owners marvel at how well it's put together. Our research turned up positive comments aplenty about the Nesco . Criticisms center mostly around longevity, but overall, people think it's a great buy. For the beginner and occasional user, the Nesco food dehydrator delivers an unbeatable value.