Best Food Dehydrator of 2021
The sleek Magic Mill combines a modern digital interface with an understated matte black finish. The well-thought-out metal tray design allows for 7.6 square feet of food processing space, and there is a transparent door that enables you to monitor the progress. The temperature settings are reasonably accurate, and the modest footprint won't eat up too much counter space. Moreover, it produces consistent and quality dried goods, and clean up with this model is easy peasy.
The downsides to the Magic Mill are minor but notable. The temperature can be increased and decreased in increments of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. This is somewhat limiting, but it is not uncommon to have incremental temperature settings on kitchen appliances like food dehydrators. We also felt that the timer beep is quite loud and somewhat annoying. However, the machine itself is very quiet when in operation. As a final consideration, this machine offers average cooking square footage for the class. So, if frequent bulk dehydration is your aim, it might be a bit small. That said, we think that this machine has the best combination of function and features when looked at as a whole.
Read review: Magic Mill
The highly-regarded Excalibur has copious tray space and a roomy cabinet — making it one of the largest machines we tested. For cooks that require high-volume food preservation, this square footage is a luxury. The mesh-lined trays make the cleanup of sticky food bits reasonably straightforward because they can be removed — soaked and scrubbed if needed — and cleaned in the dishwasher or sink. More importantly, this model produced the most consistent positive results for texture, evenness, and flavor across our test foods. This is largely due to the 3926TB's relatively accurate temperatures, particularly at the high and low ends of the temperature range.
While the 3926TB's tray space is a boon to the high volume cook, the external dimensions can burden those with limited storage space. Also, cleanup is complicated due to the interior plastic's rough texture, which is hard to wipe down. Lastly, the markings on the knobs are imprecise, which may explain some of the inaccuracies that we observed in the middle-temperature ranges. Despite these shortcomings, the 3926TB is a noble machine for both casual and intensive dehydrating.
Read review: Excalibur 3926TB
The Hamilton Beach 32100A is a rectangular stackable food dehydrator that offers consumers value and consistent performance. The size and shape of the trays provide plenty of square footage and make cleanup straightforward. Additionally, the temperature and time settings are easy to use.
While setting the 32100A's timer and the temperature is intuitive, the digital display rounds up to the nearest hour. This feature is unnecessarily confusing as the timer will read two hours even if one hour and one minute are left on the clock. Additionally, the racks are flexible and fairly thin, which leaves us questioning their durability. Finally, we found the internal temperature to be one of the most inconsistent in the class. These flaws are but mere inconveniences and do not make for an inferior product. The 32100A is a quality option at a very reasonable price, making it an all-around great value.
Read review: Hamilton Beach 32100A
The COSORI sports a timeless good look. It has brushed stainless steel with black plastic facing and digital controls. In addition to its aesthetic design, the moderate tray size combined with a relatively limited footprint makes it more likely to claim a permanent spot on your kitchen counter. The machine also has accurate temperature and timer settings and a metal interior that is relatively painless to clean.
That being said, the metal racks can pose some cleaning issues. We appreciate that they are sturdy, but the woven surface attracts bits of food during the dehydration process, which are difficult to remove. Our only other bone to pick is that the manufacturer's beef jerky recipe yielded subpar results, though we think tweaking the temperature and timing would likely remedy this issue. Overall, this machine's benefits far outweigh its downfalls, and you won't mind the look of this sleek device on your countertops.
Read review: COSORI Food Dehydrator Machine
In certain situations, less is more. If this is how you feel about kitchen appliances, then you should check out the Nutrichef PKFD12. This dehydrator has a single setting: ON/OFF. This one control pins the internal temperature at a constant 170 degrees. There is also no timer. Despite the lack of control over the temperature and time, the PKFD12 renders excellent results. Moreover, the model is a breeze to clean.
The features that make this dehydrator appealing to the minimalist are also the machine's most significant limitations. The lack of a timer and temperature controls can be a real detriment for more delicate foods. Too much heat, time, or both can render food dry and crunchy. Also, at a mere 3.25 square feet of tray space, the PKFD12 is among the smallest of our test selection. Yet when carefully monitored, this compact model renders better results than some machines with variable temperature settings. If you're looking to get into food preservation and don't want to dive into the deep end, then this machine is definitely worth your consideration.
Read review: Nutrichef PKFD12
The Presto 06301 Dehydro is an excellent machine for cooks preserving food in smaller batches or less frequently. Our testing revealed a product that produced consistent results across all food types and was straightforward to clean. Best of all, it has a modular design that allows adjustability in capacity and storage dimensions. Depending on the amount of food you want to process, you can add or remove trays, and extra trays are available for purchase if you need to increase your batch size. When the job is complete, the trays can be nested to reduce the unit's height.
While we found the tray design effective overall, the spacing between the tray slats is a bit wide as smaller morsels can fall through the cracks. Additionally, the user has to reset both temperature and timer to add time to the clock, which can be counterintuitive. These annoyances aside, the Presto is easy to operate, reasonably priced, and reliable, making it an excellent pick for most home kitchens.
Read review: Presto 06301 Dehydro
The NESCO Snackmaster Pro is a stacked dehydrator whose capacity can be increased with extra trays, which are sold separately. The Snackmaster Pro's basic design sets itself apart with a top-mounted fan which ensures that no food can drip into it, making cleanup a breeze. Another unique feature that positively affects clean-up is the flexible trays that you can roll to break any adhesion that may have occurred during dehydration.
While the fan's location and the trays' flexibility ease the cleanup burden, these features create their own problems. The fan's position makes checking the drying process difficult because it must be removed before checking each tray's level. It is also unclear if the flexible trays will stand the test of time as they are quite thin. Despite these shortcomings, the Snackmaster Pro is a solid device that renders tasty results all at a reasonable price.
Read review: NESCO Snackmaster Pro
The Chefman has above-average square footage, user-friendly controls, and a convenient monitoring window located at the front of the machine. In addition to these features, the model was able to produce decent food outcomes.
Conversely, the Chefman is challenging to clean and provides inconsistent internal temperatures. Despite these two gripes, this model offers ample tray space and intuitive operation. Moreover, it comes at a great price.
Read review: Chefman 6 Tray Digital
Why You Should Trust Us
Our research analyst Michelle Powell brings more than ten years of professional culinary experience to the table in her analysis of food processing appliances. Senior Review Editor Nick Miley has spent several years working in university laboratories engaging in original research and writing about the findings. Nick is an avid cook who enjoys baking and preserving food.
Our thorough testing process began with the purchase of the best dehydrators on the market. We then proceeded to run racks of beef, tomatoes, bananas, apple slices, apple sauce (to make fruit leather), and fresh herbs through each model. These practical applications allow us to assess the dehydrated foods' quality and the consistency of the results, in addition to the accuracy of the dehydrators' internal temperatures, the difficulty of cleaning, and the ease of use. We hope that this review will motivate you to pick up one of these machines and delve into this timeless food processing method.
How to Choose the Right Food Dehydrator
A dehydrator is an enclosed space containing racks or trays, a heating element, and a fan at the most basic level. Within this basic design, there are two categories of dehydrators: shelf dehydrators and stackable dehydrators. Shelf dehydrators look like a box with racks that slide in and out of them. A stackable dehydrator features trays that fit one on top of the other with a lid enclosing the unit. The Excalibur is an example of the shelf-style, while the Presto is an example of the stacked design.
There are variations among these products in the user interface, cleaning ease, capacity, and temperature accuracy. Your goals, including what you intend to dehydrate and how frequently you intend to do so, will determine the importance of these elements. We will look at all these considerations in detail below. While you read the following, consider how much space you want to dedicate to storing your dehydrator. Many of the models will not — in our opinion — look that great on a countertop, and even the ones with nice aesthetics still take up a lot of counter space.
In recent years, BPA has become an increasing concern for many consumers. While the FDA maintains that BPA is safe in food contact materials, many manufacturers have responded to the apprehension of their customers by avoiding materials containing the chemical. All of the dehydrators in this review have BPA-free trays. The Magic Mill, COSORI, Presto, and Hamilton Beach models are completely constructed of BPA-free materials.
Capacity and External Dimensions
Dehydrating is a slow process; thus, fitting more into a machine at once can make things more efficient. If you're using one of these machines regularly to crank out healthy snacks or preserve seasonal food items in bulk, then bigger is better. However, if you use your dehydrator infrequently or for smaller tasks, capacity will not matter as much. The Excalibur 3926TB is by far the largest capacity machine in our review. It also kicks butt in several other ways that we discuss later. The Excalibur 3926TB boasts 15 square feet of tray area. To put this into context, it's nearly double the nearest competitor in this regard and over four times as large as the lowest capacity Nutrichef and the Presto.
Food dehydrators have external dimensions that increase with their capacities. So, one will need more counter and storage space for a higher capacity machine. The COSORI Food Dehydrator is our favorite countertop model boasting a medium-capacity (six square feet) and a stylish design with a minimal footprint. The Magic Mill also meets these needs. These machines are a nice compromise between a production and a minimalist dehydrator.
Ease of Use
For our purposes, ease of use specifically refers to the user interface and tray design. We assess the difficulty of cleaning these products separately. A few dehydrators stood out with simple and intuitive temperature and timer controls. Some models, like the Nutrichef, are quite simple to use — in this case, all you have to do is plug it in and flip a switch. However, this streamlined start-up process comes at the cost of a timer and thermostat; the user must time the process manually. On the other hand, models like the Excalibur 3926TB have dial adjustments for temperature and time. While knobs are instinctual, they lack the degree of accuracy provided by a digital interface that the user can fine-tune to exact specifications.
While temperature and timing are crucial for achieving the edible outcomes we aim for when purchasing a dehydrator, a good tray design can determine how easily we reap those rewards. We discovered that the effort put into preparing and drying food is all for naught if the food sticks to or falls through the tray. Trays with removable mesh screens are best for dealing with sticky or otherwise adhered food because they flex and roll to break the bond between tray and food. The Excalibur 3926TB is a prime example of an easy-to-use mesh-lined tray. On the other end of the spectrum is the COSORI's metal tray. While we liked these for their classic industrial look and durability, the interwoven wire grid has larger holes and proved to be the most challenging for food removal. The Magic Mill is arguably the best compromise between the two with the durability of metal but with a design that makes cleaning them much easier than the competition.
A dehydrator's internal temperature accuracy is not just the ability to precisely set a digital interface to a specific number. Temperature accuracy means that the number on the interface accurately represents the internal reality of the machine. It seems obvious, yet the results varied greatly from one model to the next when we tested this. We selected temperature settings of 100, 115, 130, and 160 degrees Fahrenheit (all common dehydrating temperatures) on each machine and placed a thermometer inside. Except for the Chefman 6 Tray, which ran cool, all the other models displaying deviations consistently ran hot.
The Presto and the COSORI demonstrated the greatest accuracy within the class. The COSORI never varied more than three degrees from the set temperature.
For most, it's not enough to desiccate food so that it won't spoil. Good dehydration is a delicate process that leaves just enough moisture in the food to make it easy and enjoyable to eat while preserving it for the long term. It should be noted that there are some important food safety considerations provided by the USDA that need to be understood before dehydrating meat. With these good practices in mind, let's dig into the food.
To evaluate the dehydration process's final product, we made fruit leathers, tomatoes, herbs, and beef jerky using the times and temperatures that the manufacturer recommends for each model. Each of these foods requires different methods of preparation, temperature settings, and timing. We had a panel of tasters evaluate each final product for texture, evenness, and flavor. We also recorded each recipe's completion time and compared that to the time listed in the manual. Often, some tweaking of the period of dehydration was required, resulting in a disparity between the manual's recommendation and the actual time required.
The Excalibur 3926TB, the Magic Mill, and the Nutrichef PKFD12 are standouts in the category. They produced evenly dehydrated, tasty morsels across all food types using the manufacturer's recommended time and temperature settings.
Often culinary activities require more prep and cleanup than actual cooking. While prep can be enjoyable, cleaning is rarely described as such. Dehydrators have a lot of nooks and crannies, trays, and liners. Moreover, the dehydration process is slow and provides ample time for the food to drip, congeal, and harden into these spaces. If your dehydrator takes too much time and effort to clean, you might find it collecting dust in the pantry. To help inform your decision, we made a thorough analysis of the cleanup process for each machine.
During our testing process, we ran multiple types of food through these machines. As such, we had ample opportunities to clean a variety of sticky substances from them. We found that models like the Nutrichef and Hamilton Beach are easiest to clean since the trays themselves are the body of the dehydrator, and they completely disassemble. Also, these models do not have tight corners that are hard to wipe out. Of those models with metal trays, the Magic Mill had the easiest ones to clean.
Preserving food with dehydration is cost-effective, nutritious, and rewarding. If you are looking for a machine to achieve these ends, the above review lays out several options to meet both budget and space constraints. More than that, we isolate those models that are easier to use and clean. We had a great time testing these machines — including scarfing down all the snacks we made. We hope that our work helps you find your way through the dehydrator selection process and on to reaping some tasty rewards. Bon appetite!
— Nick Miley and Michelle Powell