Best Food Dehydrator
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, while the transparent door enables the cook to monitor the progress. The temperature settings are reasonably accurate, and the modest footprint won't eat up too much counter space. Moreover, the food outcomes are consistent and quality, while the cleaning is a breeze.
We did not like that the temperature settings are in 10º F increments as it limits recipe tweaking. To our ears, the timer beep is quite loud and somewhat annoying. However, the machine itself is very quiet. 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 of function and features when looked at as a whole.
Read review: Magic Mill
The top-rated Excalibur 3926TB has copious tray square footage in its cavernous cabinet — so much space that it's nearly twice as big as the next largest machine we tested. For cooks that are doing tons of food preserving, the square footage is a luxury. The mesh-lined trays make the clean-up 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 all test foods. A key factor to such outcomes is 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, these external dimensions can burden those with limited storage space. Also, clean-up is complicated due to the interior plastic's rough texture, which is hard to wipe down. Lastly, the pinpoint 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 Excalibur is a noble machine for both casual and intensive dehydrating.
Read review: Excalibur 3926TB
The COSORI sports a timeless good look. It has brushed stainless steel with black plastic facing and digital controls. Complementing its aesthetic design, the average tray square footage with a reduced 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 can streamline the body's cleaning process.
The COSORI is the only model in our review featuring metal racks. While these are sturdy and enticing for those attempting to limit their plastic consumption, they produce some irritating side effects. The weave of the wire creates a texture that bonds well with food during the dehydrating process, and the remnant food stuck to the racks can be tough to remove. Our only other complaint is that we could not get satisfactory beef jerky results using the manufacturer's recipe, but we imagine a little tweaking of the temperature and timing would likely remedy this issue. All in all, this machine is worth the clean-up fuss.
Read review: COSORI Food Dehydrator Machine
The Hamilton Beach 32100A is a rectangular stackable food dehydrator that offers consumers both value and consistent performance. The size and shape of the trays provide plenty of square footage and make clean-up 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 unusual feature creates situations where there could be 1 hour and 1 minute remaining on the timer, but the timer readout would indicate that 2 hours remained. Additionally, the durability of the racks is questionable as they are relatively thin and flexible. Finally, we found the internal temperature to be one of the most inconsistent in the class. However, these criticisms do not add up to an inferior product. On the contrary, we consider the Hamilton Beach to be a great value.
Read review: Hamilton Beach 32100A
The Presto 06301 Dehydro is an excellent machine for cooks preserving food in smaller batches or less frequently. In our testing, the product 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. The consumer can add or remove the Presto's trays to accommodate the amount of food being processed, and extra trays are available for purchase. When the job is complete, the trays can be nested to reduce the unit's height.
While we find the tray design effective overall, we think that 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. Despite this relatively minor shortcoming, this machine is simple to operate, reasonably priced, and reliable. Thus, the Presto is an excellent pick for most home kitchens.
Read review: Presto 06301 Dehydro
In certain situations, less is more. If this is how you feel about kitchen appliances, then take a look at 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 PKFD 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. Another concern is that, at a mere 3.25 square feet of tray space, theNutrichef is among the smallest in the class. Yet, this compact model renders better results when carefully monitored than some machines with variable temperature settings. So, if you're looking to get into preserving food and don't want to dive into the deep end, then this machine is definitely worth your consideration.
Read review: Nutrichef PKFD12
The NESCO Snackmaster Pro is a stacked dehydrator, and extra trays are available for purchase from the manufacturer. The Snackmaster's basic design is unique from many models because the fan is on the top of the machine. Another distinct feature is the flexible trays. These features make clean-up much easier, no food drips on the fan, and the trays can roll to break any adhesion that may have occurred with the food.
While the fan's location and the trays' flexibility ease the clean-up burden, these features also create problems. The fan's position makes checking on the drying process difficult because one must remove the fan and then remove each tray to check each 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 at a great 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.
The Chefman is difficult to clean and has inconsistent internal temperatures. Despite these two gripes, this model offers ample tray space and intuitive operation 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 bear 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
At the most basic level, a dehydrator is a closed space that contains housing racks or trays, a heating element, and a fan. 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 it. 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, and 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 these elements' importance. We will look at all these considerations in detail below. While you read the following, keep in mind how much space you want to allot for storing a dehydrator. Many of the models will not — in our opinion — look that great on a countertop, and the ones that have a smart look 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 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 the process easier. 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 will be using 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 (6 sq. ft.) 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, as 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. While we liked this model's metal trays for their classic industrial look and durability, the interwoven wire 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 when we tested this, the results varied greatly from one model to the next. 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 ran hot consistently.
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 as 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 clean-up than actual cooking. While prep can be quite fun, 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 clean-up 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 because the trays 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 was by far the best for clean-up.
Preserving food with dehydration is cost-effective, nutritious, and rewarding. If you are looking for a machine to achieve these ends, the above lays out several options that will 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. Bon appetit!
— Nick Miley and Michelle Powell