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Hungry for homemade snacks? We researched dozens of food dehydrators, purchasing the 13 most promising models available today for rigorous in-house testing. We then delve into temperature accuracy, ease of use, and aesthetics. The models in our fleet run the gamut of price, tray space, and configuration. Whether your need for food dehydration is infrequent and you're in the market for something small, or are a connoisseur and need as much tray space as you can get, the results of our investigation are organized to make accurate and straightforward comparisons.
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Editor's Note: This review was updated on July 14, 2022, to add five new models, including the Brod & Taylor Sahara Folding and the Elechomes 6-Tray Dryer — both of which are new award winners.
External Dimensions: Dimensions: 13 x 18 x 14" | Internal Capacity: 7.6 sq ft
REASONS TO BUY
Well-designed metal trays
Easy to operate
REASONS TO AVOID
Temp settings in 10ºF increments
Alert tone quite loud
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 cleaning up this model is easy peasy.
There are a few downsides of the Magic Mill worth mentioning. The temperature can only be adjusted in 10-degree increments, and we found the timer's beep to be loud and somewhat obnoxious. The machine is very quiet during operation, though. Finally, consider the amount of space you need from a food dehydrator. This one has an average amount of dehydrating real estate and may be a bit small if frequent bulk dehydration is your aim. Still, we think this machine has the best combination of function and features when looked at as a whole.
External Dimensions: 19" x 17" x 12.5" | Internal Capacity: 15 sq ft
REASONS TO BUY
Huge internal capacity
Easy to clean trays
Consistent food outcomes
REASONS TO AVOID
Imprecise time and temperature knobs
Interior is hard to clean
The highly-regarded Excalibur 3926TB 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 can be removed and soaked or scrubbed in the sink or dishwasher, which significantly aids in the cleanup of sticky food bits. 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, the interior plastic's rough texture is hard to wipe down, complicating cleanup. 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.
External Dimensions: 11" x 11" x 11" " | Internal Capacity: 6.5 sq ft
REASONS TO BUY
Small storage footprint
Good deydrating performance
REASONS TO AVOID
Limited temperature settings
Lid handle not super secure
The Elechomes 6-Tray Dryer showed solid performance in every aspect of our assessment. This model has a smaller footprint than most, making it a great choice for those with limited space. When it comes to dehydrating, this model was right on par with the others, and we thought it was one of the best at dehydrating tomatoes. Above all, the Elechomes has the right price to performance ratio. It's on par with most and even outperforms food dehydrators that cost twice as much.
Our team did find a few small flaws with the Elechomes 6-Tray Dryer. The lid is very easy to accidentally remove while moving the device around, which isn't a huge deal but can definitely get annoying. Overall, the construction of this model does not feel nearly as solid and well-built as many of the higher-end models. The Elechomes is lacking some settings, namely that it has a limited temperature range compared to many. Although this model doesn't quite perform with the best of the best, we still think it is the way to go if you're shopping for a food dehydrator on a tighter budget.
External Dimensions: 12.5" x 22" x 3.5" | Internal Capacity: 15 sq ft
REASONS TO BUY
Ingenius folding design
Tiny storage size
Relatively easy to use
REASONS TO AVOID
Conversion takes time
For those that want their food dehydrator completely out of sight while not in use, Brod & Taylor has come up with a stupendous design for their Saraha Folding model. While in storage mode, it takes up one-third of the space of its operating size. It easily converts between storage and operating modes with a few quick and easy steps. Considering all of the Sahara's functions and settings, our team found this appliance to be simple to operate. An integrated air filter helps to keep contaminants off of your food, and this model is especially quiet while running.
Although we love the innovative collapsible construction, converting the Brod & Taylor Sahara Folding adds extra steps that are not needed for other models. If you use your dehydrator often and you don't mind it permanently living on the counter, there's no reason to go with a folding version. Also, there's no getting around the fact that the Sahara is gonna put a dent in your checking account. If you're shopping on a budget, this is not the one. Despite the price, we highly recommend this model for those that want a full-sized food dehydrator with a much smaller storage size.
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. Lastly, our jack-of-all-trades Ross Patton has tested, photographed, and written about an array of products ranging from power tools to electronics, including kitchen appliances such as hand blenders and popcorn poppers.
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 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.
BPA (Bisphenol A)
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.
Analysis and Test Results
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 Magic Mill is an example of the shelf style, while the Elechomes 6-Tray 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 sleek aesthetics still take up a lot of counter space.
With food dehydrators, we have found that it is often the case to find a range of performance for a range of prices. The Magic Mill takes the cake for a mid-size dehydrator and rings in at an acceptable price for such high performance. If you're willing to spend a few extra dollars for some specific features, the Excalibur 3926TB is best for those looking to run large batches, and the Brod & Taylor Sahara Folding collapses to one-third of its operational size for storing. If you're shopping for a food dehydrator on a budget, the Elechomes 6-Tray Dryer showed commendable performance at a fraction of the price of the top-scoring models.
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 leather, 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 dehydrator's 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, Presto 06301, 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.
Scoring just behind the top models for this metric is the Brod & Taylor Sahara Folding. Considering the collapsible design, we half-expected this device to fall behind in performance, but this was not the case.
If you want to save some cash, the Elechomes 6-Tray Dryer does a better job of dehydrating than several models that cost a whole lot more.
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. Scoring just behind these models were the NESCO Snackmaster Pro and the Magic Mill Food Dehydrator.
Even though it has several areas that you might think would lose some heat as well as glass doors, the Brod & Taylor Sahara Folding also showed a large degree of accuracy.
Ease of Cleaning
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 comprise the body of the dehydrator, and you can unstack them to disassemble the appliance. As a result, there are no tight corners that are hard to wipe out.
Of those models with metal trays, the Brod & Taylor Sahara Folding had the easiest ones to clean. Scoring closely behind the Sahara in the metal tray division for this metric was the Magic Mill.
Ease of Use
For our purposes, ease of use specifically refers to the user interface, cooking capacity in the form of square footage, and tray design. A few dehydrators stood out with simple and intuitive temperature and timer controls.
Our favorite models for this metric are the Brod & Taylor Sahara Folding, the Magic Mill, and the Tribest Sedona SDE-S6780-B. The Sahara features a soft rubbery wheel for adjusting time and temperatures and buttons for the rest of the controls.
Both the Sedona and the Magic Mill feature digital displays. The Sedona also features an interior light and some innovative features such as dehydrating intensity that can be controlled in intervals.
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 when you have the ability to fine-tune a digital interface to precise specifications.
If you're looking for a food dehydrator with a lot of cooking area, the Excalibur 3926TB and Brod & Taylor Sahara Folding each offer 15 square feet of total tray space. The Tribest Sedona SDE-S6780-B is not far behind at 9.9 square feet.
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 Magic Mill is a prime example of an easy-to-use mesh-lined tray.
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 appetit!
Ross Patton, Nick Miley, Michelle Powell, Genaveve Bradshaw
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