Hungry for homemade snacks? We researched dozens of food dehydrators, purchasing the 7 most promising models of 2020 for in-house testing. The models in this review run the gamut of price points, tray space, and configuration. So, whether you're an infrequent snack maker that doesn't need a humongous machine taking up kitchen real estate, there is a machine that will meet your requirements. On the other hand, if you are regularly dehydrating and need as much tray square footage as you can get, there are some machines that will pique your interest.
The Best Food Dehydrators of 2020
The top-rated Excalibur 3926TB has copious tray square footage in its cavernous cabinet. So much space in fact 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 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 of the test foods. A key factor to such outcomes is the 3926TB's relatively accurate temperatures, particularly at the high and low ends of the spectrum.
While the 3926TB's tray space is a boon to the high volume cook, that external dimensions can be a burden to those with limited storage space. Clean-up is complicated as well due to the rough texture of the interior plastic, which is hard to wipe down. Finally, the knobs controlling the run time and temperature have inexact marks, which may help to explain some of the inaccuracies that we observed in the middle temperature ranges. Despite these shortcomings, the Excalibur is the best in class 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. These features — combined with average tray square footage and a modest footprint — make this model the most likely in the class to claim a permanent spot on the kitchen counter. The machine also has accurate temperature and timer setting, as well as a metal interior that is relatively painless to clean.
The COSORI is the only model here reviewed that has 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. Additionally, the remnant food stuck to the racks can be tough to remove. Aside from the clean-up issues, our only other gripe is that we were not able to get satisfactory beef jerky results using the manufacturer's recipe. A minor detail to be sure and one that would likely be remedied with a little tweaking of the temperature and timing. All in all, this machine is a top pick and 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, for some unfathomable reason, 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 dubious as they are relatively thin and flexible. Finally, the internal temperature is among 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 that are preserving food in smaller batches or less frequently. This product produces consistent results across all food types, it offers relatively pain-free cleaning, and best of all, it has a modular design that allows adjustability in capacity and storage dimensions. The Presto's trays can be added or removed (extra trays are available for purchase) depending on the amount of food being processed. When the job is complete, the trays can be nested to reduce the unit's height.
While we find the tray design to be 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 temperature and time controls are a bit counterintuitive as the user has to reset both temperature and timer just to add time to the clock. Except for 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 have 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. As for a timer, no dice. 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. For delicate food items, the lack of a timer and temperature controls can be a real detriment. 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, when carefully monitored, this compact model renders better results 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 that has extra trays available for purchase from the manufacturer. Interestingly, the Snackmaster has its fan on the top of the machine, and the trays are also quite flexible. Both of these features make clean-up much easier as the fan doesn't get dripped on, and the trays can roll to break any adhesion that may have occurred with the food.
While the placement of the fan and the flexibility of the trays eases the clean-up burden, they create problems as well. First, it is unclear if the flexibility of the trays will stand the test of time as they are quite thin. Additionally, the position of the fan makes checking on the drying process difficult. This is because one must remove the fan and then remove each individual tray to check each level. 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, easy to use controls, a convenient monitoring window at the front of the machine, and it produces decent food outcomes. Even the trays of the two models are virtually identical.
The Chefman is difficult to clean and has inconsistent internal temperatures. However, all in all, this machine is affordable, has copious tray space, and is easy to use.
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 2020 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 consistency and quality of the dehydrated food, 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 housing racks or trays, a heating element, and a fan. This elemental design is subdivided into shelf dehydrators (essentially a box with racks in it) and what is often referred to as a stacked or stackable dehydrator. In the latter design, the trays 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 amongst these products in the user interface, cleaning ease, capacity, and temperature accuracy that are more or less important depending on what you intend to dehydrate and how frequently you intend to do so. 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 to the storage of a dehydrator. Many of the models will not — in our opinion — look that great on a countertop, and of the ones that have a smart look, they 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 and avoid materials containing the chemical. All of the dehydrators in this review have BPA-free trays. The COSORI, Presto, and Hamilton Beach are completely constructed of BPA-free materials.
Capacity and External Dimensions
If you're using one of these machines regularly to crank out healthy snacks or to preserve seasonal food items in bulk, then bigger is better. Dehydrating is a slow process, and the more you can fit into a machine at a go, the easier life's going to be for you. However, if you will be using your dehydrator infrequently and for smaller tasks, then capacity isn't as big of a deal. The Editor's Choice Award-winning Excalibur 3926TB is by far the largest capacity machine in our review. It also kicks butt in several other ways, but we'll get to that 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 Presto and the Nutrichef.
These machines have external dimensions that increase with their capacities. So, one will need more counter and storage space for a higher capacity machine. We awarded the COSORI Food Dehydrator our Top Pick award for best countertop model as it is a medium-capacity (6 sq.ft), stylish device with a minimal footprint. Accordingly, it is 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 will assess the difficulty of cleaning these products separately. Few of the dehydrators in this review impressed us with the simplicity and intuitiveness of the temperature and timer controls. While 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 — that simplicity comes at the cost of a timer and thermostat. Accordingly, one must time the process manually. On the other hand, models like the Excalibur 3926TB have dial adjustments for temperature and time. While knobs are simplistic and straight forward, they lack the accuracy one would get with a digital interface where the settings are exact.
While temperature and timing are crucial for achieving the edible outcomes we aim for when purchasing a dehydrator, it is good tray design that allows us to easily reap the fruits of our labor. 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 internal temperature accuracy of a dehydrator 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 (common dehydrating temperatures) on each machine and placed a thermometer inside. With the exception of 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 simply 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 at the same time 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.
For our evaluation of the final product of the dehydration process we made fruit leather, tomatoes, herbs, and beef jerky using the recommended times and temperatures that the manufacturer recommends for each model. Each of these foods requires different methods of preparation, temperature settings, and timing. Once the food was completely processed we had a panel of tasters evaluate each for texture, evenness, and flavor. Additionally, we recorded the time each recipe takes to complete and compare that to the time listed in the manual. Often there was a disparity and some tweaking of the period of dehydration was required.
The Excalibur 3926TB 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. Accordingly, 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 the Hamilton Beach are easiest to clean. This is 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.
Preserving food with dehydration is cost-effective, nutritious and rewarding. If you are looking for a machine to achieve these ends, then the above lays out a number of 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