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The Best Food Dehydrators, According to Professional Chefs

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Dehydrators can seem like niche kitchen items, but ask any chef or enthusiastic home cook and they’ll tell you these specialized appliances are handy for tons of cooking and snacking projects. From fruit leathers to jerky, dehydrators provide a unique culinary function that’s impossible to achieve with any other appliance. Steady heat and an efficient fan allow warm air to circulate around the inside of these machines, accelerating evaporation from both the interior and exterior of food items placed within.

With years of dehydrator experience, chef Gia LaRussa shares some must-have qualities: “First and foremost, a good dehydrator maintains a consistent temperature,” she says. “I also like when they are easy to clean, without too many ancillary parts. They should also be sturdy and uncomplicated.” Along with testing multiple machines myself, I spoke with a number of culinary experts, like master food preserver Christina Ward and Jess Pryles, cookbook author and founder of Hardcore Carnivore, to get their advice on what makes for a good dehydrator and which model they like best.

What we’re looking for

Design

There are two different kinds of dehydrators: Shelf-tray dehydrators and stacking dehydrators. Shelf-tray dehydrators, or horizontal-flow food dehydrators, have doors and adjustable trays. “The fan is built in the back of shelf-style dehydrators,” says Jenny Wheatley, co-founder of Food for Hunters. “They offer more even heat distribution and airflow.” Alternatively, stacking dehydrators, or vertical-flow food dehydrators, have trays that stack, creating a structure with air traveling vertically inside.

“The trays closest to the fan will get more exposure to heat and airflow,” explains Wheatly, “so a stacking dehydrator requires more ‘babysitting’ as you have to rotate the trays often.” Most stacking dehydrators are less expensive, but shelf-tray dehydrators increase versatility. Which style you opt for depends on your dehydration needs and budget. If you plan on making simple snacks, a stacking dehydrator will work — otherwise, LaRussa says, “I always encourage cooks to spring for the door style. They are so much more useful.”

Temperature

One of the most important aspects of a good dehydrator is consistent temperature. Higher temperatures will dehydrate food faster, while lower temperatures dehydrate more slowly, but if the machine’s temperature does not remain steady, it can compromise consistency and taste and allow for bacteria or mold growth. What temperature you set your dehydrator to is contingent on what food you’ve placed inside and what your desired result is; however, purchasing a machine with a temperature span of about 95 to 165 degrees will allow for ample range for most dehydrated goods.

Raw, vegan, and fermented foods generally require lower temperatures as they can be more delicate or need to maintain the living organisms within which the fermentation process takes place. On the other hand, items such as jerky, meringues, vegetables, and other projects like dog treats call for higher temps. It’s worth noting that dehydrators with electronic settings have the most accuracy; those with dials are not as precise.

Airflow

“What makes dehydration work is time plus airflow plus heat,” says Ward. “If you add extra layers or overcrowd the trays, you impede the airflow and overtax the heat capacity, resulting in uneven dehydrating and, in the worst case, bacterial activity.”

Ample vertical distance between the bottoms of the trays is key for allowing food access to an efficient 360-degree airflow, so if you plan on dehydrating taller food items, a stacking dehydrator may not provide enough room. For all dehydrators, a fan should be nonnegotiable — check to make sure yours has one; some have only an embedded heat source like a lightbulb.

Best overall dehydrator

Design: Shelf tray / Temperature: 105 to 165 degrees / Airflow: Back-mounted fan and loose door for outflow

Culinary instructor and cookbook author Pamela Salzman uses only the Excalibur dehydrator, explaining that it’s “easy to clean, easy to use, and doesn’t generate a lot of heat.” (That’s owing to a patented technology that circulates air at a consistent temperature without hot spots or cool pockets.) Praising “its versatility and easily understood user interface,” LaRussa says, “It is extremely straightforward.” Its adjustable trays make it compact enough to fit in her kitchen cabinet but large enough to meet all her dehydrating needs. Ward also recommends the Excalibur for doing “all types of dehydrating very well,” from living foods to herbs to sauces, and suggests its add-on trays for even more versatility.

Best (less expensive) overall dehydrator

Design: Shelf tray / Temperature: 95 to 158 degrees / Airflow: Back-mounted fan and top air vent

After working in professional kitchens at Gjusta and Plant Food + Wine, I missed having access to a dehydrator. Not willing to splurge on an Excalibur (the model I had grown accustomed to in restaurants), I opted for the Gourmia. Years later, I still find myself relying on the user-friendly machine to dehydrate garnishes, candied fruits, and sheets of meringue without hiccups. Its transparent door allows me to keep an eye on my projects and seals shut to keep warm air in and moisture out. Six movable, easy-wash trays can be rearranged to fit nearly any size container, and its catch-all bottom tray makes cleaning the machine effortless.

Best stacking dehydrator

Design: Stacking / Temperature: 90 to 160 degrees / Airflow: Top-mounted fan as well as central and side vents

Although Ward prefers shelf-tray dehydrators, when it comes to those that stack, she suggests one “with the heating and fan elements on top of the machine.” The Gardenmaster has a top-mounted fan that directs air down the perimeter of the device, where it catches on the outer rim of each tray and travels inward — so air circulates vertically and horizontally. I noticed in testing that unlike other stacking dehydrators, there was no need to rearrange trays in order to get uniform results. The trays were also quite easy to clean with a soak in soapy water and a light scrub. One caveat: Although the entire dehydrator comes apart into six pieces, I found its large disk shape difficult to store.

Best stainless-steel dehydrator

Design: Shelf tray / Temperature: 96 to 165 degrees / Airflow: Back-mounted fan and side vents

This dehydrator from Cosori stands out because the entire thing is crafted from stainless steel and glass — no plastic or polypropylene in sight. Fred Minnick, a spirits and cocktail expert, relies on the Cosori for citrus garnishes (in particular, oranges for a whiskey sour) and favors the appliance for its plastic-free construction, fearing that “microplastics might contaminate my oranges if I didn’t get a dehydrator with stainless-steel racks.” Aside from its dishwasher-safe parts, the Cosori also boasts an automatic shut-off feature and a straightforward setting panel on its front for easy operation.

Best large-capacity dehydrator

Design: Shelf tray / Temperature: 95 to 167 degrees/ Airflow: Back-mounted fan and side vents

Complete with 11 15.5-by-15.34-inch trays, this Magic Mill dehydrator has enough space to satisfy the dehydration needs for an entire restaurant. Chef Dan Van Rite uses it in his restaurants EsterEv and DanDan for drying out mushroom ends or potato chips “after frying to keep them crispy during the warmer summer days,” he says.

With a range of 95 to 167 degrees, the appliance’s digital display is straightforward and has a number of preset buttons such as Raw Mode and Fast Mode that can take out the guesswork of correctly setting the machine for specific food items. For such a large appliance, it’s relatively silent and comes with a mesh sheet and nonstick tray so you can experiment with many kinds of dehydration such as fruit leathers, meringues, or crackers — or any other food items that might otherwise seep or drip through traditional dehydrator trays.

Best compact dehydrator

Design: Stacking / Temperature: “Fan-only” to “High” / Airflow: Bottom-mounted fan and top vent

Chef Shimi Aaron calls the Cuisinart “by far” the best dehydrator. “It’s just simple, saves space, and does the work exactly like a commercial dehydrator,” he says. Five food-safe, circular plastic trays interlock to create a secure, translucent body that retains heat well and allows you to monitor food throughout the process.

Cookbook author and Chop Happy recipe developer Jason Goldstein also uses the compact option. At just over a square foot in size, “it can sit on the counter without taking up too much space,” he says, adding that its low price point is a major bonus. Bear in mind, however, that while the Cuisinart has four settings (fan, low, medium, and high), it doesn’t allow you to set a specific temperature, limiting its functionality for certain food items like animal products or living foods.

Best folding dehydrator

Design: Shelf-tray / Temperature: 85 to 165 degrees / Airflow: Back-mounted fan and top vents

Unlike any other dehydrator out there, the Sahara folds down to just 3.5 inches tall. With the turn of its simple lock-knob, it rises and collapses securely into a 22-by-12-inch rectangle. Solid once upright, it can house up to six dishwasher-safe stainless-steel trays. In testing, I was drawn to the precision of the setting system, which allows you to adjust heat in single-degree intervals (as opposed to other dehydrators that increase or decrease by five-degree increments). Its two large glass doors let me peer into the interior with unparalleled visibility without disrupting the internal temperature or airflow. Although it’s by no means tiny, I found it was easier to store in the pantry than any other model I own.

Best-for-fermentation dehydrator

Design: Shelf tray/ Temperature: 85 to 155 degrees/ Airflow: Dual back-mounted fans and side vents

Along with dehydrating foods, LaRussa frequently uses the Tribest for fermentation processes — like kimchee, sourdough, and vegan cheeses — in both professional and home kitchens. With a temp range below 100 degrees, it can handle delicate items such as living foods. “It also features a large window in the door, making it easy to monitor the progress without disturbing the results,” she says.

A built-in protection against overheating accurately controls the internal temperature and regulates it as you open and close the door, making this dehydrator especially adept at handling raw or living foods. One thing worth noting: Although the front-facing digital-control display on this dehydrator is comprehensive, there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to operating the machine. LaRussa says, “It’s not the most intuitive.”

Best-for-jerky dehydrator

Design: Shelf tray / Temperature: 95 to 155 degrees / Airflow: Back-mounted fan

Pryles uses the LEM MightyBite any time she’s making jerky. “Meat jerky in particular needs to be cooked at 160 degrees for several hours to ensure that harmful bacteria are neutralized,” she says, vouching for this deydrator’s even and steady airflow — a feature of utmost importance when dehydrating jerky safely. For safety, Wheatley advises that you “wash your hands and surfaces before preparing meat, and keep the meat cold until you’re ready to dehydrate.”

While newbies should use premade seasoning for first attempts as it contains the proper amount of salt (which safely cures the meat), if you want to DIY, Wheatley recommends using “Instacure #1 and carefully following the ratio, which is one level teaspoon to every five pounds of meat.”

Our experts

Gia LaRussa, chef and culinary educator
Jenny Wheatley, wild-game hunter and co-founder of Food for Hunters 
Christina Ward, master food preserver and cookbook author
Pamela Salzman, culinary instructor and cookbook author
Fred Minnick, writer, podcast host, and spirits and cocktail expert
• Dan Van Rite, chef and co-owner of DanDan and EsterEv 
Shimi Aaron, chef and food consultant
• Jason Goldstein, chef and recipe developer at Chop Happy
Jess Pryles, cookbook author, meat expert, and founder of Hardcore Carnivore

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The Best Food Dehydrators, According to Professional Chefs