Got a ton of berries, tomatoes, or beef on your hands? Preserve your homestead bounty safely and quickly with dehydration. (See also: Dehydrating Basics: How to Preserve the Harvest with Your Dehydrator)
Dehydrators efficiently remove excess water in foods to make them shelf-stable. This prevents the growth of bacteria that would normally make food go bad, keeping fruits, vegetables, and meat perfectly preserved for months.
Why do I need a dehydrator?
This summer I found myself drowning in figs. Fresh figs are only good for a few days, which means you have to find something to do with them—and quickly.
My dehydrator gives me the power to dry figs and use them later. It’s helped me save tons of fresh food on our urban homestead that would have gone bad otherwise.
Dehydrators make quick work of drying your foods. They also preserve more of the nutrients in your food when compared to other preservation methods, like canning. Dehydrators dry foods at a consistent, low heat that concentrate nutrients in your food.
Dried foods are also cheaper to make yourself. Foods like jerky are incredibly expensive at the store. If you’re already rearing animals for meat, why not skip the storebought stuff and make your own jerky?
Choosing a food dehydrator
Dehydrators are an affordable investment for your homestead. Preserve more of your home-grown goodies by choosing the right dehydrator for your needs.
Keep these factors in mind when it’s time to pick out your dehydrator.
Vertical versus horizontal dehydrators
Dehydrators come in two styles: vertical and horizontal.
Vertical flow dehydrators are made of a series of trays that you fill with food and stack on top of each other.
The heat source is at the bottom of a vertical flow dehydrator, which means the heat distribution might not be very even.
However, you can fit a lot more food in a vertical flow dehydrator, where you simply add a new tray to fit more food.
The upside to vertical flow dehydrators is that they tend to be more affordable. They’re a good option if you’re drying massive amounts of fruits and veggies. It’s also more compact and easy to store.
The other type of dehydrator is called a horizontal flow dehydrator. This dehydrator has its heat source in the back, like an oven. Horizontal flow distributes heat more evenly, drying food faster.
The downside to horizontal flow dehydrators is that they tend to be more expensive. They also come with a series of shelves to dry your food, which is convenient for checking on the food, but it means the machine has limited capacity.
Horizontal flow dehydrators are best for finicky jobs where you need more consistency, like making jerky.
Other factors to consider
After deciding which type of dehydrator is best for your needs, you’ll want to consider these other factors, too.
Top-of-the-line dehydrators will set you back $600. Fortunately, most dehydrators are in the $30 – $150 range.
If you’re price-sensitive, consider getting a vertical flow dehydrator. These tend to be cheaper. They’re also better for beginners or for people who only want to dry produce.
However, if you want a quick, quality job, you might want to pay a little more for a horizontal flow dehydrator.
What kinds of foods will you be dehydrating? How much of them will you need to dry at one time?
Vertical dehydrators are better for large quantities, but they aren’t recommended for making foods like jerky.
Dehydrators work by circulating air. These machines move a ton of air to dry your foods, which means there’s going to be a good amount of noise.
Look carefully at product reviews to determine the machine’s noise level. You can always place the dehydrator in a closed-off room to limit noise, too.
Our 3 favorite dehydrators
Still stumped? Start with these three dehydrators to find the perfect one for your homestead.
The Presto dehydrator is an affordable, vertical flow model.
It comes with four trays to dry food, which you can add or remove as needed. You can buy more trays if you need more room. Presto’s dehydrator can fit up to 8 trays safely.
The trays are easy to submerge in water and clean between batches, too. It’s perfect if you’re new to dehydrating your own food. You’ll only be able to safely dry produce with this dehydrator, though; your jerky will likely come out tough.
Gourmia’s dehydrator has a sleek, modern design that’s so gorgeous you could leave it on your counter all the time.
This dehydrator uses horizontal flow for even dehydration. We like the see-through front, which means you can check on your progress without opening the dehydrator.
Gourmia’s dehydrator has six trays and includes a fruit leather sheet and drip tray. It’s an affordable option for dehydrating newbies that want a little more quality.
I’ve had an Excalibur dehydrator for five years and I love mine. This horizontal flow dehydrator comes with nine trays or 15 feet of space.
Excalibur’s dehydrator has an adjustable thermostat, so you can dry your foods at the ideal temperature. This is a great choice if you know you’ll want to make jerky one day and dried figs the next.
The Excalibur is large and kind of loud, so I recommend setting it up in a seldom-used bedroom or large pantry.
The bottom line
Homesteaders have been drying foods for centuries, and that’s for good reason. It’s easy, nutritious, and preserves food for months. Choose a good dehydrator to preserve the bounty of your homestead with zero hassle.