What Is the Best Way to Dehydrate Food?

Food dehydration is one of the oldest ways of food preservation. Back in the day, people used to leave their fruit out in the sun and let it dry. We’ve come a long way since then, and nowadays, people wonder what’s the best way to dehydrate food.

The best way to dehydrate food today is by using a food dehydrator. They’re efficient and quick and allow us to do it indoors. However, they can be expensive, and the best budget-friendly alternatives for dehydrating food are ovens and solar-powered dehydration.

Read on to learn about dehydration, why a dehydrator is a must-have, which dehydrators are the best, and which brands to trust.

An image of a dehydrated fruit, cut and prepared for cocktail preparation.

The Best Way to Dehydrate Without a Dehydrator (DIY Solar Dehydrator or Oven)

The best way to dehydrate without a dehydrator is either with an oven (if the oven can be set to 140°F, which depends on the model) or a solar dehydrator. Solar dehydrators can be as simple as a tray set outside in the sunlight or be homemade devices.

Dehydrators are expensive, and if we cannot afford one, we can make our own solar dehydrator or dehydrate food in an oven. Solar dehydrators do not use electricity, so they are generally cheaper than ovens.

A solar dehydrator is a simple device we can make on our own – it uses the sun as a heat source, and it’s covered with a foil surface, increasing the temperature through the greenhouse effect. It can dry food effectively and quickly, while it doesn’t cost a thing (aside from the cheap building materials).

However, to dry food with a solar dehydrator, we must live in a very sunny place with at least ten hours of sunlight daily.

Since many people can’t fulfill this requirement, they must turn to their ovens for dehydration. Ovens are by no means effective dehydrators, but they’re still capable of dehydrating food over time.

The issue is they’re inefficient, take a lot of time to dry food, and cost a lot of money to run (compared to other options, including a dehydrator).

On top of all that, using an oven as a dehydrator is a bit complicated, and the food can easily burn.

Therefore, it’s safe to say that a solar dehydrator is the best choice if we don’t have a dehydrator. However, if we don’t live in a sunny place, we’ll have to use an oven.

Keep in mind that oven dehydration costs more money down the road, and we should get a dehydrator as soon as possible if we’re serious about food dehydration.

An image of a Dry fish hanging at sea with the sunlight.

Why Does Dehydrating Keep Food From Going Bad?

Moisture is one of the most important factors for food spoiling – dehydration eliminates moisture from food. This prevents bacteria, yeast, and mold from developing, but it also minimizes the effect of oxygen on the food.

Since oxygen is the most important element for food degradation, dehydrating fruit fights on two fronts – it completely neutralizes the effects of bacteria on food and slows down the effects of oxygen.

Another important aspect is the action of enzymes. Enzymes are the substances that cause the development (ripening) and subsequent spoiling of food. While dehydration doesn’t inactivate enzymes completely, it does slow the action of enzymes down.

The logical follow-up question is – does that mean dehydrated foods lose nutrients?

The answer is yes – there’s significant nutrient loss. The caloric content does not change, but the mass of the fruit is significantly smaller than with fresh fruits.

According to Colorado State University, there is no change in fiber content, while there is some (but not too much) loss of Vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and minerals.

If we don’t pretreat the fruits with ascorbic acid (something we’ll discuss later), there can be significant Vitamin C loss.

What’s the Best Way to Dehydrate Food for Historical Accuracy?

Sun-drying and air-drying are historically the most accurate methods of food dehydration – Middle Eastern and Oriental cultures dried foods in the sun about 12,000 B.C. They would hang their meats in the sun and wind.

Aside from meats, evidence suggests they also liked to dry fruit. Romans were especially fond of dried fruits, and a dried, sugared fruit delicacy is still popular in Italy and Croatia.

If the sunlight weren’t enough, they would build still houses that were only used to dry fruits and vegetables. They would start a fire in the house to raise the temperature and smoke the food (source).

So, if we want to do it the way our ancestors did thousands of years ago, sun-drying and air-drying are the two ways to go.

How to Dehydrate Food (Today)

Here is how to dehydrate food:

  1. Prepare the food (wash it, soak it, marinate it, soak it in ascorbic acid, blanch it)
  2. Prepare the dehydrator (oven, solar dehydrator, or dehydrator)
  3. Dry the food at the appropriate temperature until it’s sufficiently dried
  4. Store the dehydrated food

The preparation, time, and temperature vary some between foods. But don’t worry – we’re working on providing guides for all the foods. As they’re finished, we’ll get them added here.

Why is a Dehydrator a Must for Any Food Storage Enthusiast?

Food dehydrators are superior to all other dehydration methods in every way. They are the quickest option, the easiest one to operate, they allow us to dry food indoors, and they do not waste too much electricity.

A dehydrator is the best way to dehydrate food, without a doubt, and its only negative aspect is the initial price. A DIY solar dehydrator is great because it’s cheap, while modern food dehydrators can be quite expensive.

However, aside from the price, dehydrators are very cheap to operate. They need about 4 times less energy to function than the average oven (something we explained in detail in our ‘Dehydrating in an Oven vs. Dehydrator’ article), and they’re about 4 times cheaper to run.

Something to keep in mind is that they’re also much quicker than an oven or any other dehydration method. For example, it takes about 4 hours to dry jerky in a dehydrator, while it can take 7 hours to do the same in an oven.

Not only are we using less electricity, but we’re wasting less of our own time.

Something often overlooked when discussing dehydrators is that we can leave them on and go about our day. We don’t need to watch over them as long as we return on time to turn the dehydrator off (not to mention that some dehydrators have a timer).

The same can’t be said for other methods. Ovens, for example, have massive temperature fluctuations and must be controlled all the time. They also must be kept open to ventilate, so we must ensure that the kids don’t hurt themselves.

Solar dryers must be taken inside if it starts to rain or if the humidity gets too high, and the same can be said for sun-drying methods.

A dehydrator allows us to dehydrate food passively, with minimal involvement, and do it in a controlled environment while wasting very little electricity.

Which Dehydrator Is the Best Value? Which is Best?

For small families or new buyers, the best values for dehydrators are the Excalibur 2400, the Cosori Premium Stainless-Steel Dehydrator, and the Magic Mill Food Dehydrator Machine MFD-7070. For larger families or those who dehydrate in bulk, the best value is the Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator.

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What does the best value mean? It means that the price point reflects the quality of the product well. These dehydrators are much cheaper than some high-end dehydrators, but their functions are impressive and reliable.

Here are some of the best values and options for smaller families or new buyers.

  1. The Excalibur 2400 is a solid, smaller version of exactly what we have, and it’s priced similarly to the other two models in our top 3. These things are built to last, be easy to care for, and can dehydrate anything. Excalibur is the brand I’d pick, but this model does only have 4 trays.
  2. The Cosori Premium Stainless Steel Dehydrator is made from stainless steel, has a 2-year warranty, and is budget-friendly compared to other dehydrators of similar characteristics. It has a built-in timer (drying up to 48 hours), a thermostat, an overheating protection system (auto-shutoff), and a recipe book. Additionally, it comes with trays (dishwasher-safe).
  3. The Magic Mill Food Dehydrator Machine MFD-7070 is priced similarly to the Cosori. The capacity of this machine is bigger, so we can dry more at the same time. It also has a timer and an automatic-shutoff option. The shelves are self-rotating, so we don’t need to touch them, and it also comes with overheating safety protection.

We have, love, use, and recommend the Excalibur dehydrator series. This is the model we have. It’s got 9 trays, so we can do as much (or as little) in a load as we’d like while being efficient with our energy use. It is one of the more expensive brands, but it’s reliable. We’ve had ours for over a decade, and it’s still going strong.

If you want to stick to the brand we recommend but want a different size? Or perhaps you want the 9-tray version with the digital screen so you can best control the temperatures? Here’s a link to the Excalibur shop on Amazon; they have a lot of great sizes and extra features to choose from.

An image of our Excalibur dehydrator running apples.
This is my dehydrator. It’s awesome. Dehydrated apples are one of my favorite treats.

What is a good food dehydrator? How do you know it’s good?

The things to look out for when buying a food dehydrator are the number of trays (some dehydrators come with built-in trays), temperature settings (good dehydrators range from 80 to 160°F), and a UL seal of approval.

Although we need a temperature of only 140°F for dehydrating berries, we will need a wider range of temperatures if we start dehydrating meats and vegetables.

Good dehydrators have enclosed heating elements and double-wall construction. Like an oven – dehydrators should have a temperature regulation dial and times.

We can buy two basic types of dehydrators – horizontal airflow dehydrators and ones with vertical airflow. The only advantage of horizontal airflow dehydrators is that we can dry several foods simultaneously without mixing flavors.

Dehydrators are typically defined by their price – good dehydrators are more expensive, and cheaper dehydrators are usually cheap for a reason.

Which is better: a small or large dehydrator?

The size of the dehydrator matters if users are processing a large quantity of food all at once. If you plan to do small batches, a small dehydrator is sufficient. You will need a larger dehydrator if you plan to have large quantities of food that must be dehydrated together.

Want to know Are Small Freeze-Dryers Better Than Big Food Dehydrators? We’ve got your answer for you there – along with how to come to that conclusion for yourself.

What is a good dehydration tray? How do you know it’s good?

People can buy the trays in a store or make their own. Either way, there are a few rules to follow: trays should not be galvanized as the zinc will cause a reaction when it comes in contact with acidic foods. Avoid aluminum trays as much as possible.

If there is no dehydrator available and we’re using the trays in an oven, they should be about 1.5 inches shorter than the dimensions of the oven wall. This will improve air circulation.

Our Excalibur dehydrator uses plastic trays with large holes in them, though the tray is reinforced. The tray is then combined with a mesh-based liner (also with many holes) to maximize airflow and make dehydration as efficient as possible. And there are no metal reactions to worry about. All the plastic is rated as food-grade and safe.

Which dehydrator brand is best?

Some of the best dehydrating brands are Cosori, Magic Mill, Brod & Taylor, Excalibur, and Tribest. These brands are known for making high-quality dehydrators that are durable, reliable, easy to use, and usually come with a warranty.

They’re all great choices, so look for those brands. We have and use our Excalibur regularly.

How to Care for a Dehydrator

Dehydrators generally need little care; they may need to be wiped out from time to time. The trays, however, should be washed regularly.

How do you wash dehydrator trays?

Wash your trays with hot, soapy water and a stiff brush. Rinse with clean water and dry in the open air.

Wash the trays every time you finish drying a food group. Be extra careful to wash the trays well if you make jerky, as that’s raw meat.

An image of dried pear slices placed on a plastic tray after dehydration.

Verdict and Next Steps

A dehydrator is the best method for dehydrating food at home, but the high initial costs can be daunting. Know that you don’t have to buy a thousand-dollar dehydrator to dry food well – plenty of good dehydrators come at a reasonable price.

Alternatively, you can build a solar dehydrator and utilize the sun’s power or dehydrate food in an oven.


Learning from your own experience is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.

  • Colorado State University Extension. “Drying Fruits – 9.309.” Extension, 25 Feb. 2016, extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/nutrition-food-safety-health/drying-fruits-9-309.
  • Drying. National Center for Home Food Preservation | How Do I? Dry. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/dry/jerky.html
  • Food and Nutrition series preparation – UGA. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/dry/csu_dry_fruits.pdf
  • Historical origins of food preservation. National Center for Home Food Preservation | NCHFP Publications. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2023, from https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/nchfp/factsheets/food_pres_hist.html
  • How drying preserves food – UGA. (n.d.). Retrieved December 10, 2022, from https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/uga/uga_dry_fruit.pdf
  • National Center for Home Food Preservation | How Do I? Dry. nchfp.uga.edu/how/dry/pack_store.html.
An image of Kimberly and her daughter gardening

About Us

I’m Kimberly Starr. My family has always loved being outside and gardening. Now we are building a backyard homestead and immersing ourselves in this wonderful new lifestyle. We’re learning as we go what works and what doesn’t. This website is where we’re sharing everything we’ve learned.

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