Choosing a Food Dehydrator

I dry a LOT of food with Excalibur Food Dehydrators. You will see them getting plenty of use in the photos on my food drying pages.


What I like best about my Excalibur Dehydrators is that I can fit more food on the high-capacity trays. Excalibur trays are square with no hole in the middle. Most other dehydrator trays are round with holes in the middle. You lose 20% to 40% capacity to the holes and rounded corners.

Two and a half pounds of mashed potatoes only take up three Excalibur trays. With my 5-tray Excalibur, I can dry two to three pounds of vegetables on the other two trays at the same time.


Fruit takes up more space than vegetables, so my 9-tray Excalibur is ideal for dehydrating BIG quantities of fruit when it’s on sale. Juicy fruit takes longer to dry than meat and vegetables, so it’s more efficient to dry one big batch than to dry several smaller loads over several days with a low-capacity dehydrator.

Nine Excalibur trays with 9.5 pounds of strawberries ready to dry


Nesco, L'equip, Excalibur Food Dehydrators

Other Important Food Dehydrator Features & Comparisons

Fan

You will grow a beard waiting for bananas to dry if you buy a cheap food dehydrator without a fan. Some banana slices may dry like poker chips while others remain moist. Making bark or fruit leather is nearly impossible without a fan.

Most dehydrators have a fan. Ronco dehydrators do not. Don’t waste your time and money on a Ronco Food Dehydrator like the four men on the left. Excalibur owner on right.

Adjustable Temperature Settings

Different foods require different temperatures. Look for a range of 95° to 155° F. (35° to 68° C). Meat is dried in the 145° to 155° range while herbs are dried at 95°. I dry most vegetables at 125° and fruits at 135°. The low-priced Nesco FD-37 and FD-39 food dehydrators do not have adjustable thermostats. One temperature fits all is not a good strategy for drying food.

Timer with Automatic Shut off

This convenient feature available on Excalibur Food Dehydrators lets you put a load of food in the dehydrator and then go to bed or work. The dehydrator shuts itself off when you tell it to. Another use for a timer is to set the dehydrator to shut off before a food is all the way dry. I often do this when I want to flip bark or fruit leather over after it is about ¾ dry. Sometimes I also dry foods, such as broccoli and apples, at the same time. I set the timer to shut the dehydrator off when I expect the broccoli to be dry, and then turn it back on to finish the apples. Most dehydrators do not have a timer with automatic shut off.

Excalibur Dehydrator Temp. Control and Timer with Automatic Shut off

Top or Back Mounted Heating Element and Fan

Drippings and crumbs can cause dehydrators with bottom-mounted heating elements to malfunction or fail. Care must be used when operating and cleaning a dehydrator with a bottom-mounted heater and fan.

L’equip Food Dehydrators have bottom-mounted heaters and fans.

Heating element/fans are located at the back of Excalibur Dehydrators and on top for most Nesco Dehydrators.

Tray Features:

Tray Size:

Excalibur 15” square, no hole

L’equip 17” x 12” hole in center

Nesco 15½" round, hole in center

Nesco 13½" round, hole in center

Square Inches

225

173

175

123

Mesh Sheets

Excalibur Dehydrators include mesh sheets which are necessary for drying small vegetables like peas and corn. Mesh sheets are pliable, so they also make it easier to pop off fruits like bananas which tend to stick to plastic when dried.

The Nesco tray structures have wide spaces so small items will fall through without mesh sheets. You have to purchase them separately for Nesco Dehydrators, although a few models include one sample mesh sheet.


Non-stick Sheets

All dehydrators require the purchase of non-stick sheets or fruit leather trays if you want to dry blended food like mashed potatoes, tomato sauce, and fruit purees. Some models come with a sample. The Nesco leather sheets hold the least amount of blended food because of the donut shape. Excalibur non-stick sheets are called Paraflexx sheets.

Non-stick sheets are reusable and work better than parchment paper. Never use wax paper. It melts.

Spreading liquefied food is easy with the square Excalibur trays because there are no holes in the middle or outer edges to get in the way of my spatula. The third photo shows me peeling the Paraflexx sheet off sweet potato bark which I flipped over to finish drying.

Expandability

Extra stacking trays can be purchased to increase the capacity of Nesco and L’equip Dehydrators for approximately $20 - $25 per set of two. Adding too many extra trays may affect the drying consistency of the unit. Temperatures may be higher at the top than at the bottom. Excalibur Dehydrators have fixed capacities of 4, 5, or 9 trays.

You would have to order eight extra trays at a cost of $100 from Nesco to bring the 4-tray Gardenmaster up to the capacity of the 9-tray Excalibur plus you would need about $50 worth of mesh sheets.

Stacking or Sliding Trays

Nesco and L’equip dehydrators have stacking trays so when you want to peek in on a tray you have to lift off the trays above it. Excalibur trays slide in and out of the box which makes it very easy to check on food and rotate trays. Rotating trays occasionally helps food dry uniformly and is also beneficial when making bark or fruit leather since air circulation through the food is reduced by the non-stick sheets.


Excalibur Food Dehydrator

My Excalibur 9-tray and 5-tray food dehydrators with timers have worked exceptionally well for me. I have dried hundreds of backpacking meals and a steady supply of fruits and vegetables with them. I use one in America and the other in Switzerland.

The Excalibur folks also wrote the book, Preserve It Naturally- The Complete Guide to Food Dehydration which includes outstanding photography, charts, and instructions to show you how to dehydrate food.

Visit Excalibur Food Dehydrator

Excalibur offers free shipping and a 10-year warranty when you buy direct and they have frequent special offers. Made in USA.


BackpackingChef Reader Comments:

Liz: I absolutely love my Excalibur! I've made trail food, and it's hard to keep making beef jerky ahead of the demand. It's wonderful to know what I'm actually getting in the food, rather than a bunch of preservatives, artificial flavorings, and artificial food colorings. Having dried fruit is just like having candy. And most people who ate the dollops of dried flavored yogurt that I made thought they were some kind of taffy -- they were so much like candy.

If I had to pick one thing I didn't like about it is that I didn't buy enough of the Paraflexx sheets to make fruit leathers and to dry the really liquid-y foods. I need to buy more of these.

There are so many things to love about it. I used to have a Nesco round dehydrator, and I sold that after I got the Excalibur. It's easy to use, easy to get trays in and out without having to unstack everything else, things seem to dry faster and more evenly (even if I don't rotate trays), and I can even use the box without trays to make yogurt in a bowl or use every other tray to raise yeast rolls. The Nesco used to live in a cabinet, but the Excalibur has earned its place on my countertop. I use it almost every day.

I also strongly suggest that people starting out with dehydrating foods get the book from Excalibur. "Preserve It Naturally" gives so much information on how to dry specific foods, including how long they'll take to dry in different parts of the country (US) and in different seasons. It's the first book that takes into account the amount of humidity generally found in an area, which greatly affects how long it takes to properly dehydrate foods.

There are a lot of kitchen appliances I could give up, but my Excalibur? Never!!!

Michael: The Nesco FD-60 is a decent little dehydrator, especially for the price. We recently got the Nesco FD-75 as well, which is 700 watts instead of 500, but it didn't work as well as the FD-60 and we sent it back.

The main problem was that the bottom trays were a LOT cooler (20 degrees) than the top tray, despite Nesco's claims of even heat and airflow. It was much more noticeable when we added extra trays!

It's supposed to handle a maximum of twelve, but I can't see it working well with that many. The FD-60 has the same problem, but not as bad and it works fine with the four trays that came with it.

It's great for light-duty dehydrating but the high cost of extra trays, screens, and fruit leather trays is so high that you might as well get an Excalibur and be done with it.

We're keeping the old Nesco FD-60 and some accessory screens for backup, but we just ordered an Excalibur 3900 and are looking forward to kicking this "hobby" into high gear!

Faceplant: I have been following your site for well over a year, with your great links and suggestions, have bought the Excalibur - and never happier, I was growing a beard waiting on my old one to dry peas! Your recipes have been wonderful on my adventures!

Ryan: LOVE the Excalibur 3900 9-Tray Dehydrator!!! You can get the 3900 refurbished for about $199 from Excalibur themselves. The trays are some of the largest and the back heating element and fan makes a HUGE difference in time and even dehydrating.

Jennifer: Love Love Love my Excalibur Dehydrator.... have dehydrated all kinds of fruits, (pineapple is the best) made bunches of dehydrated pumpkin strips (jerky) for the dogs and dehydrate all my dog treats for a longer shelf life....also did some plain meat jerky (chicken and beef) for the dogs too.... have also shredded a bunch of pumpkin to make pumpkin flour.


Links to Excalibur 4, 5 or 9 Tray Food Dehydrators

Excalibur 2400 4-Tray Dehydrator

4 square 15” by 15” trays, back-mounted fan and heater, adjustable temperature settings, no timer, 220 watts.

Excalibur 3500 & 3526T 5-Tray Dehydrator

5 square 15” by 15” trays, back-mounted fan and heater, adjustable temperature settings, 440 watts. The 3526T has a timer and the 3500 does not.

Excalibur 3900 & 3926T 9-Tray Dehydrator

9 square 15” by 15” trays, back-mounted fan and heater, adjustable temperature settings, 600 watts. The 3926T has a timer and the 3900 does not.



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The secret to dehydrating ground beef, dehydrating ham, shrimp, tuna, crab.

Return to: Dehydrating Food Table of Contents

How to dehydrate meat, vegetables, fruit, potato bark, fruit leather, tomato sauce, rice, soup, dog treats, vacuum sealing and much more.


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