Choosing a Food Dehydrator
Which food dehydrator is best? In this article I cover the important features that I looked at when deciding which dehydrator was best for me. I compare three popular brands – Nesco, L’equip, and Excalibur.
After you read my review, you can tell us about YOUR dehydrator at the bottom of the page. How do you like your dehydrator?
Food Dehydrator Features Discussed Below:
- 1. Fan
- 2. Adjustable Thermostat
- 3. Timer with Automatic Shut off
- 4. Heating Element/Fan Location
- 5. Capacity
- 6. Ease of Use
Nesco Gardenmaster Digital Pro FD-1020, L'equip 528, Excalibur 3926T
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 Thermostat (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°. The low-priced Nesco FD-37 and FD-39 food dehydrators do not have adjustable thermostats, but the better Nesco units do.
Timer with Automatic Shut off
This convenient feature 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.
Only one Nesco food dehydrator, the Gardenmaster Digital Pro FD-1020, has a timer.
L’equip dehydrators do not have timers.
The Excalibur 3926T and 3526T have timers but can ONLY be purchased directly from the manufacturer. The 3900 and 3500 models that are sold by retailers do not have timers.
Excalibur Dehydrator Temperature Control and Timer
Top or Side Mounted Heating Element and Fan
Drippings and crumbs can cause dehydrators with bottom-mounted heating elements to malfunction or fail. More care must be used when cleaning a bottom-mounted unit.
L’equip dehydrators have a bottom-mounted heater and fan.
Nesco dehydrators have top-mounted heaters and fans except for the Gardenmaster Pro FD-1010 which has a bottom-mounted heater.
Excalibur dehydrators have side (back of unit) mounted heaters and fans.
Most food dehydrators have round trays with a hole in the middle for air flow. The hole in the middle and round shape reduces capacity per tray. Square trays with no hole in the middle let you load up the unit with more food and spend less time running the dehydrator. This feature is what made the Excalibur Dehydrator most appealing to me.
Nesco dehydrators have round trays with a hole in the middle. The inexpensive FD-37 and Snackmaster models have 13½” diameter trays and the Gardenmaster models have 15½” diameter trays. Additional trays may be purchased to expand capacity.
L’equip dehydrators have rectangular trays with a hole in the middle. Additional trays may be purchased to expand capacity.
Excalibur dehydrators have square trays with no hole in the middle. They are available in four, five or nine-tray models.
Nine Excalibur trays with 9.5 pounds of strawberries ready to dry
Ease of Use
Most dehydrators have stacking trays so if you want to peak in on a tray you have to lift off the trays above it. Excalibur dehydrators are different. The 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.
Spreading liquefied foods to make bark or fruit leather 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.
Brand Features Summary with Approximate Prices:
Prices are from manufacturer websites and subject to change. You may find better prices if you shop around.
Nesco FD-37 & FD-39, FD-35 Snackmaster.....$39
4 – 5 round 13½” diameter trays, expandable to 7 trays, top mounted fan and heater, no adjustable temperature settings, no timer, 400 – 425 watts.
Nesco Snackmaster FD-60 & 61.....$65
4 round 13½” diameter trays, expandable to 12 trays, top-mounted fan and heater, adjustable temperature settings, no timer, 500 watts.
Nesco Snackmaster FD-75PR.....$70
5 round 13½” diameter trays, expandable to 12 trays, top-mounted fan and heater, adjustable temperature settings, no timer, 700 watts.
Nesco Snackmaster FD-80.....$80
4 square trays, expandable to 8 trays, top-mounted fan and heater, adjustable thermostat, no timer, 700 watts.
Nesco Gardenmaster Pro FD-1010.....$130
4 round 15½” trays, expandable to 30 trays, bottom-mounted fan and heater, adjustable temperature settings, no timer, 1000 watts.
Nesco Gardenmaster Digital Pro FD-1020.....$140
4 round 15½” trays, expandable to 20 trays, top-mounted fan and heater, adjustable thermostat, digital timer, 1000 watts.
4 rectangular 1.2 sq. foot trays, expandable to 20 trays, bottom-mounted fan and heater, adjustable thermostat, no timer, 500 watts.
5 rectangular 1.2 sq. foot trays, expandable to 12 trays, bottom-mounted fan and heater, adjustable thermostat, no timer, 500 watts.
4 square 15” by 15” trays, back-mounted fan and heater, adjustable thermostat, no timer, 220 watts.
5 square 15” by 15” trays, back-mounted fan and heater, adjustable thermostat, 440 watts. The 3526T has a timer and the 3500 does not.
9 square 15” by 15” trays, back-mounted fan and heater, adjustable thermostat, 600 watts. The 3926T has a timer and the 3900 does not.
Excalibur Food Dehydrator
The 9-tray Excalibur model #3926T and the 5-tray #3526T have worked well for me. I have dried hundreds of backpacking meals with the 9-tray unit and I use the 5-tray unit in Switzerland to keep my wife supplied with dried fruits. Both units have a timer.
If you want to purchase a new Excalibur dehydrator with a timer, you have to purchase it directly from the manufacturer. The Excalibur units sold by Amazon and other on-line retailers do not have the timer.
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
Food Dehydrator Show & Tell
I’ve shown you mine. Now it’s YOUR turn. How is your food dehydrator working out? Tell us what model you are using and what you like and don’t like about it. What kinds of foods are you drying in it? Your input will help someone who is thinking about buying a new dehydrator.
What others say about their dehydrators:
Click below to see what others like and don't like about their dehydrators...
I love it! In fact I have two of them, and a total of 36 trays.
The hole in the middle is a downfall if you make a lot of leathers, but I solved that …...
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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 …...
Excalibur 3900 Dehydrator and 4-Tray Starter
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 …...
NESCO FD-80 Snackmaster Dehydrator
The NESCO FD-80 Snackmaster has a top mounted heater and fan with square trays. I manage to fit loads of food in. The capacity is brilliant. The dehydrator …...
Nesco Snackmaster FD-61
LOVE my Snackmaster FD-61 food dehydrator - Dries everything fast. I think the hole in the middle helps with this. It has variable temperature, which …...
Excalibur Dehydrator 3900 9-Tray
Love Love Love my Excalibur Dehydrator.... have dehydrated all kinds of fruits,(pineapple is the best) made bunches of dehydrated pumpkin strips (jerky) …...
Decosonic 469 Food Dehydrator
I bought the Decosonic 469 Food Dehydrator about 20 years ago. It has a bottom-mounted fan and 250W heater. The only control is an on/off switch. It came …...
Ronco Dehydrator Model 187-04-0 from 1993
If this one hadn't been just sitting on the shelf... I may not have given dehydrating a try... My wife bought a Ronco Dehydrator from an infomercial a …...
LEM 5 Tray Food Dehydrator with Timer
I chose my dehydrator based on the features that Glenn recommended. I'm glad I didn't elect to get a cheap unit with one of those useless holes in the …...
After reading about the Excalibur, I attempted to purchase one in Australia through local and international sellers. Nobody replied to my emails so I gave …...
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