Which is the best food dehydrator - Excalibur or Nesco?
I dry a LOT of food here at BackpackingChef.com.
The two most important features of a food dehydrator for me are:
I own several Excalibur food dehydrators, which I value because of their higher capacity per tray, compared to Nesco dehydrators, and because of the ease with which liquified foods can be spread on the trays. I talk about those benefits further down, plus features like time and temperature controls.
31 Dehydrated Meals dried in a few days using a 9-tray Excalibur
You can fit more food on Excalibur dehydrator trays. They are square with no hole in the middle. Most of the Nesco
dehydrator trays are round with holes in the middle. You lose 20% to 45%
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
Tray Capacity & Features:
Excalibur 15” square, no hole
Nesco 15½" round, hole in center
Nesco 13½" round, hole in center
When it comes to capacity per tray, Excalibur is the best food dehydrator. A square Excalibur tray has 83% more drying capacity than a Nesco FD-60 Snackmaster dehydrator (13½" round trays) and 28% more capacity than a Nesco FD-1040 Gardenmaster dehydrator (15½" round trays).
Additional Mesh Sheets Required for Nesco Dehydrators
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 at $7 - $8 per set of two Clean-a-Sreens. A few models include one sample mesh sheet. If you don't use mesh sheets, sticky fruits will be hard to remove from the trays.
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.
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. Excalibur and Nesco dehydrators have fans. Ronco dehydrators do not.
Adjustable Temperature Settings
Different foods require different temperatures. Excalibur Dehydrators have a range of 105° F to 165° F. (40° to 74° C). Meat is dried at the high end while herbs are dried at the low end. Vegetables and fruits are dried in the 125° to 135° range. 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.
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.
Heating element/fans are located at the back of Excalibur Dehydrators.
Nesco Dehydrators heaters/fans are on top, except for the FD-1010 Gardenmaster Pro which heats and blows from the bottom.
Extra stacking trays can be purchased to increase the capacity of Nesco Food 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 Food Dehydrators have fixed capacities of 4, 5, 9 or 10 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 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.
Photo above: Excalibur food dehydrators are available with choice of digital or manual time and temperature controls, clear or solid doors, and 9 or 5 trays.
My Excalibur 9-tray and 5-tray food dehydrators with timers have worked exceptionally well for me over more than a decade of use. My 9-tray dehydrator (Model 3948CDB) has a clear door and digital controls. My 5-tray dehydrator (Model 3526TB) has a solid black door and manual dial controls. I have dried hundreds of backpacking meals and a steady supply of fruits, vegetables, meats, and starches with them. I use one in America and the other in Switzerland.
The Excalibur dehydrators which I use and recommend are made in the USA. They come with a 10-year warranty and free shipping when you buy direct.
In recent years, Excalibur has come out with low-priced dehydrators made in China. They have smaller stacking trays with heating elements on the bottom. I do not recommend these food dehydrators.
Excalibur dehydrators are more expensive than lower capacity Nesco dehydrators.
The price for a 4-tray Nesco Garden Master dehydrator starts at around $149, before considering add-ons like extra trays and tray inserts. Excalibur dehydrators range in price from $199 to $399, depending on the number of trays and special features.
Disclosure: BackpackingChef.com participates in the affiliate program offered by Excalibur Dehydrators. If you make a purchase after following the above link, I may receive a commission. Thank you.
Use the form below to ask a question about food dehydrators, or to comment on the one you own. Thanks!
Al: I was running really slowly due to lack of dehydrator capacity. I already had a Nesco which I had upgraded to 6 trays, so I decided to equip it to max capacity (12) and use it. I did this in stages, and as it turns out, I probably should have just bought an Excalibur Food Dehydrator. I don’t recall reading it in your review, but a cost comparison between equally equipped dehydrators might have saved me. As I see it, from a capacity standpoint the Nesco with 10 trays is roughly equivalent to an Excalibur with 5. If you are starting from scratch, the Excalibur would seem to be the better choice due to the fewer trays for air to pass through and the rectangular shape. I went to 12 trays and spent $130 over what I paid years ago for the Nesco. I would probably have been better off to get the Excalibur 5 tray unit.
Al: (Update) On a limited sample of 3 sessions, my Nesco, expanded to 12 trays (the recommended maximum expansion capacity) seems to be taking as much as twice as long to dry the foods as the estimates in the Action Guide. I think the Nesco is 500 watts and the Excalibur is 600, plus the Nesco has to force air through 12 trays instead of 9. I can feel a temperature difference on the sides of the trays. It gets cooler as I slide my hand down. The items in the top part are getting done quicker and perhaps overdone.
Genne: I had one that required tray rotation. Never again! I have been using an Excalibur for about 6 years...love it!
Leslie: Excalibur. So efficient. I do meals for groups, so I need the space. Have used for several of your recipes. Current fav is unstuffed peppers.
Chef Glenn: Are you cooking the whole meal and dehydrating it, or are you drying the ingredients separately and then assembling?
Leslie: Separate ingredients. I usually prefer cooking and then dehydrating, but it worked well this way. We took it to the Timberline Trail in Oregon and people liked it a lot. Luckily I had a couple servings left over for future trips. Yum.
Chef Glenn: Thanks. That's the way I prefer to do it. I find that the colors of the peppers hold up better if dried separately.
Joe: I don’t have an Excalibur but do have a square model with shelves. That’s all I’ve ever used and have never had any issues. I still have to swap trays every few hours and throw them in the dishwasher when I’m done.
Debbie: I have both a round and a rectangle food dehydrator. The round one is about 30 years old and still going strong. It does require tray rotation and the round trays with a hole in the middle can be a pain. I 'upgraded' to a rectangle one a few years ago and really like it. It is the one I use all the time. It dries things more evenly without having to rotate trays. It's a cheaper model than Excalibur and I'm more than happy with it.
Tanya: Excalibur. We have had it for 5 yrs. Even though it fell in an earthquake we had and got banged up, it still keeps going! We use it for jerky, fruit and backpacking food. It's a work horse in our home.
Kim: I have a 20+ year old American Harvest food dehydrator. I'd love an Excalibur, but this one works, and thus I cannot justify buying a new one. I'd love to not have to deal with that stupid hole in the middle of trays – it can make pouring the dried food off the trays messy.
Sylvie: I have the Excalibur. I love the shelves and how little space it takes. I do all the dehydrating with it: fruits, vegetables, jerky, chilies etc.
Glenda: First time dehydrating, I borrowed a Nesco - turned me away from dehydrating. Then I bought a Weston square one and was happy with it until it died one month after the warranty ended. Not repairable. Now have an Excalibur and love it and it has a LONG warranty and you can buy replacement parts.
Tj: Excalibur! Used a round one for years and it finally (thankfully) died... so we upgraded! We make everything from kale chips to dry fruit to jerky, snack sticks, dehydrated deer liver and heart strips for my dog. And lots of dehydrated herbs. And flowers. It's an awesome machine, and the company really stands behind their warranty!
Elizabeth: Bought the Excalibur when I first started reading your site. Back when you were drying your hiking boots in it. Thank goodness for Dominique putting an end to that! I love, love the Excalibur. Thanks for turning me on to a great machine!
Jessica: I have a Nesco. The hole in the middle and round trays make it harder to pour/spread and place foods, but it's affordable and gets the job done.
Erica: I had a round one. Found an Excalibur for an amazing deal on a buy and sell site. It works SO much faster, especially for harder to dry stuff like meat and sauces/leathers. I figure I saved the value of the machine in electricity.
Barbara: I have had my Excalibur for more than 40 years, and it still works fine. I like that it’s rectangular, so space-efficient.
John: Had a Nesco for years, it wasn’t the round tho, it was square, but still worked the same. It did fine and I was happy with it, added a couple extra sections etc. But, I did find I needed shift stack order when doing large amounts. I was looking at getting another one or adding a couple more trays when it died, so I upgraded to the Excalibur. I like it a lot better, space wise it’s about same, I get more actual stuff in the dehydrator with no hole in the middle of each tray, and I get more even drying I feel. I do rotate the trays if doing a full load of stuff with long drying times. Also, it works great for as proofer for baking and gets a good amount of use for that purpose.
Sarah: Excalibur! Timer and heat control is awesome, space saving square design ditto.
Dinah: Nesco. I love mine. It does a great job and I can add as many trays as I want.
Emily: Excalibur. It’s efficient and I can remove racks for bigger thicker items - even use it to prove bread!
Terry: Love my Excalibur, much better than those round ones. And it is made in America!
Rob: Excalibur, love everything about it!
Michelle: Love my Excalibur. Use it for gf cereal bars, fruit snacks, dog treats frequently
Chef Glenn: Gluten free cereal bars sounds interesting. What goes into them?
Michelle: Quinoa flakes, gf oats, sunflower seeds, pepitas, cashews, flaxseed, cranberries, applesauce, cinnamon & ginger. Sometimes I use pear sauce instead and raisins instead of cranberries, but I eat these a lot, especially when I travel.
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