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Drying is one of the oldest known ways to preserve food and a great way to add variety and interest to your diet. While everything from apples to green beans gets good results in a modern food dehydrator, the best way to use one is to make jerky. If you’re a hunter and aren’t sure what to do with leftover meat or even if you just like buying meat in bulk, you should consider investing in the best dehydrator for jerky.
When it comes to choosing a dehydrator, there are a few key things to consider. One important thing to think about is what type of dehydrator you want as well as capacity. Stackable machines have different levels of rings that stack on top of one another. They’re usually expandable so you can increase capacity as needed. Shelf models, on the other hand, have a fixed amount of trays though some still manage to offer plenty of area for drying. Temperature range is important, too, because every food has a safe temperature for dehydrating. To make jerky safely, you need a dehydrator that heats to 160°F, and 165°F for poultry.
To write this guide, we spent hours combing through reviews and comments from experts as well as people just like you who use these products in their homes every day. First, you’ll find a convenient table where you can compare all of our picks and see what stands out about each one. Next are our in-depth reviews about each product, followed by a detailed buying guide that will help you find the best dehydrator for jerky.
The Excalibur 2900ECB features nine different trays for a total of whopping 15 square feet of drying space. You can even remove trays if you need more height for bulkier items. This is a great choice for hunters looking to make a lot of jerky as well as gardeners or large families interested in trying various dehydrated goodies.
This dehydrator features an adjustable thermostat that ranges from 105 to 165°F which is the ideal range for preserving the active enzymes in fresh fruits and vegetables and meeting safety standards for making jerky. One of the great things about the design is the drying guide located right next to the temperature dial. Whether you’re raising dough, making fruit rolls, or drying jerky, you’ll know just what temperature setting to use.
Not only does this machine dehydrate quickly, but it’s also really easy to clean up when you’re finished. Because all of the trays are removable, you can quickly and easily wipe them clean in the sink.
Users have very few complaints about this machine, although one complaint that kept coming up is that the machine is pretty loud. Another downside is that it doesn’t have a built-in timer for added convenience. Also, a few people also felt that the thermostat was inaccurate but this wasn’t a common complaint.
All in all, we feel that this is an easy-to-use machine perfect for both making jerky safely and drying fruits, offering plenty of space.
Because the Presto 06301 is stackable, it takes up less storage space and is easily expandable from 6 to 12 trays. It has a built-in digital timer and thermostat so you can set precise temperatures and drying times. Here’s the best part, it turns off automatically when it’s done which prevents overdrying.
Temperature settings range from 90 to 165°F, and the timer can be set for drying times as long as 48 hours. That’s everything you need to make delicious jerky as well as dehydrate fruits and vegetables while maintaining their natural vitamins and minerals.
Cleanup is really easy, too, because the cover and trays are fully immersible and dishwasher safe for added convenience.
One downside is that, although it takes up less storage space, it still takes up a lot of counter space when in use. That said, the circular design of the trays doesn’t provide as much room as some users anticipated. It’s also pretty noisy.
One of the best things about this model is that you can upgrade it. Not only can you add 6 additional drying trays, but also fruit roll sheets, nonstick mesh sheets, and jerky seasoning which makes it really versatile and means you can use it for a lot more than jerky. The downside? All of upgrades and accessories are sold separately.
The unique design of the NESCO FD-75A forces air through a pressurized chamber and then over the trays toward the center which helps with fast, even drying. There’s no flavor mixing and no need to rotate the trays throughout the process and the Vita-Save exterior blocks harmful light that would otherwise destroy some of the nutritional value of the food as it dehydrates. Plus, because the fan is top-mounted, you don’t have to worry about any juices dripping into the heating chamber.
The temperature can be adjusted from 95 to 160°F so you can safely dehydrate jerky as well as fruits and vegetables safely and nutritiously.
This dehydrator comes with 5 trays but you can expand it to 12 if you require more space. Plus, you don’t have to worry about making any adjustments if you upgrade the number of trays, the machine automatically does it for you.
While you have to buy the expansion trays separately, this dehydrator does include some great accessories: two clean-a-screens, two fruit roll sheets, and 6 spice packs for jerky and curing.
There are a few downsides. One is that there’s no timer or automatic shut-off so you have to pay careful attention to when your food will be finished so that it doesn’t get too dry. Another thing that it doesn’t have is an on/off switch. Although it’s easy to use because you just have to plug it in, a lot of users commented that they wished that wasn’t the case.
What makes it stand out?
Vita-Save exterior blocks harmful light
Top-mounted fan prevents juices from dripping into the heating chamber
Next up is the Magic Mill Commercial Pro Xl which features stainless steel construction and a heat retentive front door. The rear mounted fan and motor create a horizontal drying system that provides uniform drying.
This is a really versatile machine. It holds 10 trays at once and comes with 10 stainless steel trays, 10 fine mesh sheets, and five non-stick sheets for making fruit leather. Each tray can hold up to 1.3 pounds of food and is dishwasher safe to make cleanup easy.
The temperature range is between 95 and 167°F, though there are only nine different settings to choose from. While this dehydrator still provides enough settings to use it with a variety of food, some users wished that they had more control over the exact temperature setting than choosing from limited presets.
This machine has a 24-hour timer and automatically shuts off to prevent overdrying.
There are a few downsides with this machine. Some users commented that it arrived with dents and cracks although the box was intact, indicating that the damage most likely occurred at the factory. Other users claimed that the machine didn’t last for a year though these complaints were not the typical experience and the machine is covered with a 1-year warranty that would cover any major issues.
Why did it make our list?
Holds 10 trays
Includes 10 stainless steel trays, 10 fine mesh trays, and five non-stick sheets
Trays are dishwasher safe
Automatic shut off
What is not ideal about it?
Only nine temperature settings to choose from
Some users reported product arrived damaged
A few users claimed the machine didn’t last very long
The Magic Mill MFD-6051 is a sleek looking machine that features a large transparent window so you can check on how things are progressing without disrupting the machine. A rear-mounted fan and motor provide horizontal air movement for uniform drying plus the six removable BPA-free plastic racks are adjustable to accommodate a variety of different foods. When using all six racks, you get a total surface of 6.5 square feet and, because they’re square, you can make use of every inch of space. That said, the machine itself is quite large and will take up a lot of room on your counter.
The digital controls are really easy to use. Although the temperature settings range from 95 to 158°F, there are only nine different settings to choose from so you can’t make any fine adjustments. That said, this machine still provides a big enough temperature range that its suitable for jerky as well as fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
The digital timer that can be set for up to 19.5 hours. It counts down so you know how much time you have left and turns the machine off automatically when it’s done. This machine also has overheating safety protection as well as a drip to collect and residue that occurs during the drying process.
Why did it make our list?
Large transparent window to see inside
Rear-mounted fan and motor for uniform drying
Six removable plastic racks
Digital countdown timer
Automatic shut off
Overheating safety protection
What is not ideal about it?
Only nine different temperature options
Large footprint yet a relatively small total drying surface
The Chefman RJ43-SQ-9 has an innovative design that maximizes airflow without overheating or overdrying. You can choose from pre-set temperature settings that range from 95 to 158 degrees F so you can dry jerky, fruit, veggies, and herbs safely. Plus, you get access to Club Chefman, an online resource that’s loaded with step-by-step recipes and tutorials.
There are nine spacious adjustable trays made of BPA-free plastic so that you can safely dehydrate different types of food all at the same time. Plus, they’re removable and can be put in the dishwasher for easy cleanup.
A transparent door allows you to check the machine’s progress without opening the door and causing head loss and interrupting the process. Plus, there’s an integrated timer that can be set for as long as 19.5 hours that automatically turns off the machine when finished. This is a great feature for anyone who wants to leave their machine running overnight and doesn’t want to worry about waking up in time to turn it off.
One common complaint users had is that the door gets caught on the trays when you try to open it. They also commented that the trays were generally difficult to keep in place and warped over time.
The Ivation IV-FD60RB is perfect for making jerky and it can be used for a range of other things, too, like drying fruit slices, herbs, and vegetables. A rear-mounted fan promotes optimal airflow for uniform results without over-drying.
This machine has 6 plastic heating racks that adjust to accommodate different food and each rack holds up to a pound. Also included is a nonstick fine mesh sheet for finer things like herbs and a solid sheet for making fruit leather. The plastic racks are easy to clean, though not dishwasher safe. This machine also comes with overheating protection as well as a drip tray to collect any residue during the drying process.
An adjustable thermostat has a temperature range of 95 to 158°F with eight different presets to choose from. There’s also a digital timer that’s programmable up to 19.5 hours in 30-minute increments as well as automatic shutoff to prevent overdrying.
Some users felt that the results were inconsistent and that the middle racks did not dehydrate as thoroughly as the top and bottom ones. Other users commented that the machine stopped working after a few months though this was not the common experience.
Why are we impressed?
Six adjustable plastic trays
Mesh sheet and solid sheet included
Drip tray to collect residue
Automatic shut off
What negatives must you be aware of?
Timer only programmable in 30-minute increments
Only eight preset temperature settings available
Users reported inconsistent results from middle to end racks
Some users commented that the machine stopped working during the warranty period
Things to Consider
There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to buying the right dehydrator for meat. Here are some of the key things to think about as well as some other important information you should keep in mind while shopping.
How does a dehydrator work and what are the advantages of having one?
Although some things vary from model to model, there are a few key components to every dehydrator. They all rely on a fan, heating elements, vents, and food trays to get to the final result.
The heating element, fan, and vents all work together to circulate the right amount of air maintained at the right temperature over food that’s arranged on the trays. The combination of heat and air circulation releases moisture from the food which is then carried through the air by the fans and escapes from the vents. Any moisture that remains is typically collected in a drip tray at the bottom of the machine. Air moves either horizontally or horizontally, depending on where the fan is located.
There are a few different types of trays out there including plastic, mesh, and solid, non-stick trays. For jerky, mesh trays are best but any tray with vents will work. This ensures that the air circulates around the entire piece of meat, drying out the bottom as well as the top.
There are a lot of advantages to having a food dehydrator, especially if you have large quantities of food on hand. Hunters find them especially useful because they provide another way to preserve meat other than deep freezing. Gardeners find them useful, too, because it’s another way to enjoy the harvest and it’s a lot easier than canning.
Dehydration safety concerns
Believe it or not, dehydrating food is the oldest method of preservation and was something people all over the world could do long before the tools needed for canning and freezing were invented.
The science behind dehydrating is that, by removing the moisture, enzymes are no longer able to effectively react with food. These enzymes include bacteria and those that occur naturally to break down raw food. The reason that temperature is so important, especially with meat and poultry, is that bacteria must be destroyed before the food can be safely dehydrated. If not, it will continue to live in the dehydrated food and become more resistant. So, as long as the temperature in a dehydrator is hot enough to kill the bacteria before dehydrating, the process is completely safe.
Here are some other tips to make sure you’re being as safe as possible.
Always practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching any meat products, especially raw meat.
Meat should be kept in the refrigerator when marinating. Don’t save leftover marinade.
Defrost meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter or in the sink.
The best way to make sure meat is being cooked to the right temperature before dehydrating is to steam or roast the meat until the internal temperature reaches 160°F, or 165°F for poultry.
In order to make sure the meat stays safe throughout the hydrating process, the machine should be able to maintain a temperature of between 130 and 140°F for drying.
What makes a dehydrator perfect for jerky?
There are some specific things to look for to know whether or not a dehydrator is good for making jerky.
Dehydrator type and airflow
The main reason to consider the two different types of dehydrators is that each style uses a different directional airflow. Really any type of dehydrator will work to make jerky but choosing the best machine will make the whole process a lot easier.
There are two styles of dehydrators, box and shelf designs and stackable models. Box and shelf machines like the Excalibur 2900ECB resemble a small oven. There are multiple racks inside that are adjustable so you can use food that’s a variety of thicknesses without worrying about the racks being too close together. The racks are completely removable, too, so you can leave them out if you need more vertical space for something tall. These machines typically have a transparent door on the front so that you can look inside to monitor progress.
In a box and shelf style dehydrator, the fan and heating element are located in the back of the machine which means that the air flows horizontally over the various trays of food.
Horizontal airflow is a little better than vertical because it’s more uniform although you do have to make sure that the food in the front of the tray is getting the same amount of air as the food in the back that’s closest to the fan and heating element.
One of the best things about this style is that the trays are square in shape which makes it easy to take advantage of every last inch of space available. Depending on what you’re dehydrating, it can be difficult to maximize the space on a circular tray.
Stackable dehydrators like the NESCO FD-75A are a little different than the boxy style. They’re usually round in shape and the heating element and fan are located at the top or bottom. This means that these machines use vertical airflow.
The biggest perk to having a stackable design over a box and shelf one is that stackable models can be expanded simply by adding another tray to the top of the stack. If you have a large family or are planning to dehydrate a lot of different types of food, having the option to expand is very useful.
There are some slight downsides to each type of dehydrator but none of them are really detrimental. Obviously, box and shelf models have limited space inside and can’t be upgraded. They’re also a little more involved as far as setup goes because it takes a little more time to get the trays in place than just placing them on top of one another as you do with a stackable model. That said, stackable models have round trays which can make it a little more difficult to maximize the surface area. There’s also always a risk that adding more height to a machine with vertical air flow will affect how evenly the air is being spread around.
Capacity and dimensions
When it comes to the size of these machines, you have to consider two different things. First, how much space is it going to take up on your counter or in storage? And second, how much food will you actually be able to fit inside?
Some of these machines are pretty big. The smallest one we found in our research is the Presto 06301, a stackable model that’s 14.5 x 15 x 7.2 inches. The smallest box and shelf style in our reviews is the Ivation IV-FD60RB at 17.7 x 13.6 x 12.4 inches. Remember that these machines are going to have to sit out on your counter for long periods of time. Dehydrating food takes a while so this isn’t an appliance like a juicer or mixer that you’ll only use for an hour or so and then be done with.
Depending on the cut of meat, it can take up to 15 hours to make jerky so you’ll need a machine that comfortably fits somewhere on your countertop.
When it comes to capacity, you need to think about how much food you’ll actually be dehydrating. Some of the box and shelf models are pretty spacious. For example, the Excalibur 2900ECB has nine trays and a total of 15 square feet of space. That said, stackable models can always be expanded so if you’re not sure what you need, a stackable option might be a good place to start.
As we mentioned, the temperature range is very important, especially when it comes to jerky. It is absolutely necessary to cook meat to 160°F and poultry to 165°F in order to make safe jerky. Obviously, the dehydrator you choose should reach those temperatures at a minimum. It’s also a good idea to get one that goes even higher just to be on that safe side. If your machine has an unreliable thermostat, being able to set the temperature just a little higher can help you make sure that you’re being safe. That’s one reason why the top range of the products we chose goes anywhere from 158 to 167 F.
There are a lot of little things that don’t really determine how effective a dehydrator is but can definitely make them easier to use.
Adjustable thermostats are one of the most useful features to look for. Some of these machines only have a series of preset temperature settings to choose from that typically cover a range of 10 to 15 degrees or so. While these settings are definitely enough to get the job done, being able to choose a more exact temperature can come in really handy, especially when you’re making jerky and high temperatures are so important.
Timers are great, too. While it’s really easy to set a kitchen timer or use the one on your smartphone, having an integrated timer is super convenient. Some of these machines have timers that can be set for more than 19 hours at a time which covers just about anything you’ll be dehydrating.
Another thing to consider is automatic shutoff. Most of the machines with timers are also equipped with an automatic shut off and we really can’t overstate how much easier it makes the whole process. You don’t have to worry about scheduling an end time around your work schedule or getting up really early to make sure your food doesn’t get too dry. With an automatic shutoff, you really can set it and forget it.
Some of these machines come with different kinds of trays, including mesh and non-stick varieties. Mesh trays are great for making jerky and, if you’re planning to try fruit leather, a non-stick tray is essential.
Another thing to think about is cleanup. All of these machines have removable trays, but there are only a few that you can safely put in the dishwasher.
It’s always important to consider the warranty when you’re buying an appliance and these machines are all covered for one year with the exception of the Excalibur 2900ECB, our Editor’s Choice, which is covered for 5 years.
Keep in mind that warranties don’t cover everything that can go wrong. Make sure you read the fine print carefully so you know what to expect just in case something happens.
If you’re curious about making jerky but want to know a little more about what’s involved, here are some tips to make it as simple as possible.
Start with a lean piece of meat. Fat limits the shelf life of jerky and changes the texture a bit so it’s best to trim off as much as you can during prep. If you’re buying meat from a butcher, the best cuts are flank steak, bottom round, or eye of round.
In order to get good jerky, you have to cut the meat very thin which isn’t always easy to do. One trick to make it a little easier is to place the meat in the freezer for an hour or two. When it’s partially frozen, it will be much easier to hold onto and control. Use a very sharp knife to slice against the grain and aim for a cut 1/4 inches or thinner for best results.
Choose or make your favorite marinade. It should be stronger than something you would use for grilling since some of the flavors will be lost in the dehydrating process. For best results, let the meat soak in the marinade overnight or even longer. Some experts recommend a maximum of 18 hours because the longer you let it sit, the more flavor your jerky will have.
After you remove the meat from the marinade, soak up as much of the liquid as you can from the meat so that you’re not putting it into the machine with any unnecessary moisture. This will shorten the process a bit since you’re not adding in any extra moisture.
The first few times you use your food dehydrator, it’s best to check on your jerky regularly. Toward the end of the dehydrating time, remove a piece of jerky to check for doneness. If it needs to cook longer, return it to the tray and recheck every 15 to 30 minutes until it’s done.
Once you’ve been using your machine for a while, it’s not necessary to check the progress as often. If you have used it enough to know that it gives you consistent and reliable results, check on it less frequently and really take advantage of the automatic shut off if you have one.
Although a lot of these machines specifically say that you don’t have to rotate the trays, this can be a simple fix if you notice that your food is dehydrating unevenly. For a box and shelf design, simply open the door and rotate each tray 180 degrees to make sure that the back of the trays, which is closest to the fan, isn’t overdrying.
Properly done jerky should crack when you bend it. If it breaks, it’s overdone. That said, making jerky is a lot like cooking a steak. Everyone prefers something a little more or less well done. As long as the initial cooking was hot enough to kill bacteria, it’s all right if you prefer your jerky a little chewier.
Let the jerky cool completely before you package it. When the jerky is still steaming hot, there’s still moisture coming off of it. If you bag it too early, this moisture collects in the bag or container and affects the quality of the jerky. You can also place it inside a paper bag for a day or so to let the moisture escape appropriately.
Speaking of containers, how you store your finished jerky determines how long it will last. In a Ziploc bag, jerky lasts for about a week. In the fridge, it lasts about 2 weeks. If kept in an airtight container of vacuum sealed, it can last for as long as 2 or 3 months. You can also freeze it for up to 6 months although freezing it can alter the taste.
When it comes to price, there’s a definite distinction between the top and bottom of the range. Box and shield dehydrators cost significantly more than stackable machines. The biggest reason for this is that box and shelf models like the Magic Mill Commercial Pro Xl usually produce better quality results. This is due to the fact that horizontal air flow is slightly more effective than the vertical airflow you get with stackable machines.
Stackable dehydrators aren’t as reliable because they airflow isn’t as uniform. Inevitably, air traveling vertically will hit the top or bottom tray more intensely than trays in the middle. That said, it’s certainly possible to get good results with a stackable dehydrator, it just requires a little more diligence when it comes to preparation and monitoring the time and temperature.
While there is some pretreating involved when drying fruit and vegetables, there’s nothing in particular that you have to do with meat in order to make jerky other than the general prep work of slicing it and allowing it to marinade.
It’s important to remove your jerky at the right time to make sure it’s not overdone. The best way to get it right is to check on it every hour or so. Take a quick look in the window if you can to inspect it visually at the beginning of the process. After a few hours, remove a piece of jerky to test it. Bend it. If it bends and cracks but doesn’t snap in two, it’s done.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, dehydrating can cause the loss of some minerals, vitamins, and enzymes which is why some sort of pretreatment is often recommended before dehydration. That said, it’s important to remember that there is some form of nutrient loss with any type of food preservation. For example, canning exposes food to very high temperatures and freezing causes some cell damage as the moisture inside the food expands. Dehydrating actually leads to a nutrient loss of only about 5% while canning results in as high as an 80% loss and freezing up to 60%.
As we mentioned, just about any lean cut of meat can be used to make jerky. That includes certain cuts of beef, deer, and elk but you can also use more exotic meats like alligator, deer, turkey, snake, or buffalo. There are even some types of fish that make good jerky, too, like salmon, tuna, and trout.
It depends on the meat. If the meat if prepped thin enough and the food dehydrator performs well, it could take as little as 4 or 5 hours. If you’re using thicker cuts, it could take as long as 15 hours.
Our top pick is the Excalibur 2900ECB. This box and shelf style dehydrator as 9 trays for a total of 15 square feet of space so you can make a lot of jerky at once. A convenient drying guide helps you choose the right temperature no matter what you’re drying. Plus, it has the longest warranty coverage of all the products on our list.
We also like the Presto 06301. This is a stackable option that can be expanded to as many as 12 trays. It has a built-in timer with automatic shut off to prevent overdrying. Cleanup is easy, too. The cover and all of the trays are fully immersible and dishwasher safe.
Finally, we recommend the NESCO FD-75A. This stackable machine comes with five trays and can be expanded to as many as 12. The Vita-Save exterior prevents harmful light rays from getting in and the top-mounted fan prevents any juices from getting into the heating element. Plus, it comes with a lot of great extras including fruit roll sheets and jerky spices and is available at a great price.