Guide to Dehydrating Food

essential skills food storage self sufficiency Nov 10, 2020
Food storage

As you likely know by now, being in control over your food supply is a vital part of self sufficiency.  In an effort to provide my readers with as much information as possible, this Guide to Dehydrating Food is part of a series of posts on various methods of food preservation. There is a lot of information here so I have provided a clickable table of contents.  Enjoy!



Introduction to Dehydrating Food

There is evidence that some cultures dried foods as early as 12,000 B.C. In those times people took advantage of the sun and the wind in order to dehydrate foods. In the Middle Ages the Romans built houses that were used specifically for drying foods using fire as a heat source. Fortunately with today’s technology we have much more efficient means of dehydrating food. 

Dehydrating food is a great method of preservation. However, it can be a little labor intensive because a lot of time is spent cutting and chopping. In the end it is well worth the effort.  Once dried and properly stored, dehydrated foods will last for months to years. (I have dried apples that have been in my root cellar for over 5 years.) Perhaps the one thing about dehydrating that appeals most to homesteaders and off grid folks is the simplicity.  

Dehydrated foods are easy to store. As a result you can have dried fruits and vegetables easily available for snacks or to throw into a recipe.  Furthermore, dehydrated foods make a great light weight addition to the backpack.  Making your own will also save you a tremendous amount of money. 

Equipment investment varies tremendously.  You can spend as little as $100 for a small dehydrator.  Or you can spend several thousand dollars for larger commercial models. Generally the size of the dehydrator, thus the capacity, affects the cost.  

As with any method of food preservation, dehydrating has its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Dehydrating Food 


  • Simplicity: This is one of the easiest methods of food preservation. 
  • Longevity: Properly packaged and stored, dehydrated food will last for years.
  • Cost effective: Commercially prepared dehydrated food is very expensive. If you use dehydrated food regularly, you will have a quick return on your investment in equipment. Making your own soup mixes, dried fruit, and beef jerky alone will save you a tremendous amount of money. 
  • Saves electricity: Once processed for storage, dehydrated food requires no electricity for safe keeping.  This makes it ideal for folks that live off grid. 
  • Minimal investment in equipment: Food dehydrators are easily available.  You can spend as little as $100 and as much as $1000. That said, I strongly recommend investing in good equipment.  A high quality dehydrator can be purchased for $200 to $300. 
  • Versatility: A wide variety of foods can be dehydrated.  
  • Minimal storage space: When food is dehydrated it shrinks. Therefore a lot of food can be stored in a small space. 
  • Nutritional value: The processing of any food will change the texture, color, and nutritional value to some degree.  It comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils. That said, dehydrating food is not cooking food.  In fact, cooking things while dehydrating is not even the proper method.  Dehydrating simply removes the water content. Therefore, this method of preservation tends to preserve the nutritional content more than most other methods. 


  • Electricity usage: Food dehydrators are high wattage appliances.  Typically they have to be run for a number of hours in order to dehydrate most foods. Some food products are going to take as long as 12 hours to dry. If you live off the grid and produce your own electricity, as I do, you have to be mindful of this.  
  • Labor intensive: The most labor intensive parts of this method of food preservation is preparation and clean up.  This is especially true if you are drying in large quantities. It takes time to cut, slice, and in some cases pretreat foods for drying. You also have to account for the clean up.  Often times the drying trays have to be soaked and scrubbed in order to clean them. From personal experience, I can say this is a little bit of a pain in the butt.  
  • Changes in taste and texture: Several foods, especially vegetables, will change in taste and texture once dehydrated and rehydrated for use. Some people find this unpleasant. 
  • Odor intensive: Depending on the type of food you are dehydrating, the  odors can be very strong during the early part of the process.  This is especially true for onions. I once drove everyone out of the house, including the dogs, during my first attempt to dehydrate fresh horse radish. 
  • Toxicity: I say this with a sense of humor because of a couple of my own experiences. However, great care should be taken when handling certain dehydrated products. For example, I commonly dehydrate hot peppers and then grind them into a powder.  I use this powder to add to soups, stews, chilis, casseroles, eggs, etc. This pepper powder is very concentrated. Consequently very little powder is needed for any one recipe. The downside to this is that it is very easy to aerosolize this powder. If it ends up in your nose or eyes, you will have a very unpleasant experience.

Overall, I think the advantages of dehydrating food far out weigh the disadvantages. No matter how you process food, you are going to use some sort of energy, whether that be electricity or propane. You are going to have to invest in some sort of equipment. The processing of food in any way is going to have some affect on nutritional value. Additionally, there is always going to be some work involved, there will be changes to taste and texture, and you are going to need a place to store the extra goods.  

At the end of the day, I think the advantages and versatility of dehydrated foods puts this method of preservation at the top of my list.

Preparing Food For Drying

Prior to dehydrating many foods require some type of preparation.  This is true for certain types of fruit and especially true for different vegetables. Blanching vegetables prior to drying is generally the best choice.  Blanching is simply pre-cooking them in either steam or boiling water.  The reason for blanching prior to drying is that it stops the natural enzymatic reactions within the vegetables and slows the decomposition process. 

Benefits of Blanching

  • Longer shelf life

The natural enzymes in vegetables can survive the dehydrating process. This means that the dehydrated vegetables can still decompose. Blanching either stops or slows this process which means the final product will have a longer shelf life.  

  • Improved dehydrating efficiency

Some vegetables naturally have a tough outer skin.  Green beans are a good example. Blanching softens the outer skin and improves the dehydration process. 

  • Retains flavor and color

Slowing down or stopping the enzymatic action in the vegetables also helps to retain their natural color and vitamins. Blanching also cleans the produce and reduces the presence of bacteria. 

Two Ways to Blanch Vegetables

1) Steam Blanching

Use a large pot with a tight fitting lid.  Fill with 1 to 2 inches of water. Use a colander, wire basket, or sieve to hold the vegetables. The produce should not contact the boiling water. Bring the water to a boil and then place the vegetables in the pot.  

Once finished, place the vegetables in cold water long enough to stop the cooking process. Do not cool them to room temperature. Place immediately in the dehydrator. 

2) Water blanching

Use a large pot with a tight fitting lid. Fill about 2/3 full of water and bring to a boil.  Fully immerse the vegetables in the water for the recommended time.  Remove and place in cold water.  Pat dry prior to placing in the dehydrator.  

Blanching times

                       Steam (minutes)               Water (minutes) 

Carrots                 3 -3 1/2                             3 – 3 1/2

Asparagus                   2                                        2

Turnips                       5                                        3

Egg plant                    6                                        4

Potatoes                   6 – 8                                    5 – 6

Peas                           3                                         2

Corn                            Not necessary

Garlic                          Not necessary

Okra                            Not necessary

Horseradish               Not necessary

Mushrooms                Not necessary

Onions                        Not necessary

Parsley                        Not necessary

Peppers                       Not necessary


What Happens If You Do Not Blanch

Blanching prior to drying certainly creates more work and takes more time. If you want to dehydrate vegetables without blanching that is fine. Just know that they will have a shorter shelf life and may lack somewhat in color and texture.  

Seven Methods of Dehydrating Food

There are several methods of dehydrating food. What method you use will ultimately depend on your lifestyle, the local climate, ability to invest in equipment, and your carpentry skills. The higher the moisture content in the food, the longer it will take to dry.  

Four Things Needed for Proper Dehydration 

  • Heat: For best results food is dehydrated at a low steady heat between 120℉ and 150℉ depending on the type of food.  This temperature range is high enough to drive moisture out of food yet low enough not to cook the food.  
  • Air circulation: Good air circulation is important for the moisture in the food to be carried away.  
  • Low humidity: The drier the air the more efficient the dehydration process. 
  • A closed, controlled environment: Okay, this is not entirely true. It is possible to dry foods out in the open sun. However, a closed, controlled environment is easier to manipulate. That means heat, air circulation and humidity are much easier to control and adjust as needed. That said, many isolated homesteaders and certainly our ancestors, as well as the Native Americans, simply placed things in the sun on a drying rack. However, modern technology and ingenuity provides us with several much more efficient ways to dehydrate food. 

Methods of Dehydrating Food

Professional Dehydrator

By far the easiest method is to use a professional dehydrator. By “professional” I am simply referring to a commercial product. That means something that can be purchased online or at a retail outlet.  

These dehydrators are “plug and play”. They are closed containers with multiple drying shelves and adjustable temperature control. Some even come with timers. Best of all, they come with instructions and a guide book for dehydrating various foods. You can purchase smaller dehydrators for less than $100.  Higher quality ones will set you back several hundred dollars.

I strongly recommend, as with any other method of food preservation, that you invest in quality equipment. The right tools and equipment make the job so much easier.  Purchase something you will be happy with.  Years ago I started with a couple of small dehydrators. I enjoyed this so much that I soon upgraded to a much larger model. It was not only more efficient but it also enabled me to process food in larger quantities. Consequently, I was able to make the most of my time invested in this whole process.

If you are living off-grid and only use solar energy, this can produce a major draw on your battery bank and may not be the best method of food preservation. A solar dehydrator may be a better option. However, if you ran the dehydrator during peak sun hours the electricity being used would be coming directly from the solar array and not from the battery bank.

Conventional Oven Dehydration

This is a method that is easily available for anyone.  Most people already have an oven. Consequently, there is only a small investment in equipment. After all, you simply need a low, steady heat source for drying any food. An oven provides this.  

If you dehydrate food in this manner, you will have to invest in a drying rack. These are typically stackable, metal mesh shelves complete with a drip tray.  They have the dimensions of the average cookie sheet except for the height of course. 

Oven drying is a viable method to use.  However, it does use a lot more energy and is less efficient than a professional dehydrator. There is also very little air circulation so you have to open the door periodically to compensate for this. 

Dehydration with a Smoker

Smokers are a valuable addition to any home especially if you live off grid. Since I do live off grid, I have a propane smoker. This is a great way to make beef jerky.  However, it can also be used to dry vegetables and fruits. You simply leave out the wood chips and do not put any water in the drip tray.  Consequently, you end up with only dry heat.  

Commercial smokers have insulated walls and an open bottom which draws in air. This is enough to produce a decent amount of circulation for drying. Even the inexpensive models have basic temperature control which is easy to regulate. For minimal investment you get a piece of equipment that is very versatile.    

Solar Dehydrator 

This is a method of dehydration that I have never tried. The primary reason is because of the local wildlife.  Left unattended my solar dehydrator would simply be destroyed by the local bears. Consequently, a lot of work and investment would go to waste.  

However, I have seen plans for solar dehydrators that are very impressive.  They function the same as any commercial dehydrator. Low steady heat and air circulation are a natural part of the design.  Due to the use of renewable energy, these dehydrators are very cost efficient.  Consequently, they make a great addition to the off grid homestead.

Mother Earth News has a great article on Best-Ever Solar Food Dehydrator Plans

If you want something on a smaller scale, the Modern Farmer has a great article onHow to Build a Solar Dehydrator

Dehydration with a Wood Stove

This method of dehydration takes some patience and practice. However,  if you heat regularly with a wood stove then take advantage of the heat source. Using the wood stove as a dehydrator is yet another way to save energy as well as utilize that dry source of heat.  

Dehydration with a wood stove is somewhat similar to using a conventional oven. You will need the same type of drying rack.  Just simply set it on top of the wood stove in one of the cooler areas.  Otherwise, you will have a tendency to cook the food.  

This method of dehydration will be a bit more efficient if you can close in the drying rack. I have done something as simple as surrounding it with heavy duty aluminum foil.  However, a lite weight sheet metal box works much better.  A friend of mine that works in a machine shop made one for me at no charge.

Microwave dehydration

This method is viable but not as efficient as other ways.  Additionally, you can only dry small amounts of food and your choices are limited.  Your choices are essentially herbs and leafy vegetables   Place them between two paper towels and microwave for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add additional time as needed.  

Air drying  


This method work best for foods with low moisture content such as herbs.  When I harvest herbs I tie them together in small bundles and hang them up side down in the cabin. It takes a couple of weeks for them to completely dry. It takes less time if I have the wood stove going due to the dry heat.  However, they stay good for years.  

Best Method to Dehydrate Food

If you had to choose any one method to dehydrate food, a professional food dehydrator is by far the best choice.  Why???

Take a moment to compare the different methods of dehydration.The end result is the same. Food gets dehydrated. However,  each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. If I had to choose any one method, I would choose one that is less labor intensive, easy, convenient, efficient, and cost effective.  The professional dehydrator provides all of that. 

Comparison of Cost and Electricity Requirements

There is an endless list of food dehydrators on the market.  The first reason for writing this section is to compare several models. The first two products on this list are ones that I own and have had for years.  The remainder of the products are ones that I picked out of the lineup simply based on strong positive product reviews.  The second reason for this section is to review basic electrical requirements in case you live off the grid and produce your own electricity.  

The cost and electricity consumption of dehydrators can vary considerably. It depends on the model and the dimensions. This of course is directly related to how much food you can process at any given time. Electrical requirements may end up being one of the primary considerations if you live off the grid. 

Here is a breakdown of several of the more popular models, including the two that I have.  

Nesco Products 

Nesco had been around for many years. Their Snack Master dehydrator was one of the first products I purchased. I continue to use their products on a regular basis and I highly recommend them. Additional drying trays are available for purchase so that you can dry more product at once. However,  I have learned from personal experience that adding too many trays decreases drying efficiency.  Mostly likely this is related to lack of air flow. I simply resolve this by rotating the trays.  A stack of 10 or 12 trays is going to be the limit.  Even then, you have to rotate them on a regular basis. This is an excellent product if you are going to dehydrate smaller amounts of food. 

Costs: $99 to $149 USD

Electrical requirements: 120 volts, 350 watts to 1000 watts

If you want to check out their line of products, go to

Excalibur Dehydrators

This is another high quality product that I strongly recommend.  I have had one of their earlier models for about 6 years now. It is still going strong. I like the cabinet style of these products because it enables me to dehydrate food in larger quantities.  So, I consider this an upgrade.  

Cost: $200 to $1000 USD

Electrical requirements: 120 volts, 440 watts to 600 watts

Check out their products at

LEM 10 Tray Stainless Steel Dehydrator

This product has received a number of great reviews. What I like best about this model is the stainless steel design, which adds a lot of durability. 

Cost: $199 USD

Electrical requirements: 120 Volts, 770 watts

Home Depot sells this product here.

Presto Digital Food Dehydrator

Presto products have been on the market for many years.  They are backed by a good warranty and the company offers great customer service.  

Cost: $83 USD

Electrical requirements: 120 volt, 750 watts

Presto offers a stackable dehydrator at

Hamilton Beach Food Dehydrator

Hamilton Beach is another name brand that has been around for decades. They produce a digital dehydrator that is rectangular.  This design can certainly save some counter space.  

Cost: $60 USD

Electrical requirements: 120 volts, 550 watts.  

Weston 24 Rack Food Dehydrator

This is a much larger, cabinet style dehydrator. If you are serious about dehydrating a lot of food, this may be the perfect model for you.  It is made of steel, has a glass door, and a digital timer.  

Cost: $450 USD

Electrical requirements: 110 volts, 1600 watts. 

How to Choose a Food Dehydrator

There are numerous models of dehydrators on the market to choose from.  If you are new to this type of food preservation it will be a little difficult to decide on just what type of dehydrator to choose from.  Here are 9 features to consider when purchasing a dehydrator.  

  • Internal shelf space:  This is directly related to how much food can be placed in the dehydrator at once. If you prefer to start small this may not be a major consideration. However, smaller dehydrators take several rounds to dehydrate a substantial amount of food.  
  • Expandability: Do you want to start small and add additional shelves later? If so, purchase a dehydrator with stackable shelves that allow for expansion as needed. 
  • Product dimensions: The physical size of the unit may affect your choice.  Do you have adequate counter or table space? Can you easily store the unit when not in use? Your choices may be limited if you live in a small cabin, tiny home, apartment, or travel trailer. 
  • Product design: Square shaped, front loading (think small cabinet type) dehydrators tend to dry more efficiently than the stackable circular models. However, they are not expandable and tend to be more expensive. 
  • Temperature range: If you are going to invest in the equipment, then purchase something with a wide temperature range. This gives you the ability to dehydrate most anything. For example, drying meat requires a much higher temperature than drying vegetables. 
  • Upfront cost: Food dehydrators range in cost from $49 to $1000 USD. If you are just starting out, a lessor expensive model should be your first choice.  
  • Electrical requirements: If you live off the grid or you live part of the year in a travel trailer, this may be a primary consideration. 
  • Bells and Whistles: Units with timers, internal lighting, and digitals displays can add considerable cost to a unit.  But these extra features can make your life easier. It all depends on what is important to you. 
  • Company reputation: Modern dehydrators last a long time.  However, there may be a time when you need to replace a part. For example, given plenty of use the mesh drying trays can crack. Do you have the ability to purchase a replacement? Go with a well established company with good customer service that also offers a good product warranty. 

What Foods Can Be Dehydrated

There is an extensive list of foods that can be dehydrated. In fact, there are numerous books written on this topic.  However, if you are new to dehydrating foods, here is a brief list of things to get you started. 

  • Fruits: Virtually all fruits can be dehydrated. The best part of this is that as the moisture is removed, the natural sweetness of the fruit is concentrated.  The 17 best fruits to dehydrate: cranberries, pineapples, cherries, oranges, mangos, pears, kiwi, oranges, grapes, apples, bananas, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, blue berries, apricots, black berries.
  • Meat: beef (ground, sliced), elk, venison, buffalo, deli meats (lean ham, turkey, roast beef), pressure cooked chicken, canned tuna, cooked shrimp, ham. Important note about dehydrating meat:  Lean meat is preferred for dehydration. Fatty tissue will not completely dry and the fat content will turn rancid. For example, when dehydrating ground beef, always choose the leanest meat you can find. 
  • Vegetables: onions, tomatoes, betts, peas, celery, corn, green beans, broccoli, potatoes, greens, carrots, pumpkin, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, garlic, horse radish, mushrooms, squashes, 
  • Peppers: bell, shishito, banana, pepperoncini, Pimento, Piquillo,Anaheim, Poblano, Cuban, Pasilla, Jalapeño, Fresno, Guajiro, Serena, yellow chile, Cayenne, Habanero, Ghost, Komodo Dragon. A word of caution:  Dehydrating any food tends to concentrate the       taste.  In the case of peppers, dehydration concentrates the potency.
  • Herbs
  • Nuts
  • Pureed juices for fruit leathers
  • Sauces
  • Eggs

Foods Not Suitable For Dehydration

  • Avocado: This fruit has a high fat content which does not make it a great candidate for dehydrating.  
  • Butter: This product is mostly fat to begin with so it is not a god idea to attempt dehydration.
  • Milk: Unless you use a non-fat milk, do not even attempt to do this.  Dried, powdered milk is produced commercially, easily available in the supermarket, and has a very long shelf life.   
  • Non-lean meats: Any fat in meat will not dry completely and will turn rancid. 
  • Soda, juices
  • Commercially prepared condiments: “Store-bought” condiments are high in fat and sugar, which makes them a poor candidate for dehydrating. 

Keys For Successful Food Dehydration 

 I have been dehydrating food for over 3 decades. I have tried just about every thing you can imagine.  I’ve made some mistakes and I have certainly had to throw some things out.  But, I learned a lot in the process. Here are some tips to make your dehydrating experiences more successful.  

  • Read the instruction manual that comes with the dehydrator before using it for the first time. 
  • Place your dehydrator in a spare room, garage, enclosed porch, or shed if possible.  Listening to the dehydrator fan for hours can be annoying.  Also, when some foods, onions for example, first start dehydrating, the odor can be very unpleasant. 
  • Cut pieces of food into uniform sizes for even drying. A food processor or mandolin slicer makes this much easier. 
  • Fill the dehydrator with the same type of food. Foods vary in moisture content and drying time. Placing the same type of food in the dehydrator is more efficient because it is all in and all out. Otherwise, you are running the dehydrator with empty shelves. 
  • Test food for dryness before storing. Allow the food to cool then test it by trying to break it. If it bends instead of breaking, it is not completely dry.  
  • Spritz fruit with a mixture of water and lemon juice before drying. This prevents them from turning brown.  
  • Fine mesh drying trays can be difficult and time consuming to clean. Coat the tray with a light coat of cooking oil to prevent sticking and to ease the clean up process.
  • When drying meats, choose only lean meat.  Fat does not dry well and will turn rancid despite your best efforts.  

FAQs About Food Dehydration

How do dehydrators work?

Food dehydrators provide low, steady heat and air flow, typically using a fan,  in order to reduce and remove the water content in food. The end result is drying and dehydrating.  

How do you use dehydrated food?

Most dehydrated food can be eaten as is. Foods can also be reconstituted with water and added to recipes.  If you are making chilis, soups, stews, or anything else with a high water content, dehydrated food can be added directly to the pot. 

What are the benefits of dehydrating food?

It is easy to make nutritious snacks. It is cost effective. Once dried, food can be store without using electricity. Also, dried foods require little storage space.  Dehydrating food also helps to eliminate waste.  

What is the time required to dry food?

There are several factors that affect the drying time of food.

  • Size and shape of the pieces.
  • Moisture content
  • Quality of your equipment
  • Relative humidity

At what temperature are foods dehydrated? 

The instruction manual with the dehydrator should have a reference chart. Most vegetables are dried between 90 and 110℉. Meats are dried from 160 to 165℉. 

Does dehydrating affect nutritional value?

Dehydrating has little affect on nutritional value. When you home can or freeze foods, the food is exposed to extreme temperatures, which can affect nutritional value.  The low heat level used during dehydration is not sufficient to affect most nutrients.  However, Vitamin C is very susceptible to air and heat exposure. 

What is the most effective way to dehydrate foods?

A commercial dehydrator is by far the most effective way to dry food. These dehydrators provide the perfect balance of heat and air circulation.  I listed 7 different methods of dehydrating food. You can use any one of these depending on your living situation. The end result of these methods are the same.  However, a food dehydrator is the most effective method.

How do you store dehydrated food? 

 Any type of air tight container can be used. I prefer glass.  You can purchase canning jars if you wish.  However, I recycle lots of glass jars.  For example, pasta sauces are often sold in jars that have a rubber ring on the lid.  These form a nice air tight container. They are not appropriate for canning but they are certainly useful for storing dehydrated foods.

What is the difference between dehydrated food and freeze dried food?

Dehydrating food removes about 90 to 95% of the moisture content.  Freezing drying food removes about 98 to 99% of the moisture content.  Consequently, freeze dried food is going to last much longer.

What is more cost effective, dehydrating or freeze drying?

You can purchase a good quality dehydrator for a couple of hundred dollars. Most models will easily fit on a counter or table top.  Freeze dryers are cabinet style appliances. The smaller models start at around $1200 USD. They do produce a product with a very long shelf life.  However, in my opinion, who really needs to store food for 25 to 30 years?  I have kept some dehydrated food for up to 8 years with no problem. In my opinion, dehydrating is more cost effective and much easier to start with for the average person.

Additional References for Dehydrating Food

1) The Beginner’s Guide to Dehydrating Food, by Teresa Marrone

2) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dehydrating Food, by Jeanette Hurt

3) The Dehydrator Bible, includes over 400 recipes, by Jennifer MacKenzie

4) The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook, includes 398 recipes, by Tammy Gangloff, Steven Gangloff

5) Excalibur Food Dehydrator Recipe Book

6) The Jerky Bible: How to Dry, Cure, and Preserve Beef, Venison, Fish, and Fowl, by Kate Fiduccia

7) The Dehydrator Cookbook for Outdoor Adventurers, by Julie Mosier

Additional Posts of Interest

Guide to Home Canning

Guide to Pickling Vegetables

Guide to Fermenting Foods

Guide to Smoking Meat

Go off grid and live well,


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