How to Dehydrate Foods

Опубликовал Admin
29-01-2021, 00:00
Dehydrating, or drying, is a means of preserving food by removing its water content. Almost any food with water can be dehydrated. This not only increases the food's shelf life, it can also prevent decay and the growth of microorganisms. Dehydration is a cheap alternative to canning foods and is a sure way to make your supply last throughout the year. Follow these steps for dehydrating your food.

Choosing a Food Dehydrator

  1. Invest in a vertical dehydrator if you are only drying a few or one type of food. Vertical dehydrators have heat travel from top to bottom or vice versa. They tend to be smaller but are also cheaper.
    • Vertical dehydrators with a fan on the bottom provide the best heat distribution and are more efficient because hot air rises. However, the drippings from fruits, vegetables, and meats can drip into the fan and become difficult to clean. It can also cause the dehydrator to malfunction or fail.
    • Having a fan on top eliminates this problem but tends to dry foods on the top more quickly than those on the bottom. This may not always be a problem, since certain foods have different drying times. For example, beef can be placed in the top tray (less water content) and apples on the bottom (more water content). The main disadvantage here is that the foods dried together vertically can adopt each other's tastes.
    • American Harvest/Nesco Food Dehydrators offer a variety of top-fan/bottom-fan dehydrators at a wide range of affordable prices.
  2. Use a horizontal dehydrator if you are drying large quantities or many different foods. This model of dehydrator tends to be large, allowing multiple foods to be dried at once. It also provides the most even heat distribution.
    • Horizontal dehydrators have the fan or the principal drying element in the back of the unit. Since the air doesn't pass directly from one tray to the next, this minimizes the imparting of flavors between foods. This means your beef jerky won't taste like your apple chips, and vice versa.
    • The main disadvantage is that horizontal dehydrators are more expensive.
    • Excalibur Dehydrators are well built and a very popular brand among drying enthusiasts.
  3. Choose a food dehydrator with a fan if you are making bark or fruit leather. Some dehydrators use other heating mechanisms to dry food, which often takes longer and yields poor results in fruits.
    • Using a dehydrator without a fan can cause banana slices to dry unevenly, sometimes making it feel moist and other times making it feel like poker chips. As a result, drying fruit becomes an unpredictable and inefficient process.
  4. Buy a dehydrator with adjustable temperature settings. Different foods require different temperatures; one temperature fits all is not a good strategy for drying food.
    • Look for a range of 95–155 °F (35–68 °C). Meat is typically dried in the 145–155 °F (63–68 °C) range, while fruits and vegetables hover around the 125–135 °F (52–57 °C) range.
    • Temperature is very important when it comes to dehydrating food. Too low a temperature can cause food to spoil while too high a temperature can cause the surface of the food to harden, preventing moisture from escaping.
    • Know that lower priced dehydrators, while frugal, also may not offer different temperature settings.
  5. Purchase the right trays and accessories depending on the foods you're drying. Tray size isn't the only feature to consider when drying foods of different sizes, textures, and water content.
    • Tray size isn't that great of a factor unless you are seeking to dry large quantities of food. Otherwise, your food should dry at a predictable and consistent rate, provided you have purchased a quality dehydrator.
    • Mesh sheets are necessary for drying small vegetables like peas and corn. They are pliable, making it easier to pop off fruits like bananas, which tend to stick to plastic when dried. These sheets are also necessary for certain tray structures intended for meats. Meat trays will have gaps where slices of fruit will fall through without mesh sheets.
    • For blended foods like mashed potatoes, tomato sauce, and fruit purees, buy non-stick sheets or fruit leather trays. Non-stick sheets are reusable and work better than parchment paper. Never use wax paper as it will melt in the dehydrator.
    • Stacked trays are a feature of certain dehydrators and make it difficult to check the food you are drying. Sliding trays allow you to slide a tray out rather than removing it completely, making the monitoring process much easier.

Dehydrating Meat

  1. Cut your meat into smaller slices. Be sure your slices are uniformly cut so that dehydration occurs consistently throughout your meat.
    • Slice ham into 1-inch wide strips. They should look like slightly thicker slices of bacon.
    • Cut beef into long, 1/4-inch wide strips if you are making beef jerky.
    • Pull chicken apart into small pieces. It should look very similar to pulled pork.
    • If you plan on consuming meats after they have been dried, be sure that your ham and chicken are precooked. Raw, dehydrated beef is okay to consume as it will turn into beef jerky. Eating raw dehydrated pork can cause an infection called trichinosis, which occurs when raw or under-cooked pork is consumed. Similarly, eating raw chicken can give you salmonella food poisoning.
  2. Place your strips of meat onto a tray and place it inside the dehydrator. Position slices into neat rows so that they do not overlap or cover one another. Spread the pulled chicken into an even layer so that there are no large clumps.
  3. Dry the meat at 145–155 °F (63–68 °C) for about 6 hours. These times and temperatures may vary slightly for different meats but should yield an overall similar result.
    • If making beef jerky, monitor your slices to make sure they are pliable but not brittle. This means they should bend without actually breaking.
  4. Dab ham and beef slices with paper towels frequently throughout the drying process. The moisture that comes to the surface will mostly be oil and fat from the meat.
    • Oils and fats don't evaporate as easily as smaller molecules like water. Therefore, you need to wipe it away in order for drying to be successful.
    • You don't have to wipe the pulled chicken bits as chicken is leaner and contains less fat.
  5. Take the meat out of the dehydrator once it is completely dry. Use your fingers to test the meat and see if there is still moisture on the surface.
    • Drying requires a lot of monitoring and is not a precise procedure like baking, for instance. Don't be afraid of opening up the dehydrator to check the meat every few hours to observe its progress.
  6. Store your dehydrated meats in airtight plastic bags. Remember, air also contains moisture, and moisture is the enemy of dried foods.
    • If you're storing the meat shorter than a month, store it in a dry, dark place at room temperature. Your kitchen cupboard should be ideal for dried meats. Don't worry about spoilage; removing the water content prevents meats from spoiling.
    • For long term storage, place meat in the freezer or refrigerator.
  7. Check your dried meats every couple of weeks or so. Even though water has been pulled from the meat, air may still find a way of getting in. Since air tends to carry bacteria and other organisms, sealed meats can still become moldy or spoiled.
    • When storing dried foods, contamination from insects can occur. Don't worry, however, since this is not common among properly sealed meats. It is most likely a result of meats already containing the eggs prior to drying.
    • To reduce insect contamination, pasteurize your meat after drying it. You can either store the meat in the refrigerator for 48 hours or place it in the oven at 175 °F (79 °C) for 15-30 minutes.
    • Dried foods can be stored up to one year. Vacuum-packing and refrigerating can double or triple this shelf-life.

Dehydrating Fruits and Vegetables

  1. Wash and dry your fruits and vegetables. Even though most of the germs will be killed during the drying process, you want to reduce the amount of bacteria as much as you can beforehand.
  2. Blanch all vegetables except onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Blanching will help preserve the taste and texture of crunchier vegetables.
  3. Slice your fruits and vegetables into even slices. Be sure to peel and core fruits like peaches, apricots, apples, pineapples, and pears before dehydrating.
    • For corn, cut the actual corn off of the cob instead drying the entire vegetable.
    • Remove the seeds from peppers after you have sliced them.
    • You can leave mushrooms whole if you wish.
  4. Lay your sliced fruits or vegetables onto the tray in a single, even layer. If you are drying many different fruits/vegetables at a time, designate one tray for each kind.
    • Try to limit how many fruits and vegetables you dry at a time. Even if you are using a horizontal dehydrator, having too many items can throw off drying times.
  5. Dry the larger fruits or vegetables at 130–135 °F (54–57 °C) for 6-12 hours. For smaller vegetables like corn, broccoli, mushrooms, and peas, drying for 3-10 hours will be sufficient.
    • These times vary from plant to plant and depends largely on the water content of the food. Most fruits dry at the same temperature and for the same amount of time, but some vegetables have drastically different drying times.
    • The most different drying times belong to corn, broccoli, mushrooms, and peas. Since these vegetables are small and contain less water, they tend to dry in half the time of other vegetables.
  6. Check for specific textures as you dry your fruits or vegetables. Dryness textures will vary from plant to plant, so be sure to read these specific textures for each fruit and vegetable.
    • Green beans, carrots, corn, peas, mushrooms, and zucchini should all feel brittle.
    • Beets, peppers, blueberries, cherries, pears, and pineapples should all feel leathery.
    • Onions, potatoes, and tomatoes should feel crisp. Bananas and strawberries should feel almost crisp.
    • Apples, apricots, peaches, and strawberries should all feel pliable.
    • Broccoli and cauliflower will simply feel dry and hard.
  7. Store dried fruits similarly to how you would store meats. For periods shorter than one month, store in vacuum sealed containers in dry, dark areas. For periods longer than that, store in refrigerators and freezers.
    • Keep fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin A away from direct light. Vitamin A is sensitive to light and is retained during the drying process. Fruits containing vitamin A - like carrots, bell peppers, and mangoes - can degrade in direct sunlight.
    • For the best quality, fruits and vegetables should be replaced every year.


  • If the food is not kept completely dry, you can expect some spoilage from mold, especially with fruit.
  • Add "Fruit Fresh", ascorbic acid, or plain ol' lemon juice to the fresh fruits and veggies to prevent browning.
  • Zip Closure plastic bags work well for storage.
  • Wash any fruits and vegetables carefully before drying.
  • Dry anything that is damp before mixing or storing.
  • Cook any meats thoroughly before drying.
  • Cut foods to be dried into small pieces for faster drying.


  • Use appropriate caution when operating ovens, smokers, etc.

Things You'll Need

  • Food for drying
  • Kitchen utensils for cutting
  • Lemon juice, "Fruit Fresh", ascorbic acid, or some other anti-browning agent
  • Salts and spices for meats
  • Time and equipment
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