A food dehydrator is a handy appliance that lets you preserve fruit, vegetable, and meat products for later use. Jerky and other dried food can provide a healthy snack on the go. It can also be kept for use in soups, pies, and other dishes.
How does a food dehydrator work?
An electric food dehydrator extracts the moisture from foods by the use of hot air. It has four basic components.
- Heating element: This heats the air in the electric dehydrator to the temperature that you have set. This will vary depending on the particular food that is in the dryer.
- Fan: The fan blows the hot air across the food tray, causing drying.
- Vents: Vents allow the hot air to circulate freely across and around the food and exit the dehydrator.
- Tray: A tray holds the thinly sliced food that is drying. A dehydrator will have a tray stack.
A solar food dryer has the same function, but it uses passive solar heat to produce jerky and dried fruit and vegetables. Most solar food dryers do not have fans, but they are vented and use trays.
What are the best foods to dehydrate?
You can dehydrate almost any fruit, vegetable, or meat. Fruits that have an extremely high water content, like watermelon, are poor candidates for the dryer. This is because there is so little solid matter left after the water has been extracted.
Some examples of fruit that dries well in a dehydrator include:
Good vegetable choices for a dryer include:
Jerky is a great snack, and it is easy to make in a food dehydrator. Beef jerky is probably the most familiar choice, but consider these other tasty options.
- Venison jerky
- Turkey jerky
- Chicken jerky
- Fish jerky
- Canned tuna jerky
- Dried lunchmeat
How do you make beef jerky in a dehydrator?
- Choose lean cuts of beef for jerky and slice them about a quarter-inch thick.
- Place the sliced meat in a bowl and cover with marinade. You may use your own marinade recipe if you have a favorite. There are also a number of commercial jerky flavor packets that are specially blended for just the right level of spice.
- Let the meat marinate in the refrigerator for one hour to overnight.
- Drain the meat and place it on the tray of the dehydrator. Make sure to space the strips evenly apart so they do not touch each other. This lets the hot air circulate through the dryer, evenly drying each piece of jerky.
- Set your food dehydrator to a temperature of at least 145 degrees. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines for the particular model of food dehydrator that you are using.
- Let the meat dry until it is hard but can still be bent. This will take from four to 12 hours, depending on the temperature you use and the beginning moisture content of the beef.
- When the beef jerky is dry, store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve it as long as possible.