There are lots of ways to make homemade beef jerky, from the old-school hang-and-drying process to using your oven, even making jerky in your smoker is possible. By far the most efficient way to make excellent tasting jerky is to use a food dehydrator.
The hard part is picking a dehydrator that functions the way you want it to without spending a small fortune on a device that won't see daily use in most kitchens. We understand the struggle that goes into sorting through the numerous products and the skeptical claims manufacturers use to sell them.
We've narrowed things down to five choices we think will suit the needs of almost anyone. Our top pick comes from one of our favorite companies – the Meat! 10-Tray Food Dehydrator checks all the boxes for efficiency, ease of use, and affordability. As an added bonus, it also looks fantastic.
Are Dehydrators Worth It?
A food dehydrator is a great kitchen appliance for people who enjoy jerky, vegetable chips, and dried fruit, but even the most casual kitchen user will find lots of value in having a dehydrator.
We've talked a lot about growing your own food, harvesting your own meat, and finding ways to extend the food you've got without having to go to the store.
With food prices skyrocketing, a food dehydrator makes even more sense because you'll spend less money buying food items in bulk and using the dehydrator to preserve the excess that you can't eat right away or fit in your freezer.
Do I Need a Dehydrator to Make Jerky?
There are several ways to make jerky. Jerky production began hundreds if not thousands of years before the invention of refrigeration, so it is a pretty primal way to preserve food. What a food dehydrator does is make it easy, convenient, and safe to dehydrate meat (and fruit and vegetables).
Advantages of a Dehydrator for Jerky Making
There are simply no methods of making jerky that are more convenient than using a food dehydrator. The process is simple, fast, and fully contained. So you don't have to spend hours checking on the progress, adjusting the temperature, or dealing with not being able to use a major appliance like your oven.
Cleaning the dehydrator is also an advantage over other methods since most of the parts are either dishwasher-safe or simple to wipe off and keep clean. Unlike using your oven or smoker which are a pain to clean, a good-quality dehydrator cleans up in minutes. It's much easier to sanitize a dehydrator than an oven or smoker, and all that time you save will make your day better.
The operating cost of a dehydrator is also lower than almost any other method. Food dehydrators use electricity to create heat and a fan to circulate air, which doesn't end up using very much power. Where your smoker is going to be one of the most expensive ways to make homemade jerky, the dehydrator is one of the cheapest.
How Dehydrators Work
A food dehydrator is made up of a few common parts regardless of the design. First, you've got a body that houses the heating element and the fan, then you've got trays that hold the food. The whole apparatus locks together to hold in the heat so that the food is quickly dehydrated in a safe and sterile environment.
When you are done making your dried snacks, simply open the dehydrator, remove the trays, and clean the device up. Then, you can store it away until the next time you want to use it. This is why a dehydrator is so convenient for making jerky at home.
Features to Look For
Not all food dehydrators are equal. There are a few things that you want to have so that you'll get the results you want. Often, trying to spend less on a device like a food dehydrator will result in a sub-par product that doesn't meet your needs or expectations. Knowing what features are important can help you to identify the best product for your jerky-making experiences.
Adjustable Temperature Range
This one seems like a no-brainer, but there are a number of products out there that don't offer a decent temperature range or good temperature controls. Particularly when you start looking at budget options, you'll find many devices that don't have a good adjustable thermostat to regulate the temperature which can be a problem when you are trying to make jerky.
Fan and Heating Element
Many products use weak fans or cheap heating elements that burn out quickly or don't offer the level of control you need for dehydrating. Always look first at products that have a proven track record of reliable fan and heating element performance.
One of the things that makes some of the better products on our list more desirable is the use of stainless steel trays that can be removed when needed. This makes it more convenient to access food items than the stackable designs. Nearly all of our top picks have one thing in common – stainless steel trays. These are more durable and easier to clean than plastic, making them a better value in the long run.
The Top 5 Food Dehydrators for Jerky
Our top pick comes from one of our favorite companies. Meat! makes high-quality, professional-grade kitchen appliances for the average consumer. This 10-tray food dehydrator for jerky making is our favorite because it is durable, easy to clean, has high-quality components.
The 10 trays are made from chrome-plated stainless steel and allow for proper air circulation while also being easy to clean and store. The 360-degree circulation ensures even cooking for each piece and it has a digital timer and temperature control that is spot-on.
This is another top pick of ours and was our favorite design until the Meat! dehydrator came out. It includes 7 stainless mesh trays, two baking trays, and two screens for drying a variety of foods. The rear-mounted fan ensures proper air circulation, while the stainless steel body is easy to clean.
A digital timer and temperature control make it simple to use and we've found that the thermostat is accurate. This is a great choice for the serious jerky maker who has a little less storage space.
This is a big dehydrator for families who are looking to make lots of jerky or dried snacks at once. It features a total of 12 trays that will hold lots of food items at once. It uses dual fans to circulate lots of air at once. A digital controller allows for easy settings and it will operate for 24 hours at a time with temperature settings ranging from 90 degrees up to 194 degrees.
This one is a little louder than some of our top picks due to the dual fans and it also uses more power because of the larger size. It isn't as easy to store as smaller designs.
This is a budget-friendly design that incorporates some interesting, higher-end features in a package that is less expensive. It uses stainless steel trays in a stackable design, however, the body is made from plastic. The bottom mount fan forces air up, which works well, but isn't the most efficient design. The trays are dishwasher safe and the round design makes it simple to rotate trays to help dry foods evenly.
Stackable designs have several drawbacks over rack designs, including the bottom mount fan, and the need to rotate food. You also lose the ability to do some fun things – like using a fruit roll sheet. It works well for jerky making, though. This design does not use a digital controller, instead, it's old-school with simple on-off controls and a rotating knob for settings.
This is another budget-friendly stackable food dehydrator that works well for making jerky at home. It doesn't have a bunch of fancy features and it is made from less-than-optimal parts, but it does work well. We particularly like this one for making banana chips and dehydrated vegetable chips. The trays are plastic which can limit the airflow somewhat.
It uses a bottom-mounted fan with a digital temperature and fan setting controller. One thing that makes this an excellent option is the accuracy of the thermostat. It will hit the proper internal temperature and keep it there with little fuss. It is also the lightest weight of any options on this list, so it is easy to store when not in use.
Why We Picked These
First off, we've been using the Meat! dehydrator for a while now and no matter what we've thrown in there, it continues to do a great job. It has plenty of drying space and an easy-to-clean design that really separates it from the other options on this list. Plus, it has proven to be durable, reliable, and efficient. We started out thinking it would just be a convenient way to handle making jerky from some venison that we had on hand and next thing you know, we were drying fruit, nuts, and vegetables, and even using it to get bread to rise.
The overall design of the product makes the Meat! design our favorite and we can't recommend it highly enough.
When picking out the best food dehydrator, it is important that you select something that will meet your needs and go with a company that you trust. We really like using many of the devices from Meat!, like their slicers, vacuum sealers, and meat grinders. They offer consistent performance, reasonable prices, and top-notch customer service, something that is lacking from many companies these days.
Most importantly, the overall construction of the Meat! dehydrator makes it simple to keep sanitized and clean without the risk of damaging it while cleaning. The stainless steel body wipes down with ease and you can even access the fan to keep it clean in between uses. The trays are large enough to handle most of our jerky-making needs and the device is quiet, inexpensive to run, and efficient.
The next time that you are thinking about making jerky and wishing you didn't have to use your oven all night or have to monitor your smoker for hours on end, consider picking up one of the best food dehydrators around. We hope we've narrowed it down to make it simple for you to figure out the best product for your needs.
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