How to Use a Food Dehydrator

Learn how to make the most of this low-tech, old-school method of food preservation and get recipes to try.

sliced fruit on a food dehydrator rack
Photo: Meredith

In an era when the Instant Pot is the hottest kitchen gadget, a food dehydrator seems like the humble tortoise to the pot's rapid, hare-like qualities. But, just like in Aesop's fable, the humble dehydrator takes its time and gets the job done — often coaxing more depth of flavor and complexity from ingredients that super-fast prep might allow.

A food dehydrator is a great tool for folks for having lots of produce from a home garden, but limited freezer space. It's much easier method than canning, and even though it takes a long time to get to your final product, almost none of that time requires fussing from you. Finally, if you don't want to run up your energy bill or tie up your oven for hours at a time, a food dehydrator might be a good fit for your kitchen.

Tips for Beginners

If you're new to the world of dehydrating, remember that it's a very simple process. Just keep these pointers in mind:

  • Start with fresh, clean, and dried food. You want to begin the process with the best product possible, to help you get the best results in the end.
  • Cut food into uniform pieces. This ensures everything dehydrates evenly and at the same time.
  • Check back often. Because the dehydrator works so slowly, you'll have plenty of time to realize when the food is finished dehydrating. Unlike with canning or baking, everything stops the minute you turn the machine off.
  • If your goal is to create shelf-stable food, dehydrate thoroughly. To test, put a small portion of the food in a lidded glass jar. If it fogs up, the food still contains too much moisture.
  • Season lightly and taste frequently. If you're making something like kale chips, use a light hand with salt and other seasonings, as they'll become more concentrated as you go.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does a food dehydrator work?

It works by using low heat and a constantly blowing fan to remove moisture from food, resulting in more shelf-stable products. The good news is that while the moisture goes away, the flavor stays right where it is, so dehydrated foods often deliver a big punch in a tiny amount of space.

What foods can I dehydrate?

You can dehydrate just about anything, including meat (beef, salmon, or turkey jerky), vegetables (beet chips, kale chips, or sun-dried tomatoes) and fruit (banana chips, apple chips, or fruit leather). You can even use your dehydrator to make dog biscuits and other pet treats that will be a big hit with furry friends. And because this appliance pulls out moisture rather than adding heat, dehydrators have made a resurgence with those following a raw food diet.

How long does dehydrated food last?

If you dehydrate it right (and all moisture is gone), dehydrated food can last up to a year. For food that's dehydrated and then sealed in vacuum bags, it could last for many years more.

How to store dehydrated food?

All dehydrated food should be dry and stored in clean containers in a cool, dark location to extend their shelf life. Always look at a food before you eat it, and if there are signs of mold or anything that seems "off," discard it.

But for things that people still like to have a bit chew, such as dried tomatoes, many folks will keep things in the freezer even after dehydration. If you dried them to the point of shelf stability, they'd be too brittle.

Recipes to Try

Check out these recipes to get started using your dehydrator right away.

Jerky Lover's Jerky — Sweet, Hot, and Spicy: "If you love hot and sweet, we're confident this will be your favorite," says recipe creator DIXYCHIK. "An ultimate treat for family outings, sporting events, camping, or hiking trips. Pineapple juice is the key that ties all the flavors together."

Raw Cashew Cheesy Kale Chips: "This is the most addicting healthy snack in the world," says Amanda Nicole Smith, who describes it as "crunchy, cheesy goodness that is not only vegan but also raw. She has shared the recipe with friends and family and reports that "they instantly fall in love … now they're making their own and sharing with me."

Doc's Best Beef Jerky: This highly rated recipe is a go-to choice for jerky lovers, campers, and hikers. Doc the WV Gourmet says, "I have been making jerky for years. Everyone who has tried this recipe says it is the 'best jerky' they have ever had!"

Dehydrated Beet Chips: Crispy and colorful, these beet chips are a better-for-you alternative to potato chips. "Try playing with the flavors of these chips: smoked bacon salt? sesame-tamari? Anything goes," says cameal.

Apple Chips: "These yummy cinnamon apple chips will disappear almost as quickly as you make them," says walkerkr. "They're perfect for healthy snacks and easy to take on the road."

bowl of homemade dried apple chips

Sun-Dried Tomatoes II: If you have an abundance of produce, the dehydrator can help you with creating a winter's worth of powerful flavor bombs you'll use all winter long. "Whenever I make soup or stew, I throw in a handful, and they taste like they were just picked," says Jim Lawler.

Peanut Butter Buckwheat Cereal: Even cereal can get a makeover when it's made in the dehydrator. This four-ingredient recipe is low-fructose and low-FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols).

bowl of homemade buckwheat cereal
No Sugarless Gum

Cheesy Flax Crackers: Inspired by her childhood love of Cheez-It crackers, RachelRaw created this tangy, cheesy version in which flaxseed and cashews take the place of flour, oil, or egg.

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