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Fishing, camping, traveling, in front of a TV, at the ballgame, there’s really no wrong time to enjoy a slice of meat jerky. This popular protein-rich snack is as versatile as it gets, but relying on the store-bought kind is not always a wise choice.
You see, most brands contain outrageous amounts of sodium(1), saturated fat, and preservatives which can affect your health in all the wrong ways. Plus, according to statistics, lots of Salmonella outbreaks(2) are linked to commercially available beef jerky, so you get the point.
But, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on the delicious snack altogether. You can always DIY your favorite meaty variations (turkey, beef, venison or pork) by using a jerky dehydrator. This innovative device allows you to monitor the entire dehydration process and prevents harmful additives from reaching your jerky strips. So, if you are ready to add a healthy twist to your snacking habits, these top 5 jerky dehydrators are all you need to get started.
What Is A Jerky Dehydrator?
A jerky dehydrator is a kitchen device that is specially designed to remove moisture from any cuts of meat. By doing so, the food turns into the delicious jerky strips we know and love. This appliance uses a heating element and an air flow system which distribute hot air throughout the cooking chamber, drying the meat uniformly.
What to Look For When Shopping for A Jerky Dehydrator
From sporting different heating systems to featuring multiple temperature settings, jerky dehydrators come in various shapes and sizes. But, looking for the perfect model doesn’t have to be confusing. To avoid spending a pretty penny on a jerky dehydrator that doesn’t fit your needs, make sure you check these four things and the right model will fall into your lap.
There are two types of jerky dehydrators for you to choose from. The first one is known as the stacking dehydrator. This type comes with a bunch of trays which are stacked on top of each other, allowing you to prep multiple strips of jerky at once.
The stacking dehydrator features a fan that is mounted in the base or the back of the unit as well as a core channel in between the trays which distribute the hot air across the cooking chamber. This type is usually round and is perfect for people with limited kitchen space.
The second type of jerky dehydrators is known as shelf dehydrators. Unlike the previous class, this one has a square shape and comes with shelf-like trays that slide in and out. The device’s fan is located at the back of the unit, blowing the air to the front in a horizontal direction.
Given this, the dehydrator can remove moisture more evenly. The sliding trays also allow you to check whether the meat is done in a jiffy. The only issues with this type are that the models usually take up lots of counter space while the trays reduce the device’s overall capacity.
Another thing you need to consider before buying a jerky dehydrator is the capacity. The stacking type is usually recommended for people who want to prep large batches of jerky as it allows you to place multiple trays on top of each other. In fact, some models can accommodate up to 30 (!) plates in one go. On the other hand, shelf dehydrators are recommended for producing smaller batches of cured meat as they usually fit 9-10 trays.
While most foods (think fruits and veggies) are dehydrated at about 130oF, soon-to-be-jerky meats(3) need to be preheated at 160-165oF first and then dried at 155oF. Such high temps destroy any pathogens that may hide inside your turkey or beef and, thus, protect you against food illnesses such as Salmonella. However, exposing your cuts of meat to extremely high temps may cause them to harden which means that they may dehydrate on the outside but remain moist and mushy on the inside. That’s also a cause for food poisoning as the intact pathogens on the inside may spoil the rest of the jerky.
These being said, you also need to keep an eye out for the dehydrator’s temperature settings. In fact, make sure you purchase a model with a wide temperature range and an adjustable thermostat that allows you to control the meat’s cooking temps manually. This way you’ll prevent undercooking the strips and the risk of food poisoning.
Reliable Airflow System
High-quality jerky dehydrators don’t just rely on their temperature settings for maximum results. They also feature a reliable airflow system that distributes the hot air evenly across the cooking chamber. With that in mind, make sure you pick a model with an ergonomic fan, a well-thought-out stacking design and a high wattage (1.000 watts being the top choice). You can even opt for a model with dual fans for more efficient jerky making.
5 Best Jerky Dehydrators, Reviewed
Somewhere between the different chamber sizes, the various temp settings, and the occasional auto shut-off feature, it’s obvious that not all jerky dehydrators are created equal. So, to help you get the most out of your purchase, we’ve rounded up the 5 best jerky dehydrators on the market that are sure going to rekindle your love for the protein-rich treat.
If you are looking for an efficient jerky dehydrator that won’t break the bank, then this model is a no-brainer. Costing way less than most dehydrators out there, this no-frills model is also super easy to use and can accommodate both small and large kitchens. Without further ado, here’s what you need to know about this best-selling dehydrator, from good to bad to could-be-better.
- Adjustable Thermostat
This model comes with a built-in adjustable thermostat which allows you to monitor the temps at which your jerky is being prepped. The temps can reach up to 160oF which is the FDA-approved temperature for dehydrating meat.
- Versatile Capacity
Upon purchase, the dehydrator comes with five trays which can be stacked on top of each other. That said, it can accommodate small kitchens which lack the necessary space. However, the versatile, stackable design of this device allows you to expand the unit vertically to up to 12 trays. As a result, you can use this model to cook massive amounts of jerky in one go. PS: The additional trays are sold separately.
- Light-Blocking Exterior
The appliance also features an opaque exterior, known as Vita-Save, which blocks the light from reaching your food. That’s a good thing because dehydrated food loses many of its nutrients when it gets in touch with direct or indirect sunlight. In short, this model helps you retain as many nutrients as possible.
- Revolutionary Airflow System
Unlike its peers, this dehydrator has a patented airflow system (the Converga Flow) which forwards the hot air down the cooking chamber and not through the trays. As a result, it is distributed horizontally across each level, forcing the food to dry more evenly and efficiently. This innovative design also prevents flavors from mixing inside the chamber so you can dry different types of meat at once without having to rotate the trays.
- Top-Mounted Fan
The device’s fan is located at the top of the unit and not the bottom. This smart structure choice eliminates the side effects that may come from liquids dripping into the heating chamber and/or motor housing. Better be safe than sorry, right?
- Extra Accessories
Besides the five trays, this model also comes with a bunch of accessories which can intensify your jerky making experience even more. In fact, it features two flexible screens which allow you to dehydrate your herbs and spices before you marinate the meat as well three original jerky spice packets for flavoring up your cuts. Also, note that it includes two roll-up sheets which are perfect for turning semi-liquid foods such as meat broth into jerky strips. That’s a first!
- Easy to Clean
Contrary to popular belief, cleaning up a jerky dehydrator is quite easy. Just place the trays on the top shelf of the dishwasher and set to a gentle cycle. Remember to skip the heat for drying part because it may affect the trays’ plastic consistency. Also, when it comes to the top housing unit, make sure you wash it with some warm soapy water (mild detergents are preferred) and then wipe it dry with a damp cloth.
- Takes Forever to Heat Up (or Maybe Not?)
Let’s start by saying that this is not a common issue. However, since some previous owners have been claiming that this dehydrator is not worth the money, we thought we should step in and set the record straight.
The thing about this dehydrator is that it’s stackable, meaning you need to place each tray (and in this case the unit) DIRECTLY upon the last plate. If you don’t, the heat and air will gradually flow out the chamber and, thus, increase the total cooking time without you even noticing. That said, make sure you always stabilize the unit by placing it directly upon the top tray.
If you are serious about making your favorite jerky bites at home, then this model is definitely worth looking into. You see, Excalibur is a leading brand in food dehydration and is known for releasing only top-notch devices that match the needs of professionals and newbies alike. That said, choosing such model means that you’re in for a fancy experience that is going to revolutionize your jerky eating habits. So, if you are ready to make this huge step, here’s a scoop of all the perks that this high-quality dehydrator has to offer.
- Large Capacity
With 9 removable trays and a total of 15 square feet of cooking space, this model is ideal for large families or jerky junkies. Thanks to its large capacity, it’s also an excellent option for parties and get-togethers.
- Efficient Air Circulation
Unlike most models, this device features a 7-inch fan which forces the hot air to flow throughout the chamber more efficiently. As a result, the meat is being dehydrated more quickly without skimping on flavor or quality. The fan is also strategically located at the back of the unit to avoid getting stuck in dripping liquids which may mess with the appliance’s proper function.
- Adjustable Thermostat
It also has an adjustable thermostat which allows you to reach up to 165oF. According to the FDA, this is the ideal temperature for making jerky safely and keeping all food-borne illnesses at bay.
- Built-In Timer/Auto Shut-Off Feature
It’s true: Dehydrating meat can take forever. But, keeping your device on for hours and hours is not safe, especially if you have to run errands outside the house. This dehydrator comes with a 26-hour timer that allows you to set the preferred cooking time and automatically shuts off the unit when it runs out.
- Extra Non-Stick Screen
It also comes with a flexible poly-screen tray which prevents the meat from sticking on the cooking surface and spares you from rotating the plates every once in a while.
- Smartly Located Accessories
The fan, thermostat and heating element of the device are located at the back of the unit. This way the fresh air is drawn in as the heater warms it up on the spot and the fan distributes it across the chamber in a straightforward move.
- Patented Airflow Design
Equipped with a patented airflow design, known as the Parallex Horizontal Airflow, this dehydrator forces the hot air from back to forth in a horizontal direction. This design dries the meat more efficiently and evenly, saving you lots of time and energy.
- Easy to Clean
The trays of this unit are dishwasher-safe, making cleaning a cinch. You can also rinse the sheets clean by putting under warm running water and scrubbing them gently with a dish brush and some soap. Lastly, you can clean the inside of the unit once in a while by removing the trays and wiping the “walls” with a damp cloth. It’s as easy as that!
The trays, mesh screens and solid drying sheets of the device are BPA-free, posing no risk to your or your family’s health. Considering many models are not made from such material, we firmly believe this one makes a huge difference in the field.
Even though it makes as much noise as a microwave, this device can be too rowdy for some. And before you say that this ain’t big of a deal, just think that making jerky can take up to 24 hours. So, if you think you can’t stand such noise for more than a few minutes, just place the appliance in a faraway room and go about your (quiet) day.
If you want to prep large batches of your favorite jerky in one go, then this model is definitely worthy of your countertop. Designed to fit up to 30 trays, this dehydrator is perfect for anyone who wants to eat jerky regularly but hates spending hours in the kitchen. Plus, it comes with various add-on accessories which can make the whole process much more manageable. So, here’s everything you need to know about this top-rated jerky dehydrator.
- Huge Capacity
Upon purchase, the dehydrator comes with 8 stackable trays which means you can make jerky for a largish family or a small get-together. However, the model’s potential doesn’t end there. Thanks to its versatile design, the device can accommodate up to 30 (!) trays which can help you produce massive amounts of jerky in one go. Note, though, that the extra shelves are sold separately.
Costing a little more than 100$, the device is perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on a dehydrator just yet. Also, note that the dehydrator comes with a bunch of accessories which are included in the final price. Not to be biased, but that’s actually a steal.
- Adjustable Temperature Knob
This dehydrator features an adjustable temp knob which allows you to monitor the temperature at which your food is being dehydrated. That’s actually great considering jerky should be dehydrated at about 160oF to make sure all bacteria are eliminated.
- Bonus Accessories
The device comes with various add-on accessories, from roll-up sheets to mesh screens to a recipe book. However, the most distinct attachment of all is the jerky spice pack which can be of great assistance to newbies who are not yet familiar with jerky seasoning and marinating.
- Opaque Exterior
It also sports an opaque exterior which blocks the sunlight from reaching your food. This way your jerky gets to retain as many nutrients as possible. Keep in mind that this not always the case with most dehydrators.
- Innovative Airflow System
This model is equipped with a high-tech airflow design, the Converga Flow drying system, which forwards the hot air across the trays and converging it in the center. Such distribution forces the meat to dry more efficiently and quickly without draining any of the nutrients.
According to the manufacturer, the trays are made from food-grade plastic and, thus, contain zero BPA, keeping your jerky as toxin-free as possible.
- Easy to Clean
The trays and cover of the device are dishwasher-safe. That’s a huge time-saver!
- Bottom-Mounted Unit
A significant drawback of this model is that the fan and heating element are located at the bottom of the unit. So, as the meat gets stripped off of its juices, they may drip their way into the housing unit and short-circuit the system.
However, that’s a big IF, considering the high temps of the chamber and the multiple layers (a.k.a. trays) evaporate the juices way before they reach the bottom. However, if you want to avoid such issues altogether, remember to keep the two bottom levels empty.
If you are not familiar with the art of jerky making, then this model should be your #1 option. Equipped with a variety of straightforward features, it is super simple to use even for first-timers. It also sports a compact design, accommodating the needs of a small kitchen. If you think this dehydrator checks all your must-have boxes so far, read on and find out some of the other perks it has to offer.
- Hassle-Free Cleanup
It comes with detachable trays which are easily removed and can be loaded into the dishwasher. Just remember to place them on the top rack. The powder head is also removable, allowing you to wipe it clean with a dry cloth.
- Large Capacity
Despite its compact design, the device can dehydrate up to 7 pounds of meat at once. That’s enough space to feed a largish family.
- Efficient Air Flow
This model features an airflow system that directs the hot air vertically, from the bottom to the top. But, that’s not the secret to the device’s efficient drying. Unlike its peers, this model features a rib-like body which also forces the air to whirl inside the chamber and, thus, allows the meat to dehydrate more efficiently.
- Additional Spice Packs
Exclusively designed to produce the most decadent jerky strips, this dehydrator comes with a bunch of delicious spice packs which can help you get acquainted with this cooking method.
For some, this dehydrator may seem outdated. After all, it doesn’t feature a fancy control panel and doesn’t come with an adjustable temperature knob. But, for others (see: beginners), pushing just one button and letting the device take it from there is a dream come true. Equipped with a simple ON/OFF switch, the dehydrator is perfect for everyone with zilch experience in jerky making.
- Limited Visibility
Given its stacking formation, the device doesn’t make it easy for you to check whether the jerky is done or not. In fact, all you can do is wait until the cooking program is complete.
If you are on the market for a high-end jerky dehydrator that delivers every time, then this model is a must-have. Featuring a digital control panel, you can adjust everything from the temperature to the cooking time based on your liking and needs. The best part? Despite the high-quality, it comes at a reasonable price, sparing you the splurge. But, let’s take a closer look at what this dehydrator has to offer.
- Digital Touch Panel
Known for its high-tech design, this device comes with a digital touch panel that grants you total access to the unit’s multiple features. That said, you can manually control the cooking temps as well as the timer which provides you with an accurate countdown of the entire process. These traits make it easier for you to achieve maximum results and produce the most delicious and nutritious jerky you’ve ever had the chance to eat.
- Efficient Air Flow
The dehydrator is specially designed to accommodate maximum airflow from the bottom to the top. As the hot air moves upward, it crowds the 6 sliding trays inside the appliance and manages to dehydrate the meat evenly without overheating it and causing it to harden.
- See-Through Window
Unlike most shelf dehydrators, this model comes with a transparent door that allows you to check on your food as it dehydrates. That’s a huge step-up from the traditional stacking dehydrators which require lots of patience.
Many past owners mention that this unit can be quite loud. So, if you think you can’t stand the hassle, place it in a room that you rarely have to visit.
From curbing your cravings to sneaking some much-needed protein into your body, jerky strips are often considered the MVP of healthy snacking. But, since investing in the store-bought stuff can be quite expensive, you can always recreate your favorite flavors from the comfort of your home. These top 5 jerky dehydrators can help you turn your bland cuts of meat into delicious jerky stripes with the push of a button. Are you ready to keep up?