There's almost nothing more delicious than savory beef jerky — except perhaps homemade beef jerky. If you want to experiment with your own recipes, you'll need one of the best food dehydrators for jerky. But before you make a purchase, there are several things to consider.
One of the most important factors is temperature range. The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends that you heat meat to 160 degrees and poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before dehydrating, which is the necessary temperature to kill harmful bacteria. For this reason, it's helpful if your dehydrator goes to at least 160 (and 165 if you're considering chicken or turkey jerky). As an alternative, you can always heat the meat or chicken in the oven first if your dehydrator doesn't go that high, but it's nice to be able to do everything in one place.
After temperature range, think about airflow. Food dehydrators typically use either vertical or horizontal airflow to circulate heat. Vertical designs are more affordable and save space in the kitchen, however, the quality of the final product won't be as high. Horizontal airflow models, on the other hand, will circulate heat more evenly and get your meat dried faster.
Also, you may want to consider how much jerky you'll be making at a time so you can make sure the dehydrator has enough trays for your needs.
To help you out, I've gathered a list of the best food dehydrators for jerky. They're organized by price, so you can find the one that best fits your budget. Take a look — and let the jerky-making begin.
1. The Most Budget-Friendly Dehydrator
Hamilton Beach 32100A Digital Food Dehydrator
Capacity: 5 trays
Temperature range: 100 to 160 degrees
Wattage: 500 watts
What's great about it: This affordable food dehydrator is a fantastic budget option, with a 48-hour timer that's easy to use and an automatic shut-off feature that prevents you from over-drying your meat. It also comes with a fine-mesh sheet for herbs and one solid sheet for fruit rolls. Designed with vertical airflow, it won't offer quite the same quality as the horizontal styles, but reviewers say it makes great jerky nonetheless. One drawback: it only heats up to 160 degrees, so if you want to make chicken or turkey jerky, you'll need to heat it in an oven first to destroy any bacteria.
What fans say: "I have made 2 batches of apples and mangoes and it came out great. I also made beef jerky and that was incredible. I like the fact that for an inexpensive machine it has the ability to change the temperature ... I recommend it to anyone who wants to make their own beef jerky instead of paying $7 an ounce at the grocery store."
2. The Best Mid-Range Dehydrator
Excalibur 3500B 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator
Capacity: 6 trays
Temperature range: 105 to 165 degrees
Wattage: 400 watts
What's great about it: Featuring horizontal airflow, this mid-range food dehydrator offers a step up from my previous pick, drying meat evenly and efficiently. It also has a slightly higher temperature range, going from 105 to 165 degrees. That means you won't have to prep poultry in the oven first. It features a 5-inch fan, as well as five trays that offer a total of 8 square feet of drying space. The wattage is slightly lower than the Hamilton Beach option, but overall, reviewers say they love this machine.
What fans say: "I love this product! The ease at which I am able to make good tasting jerky is amazing. The fact that [it] is also simple to clean and use made my day/week/year!!"
3. The Best Investment Dehydrator
Excalibur 3948CDB 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator
Capacity: 6 trays
Temperature range: 85 to 165 degrees
Wattage: 480 watts
What's great about it: If having top-grade, premium jerky is important to you, this high-end Excalibur model is like the Cadillac of food dehydrators. Like the mid-range option, it features horizontal airflow, so your meat will dry evenly. It also features the widest temperature range of all my picks, going from 85 to 165 degrees. The lower-end temperature helps preserve enzymes in fruit or veggies, while the higher-end ensures that meats are dried safely. The machine offers 15 square feet of drying space that's spread out over six trays. Additionally, it comes with six mesh screens for herbs, four yogurt cups, and two fruit-roll sheets. Reviewers say the quality of the jerky is nothing short of amazing.
What fans say: "It produces the best jerky I've ever tasted. After owning several vertical airflow dehydrators, I can attest to the superior results of the horizontal airflow design. Food dries evenly, and doesn't require rotating ... Very happy with how simple and easy it is to use. Wish I'd bought one a long time ago."
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