The Dehydrating Tools Guide

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So you’re convinced there’s much to love about dehydrating, and now you want to know what you need to get started. No problem. We’ll start with the basics — absolute must-haves. And we’ll work our way from there.

Taking my Dehydrating eCourse? You might want to put some of these things on your wish list. :)

The Essential Tools

A Dehydrator

There are two types of food dehydrators, and either will do the job for you. It all has to do with airflow — either vertical (fan on top or bottom of unit) or horizontal. Horizontal airflow is preferred by most people, as you get even heating and less mixing of flavors. However, vertical (with the fan on bottom) is more in line with nature, as heat rises.

The Excalibur dehydrator (pictured) is an example of a horizontal airflow unit. The Nesco / American Harvest and L’Equip dehydrators with stackable trays use vertical airflow. A downside to the Nesco / American Harvest is that food drips down right onto the fan at the bottom, and that’s not so fun to clean.

The Excalibur and L-Equip have square/rectangular trays for more efficient usage of space, while the Nesco / American Harvest have circular trays.

My experience: I started out using an American Harvest and got lots of use out of it. However, I was happy to move to the Excalibur for several reasons 1) no more dripping on the fan, 2) square shape of trays, and 3) its versatility. Its versatility allows me to remove the trays and use the cube along with temperature control for other things: proofing dough, a sourdough sponge, making yogurt, or making natto or tempeh.

Those are quart size jars, but I most often use 1/2 gallon jars for yogurt — they fit with room to spare!

If you’re off the grid or want to use nature for drying, you definitely have options. The web offers lots of plans for solar dehydrators. Some I just pulled up are here, here, and here. (The last link is to a video featuring three passive solar dehydrators.)

We would like to go the solar dehydrator route someday, though we’re not convinced we can do it in Oregon. At least reliably for most of the year. We have friends who tried a solar dehydrator and were disappointed — the wet weather much of the year prevents outside drying and instead contributes to food spoilage. You have to work with what you’ve got. 😉

Let’s move on to other things you will need.

Dehydrator Tray Liners

When drying food in pieces small enough to fall through the mesh or screens, or when drying wet foods, you need to line your dehydrator trays. Believe me, it is necessary!

Dehydrator manufacturers provide liner options. For instance, you can choose to get Para-flexx sheets with your Excalibur dehydrator. And the Nesco / American Harvest dehydrators offer plastic fruit leather accessory trays.

If ready-made liners aren’t included with your package or not in your budget, you can use unbleached parchment paper to line your trays. Very wet things (like pureed fruits) can wet the paper to the point it is saturated and tears, but if you’re careful you can probably work around that.

Cutting Board and Sharp Knife

I’m going to assume you have these. If not, is your friend. :)

Personally, I like to use a wood or bamboo cutting board.

I am perfectly happy with these three knives: a trimmer/utility knife (pictured), a paring knife, and a Cutco vegetable knife. The vegetable knife was a gift from my mom. It is like a chef’s knife but rectangular — you can chop and slice then with its rectangular base, you can scoop things up.

(Follow this link to see a picture of the Cutco vegetable knife.)

Other Miscellaneous Items

I know everyone’s got these in various forms and type, but I will mention them to make sure this guide is complete.

You’ll need various pots/pans, bowls, utensils, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and mason jars (preferably wide-mouth for ease of use). You know, your basic kitchen equipment you use for everyday cooking. They’ll come in handy on your dehydrating adventures, too.

That’s it for the essentials — now let’s talk helpful!

The Helpful Tools

Food Processor (or Blender)

(Pictured: dehydrated powdered eggs)

A food processor or blender might almost be essential but you could get away with not having either.

Here’s why I consider them helpful: 1) chopping/pureeing and 2) powdering.

For chopping, a hand chopper can take care of most tasks (so would a knife and cutting board). If the foods are very soft, mashing can substitute for pureeing in a pinch.

However, a food processor / blender can’t be beat if you want to powder something you’ve dried. Powdering helps in two ways — first, it makes the food more uniform so you can reconstitute it consistently and second, it reduces the amount of space you need to store the dried food.

Actually, there’s a third reason you might want to powder something (like dried eggs, dried yogurt, dried tomatoes). If you’re going to vac-seal a food, some foods come off the dehydrator in pokey sheets that can puncture your vacuum-seal bag, causing you to lose the seal. Powdering removes the pokies so you can keep your seal.

I’ve got an 8-cup Cuisinart food processor that I love. I got it for $25 at a thrift store, years ago. It is old and it is a workhorse. I hear good things about the Kitchenaid food processors.

If you’re in the market for either a food processor or blender, I recommend a food processor over a blender — at least for dehydrating purposes. It chops better, circulates the food better, and can puree most foods you’re going to dry. My biggest beef with blenders is they don’t circulate as well and if you want to chop something, you end up pulverizing it. So. My two cents. :)

Mandolin Slicer

Though I know when people really get into dehydrating, they begin to view their mandolin as essential — it isn’t quite. 😉

But it is very nice to have! You can thinly slice or julienne foods sooooo fast and evenly.

Hand chopping can achieve almost everything the mandolin does, except that it is very difficult — near impossible — to hand slice foods thinly enough for chips (like the zucchini chips pictured). I think fine julienne strips would be difficult, too, but someone with good knife skills can probably do that.

So, ask yourself — do I want to make “chips” out of dehydrated foods? That’s the defining question here. If no, you don’t need a mandolin. If yes, you should get one.

I splurged and got this Bron mandolin slicer (this one is the same but less expensive?) awhile back because I wanted three things in my mandolin: 1) a mandolin with good reviews, 2) no plastic parts, and 3) the built in stainless steel pusher to keep my hands off the blade. It was about $160 then and I’m very happy with it.

Cultures for Health carries this entry-level Norpro mandolin slicer for $24.99. It also offers a hand-protection pusher. 4.3 out of 5 stars from 70 reviews on Amazon is pretty good. Though I don’t know from experience, I suspect this would make a good mandolin slicer if you’re just starting out and not sure of spending big $ on the Bron or another professional level mandolin.

Vacuum Sealer

Last summer, we decided to purchase a vacuum sealer. The reason for this? To extend the shelf life of our dried foods.

You see, we started drying foods as a long-term food strategy. It didn’t make sense to dry gobs of food to last a year or more and have them spoil because they weren’t packaged optimally.

I didn’t have any idea what to buy, but thankfully my friend Vickilynn from Real Food Living had experience with the FoodSaver brand and recommended it to me. FoodSaver was offering a 30% off site-wide sale at the time, and I chose the V3880. I am happy with it and have used it quite a bit.

I get the idea that vac-seal machines can be temperamental. Like they won’t seal if things aren’t just right. So I’ve figured out a few tricks while working with mine, and I’ll be sharing them in the Dehydrating eCourse.

If you’re looking into a vacuum sealer, you might want to get on the mailing list at FoodSaver. Their deals are quite frequent — both on machines and accessories (bags and rolls). At least today (when I’m posting this), they’re offering 15% off your first purchase if you’re a first time subscriber.

One more thing: get the jar-sealer accessories — both wide and regular mouth! You’ll find you want to vac-seal foods in jars more often than not. Like, foods you get in and out of frequently and don’t want to waste a whole bag or piece of roll. Or, foods you want to munch on but keep crisp, like the zucchini chips. Or, foods that are poky and would puncture a plastic vac-seal bag. Or — this is my last example, I promise — foods that are “dusty” like spices and would prevent the machine making a good seal with a plastic bag or roll.

And that’s it — a handful of both essential and helpful tools to get you started dehydrating. All that’s left now is to invite you to join me and other Traditional Cooking School members in the Dehydrating eCourse. You’ll discover how to use these tools to create all kinds of delicious, healthy, and frugal dried foods.

So, tell me — do you have most, if not all, you need to begin the dehydrating journey? If not, what items are going on your wish list? If you’re an expert dehydrator, what would you add to this list?

This post may contain affiliate links. We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. Thank you for supporting Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS with your purchases. Our family thanks you!


  1. says

    I have most of the items. I don’t have a food processor but I do have a blender. I’m sure that would work good enough. The only thing that I would need to get is the vacuum sealer.

  2. says

    Very thorough list of great tools to have! I am happy to report I have most of these, and definitely agree that the FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer is a MUST! I’ve stocked up on enough bags and rolls for a lifetime – as you said, they have really great deals for email subscribers. I caught a sale once for 50% off, which also applied to their bulk discount pricing…so needless to say, I may never have to buy another role again. :-)

  3. Morgan says

    The excalibur is on my wish list! I don’t have a good mandolin or food saver either. Guess I will have to wait for this course but i am excited about it!

  4. says

    I’m just getting started. I purchased a L’Equip dehydrator and so far we really like it. I haven’t done that much with it yet: dried mushrooms, zucchini and apple chips; some green onion that I didn’t want to go to waste. I’m anxious to learn more. I don’t have a vacuum sealer (yet) but I do have a very good set of knives and a small cutting board.

  5. Laura G. says

    I have all of the basics with the exception of the mandolin. However, my rather cheap dehydrator is about ten years old and the trays are falling apart! I hope to upgrade to an Excalibur soon. (Preferably before mine decides not to start up when I have it loaded with fresh food to dehydrate..) How important do you think the metal trays are? I’m sure they’re better, but the price difference is a bit painful! I’m so glad your next class will be on dehydration. I have so much to learn!

    • says

      Laura — Personally I don’t think it is that important to get the metal trays. Sure it would be nice, but at the temps we’re drying, I don’t think the plastic is really that big a deal (ie. it isn’t hot enough).

  6. Andrea says

    Really looking forward to this class!

    For daily in-and-out of containers that I vacu-seal I like the Food Savor round containers and the marinating container. The jar sealing attachment creates such a strong seal that I was bending up all my jar lids trying to get the darn things off when I wanted into the coffee and nuts. They are plastic but they only hold dry, room temp foods so I don’t worry about them at all. I like the flat marinating container for crackers.

  7. Janknitz says

    Two things to add:

    1. If a Foodsaver is too dear for your budget, you can buy a hand held vacuum sealer also made by Foodsaver for less than $20. And use it to seal jars using the same wide and regular mouth jar adapters Wardeh shows above–it works, really!

    2. One of my favorite tools this summer was an Egg Slicer–you know, those things with the wires to slice eggs evenly. They work great on small soft fruits like strawberries to make uniform slices. I dried a LOT of strawberries this year and they are so yummy they didn’t last to winter (we ate them all). I use unbleached parchment to line the trays of my ancient Excalibur 4 tray dehydrator, and the strawberries left red stains that look like kisses all over the parchment.

    BTW, I like using parchment because if the things you’re drying are not too wet it can be reused, and if I make Fruit Leather I just cut up and roll up the parchment with the fruit leather so it doesn’t clump in a sticky mess.

  8. Shani says

    I cannot wait for this class, Wardeh! I’m so happy you’re taking the time to do this. You never dissappoint!

    Just one one word though on the Excalibur. It can run higher than 118 degrees, which you obviously don’t want if want raw foods. If you don’t care about that, then the Excalibur is great (especially more so for beef jerky). If you have an Excalibur, test your unit to see how hot it actually gets at its peak heat fluctuations and consider setting the temp. to 105 (per the gentleman’s recommendations) because sometimes there’s a difference of 10 degrees during these fluctuations.

    The Sedona is designed specifically for raw foods and will not exceed 118 degrees. It takes a little longer to dry (and is therefore more expensive to run) and the trays I think are a little smaller, but for any raw foodie, the enzymes will remain intact after dehydrations.

    Watch this video as it’s an interesting comparison video on the two models: He made a great analogy saying that the Excalibur dehydrates faster and is more like sun drying, while the Sedona acts more like sun drying (his words) unit.

    He’s done several other comparison videos on these two models that can be looked up on youtube. I luckily have a nice oven with the dehydrating option, but I still want a dehydrating unit at some point. I was totally for the Excalibur, but I think Sedona may be the way to go (for me anyway) after seeing this guy’s videos.

    • Madeline Osborne says

      Hi, your review of dehydrators is wonderful, but your information on the Sedona is INCORRECT. The MAXIMUM temperature of the Sedona is 80 degrees Celcius, or 176 degrees Farenheit, not the 118 degrees you mention in your article…

      I LOVE my Sedona, I have had it for about a year and a half now. My favorite use for it is making Greek style yogurt. If you haven’t yet gotten a dehydrator, I cannot recommend the Sedona enough.

      Thank you for your articles.

      • Madeline Osborne says

        I’m sorry, I was reading too fast. 163 is the maximum safe temperature for the Sedona, but the maximum temperature you can set the Sedona for is 155 degrees Farenheit. Sorry for the confusion.

  9. Bethany W says

    My heart almost stopped beating (for joy — good reasons!) when I saw you used plastic lids on your yogurt. We go through quite a few canning jar lids a day because we use mason jars to store everything. But my Achilles heel are metal YOGURT LIDS. They tend to accumulate for days (weeks? months?) before I get around to washing them. It’s pretty much awful. We make 8 quarts of yogurt a week, so it definitely adds up.

    Do you find that the plastic lids work well when incubating yogurt in the dehydrator?
    Do you have any problems with them? (thinking air flow, sealing, difficulty opening them afterward, etc)

    You have just made my morning.

  10. Georgia Culbertson says

    I’m excited for this summer’s garden bounty. I have dehydrated for years (really, I got my big American Harvest when my oldest was 5 and she helped put the veggies on the trays – she will be 39 this march!) I am ready for a new Excalibur to help with yogurt and proofing a sourdough sponge and give us lots more room to do jerky. I know there are many new things to learn from this eCourse.

    If you are wondering about how much you would use the Food Saver let me say that it is about the most used “extra” in our appliance pantry. We live in southern New Mexico and grow pecans. Without the FS our Hatch Chile (red sauce and green roasted pods) and pecans would freezer burn. You will find dozens of uses for it.

    Thanks, Wardee for such comprehensive lessons. I learn so much every time I log in.

  11. Shelley says

    If you keep an eye out at thrift stores you can score the vacuum sealers, containers and jar sealers pretty cheaply. Now if only I could come across an Excalibur!

  12. Barbara says

    Hey, now, let’s play fair here! Nesco dehydrators are NOT vertical dryers. The fan is in the lid, and it works extremely well. I’ve been using mine, which is SQUARE, for nearly a year, and it does a beautiful job for a lot less money than the Excalibur. For those of us on a budget and who don’t have room for the gigantic Excalibur, dehydrating well is still within reach. With my Nesco and the hand held Fresh Saver vacuum and the two canning jar lid covers, I have filled two shelves of a three shelf cupboard with jars of dried food. I also make ready-to-eat meals in vacuum bags that Ziploc makes and keep several in a backpack as my go bag for hurricane evacuation emergencies and to give to our local food bank. Hurricanes can leave us without power for a week or longer, but all I need to do is heat water to make a meal. I have a Solo camp stove to do that. My Nesco has done all this for me just beautifully.

  13. says

    I dehydrate a lot of apples every year. My apple corer-peeler-slicer gizmo is a great time saver. I dehydrate the peels and powder them to use in breads, desserts and smoothies.

  14. Barb says

    This is timely! Thank you:)
    I knew I needed a food saver but did not know enough about them, even passed up a few at the thrift store but will keep my eyes peeled now. I purchased a 5 tray Excalibur at a garage sale a couple of years ago. It was missing the door so I scored it for $5. The replacement door is $25! I just use a piece foil and and a towel and have successfully made yogurt in it. I’ve been intimidated by dehydrating but this year I plan to change that. I’ve got sliced strawberries in it as I write this (The house smells heavenly( and we will be going cherry picking in a couple of weeks. My kitchen is pretty well stocked (mostly found at garage sales and thrift stores) A friend gave me a nice Madeline a while back and I love my Cuisinart food processor. Thank you Janknitz, for the egg slicer suggestion. Wish I had seed that before I sliced all those strawberries by hand…
    Keep the great articles coming Wardee

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