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Jerky. The smell is enough to make any carnivore's mouth water, and the taste -- well, let's just say that when it comes to flavor, convenience, and nutrients per ounce, a good jerky is nearly unmatched in the snack world. The biggest downside to jerky? It can cost a pretty penny when purchased retail. However, for those who have a cow-sized craving for jerky (and the culinary drive to experiment in the kitchen) a jerky dehydrator is one of the best appliances you can add to your cooking appliance roster.
Jerky making is simpler than you might expect. There are many types of meat that can be used for producing jerky at home. While hunters and farmers, in particular, will have especially open and inexpensive access to creating delicious bags of the good stuff, anyone can take their jerky consumption from an expensive habit to an affordable pantry staple. The most important part of making your own meat snacks from scratch is to have the best jerky dehydrator for your needs. But what qualities separate one device from another?
What makes the best jerky dehydrators?
In theory and practice, dehydrators are pretty simple devices. Using a series of fans, dehydrators circulate air at moderate temperatures in order to draw out moisture from a piece of food without cooking or frying it. As WebMD reports, not only is dehydrating an age-old method of food preservation, but the process is also one of the best ways to maintain nutrients in prepared foods. With that in mind, some of the best attributes a dehydrator can have are the ability to mediate and distribute temperature at an even and equal level. The wattage of the appliance can affect its ability to perform this task, as can the placement of the fans within the device. Note: There are important cooking temperatures to consider when preserving food, so check out this temperature guide HERE.
Jerky dehydrators come in two primary designs. The first is considered more of a hobbyist style, fashioned in a cylindrical shape in which the fans blow vertically from underneath the food. These models are often less expensive, though they tend to have fewer bells and whistles, as well as space capacity. The second style is considered the "professional" variety, though home cooks will definitely find them easy to use. This style of dehydrator is box-shaped, with the horizontally-blowing fan set at the rear of the unit. They often have a larger amount of room for food, and the option to add extra accessories, though they can be noisy, larger, and slightly more inconvenient to place in the kitchen. Check out our recipes here, and choose a dehydrator from our favorites below:
1. Best Budget Jerky Dehydrator
If you're looking to make jerky at home so that you can save money, then you might not want to spend an exorbitant amount on a dehydrator. In that case, the Elite Gourmet is the perfect option for you. As a budget-friendly model, the Elite is lacking a few of the extra extravagances of other dehydrators, but with 37 years of experience in home appliances, the company still offers a reliable option style for your needs.
Technically, the shape of the Elite Gourmet can be slotted under the hobbyist category. But, with an adjustable height (8.5" to 10¾") that can fit five 11-inch wide, BPA-free trays, you can dehydrate some professional-tasting jerky, dog treats, or fruit leather while using it. And, a modifiable temperature setting ranges between 95 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit, backed by 350 watts of power. The base fan circulates temperatures evenly from top to bottom, however reviewers report one downside: While the air level can be set to many variations, the Elite Gourmet is always generating heat. There is no neutral "only fan" mode -- which might restrict your dreams of jerky content creation.
2. Best Mid-Range Jerky Dehydrator
Despite being relatively new on the home appliance scene, the COSORI company has a commitment to exceptional values and is already well-known and trusted for its quality. This appliance is loaded with positive attributes that scream to be used. (Though, producing only 48 decibels of sound, it sounds like soft whisper). Don't mistake that library-level of silence for a lack of energy; 600 watts nearly doubles the power output of the budget dehydrator option, and the COSORI doesn't stop there. This dehydrator has an extra tray as compared to our first option, and each stainless steel paten can hold 7.7 pounds of food. The tray material is food-grade for secure usage and dishwasher-safe for easy clean-up -- as are the included fruit roll sheet and mesh screen. Maybe best of all, the COSORI nearly works by itself. There is built-in protection to prevent overheating, and an automatic shut-off feature that stops the unit right when your timer ends. A memory function makes it easy to remember the settings for your favorite recipe, while a digital face reads you all the information you need; from the time left on your dehydrating journey (it can run for 48 hours), to the temperature you've settled on (from 95 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit).
3. Best Premium Jerky Dehydrator
All puns aside, the Excalibur dehydrator is a mighty weapon to wield in the battle of nutritious eating. While it isn't shaped like a round table, it is seated squarely as the king of the competition for this kitchen appliance category. Nine BPA-Free trays add up to 15 square feet of dehydrating space (each measures 15" x 15"). And though the Excalibur has a heavy-duty capacity in terms of cooking room, the device's 21 lb. weight and long cord length give it exceptional convenience for such a big machine. Despite the reasonable dimensions, the Excalibur has an appropriately-sized 600 watts, which power an adjustable thermometer between 105 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Plus, this device has several patented technologies to ensure top-notch drying. There's an airflow system, which evenly distributes air across all corners of the box, and a heatwave tech which manages heat at a low enough level to control moisture loss and preserve essential enzymes and nutrients in your foods. One reviewer writes: "We had beef jerky marinating when the machine was delivered...yeah we had that planned! It turned out beautiful. Next batch - chicken jerky for the dogs. Again results were amazing."
Note: There are important cooking temperatures to consider when preserving food, so check out this temperature guide HERE. Also, keep an an accurate meat thermometer on hand for temp readings, like one of our favorites from ThermoPro.
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