One of my main focuses on preparing my pantry was to begin learning to dehydrate excess produce, both from grocery store sales and our garden. I researched and saved and researched some more, and had to make the decision, purchase an expensive dehydrator and be set back from doing more preparing (we’re early enough in our prepping journey that we have a lot to catch up on), or settle for a less expensive model and learn to deal with the issues.
So what did I choose? Instead of an Excalibur, I went with the Nesco/American Harvester Snack Master FD-80 Square Dehydrator.
- Inexpensive – on Amazon, and often on sale.
- Expandable – The machine comes with 4 trays, but you can buy additional trays (or get them at thrift stores and garages sales) and expand your Nesco Dehydrator as tall as you want. You will have to watch for even dehydrating and rotate more often if you make it really tall, but it works!
- Square Design – more space to put produce
- Temperature Settings – unlike other bargain dehydrators, this model actually has a temperature setting ranging from 95F to 135F+, to be able to adjust to what you’re actually dehydrating
- Quiet – It has the same sound as a box fan (you’ll see this on the Amazon reviews a lot). Once I turn it on, I quickly relegate it to the background noise of the house. I have to set the kitchen timer to remind myself to check it at the end of the drying cycle because I never notice it.
- Quality – the trays are surprisingly strong for what I expected it to be. They don’t warp, they aren’t flimsy, and they fit nicely into each other so there’s no issue with the heat warping them over time.
- No Timer – You plug it in, set the temp, and it goes until you unplug it. You will need to think ahead to when it needs to turn off to make sure you aren’t running the model all night long when it’s not needed. (I won’t say that I’ve never used it with an electrical timer to bypass that issue, though.) I haven’t missed the timer, ever. I have one on the stove that works just fine.
- Central hole – The central hole which allows air flow to be more even also means you have a spot on your tray where you can’t put product. The loss is minimal.
- Top Down Drying – the fan of the Nesco comes from the top, and goes through the central column and across the trays, but because of this, trays on top tend to dry a little faster than trays on the bottom. So for fruit, vegetable or meats that are heavily water-laden, you might find the need to rotate your trays once or twice during the process. Even when I’m doing something heavy like blueberries, I find that I only need to rotate once. But for the most part, I don’t really have to rotate. I also never find an issue with drying more from the edges than the center of a tray. Does this take away from my love of the machine? Nope. It’s still a great value for the money.
- Clean Screen – only one is included with your unit. This is the insert used for items that will dry very small and might fall through the gridwork of your trays. I rarely even find that an issue, in which case I just collect them from the collection tray at the bottom. If you need more, go to the craft store and buy larger sheets of plastic canvas used for needlework. Then cut it down to the size of your original sheet. A much cheaper alternative to ordering more!
Tips for your Nesco Dehydrator
- Instead of buying expensive sheets to do your fruit leather, stock or other liquid products on, go to the dollar store and get some of the plastic cutting boards. Cut them to the size of your dehydrator tray and you’ve got your fruit leather sheet inexpensively! Check out this tutorial.
- To wash your trays, just toss them in the bathtub!
To have a fair review, I went and read the Amazon reviews to see the problems people had with the Nesco. I’ve never had any of the problems that reviewers gave. I use this thing for days on end, 3-4 times a month, and have never had it break down or stop heating. I do massive amounts of food at one time, though I do usually do only one kind of food at a time. I have no expanded my unit to more than 5 trays simply because I cannot store it any larger than that. I’m sure, like with all electronics, some things come off the line not working well, and some people may have had an issue, but it has not been my experience at all.
Now, if you ask me, “Would you buy an Excalibur if price wasn’t an issue?”- you bet. It’s the top of the line manufacturer for home dehydrators. That’s like asking me if I would want to trade in my good, solid, reliable Grandma car for a nifty new Infinity FX (yes, please!) And yes, there are some others on the market that might be good as well that I haven’t tried (Cabelas, L’Equip, and more). But, if your budget is an issue, and you’d be better served to actually get a dehydrator now to begin preserving your produce and meat, this is the model I recommend wholeheartedly. And no, they didn’t pay me to say that. I wish they had!
Want to know what to do with your dehydrator? Try out these
Katy Willis is a writer, lifelong homesteader, and master herbalist, master gardener, and canine nutritionist. Katy is a preparedness expert and modern homesteader practicing everyday preparedness, sustainability, and a holistic lifestyle.
She knows how important it is to be prepared for whatever life throws at you, because you just never know what's coming. And preparedness helps you give your family the best chance to thrive in any situation.
Katy is passionate about living naturally, growing food, keeping livestock, foraging, and making and using herbal remedies. Katy is an experienced herbalist and a member of the CMA (Complementary Medical Association).
Her preparedness skills go beyond just being "ready", she's ready to survive the initial disaster, and thrive afterward, too. She grows 100% organic food on roughly 15 acres and raises goats, chickens, and ducks. She also lovingly tends her orchard, where she grows many different fruit trees. And, because she likes to know exactly what she's feeding her family, she's a seasoned from-scratch cook and gluten-free baker.
Katy teaches foraging and environmental education classes, too, including self-sufficient living, modern homesteading, seed saving, and organic vegetable gardening.
Katy helps others learn forgotten skills, including basic survival skills and self-reliance.
She's been published on sites such as MSN, Angi, Home Advisor, Family Handyman, Wealth of Geeks, Readers Digest, and more.