Using a dehydrator is a great way to travel light. Whether you are backpacking, visiting a new city or trying to fit all your camping gear in the car, this provides an opportunity for putting the effort of cooking several meals before you depart for your trip.
The skills needed to dehydrate your food are pretty minimal and are not any more difficult than cooking a meal using a dutch oven. The range of food you can prepare is pretty significant.
First, We are going to give you some instructions on what to look for when purchasing your dehydrator, cleaning and care, tips and tricks, guidelines for safe food preparation, and then I throw in several recipe ideas towards the end. So if you are a seasoned pro and only here for the recipes, please scroll right through to the end.
Purchasing a Dehydrator
A dehydrator is basically a fan, a heater, and drying racks. So when shopping the these are the most important elements. When looking through reviews, look for complaints about these items in that order.
Using a fan that sits in the back, perpendicular to the trays will allow air to be spread evenly. If your fan sits on top or the bottom it will dry the racks closest to it first. However most dehydrators use top or bottom fans. Because of this, I recommend using trays that will rotate on change positions so you can move items closer to the fan. Fortunately this is the standard and shouldn’t be a problem to find.
Dehydrators can also be very expensive. So check the warranty. Like most electric and mechanical devices, they will work for a while and then break over time. They aren’t meant to last forever, but you want it to be around for a while. Also, if you have a fan or power unit on the bottom you are likely to get food dripping on it.
Make sure there is an adjustable heat source. Different foods require different temperatures for dehydration. Low, Medium and High doesn’t provide a lot of options for variation. An actual temperature setting will be much more beneficial
Choosing a size – Consider how much you will actually use this. If you are cooking for a family of four on several camping trips a year you will want a rather large dehydrator. However, if you are a solo-hiker your needs will be quite a bit less.
Best Food Dehydrators
Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator FD-75A
PURCHASE ON AMAZON.COM
This is a highly rated dehydrator that’s great for smaller projects It has a top mounted fan and heater. Includes 5 trays but this unit will support a total of 12 trays. Which would be a great way to test the waters and see if dehydrating is really for you.Each tray is 13 inches in diameter. It also comes with a one year warranty
Nesco FD-1040 1000-watt Gardenmaster Food Dehydrator
Another unit for small projects. Includes 4 trays that are 15 ½ inch in diameter. Can expand up to 20 trays total. This has a top mounted fan and heater. It comes with a 1 year warranty
Excalibur 3500B 5 Tray Deluxe Dehydrator Black
Getting a bit bigger here. 5 trays, with 8 square feet of drying space. The fan is located in the back, perpendicular to the trays. It comes with a 5 year limited warranty.
MAGIC MILL PRO Countertop Food Dehydrator
Includes 6 13 x 12 inch trays, a rear mounted fan and heater. This also includes a 1 year warranty
Excalibur 3926TB Food Dehydrator
If you’re looking for something a bit bigger, this might be exactly what you need. The fan sits perpendicular to the trays which allows for even airflow. It consists of 9 square trays that provide a combined 15 square feet of drying space, They are offering 10 year limited warranty.
Cleaning and Care
Do a mild cleaning of the trays after every use. This will make it easier in the long run. Unless you are using very sticky ingredients a 20 minute soak in warm soapy water with a brisk rinse should be all you need.
If you do happen to need a more aggressive approach try using a non-abrasive sponge or a soft bristle brush after soaking.
You might be able to get away with cleaning your dehydrator less often, but a quick wipe with a warm and wet washcloth will save you some trouble in the future.
By putting a piece of parchment paper on the bottom each time you use your dehydrator you’ll reduce your cleanup efforts even more
If you do need to get down and dirty with it, a warm soapy sponge should do the trick.
The fastest way to dry both the trays and the unit itself is to put the trays back in and set in on the lowest heat setting for about 15 to 20 minutes.
If you are storing it for any length of time I suggest using an appropriate size box or garbage bag to keep away any dust. This will help to keep the unit functioning longer and the last thing you want is a fan blowing dust all over your food.
Safe Food Dehydration
- Keep meat in the refrigerator until 30 minutes before putting into the dehydrator. Allowing it a few minutes to reach room temperature is the goal here.
- Preheat to 160 °F before the dehydrating process. This step assures that any bacteria present will be destroyed. After preheating, maintain a temperature of 130°F throughout the process
- Dehydrating cooked meat and proper storage will allow it to last up to 2 weeks. You can stretch that time limit by refrigerating or freezing it. Vaccuum Sealing is reccomended
- Always store dried foods in airtight containers. Store containers in a cool, dry place. Exposure to humidity, light and air during storage adversely affects storage life of dried food
- Do not use dehydrator again after drying meat until it has been thoroughly washed.
- Make sure all foods have been cleaned before dehydration.
Tips and Tricks
- When Dehydrating meat, the leaner the cut the better taste and texture will be.
- Start with Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, the end result will be a much more flavorful product
- Thin slices dehydrate faster and much more even
- Give your food space when placing it on the trays. Drying will be faster and more even.
- Rotating trays a few times, not to often though will help speed up the process
- Allow food to cool before storing
- Make notes on your recipies. Time and temperature cooked, How much you liked it, what would make it even better, new recipe ideas. This will help make it easier to perfect the process later
- Spray with a light coating of nonstick spray. Some foods are stickier than others. Experiment with this
Dehydrated Food Recipies
Beef and Bean Chili Recipe
- 1 to 1¼ pounds lean ground beef or turkey
- ½ cup bread crumbs, finely ground
- 1 large onion
- 1 – 2 cloves garlic
- 3 Tbsp Chili Powder
- 1 15 oz. can kidney or red beans, drained
- 1 10 oz. can tomato puree
- 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
In the kitchen:
Work bread crumbs into ground meat with your fingers and set aside for a moment. Sautee onions and garlic in a little olive oil using just enough to coat the pan.
Add ground meat and cook for about ten minutes until browned, stirring continuously.
Add chili powder and cook for one more minute.
Add tomato puree, diced tomatoes, and drained beans.
Cook until bubbling and then reduce heat to a simmer for one hour.
Refrigerator overnight. Then spread chili out on dehydrator trays covered with non-stick Paraflexx® Sheets or parchment paper.
Dehydrate at 125° for 8 – 10 hours. This recipe took up three 15 x 15 Excalibur Dehydrator trays. After about four hours in the dehydrator, break up any meat and beans that might be stuck together with a spoon or your fingers to expose pieces to more air circulation.
Once dry, divide dehydrated chili into one cup or larger servings and pack in plastic zip-lock bags.
Yield: Five cups weighing about 12 ounces dry.
On the Trail:
Combine one cup chili with one cup water and let sit for about five minutes.
Light stove, bring to a boil and continue cooking for one minute. Remove heat and let stand covered for 10 minutes.
Natural Cinnamon Apple Fruit Leather
- 8 cups of peeled and cubed apples (Origins Farm)
- 1 cup water
- 1 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1/2 fresh lemon
Peel, core and roughly dice apples. Choose apples with the same tartness or sweetness you like to eat, as the same flavors will burst through in your fruit leather.
Combine cubed apple slices and water in a large bot, bringing to a boil, then simmering until the apples are soft and tender, about 10 minutes:
squeeze in lemon juice and sprinkle cinnamon over apples generously, then pulse in a blender or food processor until you have a smooth and even puree.
Taste mixture at this point — if it’s a bit tart for your tastes, add in a sweetener like natural sugar or honey. If too sweet, squeeze in a little more lemon juice. Pour puree gently onto parchment-lined baking sheets and spread into a thin, even layer
Place on the top rack in your oven on the lowest setting, between 140 and 170 degrees until leather has dried and isn’t sticking to your fingers when touching, about 4-8 hours or longer, depending on heat setting and thickness of your fruit layer. We like to remove ours from the oven and let it sit overnight before cutting and peeling
Cut excess edges of parchment paper and make a large log roll from the fruit leather sheet:
Using a sharp knife or scissors, cut roll into individual portion sized pieces:
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. When ready to eat, just unwrap and peel the fruit leather from the parchment.
Campground Chicken Noodle Soup
- 1/4 cup dehydrated Carrots
- 1/8 cup dehydrated onion
- 2 tablespoons dehydrated celery
- 1 slice dehydrated garlic
- 4 cups canned chicken broth
- 1-1/2 cups egg noodles
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 lb pre-cooked dehydrated chicken
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients, except noodles, in large pot and slowly heat for about 10 minutes on med-low heat.
Bring broth to a boil, reduce heat and add noodles.
Reduce heat and let simmer for 8 minutes or until noodles reach desired consistency
Cream of Winter Squash Soup
- 1 frozen brick of winter squash, or 3C of any dense dry sweet orange winter squash roasted, cubed and mashed
- Medium onion
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1/4t Ginger, 1/2 t cinnamon
- 1 T butter (optional)
- Other seasonings to taste
Defrost the frozen squash until it’s soft. Chop the onion finely and sauté it with the other spices until soft, then stir in the mashed squash and the butter if you want a little extra richness and a few more calories for the trail!
Put the resulting mixture into the food processor and pulse, periodically scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is fully blended and uniformly finely chopped – no big pieces! Spread the mixture very thinly onto a solid plastic dehydrator tray or onto parchment paper – no thick lumps! – and dehydrate on fairly low heat (125 or so) overnight. When dry the resulting product should peel up from the tray and you should feel no moisture though it may still be pliable. Put this soup ‘bark’ back into the food processor and pulse it into a coarse powder. Put about 2TBSP of this mixture along with enough cream base powder to make a cup of reconstituted cream (use the label instructions) into a Ziploc for each serving. At camp, add 1.5C of hot water. The soup should be ready to eat essentially instantly.
For something a little different, you could add some freeze-dried chicken and peas to the mixture in the Ziploc, or add some finely chopped apple to the onion when it’s sautéing.
Pumpkin – Shiitake mushroom Risotto with Shrimp
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 slices bacon
- 2 cups sliced shiitake mushroom caps
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
- 1C peeled raw shrimp, 30-50 count, cut in half or thirds
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (I use inexpensive cooking wine)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (I use good sea salt)
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (can substitute home-cooked pumpkin or winter squash)
- 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
To prepare the recipe, in your home kitchen:
Heat the stock with the water in a medium saucepan and hold at a low simmer.
Meanwhile, fry the bacon until crisp, then add the onion, garlic and sage and saute on medium heat until the onion is softened. Add the dry arborio rice to the pan with the raw shrimp and shiitake mushrooms and stir until moistened, and then add the wine. Cook, stirring, until the wine is absorbed. Then add the hot stock to the pan with the rice mixture about 3/4C at a time, stirring constantly until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next shot. Once all the moisture has been absorbed, turn off the heat and add the pumpkin and mascarpone, salt, chives and red pepper. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
To prepare the leftovers for the dehydrator, puree them briefly in the food processor until the pieces are small and fairly uniform. Measure out the number of 1.5-2C servings that will fit on each dehydrator tray (you’ll need to use the solid plastic ‘fruit leather’ tray for this) and spread the mixture on the tray, in a uniform layer no more than 1/2 inch thick. Run the dehydrator overnight and check the mixture for completeness of drying in the morning. If the mixture doesn’t crumble into dry pieces but feels slightly wet, break it up and re-spread it onto the mesh trays before you go to work. It will be ready for packaging when you get home. To package, pulse the dry mixture in the food processor to break up the chunks, and then measure out the dried servings into individual zip-loc bags based on your pre-drying measurements (how many servings went onto each tray). Make a little tag to go in the bag with what the food is, how many servings, and how much water to add back to each serving.
At camp, bring water to a boil or near-boil and add it to the zip-loc (or put the food and the already-heated water into a pot or mug to rehydrate), in an amount that brings the serving back up to the original hydrated volume. Wrap in a cozy or aluminum foil to keep it hot (that will speed the rehydration), and wait 10-15 minutes. If it’s still a little crunchy, wait a bit longer. If it’s a bit too dry, you can add a bit more hot water. Then enjoy, right out of the bag, mug or pot!
Dehydrated Sweet Potato Chips
- 4-5 Large organic sweet potatoes
- 7-8 tablespoons water (purified/filtered)
- 1-2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
Using a mandoline slicer, slice the sweet potatoes into very thin slices (as thin as possible – 1/8 inch or less).
In a large bowl, soak them in the water, making sure all chips are wet.
Sprinkle the sea salt over the chips.
With two forks, toss them around in the water/salt mixture like you would toss a salad.
Place them on the mesh dehydrator trays in a single layer.
Dehydrate at 115 degrees until dry.