There are many situations in which you might want to dry items such as fruit, veggies, or jerky. You may need to do it because you want to preserve a harvest for the winter, or you may even just like dried product because it’s easier to store and carry than bulkier fresh food. There are two common ways people dry food: a dehydrator and an oven. Dehydrators work by circulating hot air across trays with the food on them; this is called “forced air. Ovens work in much the same way, just with warm air. Both types of ovens are effective for drying food. Which one you choose is a matter of personal preference and cost. Here’s what you need to consider: effectiveness, convenience (space, time), cost, and your situation (like space, time, dry weight).
What Is A Dehydrator?
The dehydrator is a sealed box with trays that are either made of metal or covered in mesh material (like a screen). The trays support the food while heat is applied. It’s a static device: no fan, no blower. Hot air is circulated into the box for several hours, and temperature and humidity are raised as much as possible. The food is dried out by the heat and, at the same time, dehydrated by the air and the moisture. The heat that is applied to the food heats it while still in contact with dry air.
How Effective Are Dehydrators?
Ovens can be far more effective than dehydrators for certain food items. There are no trays to replace or wash, therefore less cleanup. Dehydrators need to be tended and the temperature adjusted often. Another issue is that heat rises. If you are drying food on the top shelf, it can be subjected to too much heat. In an oven, the heating element resides in the bottom of the oven chamber; there is a fan which blows air up through this element and out into the oven cavity. This means that food on lower shelves receives less heat than upper shelves and thus dries slower resulting in less effective dehydration.
Does this really matter? If you are dry enough, dehydrators can do a good job at drying food. It’s true that ovens work more effectively than dehydrators for certain foods, but the issue of heat rise is not as important as it might seem. If you’re making jerky or different types of fruits and vegetables (like apples or corn), most likely you have higher shelves in your oven where your food can dry while avoiding contact with the heating element below. Further, you can use non-heat drying methods in a dehydrator as well, such as air drying or solar drying.
How Convenient Are Dehydrators?
If you’re an avid sportsman, you’ve probably noticed that it can be challenging to transport food if it’s in bulk. Drying food not only preserves foods but also converts them into a more compact form that’s easier to carry. It takes a lot of time and space to dry foods so they are lighter and take up less space in transportation. Convenience is somewhat subjective. If, for example, you’re going on a hunt, dehydrators are much faster and easier to transport than ovens. But if you are a bird watcher and need your food to be ready in time to go out for the morning, then an oven might be better.
Benefits of Dehydrators
Dehydrators are very convenient for most people. You can dry food at any time of the year, no matter what season it is. They are also good for preserving food for use during the winter months. If you’re traveling and don’t have enough room in your car to carry large bags of jerky, dried meats and fruits will fit much better inside your luggage or backpack.
Benefits of Ovens
In addition to the space and time savings, ovens are very convenient to use. They are also easy to clean: you only have a few pans or trays when everything is said and done. You can add spices or flavorings as you see fit, allowing for more versatility in your dried food products. Another benefit of using an oven is that it will dry your food fast. If you are drying whole pieces of fruit, the skin will need to be removed first. It takes a long time for a dehydrator to do this, and even longer with an oven.
When Should You Use a Dehydator vs. an Oven?
The best time to use a dehydrator is when you need dry product for storage. It’s easier to dry food in a dehydrator than in an oven; if you’re drying fruit, the skin will still be on some of it. If you’re drying meat, what about jerky? Dehydrators may not be very effective for both of these items. If you are primarily using your oven to heat and dry food, then use an oven. If you are drying food for storage, then a dehydrator is best. You may even want to use a dehydrator for some foods, and use an oven for foods that need to be kept longer.
If you dehydrate in your oven, preheat it at 250F. Place the food on racks if you have them, or dry the food directly on a baking sheet if not. Set your oven to 120F and leave it there until all moisture is gone from the food (this can take up to 12 hours). If you are going to dehydrate in a dehydrator, you can leave the oven at any temperature. However, if the temperature is above 120F, the temperature will drop and then come back up slowly. If it’s below 120F, then too much energy will be lost; most likely you’ll need to add more heat in order to keep it at a constant level with food in the dryer.
Dehydrators and ovens are very different. When you’re drying food in your oven, it’s all about time and space. If you’re going to be drying food for long-term storage, a dehydrator will save you a lot of time and money. However, if you’re not going to be using your oven to dry food for long-term storage, then an oven is the way to go.