Best Dehydrators for Beef Jerky

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Beef jerky. Quite possibly the world's most perfect snack.

Beef jerky. Quite possibly the world’s most perfect snack. Also, my dog loves it!

If you’re like me, beef jerky is your go-to snack for hikes, hunting trips, camping, and long road trips. 

In a hurry? My favorite is the  Open Country Dehydrator at Amazon. It’s 1,000 watts and very sturdy.

It tastes amazing, is high in protein and best of all, is a lightweight, nutrient-dense snack that will give you the fuel you need for all the energy you will exert during these activities.

The problem is beef jerky is far too expensive to be purchasing in bulk. My suggestion is to get yourself a dehydrator and make the jerky at home. 

The way a dehydrator works is by heating up the air inside of it to dry out the meat, resulting in the sweet and savory snack we know as jerky. 

The most popular variety is beef jerky, although it can be produced from any type of meat. The meat is cured with salts to prevent bacterial growth. The discovery that meat can be manipulated in a way that can be stored for a long time, easily carried, and is dense with nutrition, made it perfect for travelers on long journeys.

Why make it at home?

Walk into any supermarket, you can find dozens of brands, flavors, and varieties of jerky. So why bother making it at home? First of all, and I’m sure this is not a big shocker, store bought brands can be full of chemicals, colors, and unnecessary sodium. Make your own organic jerky at home.

Eating a raw food diet? You’ll still need a dehydrator. Check these out.

Also, making your own jerky, as with most do-it-yourself projects, is considerably more economical than buying it off of the rack. Be creative and find your own mouth-watering recipes. Who knows, maybe you can even sell it!

Why get a dehydrator?

You have an oven, why can’t you use that? Put it this way – it would basically be like lighting a cigarette with a blow torch. Just too much.

Jerky is a ‘raw food,’ which means that it is cooked at a temperature less than 117°F. The purpose of cooking at a low temperature is to conserve nutrients and dietary enzymes. Most ovens do not have a low enough setting for proper preparation. The dehydrator is designed for low-heat, has proper airflow for efficiently pulling moisture from the meat, and requires minimal supervision.

Things to consider

There are two main types of dehydrators: vertical flow (aka stackable unit) and horizontal flow (aka shelf tray food dehydrators). Vertical flow dehydrators are usually the more economic option but do not dehydrate as uniformly. While this is okay for fruits, vegetables, and nuts, the horizontal flow version is generally preferred for jerky. Just keep in mind the horizontal flow versions hit heavier in the pocket, and generally are quite large in size, requiring more counter and storage space.

There are a couple of other things to consider. One is the ease of use. A dehydrator that does not require switching around shelves means you can set it and forget it. The size and capacity, noise level and features (such as a thermostat, timer, and auto shutoff) can vary from product to product.

Let’s take a look at some of the better dehydrators available, so you can start making your own jerky!

There are two different types of dehydrators; stackable and box-and-shelf. Let’s look at a few models.

FD-61 Snackmaster

Number one on the list is the FD-61 Snackmaster by Nesco. It is great for single-family households who are just looking for a basic dehydrator and don’t need all the bells and whistles that come from the higher-priced dehydrators.

The FD-61 gives you 500 watts of heating power in a basic, stacking system unit. It comes with 4 trays but is expandable to 12, and the trays are dishwasher safe.

It works at temperatures of 95 to 160 degrees with an adjustable thermostat for easy temperature control. The FD-61 is about the middle of the road when it comes to pricing, but you can expect to be able to use this machine for years to come.

See the Nesco Snackmaster on Amazon.

Should you buy this dehydrator?

If you are a small family or only need enough jerky for a few people, I would recommend this one. It is a basic dehydrator, and it is relatively easy to use, so if you are new to making beef jerky go ahead and get the Nesco Snackmaster.

It's right about here that I start craving jerky.

It’s right about here that I start craving jerky.

Here’s a knife that will get you nice thin slices on your jerky.

Open Country FD-1022SK

For dehydrator number two, we’ll take a look at the Open Country 1000 Watt DehydratorThis model is a bit more expensive than the Nesco, but it has more drying capacity and twice the drying power.

The digital temperature control lets you customize the temperature and set the drying time you want (perfect for those days you can’t be at home waiting for food to dehydrate).

The Open Country dehydrator also has five more degrees of drying temperature, going from 90 to 160 degrees and has a capacity to hold up to 20 trays simultaneously.

Check out the Open Country Dehydrator at Amazon.

Should you purchase this dehydrator?

I would go for this one if you are looking to dehydrate a significant amount of jerky all at once.

It will cost you more than a basic dehydrator but is well worth the convenience of not having to go through multiple cycles. This is probably the machine I would recommend the most out of the three here because it will fit the needs of most people.

Spices are the key to great jerky. Why not grind your own?
And here are some awesome spices for beef.

Weston Pro Series 80-Liter Dehydrator    

The third dehydrator I am going to review is rather expensive, but it offers so much more than the basic and middle-tier dehydrators we have seen thus far. Weston Pro Series 80-Liter dehydrator is among the best dehydrators you can purchase for your home and also doubles as a commercial grade dehydrator.

As the product name indicates, its holding capacity is an enormous 80 liters and has a 1,600-watt heater with a temperature range of up to 160 degrees.

The 360-degree airflow technology makes it so you won’t have to rotate your food, making this a “set it and forget it” dehydrator. The smart heat technology in the Weston Pro dehydrator adjusts the speed of the fan to maintain the perfect temperature resulting in evenly dehydrated jerky.

Plus it has a drain reservoir with a removable drawer making cleanup easy. The best part about this dehydrator (outside of the drying capacity) is the fact that this product has a lifetime guarantee.

See all the Weston Pro has to offer over at Amazon.

Should you get this dehydrator?

This dehydrator may not be for most people. If you only use a dehydrator for personal use or a couple of people then this is not the dehydrator you want. However, if you are a jerky fan, or enjoy any other types of dehydrated foods in bulk, I would most definitely grab one of these.

Wondering what kind of beef to get for your dehydrator? Here’s a guide to beef. 

Oliver Smith Professional Series

The Oliver Smith Professional Series offers the 10 Tray Digital Food Dehydrator. This is an economical option to the shelf tray dehydrator. It has a digital timer and automatic shut off and is notably very quiet. It has 10 plastic trays and fifteen feet of drying space. Additionally, it is BPA free. Find it here on Amazon.

Chefman Food Dehydrator

The Chefman Food Dehydrator is slightly more expensive and offers a more innovative design, which assists the airflow and ensures consistent drying throughout the trays. The trays are also plastic and BPA free. There is the option of 6 or 9 trays. This product also includes access to Club Chefman which has a variety of videos and recipe ideas. Sound good to you? Find it here.

Delicious beef jerky at home is just a quick dehydrating session away.

Delicious beef jerky at home is just a quick dehydrating session away.

BioChef Sol Food Dehydrator 6

The BioChef Sol Food Dehydrator 6 is a horizontal flow machine with easy to clean stainless steel drying trays. BioChef has a patented EPT (Enzyme Protection Technology) with the obvious benefit of preserving the nutritional benefits of the beef. For such a high quality machine, the price is comfortable. The product is complete with the digital timer and digital heat control and is available in black or white. See the BioChef listed here.

Crawford Kitchen offers the Commercial Food Dehydrator

Crawford Kitchen offers the Commercial Food Dehydrator, which is an entirely stainless steel horizontal flow machine. Like the BioChef, this product also offers a digital timer and digital heat control, but this machine has more capacity. There are more trays and the tray size is slightly larger. This is a very decent low-end option for a commercial use. Find it here on Amazon.

Beef, chicken, buffalo, kangaroo, dinosaur, the jerky possibilities are endless. Get your dehydrator and get inventive, in no time you will be making your favorite snack at home.

Wrap-Up

If you’re into getting outdoors, then beef jerky is a snack that you probably like to keep handy at all times.

Unfortunately, beef jerky seems to cost more than most any other snack you will find. If you want to bypass the ever increasing prices of this delicious snack, then you must own a dehydrator.

And you don’t just have to dehydrate beef. It works for deer, elk, and even fruits and vegetables. Dried apples are an awesome snack for the trail. Pretty much any fruits, vegetables or meats that you like to eat will taste good when dried. Ok, almost. Maybe not dried celery. The dehydrator I would recommend most is the Open Country Dehydrator.

Find out here if you can use those old chilis you found in your cupboard to spice up your next batch of jerky. 

There is one thing I should mention. When dehydrating, your house might begin to smell like jerky. And while jerky may be good as a snack, it’s possible you do not want your house smelling like beef jerky. So go ahead and move your dehydrator outside when you use it.

Wondering what the best dehydrator is for backpacking meals? Check out this post. 

Dehydrators aren’t just for jerky. They’re perfect for vegetables too. Just make sure you slice each piece the same size for even drying. The best way to do that? Use a mandoline. Read here for my review of the best mandoline slicers for the money. 

Next time you go camping, bring the best cooler. Here are my top choices. 

Additional Resources

Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Arnold G., Eric T.,  and Dennis A.