Drying and dehydrating food is an easy, effective way to preserve a harvest. You may be reading this because you are just getting into dehydrating, and now you’re searching for the best food dehydrator under $100. Keep reading, because you’re about to find out which one I think is the top pick, and why!
I never really understood the appeal of food dehydration until we really started this homesteading lifestyle. In my mind, a dehydrator was only for avid jerky enthusiasts (if that’s you though, stick around. This dehydrator is actually great for that.) or people who just like fancy kitchen gadgets. I didn’t feel like we ate enough dry foods to justify buying one, but alas… I was very wrong.
Having a garden has made a dehydrator very necessary for us! We use it for so many things. It helps prevent food waste in a whole new way. Whether we are drying herbs that we grew, extra fruit, or making jerky (my husband’s favorite), we are running it a lot during the summer.
Anyway, if you’re reading this, you probably already know why dehydrators are so awesome. Let’s get into which one will give you the most bang for your buck as a beginner! No, it may not have a fancy glass door, an extra large capacity, or timing capabilities. But it will certainly get the job done, and done well.
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Nesco FD-60 Snackmaster Express Food Dehydrator
My mom actually gave us this dehydrator a couple of years ago, when we really got into growing and preserving our own food. I probably never would have known it existed if it weren’t for receiving it as a gift. When I looked it up, I was surprised to find how inexpensive it was, because it worked really well.
The first thing my husband tested it out for, of course, was making beef jerky. He used the jerky spice mix that came with the dehydrator and some grass fed ground beef that we had been storing in the freezer. He and my four boys were happy with how the jerky came out. And I’m not a huge fan of jerky, but even I enjoyed it.
Along with two packets of spice mix, there is also a special fruit roll tray that comes inside the box. The fruit roll tray, which is basically just a solid sheet, makes it very easy to pack a lot of fruit leather into one tier of the dehydrator.
The Nesco Snackmaster Express dehydrator has a sleek, modern look to it. It’s super simple to set up (even for a gadget-challenged person like me). The adjustable dial makes it easy to choose the right temperature for your dehydrated food. The dehydrator comes with 4 trays, but can run with up to 12. Additional trays can be purchased separately.
That’s the rundown. Now, let’s talk more specifics about this model to help you decide if it’s the best food dehydrator under $100 for you!
The Snackmaster Express has 500 watts of drying power. It uses a patented system called Converga-Flow to force air down the exterior pressurized chamber instead of through the trays. This eliminates the need to rotate the trays and makes for faster drying time. It also means that if you decide to dry different foods at once (on separate trays), there will be no cross-contamination in the flavor.
The fan for the dehydrator is mounted on top, which prevents liquids from getting into the heating element. Since the chamber is in the center, it forces air horizontally across the trays, resulting in a more even drying process.
The heat is customizable, having a temperature range anywhere from 95 degrees to 155 degrees. The adjustable thermostat shows the suggested kinds of food that should be dried at each temperature, making the dehydrator even simpler to use. The precise temperature controls have been tested by others, and they reported that the internal temperatures of the dehydrator adequately matched that of the temperature gauge.
This is something that matters to me, as I don’t really want something adding a ton more noise to our home. It’s usually pretty loud as it is. 😉 The Nesco Snackmaster Express is definitely quieter than the expensive Excalibur dehydrator that we have previously borrowed from a friend. It is definitely not silent, but the sound is at a level that we can easily deal with. Putting it in the back corner of our kitchen helps as well.
The Snackmaster Express comes with 4 round trays. I find that I can fit between 1-2 sliced, medium-sized fruits (like apples, peaches, or pears) per tray. I think that is a good amount for the price of this dehydrator. Just know that if you have a huge amount of food to dry, you will be running this dehydrator constantly for a while.
I just mentioned that we have borrowed an Excalibur dehydrator before from a friend. It definitely holds more than this Snackmaster Express, but also, the Excalibur is a $300 dehydrator. That price is compared with this one at around $80. And again, additional trays can be purchased for the Nesco, if you need to dry really large batches of food at once.
I will also say that the trays are deeper than other dehydrators I have seen. I think that helps with the drying time, and it can also make unloading easier. One thing I particularly didn’t like about using every tray in the Excalibur, was that my dried greens would fall out and crumble everywhere as I was trying to slide out the trays. Since the Nesco Snackmaster Express trays stack instead of slide, I don’t have as much of a problem with that.
Ease of Use
Overall, the Nesco Snackmaster Express is an easy-to-use dehydrator for under $100. One thing to keep in mind is there is no timer or on/off switch, so you will need to be around when it’s time to turn off the dehydrator. The only way to turn it off is to unplug it.
I think this unit is easier to clean compared to most. The slots in the tray are fairly wide (but not wide enough for food to fall through), so you aren’t worrying about cleaning out tiny holes in the trays. The trays are easily washed in the sink with soapy water.
The labeled temperature knob makes it easy to decide what setting you need no matter what food item you want to dry. Be sure not to use too high of a temperature for more delicate foods, or you risk them being too tough.
Other Food Dehydrators Under $100
If you aren’t quite sure about the Nesco FD-60 Snackmaster Express being the best option under $100, I got you! Although I haven’t personally tried these dehydrators yet, here is a quick list of other options and some of their important features. They have great reviews and fit the “under $100” requirement.
- Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster Pro: This option comes with an extra tray, and only costs a few dollars more than the Snackmaster Express.
- Cosori Food Dehydrator: This unit is also customizable in terms of the number of trays that can be used and has additional accessories available, like a fruit roll sheet and mesh screen. It has a very sleek and modern look.
- Hamilton Beach Digital Food Dehydrator: This one has a rectangular shape and includes a digital reader that allows for even more temperature customization. It has a digital timer, as well!
- NutriChef Food Dehydrator Machine: This is actually one of the cheapest options I’ve come across at only $50. It’s built for easy operation and uses clear, stackable trays.
Why Should I Buy A Food Dehydrator Under $100?
If you’re new to food preservation or just want a smaller dehydrator for your homestead garden, trying out an inexpensive one is the best way to go. The Nesco Snackmaster Express, fits the bill as one of the best food dehydrator options under $100. It is a great choice for practicing drying foods if you are new. Once you get more comfortable with the process, you can upgrade!
I think that these dehydrators would hold their value well. When you’re ready to upgrade to an Excalibur or similar, you can sell this one or barter for some other type of good! (As a homesteader and advocate for community, I’m all about bartering.)
How We’ve Used Our Dehydrator
We’ve had our Snackmaster Express dehydrator for about 8 months at the time of writing this blog post (August 2022). Here is a list of the dehydrated foods we have made so far:
- Beef jerky (using raw ground beef)
- Greens powder (with homegrown greens from our gardens)
- Dried herbs (especially basil, which we grew a ton of this year!)
- Fruit leather (we’ve experimented with different flavors)
- Apple chips
- Dried papaya
- Banana chips
- “Sun-dried” tomatoes
I’m sure there’s more I’m just not thinking of. Really, the options are endless. The next thing I’d like to try in it is a custom seasoning blend of some kind. Or maybe I will use it to dry some medicinal herbs we are growing for long term storage! It would be a great way to preserve echinacea for tincture.
I love using our vacuum sealer to store all the foods we dehydrate.
Is a food dehydrator necessary for drying food?
Honestly, no. You can use your oven or a good ol’ kitchen window to dry most things. But electric food dehydrators make it a heck of a lot easier. And for those of us who use our kitchen a lot, having the oven free to do other things is really nice.
During the harvest season, my dehydrator is sitting out on my counter very frequently. Since it’s smaller than a more expensive option, it doesn’t take up a ton of counter space. I don’t mind leaving it out for a long time.
For anyone who is getting into gardening and food preservation, I highly recommend owning a small dehydrator like the ones listed here. These starter units are a great value, they leave a small footprint, and are easy to operate.
I hope this post was helpful in your quest to find the best food dehydrator under $100!
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Such a great article as I’m wanting to try a dehydrator for the first time!
This post was so helpful, I have been wondering about moderately priced dehydrators but I haven’t researched. Thanks so much!