Food dehydrators can be amazing tools to have around the kitchen. Whether you’re using yours to create snack-sized bites of veggies to munch on instead of candy, or you’re marinating and creating your own jerkies, there are almost no limits to what you can do with a food dehydrator when it comes to types of foods used.
However, learning about how to dehydrate foods properly is important. In this article, we’ll go over the basics of the heat used in a dehydrator, what the heat does to your foods, and what temperatures are the best for certain types of foods.
One of the great things about a dehydrator is it allows you to preserve and save foods while they’re in season, and allows for them to stay edible for months. It is this dehydration process that’s so interesting; it’s not unlike a traditional stove or microwave in a way.
The dehydrator gives off a source of mild, gentle heat that preserves and basically slow bakes your foods. However, this mild heat won’t remove the essential enzymes and vitamins present in foods. All it will do is remove the water from the equation.
Water content in most food is greater than you would think; 50 to 75% of the weight of most meats is water. Vegetables and fruits contain even greater amounts of water, usually, 80 to even 95% of a fruit or vegetable is water.
Once you remove water from a food, it eliminates the growth of things like bacteria and mold, because these types of microorganisms grow in the water of the food.
Dehydrators work in a very simple way; the machine gently warms the food, and a fan or re-directional element pushes the water (now present in the air above the food) out of the area.
Slightly warm temperatures + a fan + time = dehydration.
Once your food has around 15-20% water content, it’s considered dehydrated.
What temperatures are the best for certain types of foods?
A general rule is that meats should be dehydrated at around 155° F or 68°C. Vegetables and fruits don’t require as high a temperature; they can handle around 130°F/54° C. Why is this?
Meats have more microorganisms present in them because they were at one point living tissue. So, it’s important to “cook” the meat in order to keep any sort of bacteria or mold from growing on them or spoiling the meat.
Be sure to follow these guidelines; if you turn up the heat too high, the meat will literally cook and be hard on the outside, but the inside will still be soft and have too much water. This will allow for bacterial growth/spoilage, which you obviously don’t want.
It also works the other way; if you don’t turn the heat up high enough, the meats will look dry and ‘’done,’’ but the individual pieces of meat may still have bacteria or pathogens inside them. Hence the reason for turning up the heat; you must warm it enough to cook and kill any sort of microorganisms.
Here we’ll give you a couple great tips to make sure your meats are both dehydrated properly and safely. The first method is to dehydrate them first, then put them in an oven to heat them up enough to kill any sort of bacteria.
Let’s say you dehydrate your jerky in your dehydrator for 6 to 10 hours. It’s looking good. Now, pull out the jerky pieces and preheat your oven to around 275° F.
The jerky will already be dehydrated, so when it goes in the oven, it won’t “cook” in the traditional sense, but this sort of “flash cooking” will kill any lingering bacteria that remains after the dehydration process.
Put your jerky in the oven. Of course, you might want to put it on a baking sheet or a rack first! Let the jerky stay in there for about ten minutes. Ideally, you want the internal temperatures of your meats to be around 160°F.
If you like thick strips, obviously let them stay in there a bit longer, maybe 15 minutes or so. If you have a meat thermometer, now’s the time to use it.
Once your meats reach 160°F, you’re good. Take everything out and prepare it for storage.
The second method is for you fans of marinating; if you’ve got great marinade recipes, this one’s for you. Roast your jerky in the liquid marinade at (you guessed it) 160°F. You can do this in the oven or in a stovetop pan.
As with the previous method, this “flash heating” kills any sort of bacteria that’s present in raw meat, and hopefully replaces it with nicely marinated spices! Even with a meat thermometer, you might not be able to get a good reading.
If you’re still unsure about the safety of your meat, or you want to remove all doubt that everything is safe, you can bring your liquid marinade or a pot of water to a boil and put your meat in there for a few minutes. That way you know everything is safe.
This might be a good idea especially for poultry; we recommend even jacking up the heat to 165°F or 170°F for chicken; raw chicken is famously full of bacteria that can make you sick if you don’t cook it first.
Now we’ll talk about fruits and veggies, which are easier things to work with.
As outlined above, fruits and veggies are good at about 130° or 135°. Peel and cut them, then stick them in the dehydrator for between 6 and 12 hours.
The outlier here are things like melons, because of their high water content; it’s not unheard of for a big piece of watermelon to take 12 to 24 hours to dehydrate.
Hopefully, this article helps you better understand your dehydrator.