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Urban Homesteading, Hillbilly style. Exploring all aspects of self reliance, disaster preparedness, survival, and simply being ready for both good times and bad.

FloridaHillbilly.com - Urban Homesteading, Hillbilly style. Exploring all aspects of self reliance, disaster preparedness, survival, and simply being ready for both good times and bad.

Dehydrators – A Self Reliance Tool

I was looking for a subject tonight, and realized I’d never written about my dehydrators, though I’ve written many articles that included them as an important background player. The list of my articles that use a dehydrator includes:

So how have I missed talking about the appliance itself? DOH!

Let me start with the desire to make my own jerky. Lovely, tasty, salty peppered animal meat that has been dried. I simply cannot get enough of it. But at $16+ per pound to buy it, I usually pass. Plus trying to find jerky without MSG of HFCS is almost impossible! And since I didn’t have a smoker, I would rely on the favors owed to me by my friends, hoping they’d make some jerky and I’d get a but thrown my way. Like almost all food, home made is superior in quality AND flavor.

So I bought  cheepo unit from WalMart, the kind with the round stackable trays and a heat unit in the bottom. It worked. Not well, but enough. It was slow, though and inconsistent with the finishing times.  The round trays also seemed to waste a lot of space when I would lay out my slices of meat.jerky gun

Enter the jerky gun. Similar in appearance to a caulking gun, this would get loaded up with ground meat mixed with the appropriate spices, then exude the jerky meat and spice mix out in round or flat strips, yielding a product like you would find in the store.  This allowed me to make better use of the space…but then I ended up with curved pieces of jerky. It also dried unevenly, since there was no fan.

So I gave this dehydrator away, and bought the upgraded version with a fan. Now at this point I had a decent product, as far as taste went. But I was really bugged by the jerky being round :( Arrrg! It just doesn’t store right! (Yes, even I get OCD sometimes…)

So I did more research into a REAL dehydrator, and the same name kept popping up- Excalibur. More searching simply yielding the same results. With nine  trays totaling 15 square feet(!),  a horizontal fan, and an adjustable thermostat, it was perfect for jumbo batches of jerky. The problem being, they cost well over $200, a lot of money just so that I can make my own jerky that would stack nicely.

<Insert appropriate swear words here>

As I kept reading about how fine a product they are, I found that they also can be used to make yogurt. Nice. And since they offered add-on  non-stick sheets for making fruit leather, I could add that to the justification for the cost. And after checking and re-checking, I found that most reviews all said the same thing -

“I bought the cheap ones, then finally bit the bullet and spent the money to get an Excalibur, and wish I’d have bought it first”

Fine. So I did some shopping, found a deal, and pulled the trigger. And you know what? I wish I’d have bought it first. DOH!

I’ve dried dozens of things in it, fruits, veggies, soups, meats, herbs. I bet I’ve made over 50 pounds of jerky in it, and if I pay $3/lb for burger, with a 1/4 weight yield,  I’ve saved about $200 on jerky alone so far. Even more when you consider some of the meat I used was bartered for, was from rabbits I raised, or was wild game. It has paid for itself in jerky alone. Plus I get to make what I like….extra black pepper on EVERY batch!

Using powdered milk from my long term storage, I’ve made yogurt that was fantastic. Yes, dried milk yogurt. Read this to see how its done.

I’ve made over ten pounds of various fruit leathers, and even made a custom batch of apricot leather for Cheryl. I’ve put up hundreds of pounds of mangoes, and turned sliced zucchini into tasty Paleo chips. Dried fish was my latest experiment, and while it didn’t turn out fantastically, it proved the concept to work well enough to do again.

Most of my dried products get stored in vacuum sealed bags or jars, and are placed in a cool, dark place. This allows me to buy items in bulk or on sale, then dehydrate them and store them for the long haul. It also gives me something to do with the  massive amounts of produce I get from the garden at various times of the year. I even dehydrate leftovers, such as soups, and rice. (Dehydrated cooked rice acts like instant rice- just add water!)

3900bI use it often enough, that it stays plugged in, located on a shelf in our storage room, so that I can drop stuff into it quickly, and let it go to work. I use it more often than I use the oven.

The model I went with is the Excalibur 3900B.

Product Features

  • 9 trays and 15 square feet of drying space.
  • No moving food or trays during dehydration.
  • Adjustable Thermostat 95 to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Safe to dry meat for jerky.
  • Accurate temperature controls to dry fruits, vegetables, meats, flowers, herbs, pet treats, arts & crafts.
  • Dehydrate faster with square trays that hold more food. (No more curved jerky!)
  • Remove trays as needed to increase the height needed to dehydrate bulky items or raise dough. Or remove them all to make yogurt in quart jars.
  • 7-inch fan, 440 watts. Unit Dimensions: 12-1/2 H x 17 W x 19 D (inches)
  • Since 1973, Excalibur has manufactured dehydrators in Sacramento, California.

I added a Pack of 9 Premium 14″ x 14″ Non-Stick Dehydrator Sheets, so that I could make fruit leathers and other sticky items without a lot of mess. These are dishwasher safe, too.

I love my Excalibur so much, I told the wife on several occasions that she could wrap it back up and give it to me for Christmas every year, and I’d be tickled to death. It really is a great item for anyone wanting to be a little more self-reliant, allowing you to preserve things for long term storage.

On that note, if you are interested in seeing what else you can do to save money and/or store things, go over to Dehydrate 2 Store. The site is run by Tammy, who is very well versed in using her dehydrator for long term storage. She offers a huge amount of tips, tricks, recipes, and how-to videos, all free. She was the ultimate reason I went with the Excalibur. She’s also the one that let me know about the  3Mil microchannel vacuum bags I use for my vacuum  sealer. Go check her out! Tell Tammy that FloridaHillbilly sent you!

Peace,
db

  • Ridgerunner says:

    I have got to get one of those. I’m still using the one you gave me and having the same problems you had with it.

    January 4, 2013 at 09:39
    • db says:

      I have a Ronco 10-tray (with fan) dehydrator up for grabs if you are interested…otherwise its available to whoever wants it, and can arrange a local pickup.

      Free of course!

      January 4, 2013 at 10:09
  • Howard says:

    The Excalibur is the best dehydrator on the market.

    January 5, 2013 at 02:20
  • Money in the mattress says:

    The BEST dehydrator I have used and own is made by Cabela’s. It does it all. It is more expensive but well worth the cost. I have had mine for 8 years and it work like a dream. I have owned many others prior and gave them all away.

    January 5, 2013 at 11:45
    • db says:

      I’ve seen tho ones Cabelas makes….do you have one of their commercial versions($350-$500), or one of the heavy duty ones($200-$230)?? The commercial ones are definitely a step above, but the “heavy duty” ones look like the Excalibur line. Both have horizontal fans, so get a thumbs up from me….

      Thanks for stopping by,
      db

      January 5, 2013 at 17:57
      • Money in the Mattress says:

        I have the Commercial version. 80 Liter which was the largest at the time. It keeps a very consistent temperature and has plenty of room to do everything I want. I make jerkies, dry herbs and make fruit leathers (much better than the Fruit Roll Ups in the store) no HFCS so I am getting the pure fruit, my kids love them. I purchased the sheets for fruit leathers and they work well for herbs so the herbs do not fall through the racks. I also suggest getting the grate covers for fruits and veggies so the foods you are drying do not fall through the grated racks. IF you have the money I suggest the Cabela’s dehydrator! Since you have the dehydrator I recommend getting their Vacuum sealer as well. It is also the best on the market BAR NONE! Have had many vacuum sealers as well and they all ended up in the trash as they would burn out and the width of the seal was very poor. Cabela’s seal is very close to commercial size without the cost. I have had my sealer for about 10 years and not had to replace any of the components. I would suggest getting the Mason jar sealer as well.

        January 6, 2013 at 09:34
        • db says:

          I’ll stick with the Excalibur, since it was half the price, though half the space. I’ve never filled up the 15 square feet to have to need the extra room. The only feature I see that I REALLY like on the Cabelas version is the glass door.

          As for food sealers (another article I need to write), Ive owned several Food Savers and have yet to kill one. I vac seal hundreds of items annually, plus vac seal jars on a weekly basis. The only TYPE of vac sealer I’d say would be better would be a chamber sealer that didn’t require the special micro channel bags that most household sealers, like the FoodSaver, require. I’ve found that the bags themselves tend to be the ultimate issue. Tammy from Dehydrate 2 Store talks about her supplier for bags, and I’ve been using them for several years now with a single failure in 500 or so bags, and that was due to my mishandling more than the bag or the sealer. Knowing your tools makes using them much more efficient.

          You can find the bags I use here:

          The items you describe are great items, I’m sure….but I can’t justify the cost difference, when I get excellent results with my setup at less than half the price.

          But then, that’s one of the benefits of this country, we are all entitled to our opinions….at least for now.

          db

          January 6, 2013 at 10:53
  • Conrad says:

    I bought a Excalibur machine about two years ago after reading and re-reading on the makes and standards of the “other” brands, excalibur won hands down, nothing better
    have made at least ten jars of dries mushrooms, dried a 50lb. bag of onions, apples, strawberries, potatoes, and tried bananas, remeber the old saying “you get what you pay for” pay for the best!

    January 5, 2013 at 17:41
    • db says:

      A lesson I keep teaching myself, unfortunately….

      Peace,
      db

      January 5, 2013 at 17:58
  • Stephanie says:

    Anyone heard of the Living Foods Dehydrator? My dad got me one for Christmas and I’m building it now. It’s made out of wood and is shaped like a box. I was a little disappointed because I have never heard of it- I’ve only heard of the Excalibur and how much everyone loves theirs. I’m still hopeful though that it will be a good investment…

    January 28, 2013 at 12:45
    • db says:

      It looks really rugged from the pictures….and a LOT better than anything Ronco puts out, so that is a plus. Also its square, so I like that about it as well. The only thing I see that concerns me is that the frame is made of wood, my questions are What kind of wood? How is it treated? Does it clean up easily? Is it prone to mold?

      And I really like having a fan in mine, it makes things dry faster.

      The only other issue I came across was regarding temperature. The Living Foods website mentions making jerky at 105F-110F degrees, while the USDA recommends 160F degrees. I make a LOT of jerky, this one is important to me.

      http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FACTSheets/Jerky_and_Food_Safety/index.asp#4

      From the Excalibur FAQ:

      Is it safe to dehydrate Meat in an Excalibur?
      YES! The temperature setting on the Excalibur is the average temperature. The air will fluctuate above and below that. In the case of meat, if the temperature is set at 155F, the air temperature will hit the USDA safety recommendation of 160F. Most dehydrators do not reach the minimum safe temperature for meat.

      Hope that helps!

      January 28, 2013 at 13:45

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