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:
- Drying and Storing Sweet Peppers
- Fire Roasted Coconut
- Dried Chili Lime Papaya Chips
- Making your own All Meat Dog treats
- Dried Chili Lime Papaya Chips
- Quick Dehydrator Biltong
- Low cost dishwasher detergent (and a bonus Easy Fruit Leather recipe)
- Product Review: Hi Mountain Hickory Blend Jerky Kit and Making Dehydrator Jerky
- Product Review: Hi Mountain Buckboard Bacon Cure
- Drying Fish – Kingfish
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.
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!)
The model I went with is the Excalibur 3900B.
- 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!