Dehydrators work by removing moisture from food through a combination of heat and airflow. They all have some type of tray stacking system that lets you lay out the bits and pieces you want dehydrated, coupled with a venting system on the top, which allows the moisture from the dehydrating process to escape. This combination gives you total control during the dehydration procedure with the option to produce soft and chewy tidbits or hard tack leather jerky.
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How a Dehydrator Works
Food items such as fruits, vegetables or pieces of meat are laid out on trays with slats or holes in them. Once laid out, they are stacked one on top of the other and placed in a sealed cabinet. These cabinets generally have a fan to circulate the air and a heating source for temperature regulation. The fan blows this heated air, which swirls over and around the food on the trays, slowly drying them out, while vent holes on top whisk this moisture away. As the moisture in the food evaporates, the food dries out which stops the action of enzymes and bacteria, preserving the food. It can then be packaged and stored for later consumption.
Fruits and Vegetables
Cutting fruits and vegetables to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch is considered the optimal size for ideal drying. These pieces should be laid out on the trays with plenty of room between slices to allow generous airflow to circulate. Although instructions for different dehydrators will vary, fruits and vegetables should be dried at a temperature between 110 and 130 degrees F.
As the drying process continues, trays should be rotated from top to bottom allowing even and consistent drying time for all the pieces. In general, the higher the temperature used in the dehydrating process, the more often the trays will need to be rotated.
When any kind of meat or poultry is dried, it is called jerky. One pound of meat dries to about 1/4 pound of jerky, and depending upon your preferences, you can make jerky soft and pliable or nearly as hard as a rock.
To make jerky out of raw meat, it will need to be heated, boiled or cooked to 160 degrees F to kill off all of the salmonella bacteria. It can then be cut into slices or chunks, laid out on the trays as you would with fruit or vegetable slices, and then dehydrated to make your favorite jerky.
The optimal temperature for drying meat is between 130 and 140 degrees F, and once dehydrated, the average storage life for homemade jerky is one to two months.