Very functional dehydrator for food preservation,…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $55
Very functional dehydrator for food preservation, making trail meals or jerky. Reasonable price considering the features including variable temperature control, top mounted heat element and fan with 700 watts of power and large trays.
- Variable temperature control
- 700w top mounted heating element and fan
- 14" square trays
- Steady temperature
- No on/off switch
- Doesn't appear to reach stated temperatures
- Trays can be hard to clean
The FD-80 Snackmaster Square Dehydrator & Jerky Maker has been used for just under two years now and continues to perform quite well with a few caveats. The large trays allow ample room to spread items out for easier drying. The 700w heating and fan system combined with the airflow design work well enough that additional trays can be used.
The system, according the manufacturer Nesco, is designed to force pressurized, heated air along the walls of the chamber created by a stack of trays. The air then moves horizontally across each individual tray to the center column. Even with two additional trays combined with the original four air flow appears to be pretty even throughout the chamber.
Airflow is really the primary factor in dehydrating, but heat is also very important. In order to dry some foods, especially meats, safely they must be kept above a minimum temperature. While some heat can aid in drying too much can cook foods during the drying process, especially more delicate items such as fruits. In all cases control and consistency are vital and this unit has some good and bad points in this area.
The variable heat control is a great feature, but it does not appear to deliver the temperatures as labeled on the controller. My tests were not done with scientific instruments, but using both a digital and analog meat thermometer showed lower temps than expected. With very slight variation temperatures came in 3 to 10 degrees low.
Thankfully the widest margin was on the lower end of the temperature scale, but this is still something to be aware of. Starting from an ambient temperature of 65°f the highest temperature I could attain was 157°f on the highest 160°f setting. On the other hand tests showed that temperatures remained steady within 3 degrees once stasis was reached at all levels.
The large drying trays which stack together to create the drying chamber measure just over 14" from the external edges. Four of these come standard with the unit and additional trays can be purchased in packs of two. Nesco says up to eight trays can be used at once but my experience is only with up to six at a time. The very open pattern of the trays is great for allowing larger items to dry well without lots of turning. It also means smaller items tend to fall through and the trays can be a bit time consuming to get clean after use.
A single tray liner they call a Clean-A-Screen is also included which has a fine mesh for smaller items or for sticky items such as pineapple. Additionally solid fruit leather tray liners can be purchased in packs of two which are great for drying sauces and gravies besides their namesake fruit leathers. I usually have the Clean-A-Screen on the bottom tray just to make clean up easier as it catches crumbs and drips from above. The solid tray liners work great and are somewhat flexible which helps when peeling dried materials from them. They also appear stainproof as I have dried many batches of tomato based sauces and curries, both of which have notorious staining powers, yet the trays remain unmarked.
I can definitely recommend the Nesco FD-80 as I have gotten a lot of great use out of it. My original purchase price has been recouped many times over by the backpacking meals I've made with it. Not only that but I get to eat food I really enjoy which is only made more satisfying because I know exactly what did and did not go into making it.
The temperature control issue is definitely something that has to be addressed. If I was making jerky from raw meats, drying raw fish, eggs, dairy or anything else of a risky nature I think I would advise looking for something more dependable in that regard. For my purposes of drying fully cooked meats, meatless sauces, pasta, rice and blanched vegetables the FD-80 is a serviceable tool. I monitor drying items closely and err on the side of overcooking my meat before starting the drying process and tend to err on the side of setting the thermostat a bit high for other items. I also dry no more than three trays of meat at a time with an extra tray left empty for airflow.
A clean environment before and during the drying process as well as proper storage afterwards is essential whether you are making backpacking meals or just preserving food for the winter. I dry ingredients in bulk and store them in the freezer keeping meat no longer than a few months and other items about eight months maximum. Meals are created just prior to a trip so are only exposed to ambient temperatures for the minimal amount of time. Having never gotten ill from any of the meals I've created I consider this model to be safe so long as used prudently and good storage techniques are used after the fact.
View of the top unit which contains the heat element and fan as well as the temperature control. The flip-up handle is very solidly attached. It goes down for storage which is great and makes picking up the unit easy even when hot.
The standard tray with the open design for air flow. The outer edges stack together tightly to create the pressurized chamber while the center tube extends high to create the center air return column.
The Clean-A-Screen which was included is very useful for smaller items or just for making clean up easier.