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I would like a dehydrator, but rather than spending a few twenties on a cheap one that's going to break after a couple uses, I would rather save up for one that lasts for years.

The only alternative I know of is to use the oven. The problem is that I would have to have the oven running for hours, and it's really overkill to run a large oven for a couple sticks of jerky or dried fruit.

Is there a different way to dehydrate food other than using the oven or a dehydrator? If so, how?

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Methods I use:

  • Use the sun. In the summer this is a popular method and can even be done indoors, try to avoid humidity, though.

From realfoodswitch.com:

If you live in a warm climate or happen to have a very big sunny window you could sun dry your dehydrator recipes. Keep in mind that the sun may get hotter than the 112-120F degrees that is recommended for eating raw. However, if the option is to eat something deep fried or something sun dried I think the best option is pretty clear!

One thing to watch out for using this technique is that animals and bugs may decide to have a bite or run off with some of your food.

Covering foods with nets, muslin or other light cloth works and watching them for being finished really helps.

  • Use a toaster oven.

If you already have one of those mini-toaster ovens then this is for you. If you’re planning on buying one for this – then just get an affordable dehydrator instead.

This is how you should go about dehydrating raw foods in your toaster oven: place the foods you want to dehydrate on a plate or sheet in the oven. Set the toaster oven on the lowest possible setting, and prop the door open. At this point you may also want to put a fan in front of the oven so there is no water condensation taking place. This speeds up the dehydrating process and also makes sure your food won’t get soggy.

From tacticalintelligence.net

  • Use a fire. Grills, fireplaces, etc. Hang the food(placing to the side of the fire on a tray works to) about 6 inches or less above the fire, you should not use artificial woods as your food will then taste like them.

This method is best used for drying meats. Basically you’ll want to hang strips of meat on a rack and place these in front of a fire. Vegetables and fruits can be placed on the ground near the fire, however be sure that you are protecting the food from nearby critters.

  • Use the wind. This is the least favourable method as it takes longer and the food will have greater risk of spoilage. Meat should not be used by this method unless you use assistive devices(hair dyers, fans, etc) or have no other method.

Form a bag out of some netting (or use an existing netted bag) and place the food inside it. This is then hung from a clothes line or tree branch outside. This method also works inside the house in front of a fan.

Using preservatives or treatments(lemon juice, etc) before drying helps prevent spoilage. Fire is usually the fastest method.


Additional Info

  • For meat:

[The USDA’s] current recommendation for making jerky safely is to heat meat to 160 °F and poultry to 165 °F before the dehydrating process. This step assures that any bacteria present will be destroyed by wet heat. But most dehydrator instructions do not include this step, and a dehydrator may not reach temperatures high enough to heat meat to 160 °F. After heating, maintaining a constant dehydrator temperature of 130 to 140 °F during the drying process is important because: the process must be fast enough to dry food before it spoils; and it must remove enough water that microorganisms are unable to grow

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