×

Our Pitmaster Club can up your game!
Benefits include:

• No more ads, faster page loads!
• "The Pit" forum with tons of info & scores of recipes
• Monthly newsletter
• Video seminars with top pitmasters
• Weekly podcast with news and interviews
• Comprehensive Temperature Magnet ($10 retail)
• Monthly giveaways of Gold Medal grills and smokers
• Discounts on products we love
• Educational and social Meat-Ups
• Support for Operation BBQ Relief
• Support for Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves
• Support for AmazingRibs.com!

AmazingRibs.com BBQ Logo

smoked tomatoes

Dehydrating Meats, Chilis, Tomatoes, Nuts, Fruits, Etc.

"Chipotles, which are dried jalapeño peppers, give out a terrific smoky flavor - they're warm, earthy and usually not too spicy." Chef Yotam Ottolenghi

Smoke dried tomatoes are incredible. Toss them in a salad. On a pizza, in a soup. Endless possibilities. Sweet like raisins. Seductively smoky. I don't have to tell you how great jerky is, but smoked jerky turns the dial up to 11. And once you make them yourselves, you'll never buy chipotles again.

It is fairly easy to dehydrate foods on a grill or a smoker if you can control your temperatures and keep them down low. Remember, meat is about 75% water so it can take a long time to dry it out and make jerky, and if the temp is too hot it will overcook or burn the exterior. For this reason, pellet smokers are ideal since they have set it and forget it digital controls, and most can be set under 200°F. Grills and smokers are great for drying meat to make jerky, tomatoes, and chilis. Indoor electric dehydrators are better at herbs, kale, and fruits.

To dry and smoke foods you need indirect heat, so you must use a 2-zone setup on a grill. Most smokers are designed for indirect cooking. On kamados you need to use a deflector plate, and a mesh grill-topper comes in handy. I am a big fan of the non-stick narrow mesh Frogmats for the job, especially since they can be cleaned in the dishwasher. You can use both lower and upper grates if your setup allows.

The hardest part is getting the temperature down low. If you have to, you can prop open the lid to allow hot air to slide out. Keep in mind that at low temps, it can take many hours to dry out wet things like meat and tomatoes so you will use a lot of fuel. One trick that works well if you have trouble getting the temp down is to smoke the raw food for up to 30 minutes outdoors, which is long enough to flavor it and kill most microbes, and then move it indoors to an electric dehydrator to finish the job more precisely.

Electric dehydrators

I prefer to do jerky, tomatoes, and chilis on my smokers, but for dried fruits, veggies, herbs, pumpkin seeds, kale chips, crackers, fruit and vegetable leathers, I use an electric indoor dehydrator. They can even bring limp potato chips back to life. They run into the thousands of dollars for commercial quality, but top end home units can cost around $500. Low end units cost as little as $120. The sweet spot is in the $200 to 300 range.

You want one with an adjustable thermostat because meat must be dried at higher temps than herbs for safety and flavor. A range of 85°F to 165°F is ideal. A timer with an automatic shutoff is important too. Sometimes you need to turn the food over or reverse the trays so an alarm is nice, although you can just set a kitchen alarm or the alarm on your watch or phone.

The best models have the heater at the top, side, or rear. Drippings and crumbs can cause problems with heaters on the bottom. Some models stack the trays on top of each other and some load on a rack. Front loaders on a rack make it easier to watch the progress and rotate trays. With the heater on the side or rear, the airflow is horizontal so you can dry different foods at once without mixing flavors and all trays get pretty much the same heat and airflow.

The trays can hold mesh for small foods like peas or cherry tomatoes, or solid non-stick sheets for making fruit leathers or purees. You want mesh that can be cleaned in the dishwasher. The non-stick sheets can be hand washed in the sink, but eventually you'll need to replace them.

The two leading manufacturers are Nesco and Excalibur, although there are perhaps 20 or more manufacturers. Nesco makes mostly round devices with round trays stacked on top of each other, with the heater and fan assembly on top. Excalibur makes rectangular devices with the heater at the rear and square trays on shelves that can slide in and out of the front. Excalibur models also have an optional glass front door that makes it easy to see progress. Tribest is a noteworthy manufacturer because their Sedona model has programmable digital controls and displays and it is very quiet.

excalibur food dehydrator

I am a fan of the Excalibur models (I use the 9 shelf Excalibur 3926TB) because the heater and fan are in the rear so there is horizontal airflow, I can remove the trays easily when the food on one shelf is done and leave other foods in, I can rotate the square shelves 1/4 turn at a time if I wish, and I got the optional glass door, so I see in easily. The biggest drawbacks are that it can be noisy, and you need to leave room above because the knobs are in the rear.

foodsaver

The enemies of dried foods are bacteria, enzymes, oxygen, and moisture. Do it right and bacteria are killed, enzymes deactivated, moisture reduced to levels that will not sustain microbes, and oxygen removed so fats and other compounds don't go rancid. For this reason you should also buy a vacuum sealer so that when the drying is done you can store the product optimally. Vacuum sealing improves safety, flavor, and shelf life. Freezing will extend storage time even longer.

Return to top

Please read this before posting a comment or question

grouchy?1) Please use the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help, then please post your question on the appropriate page.

2) Please tell us everything we need to know to answer your question such as the type of cooker and thermometer you are using. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can't help you. Please read this article about thermometers.

3) If you post a photo, wait a minute for a thumbnail to appear. It will happen even if you don't see it happen.

4) Click here to learn more about our comment system and our privacy promise. Remember, your login info for comments is probably different from your Pitmaster Club login info if you are a member.

Return to top

Return to top

LeaderDog.org Ad on BBQ site

About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, and how to cook great food outdoors. There are also buying guides to hundreds of barbeque smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, pulled pork, Texas brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, chili, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best all edited by Meathead Goldwyn.

Brought to you by readers who support us with their membership in our Pitmaster Club. Click here to learn more about benefits to membership.

Advertising. AmazingRibs.com is by far the most popular barbecue website in the world, still growing rapidly, and one of the 25 most popular food websites in the US according to comScore, Quantcast, and Alexa. Click here for analytics and advertising info.

© Copyright 2016 - 2017 by AmazingRibs.com. All text, recipes, photos, and computer code are owned by AmazingRibs.com and fully protected by US copyright law unless otherwise noted. This means that it is a Federal crime to copy and publish or distribute anything on this website without permission. But we're easy! We usually grant permission and don't charge a fee. To get reprint rights, just click here. You do not need permission to link to this website.