After a bit of research into food dehydrators i really couldn't bring myself to paying > $400 (and up to $700 for the really nice ones) for a unit so I went for a generic Chinese-made dehydrator. Was it a good choice.... read on...!
I ended up buying this one off eBay for $130 with free postage. It was located in the same city as me (Brisbane, Australia) so it only took a couple of days to arrive.
I noticed there were a fair few to choose from on eBay so it really came down to trying to pick one that had the most functionality and was geographically closest to me. I figure if it doesn't have to travel half the world to get to my doorstep then that's a good thing for the environment and also lessens the chance of damage en route.
No idea! Really there is not one bit of branding on it or the instructions pamphlet that i can see. All I know is it was made in China and many of the components look awfully similar to many other models on eBay and even some that have a brand. I'm sure these things are all made in the same factory and then shipped out to different suppliers.
It arrived in a massive cardboard box which led me to think I might have gone too big with 10 draws.
It was well packaged with no damage and after removing it from the packaging I realised it was HUGE!
The wife took one look at it and said '...that ain't coming in my kitchen!'. Needless to say it now lives in my garage where I visit it regularly to spend quality time with it.
Seriously though, I am happy with the size as it will come in handy on the big jobs. Better too big than too small. Plus it will keep my garage warm in the cooler months while I tinker around. It's a win/win really.
Many of the units on eBay didn't come with a timer, or a variable thermostat (temperature adjustment) or even an on/off switch, or any combination of these functions. It took a while to find one that had all three in the right size, at the right price, and in close proximity to me.
- Timer - this unit has a digital timer which is very easy to program in hours and minutes. It goes up to 40 hrs (apparently) but I haven't tested that yet. Once set via 3 little push-buttons the unit will run at the temp set on the dial and then turn the unit off once the time runs out. The digital readout is large and easy to read and counts down once you hit go. I think this is a must for a dehydrator. You could get around it with a external timer (on the elec plug) but it just wouldn't be as nice.
- Variable thermostat - to adjust the temperature there is a simple dial that goes from 95F to 155F. Luckily there is a nice little placard with Deg F to Deg C conversions situated right next to the dial. Too easy really. Definitely a must-have on a dehydrator.
- On/Off switch - self explanatory and sturdy. Pretty important I suppose although some units for sale didn't have one.
- Overall: the unit is sturdy enough although never having actually seen an Excaliber dehydrator in the flesh I cant comment on a comparison. It doesn't feel like it will collapse into a heap any time soon.
- Draws: the 10 draws are all plastic and probably my biggest concern when it comes to quality. I have only run one load of Biltong through it and the one draw I used did start to bow a little. I think over time the draws will bend and buckle and may need a helping hand from me to either repair or replace. The draws have a fairly close fit at the front which negates the need for a front door. (see Front Door point below)
- Control panel: I am pretty impressed with the quality in this area. I have seen some cheap gadgets before that really skimp on the dials and switches but these seem to be ok. Again time will tell but they look good to start off.
- Heating element and fan: this is the guts of the dehydrator and if these fail then its all over (red-rover). They appear to be solid enough and the fan is quiet which is one thing a friend warned me of with cheap units.
- Front Door (or lack there of): all cheap units i found on eBay didn't have a front door including this one. It uses the front edge of the draws to close the drying area. It seems to work ok in the one test I have done but all draws need to be installed which is a bummer if you want to dry something larger than a draw height. If I find this a problem then I will probably make a door to hang on the front so that I can remove draws as required. I also think it may be a good idea to not subject unused draws to the heat each time i use the unit which may prolong their life somewhat and that is where a door will come in handy. I need to give this more thought.
I have only really done one test so far as I have only had it a couple of days. This test was a load of Biltong using Marks recipe on this website. I think it worked a charm. Mark suggested 12 hours (give or take) and that is exactly what it took. It could have gone maybe another hour or two but I wanted to try it a little less 'baked' first up.
The taste is awesome along with the texture. Amazing little machine (or not so little as my wife would say).
So would i recommend a generic brand dehydrator? It may be a little early to definitively say but so far based on what I have seen I would say yes.
The cost is probably it's biggest draw-card for me. I could buy 3 or 4 of these for the same price as a top brand model. True the top brand may last longer but sometime we just don't have the spare cash or can bring ourselves to dish it out.
I personally think a generic brand model will basically do the same job as a top model. Maybe it's not as pretty or as well built but it seems to get the job done. Based on the time it took to do my test load it doesn't seem to be lacking in power or efficiency which is something I was most concerned about.
Overall I think I would give it two thumbs up
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