Green Your Life: How to Dry and Dehydrate Food

| 12/13/2010 10:01:05 AM

Dried fruits are a favorite of mine, but buying them at the store is expensive, plus the packaging is wasteful. So I recently decided to try dehydrating my own food. As many of my recent posts point out, making foods like these at home allows you to avoid preservatives as well as customize the recipes to fit your personal tastes. So far, I’ve learned that a dehydrator is extremely versatile, but dehydrating food is not an exact science, and can only be learned by “drying and trying.” 

How to make beef jerky 

For our batch, we used this recipe from Alton Brown (my favorite Food Network cook and personality!) We marinated the meat for about six hours in the refrigerator, patted each piece with a paper towel, then put them on the dehydrator trays in a single layer (no overlapping!) and left them until the meat was chewy and dry (about 11 hours). Be sure to store your finished product in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you want to be extra safe, boil the meat in some marinade for a few minutes first, then proceed with the drying process. 

How to dry fruit 

When drying apples, you can leave the peels or remove them before drying; just remember that the skin is very nutritious. My dehydrator’s manual recommends slicing apples in 1/4-inch pieces, but I like the variety that comes with thickness inconsistency; very thin slices yield crispy, chip-like pieces while thicker slices stay chewy. Apples also discolor when dried—which I don’t mind—but this can be remedied with a two-minute soak in an acidic juice (such as lemon or pineapple juice). 

raw apple slices 
A little more than half of a Granny Smith apple lies in a single layer of slices, waiting to be dehydrated. Photo By Dani Hurst.