How To Dehydrate Food With An Air Fryer: The Ultimate Guide
Air Fryers: we’d open by saying you either love them or hate them, but if you own one, we know you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything you dislike!
Since air fryers have boomed in popularity, we’ve been finding more inventive ways to make the most of them - and yes, that includes dehydrating food.
If you’ve never dehydrated food before, you might be wondering, why would I need to do that? By dehydrating your food, you’re significantly reducing its moisture content.
This translates to longer-lasting food that doesn’t compromise on taste! When your food is dehydrated, the lack of moisture means that bacteria can’t survive - and yes, your air fryer can do the job for you.
How To Dehydrate Food In An Air Fryer
You can use your air fryer to dehydrate food, but it may take a little tweaking and patience. Air fryers usually only circulate the air INSIDE the air fryer when you’re cooking, but to dehydrate your food, you’ll need to get some circulation inside and out to remove any warm, moist air.
Remember: when you’re dehydrating food in an air fryer, you don’t want to cook it - just dry it out! So, you’re looking for either a dehydration setting on your air fryer or a temperature setting below 123 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have either, keep reading.
Dehydrating With an Air Fryer: Top Tips
First off, we’ll need to set the temperature of our air fryer to a significantly lower temperature than we’d normally cook at. Most air fryers cook at 200, but for dehydrating, this can be too high (depending on what food we’re working with).
So, we’d recommend setting the temperature of your air fryer somewhere between 125-150 degrees and making any adjustments if needed. If your air fryer has a dehydration option, it will automatically put the temperature somewhere between this range.
When we’re thinking about temperature, though, another important factor we’ll need to consider is the size of our food. Remember, regardless of what food you’re dehydrating, the goal is to get rid of the moisture and make it as crispy as possible. Larger batches with larger cuts of food will take longer.
If you want to slice your food as thinly and evenly as possible, we’d recommend using a mandolin (unless you’re a precision expert with a kitchen knife, that is). Mandolins can deliver perfectly even and thin slices every time, and this is exactly what you need for dehydrating.
Remember, even if you’ve chopped the thinnest slice of apple EVER, you should NEVER be stacking your slices on top of each other.
If you do, you won’t get rid of all the moisture, and you’ll find that your batch has plenty of slices still containing moisture. Instead, place your slices next to each other and avoid any overlap.
Keep them an even distance apart to ensure they dehydrate properly and ensure enough space between each slice for the air to circulate around the food properly.
When you’re dehydrating food, cooking times may vary, However, dehydrating food in an air fryer isn’t a quick job, and you can expect to need anywhere between 6-12 hours to complete the process.
Here are a few tips to help you find the right dehydration time for you:
- Follow recipes online or in your air fryer manual
- Use the dehydration setting on your air fryer (if it has one), and use the cooking time stated
- Experiment with different batches and cooking times
Dehydrator vs. Air Fryer: What’s The Difference?
Although you CAN use an air fryer to dehydrate your food, you’ll be well aware that actual dehydrators are a thing. Sure, you can get these two appliances to do the same thing, but there are actually some fundamental differences between the two.
Dehydrators remove all of the moisture and water from our food, preventing bacteria and fungi from developing. You can also use this function for other purposes, such as to create muesli and dry snacks.
How Air Fryers Work?
Air fryers work a little differently from dehydrators - after all, they weren’t created with the same purpose in mind! Your air fryer is designed to cook food rather than dehydrate it. It cooks your food by moving hot air around the inside of the appliance.
Air fryers are often used as a healthier alternative to deep dryers, as they can produce that crispy effect without the need for oil. For some recipes, air fryers can also be used as a more energy-efficient alternative to a traditional oven.
One of the main differences between air fryers and dehydrators is that air fryers are programmed to run at much higher temperatures because they COOK your food.
However, your air fryer will have a similar internal design to a dehydrator, with a mesh-like basket inside that helps your food cook from all angles. Remember, though, air fryers get the job done a lot quicker than dehydrators because they’re designed for different purposes.
While the crispiness of your dehydrated food comes from the removal of moisture, the crispiness of your air-fried food comes from both a lack of moisture and the Maillard effect.
The Maillard effect is a reaction that occurs when the amino acids and carbohydrates in your food are exposed to certain temperatures. The Maillard effect can then brown your food and create notable changes in your food's taste and smell.
How Dehydrators Work?
Your dehydrator will run at an incredibly low temperature for a long period of time. Few other cooking appliances are programmed to run at temperatures as low as dehydrators.
Dehydrators also come with a heating element that can be used to monitor and maintain the temperature you want throughout the entire dehydration session. The dehydrator’s fan will move the warm air throughout the layers of the appliance, ensuring that every slice of your food is completely dehydrated.
Your dehydrator will usually have three internal levels. Each level is a tray with a mesh-like pattern; this allows the air to circulate efficiently throughout the appliance and dry your food out correctly.
Depending on the food, you’ll usually need to dehydrate your food for between four to twelve hours. During this time, the heat inside your appliance will cause all the moisture to escape and ventilate.
This process takes time, and it doesn’t always work - you’ll need to use the right temperature and time for the food you’re dehydrating, which can involve trial and error (unless you’re following specific instructions).
In terms of dehydrating, there are a few significant differences between these two appliances.
- Your dehydrator can only dehydrate food, while your air fryer can be used for other purposes, such as baking, roasting, grilling, and more.
- Not all air fryers can dehydrate food, but air fryers that include a dehydration setting will often produce the same results as a dehydrator.
- Your air fryer will have a smaller capacity than your dehydrator, and dehydrators often have more functions.
The Best Air Fryers For Dehydrating Food
If you want to spare yourself the expense of buying a dehydrator, air fryers are a good investment. With the right air fryer, you’ll not only be able to dehydrate your food, but you can also use it to roast and grill items.
Although your air fryer will have a limited capacity compared to a traditional dehydrator, you may also have the option to buy accessories to provide more space - many of which are extremely cost-effective.
One important thing to remember, though, is that not all air fryers can dehydrate food. So, if you’re looking for the right model, you’ll need to approach your investment carefully.
Below, we’ve listed a few air fryers that are capable of successfully dehydrating food, but before we get started, let’s run through a few important things you’ll need to look for in the right air fryer.
- For your air fryer to dehydrate, it’ll need to have a dehydrating setting or run at temperatures of 123 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Choosing an air fryer with a higher temperature setting will cook your food rather than dehydrate it.
- Make sure your air fryer has a good system for ventilating steam. If the steam can’t escape your air fryer, it will create condensation inside, which won’t dehydrate your food.
- Look for air fryers with additional accessories that you can place your food on. Although your air fryer will come with a default basket, look for extras like racks and trays, which will be better for dehydrating.
- Look for an air fryer with a larger-than-average basket. You’ll want to dehydrate large batches in one go, so a fryer with a basket of 5 quarts is ideal.
- Find an air fryer with a long run time. For most air fryers, a single-cycle program goes for no longer than 25 minutes. This isn’t long enough to dehydrate your food. Choose the longest cycle possible, so you don’t have to keep resetting your program.
This multi-function air fryer is efficient and rapid, and honestly, it’s the ideal addition to your kitchen.
With the chefman fryer, you can air fryer, bake, reheat, rotisserie, and yes - dehydrate! It also boasts a 6.3-quart capacity, so you’ll be able to dehydrate much larger batches than you’d be able to in a traditional air fryer.
This chefman is also available for a pretty modest price tag, which means you won’t have to break the bank to use your dehydration functions. It’s one of the best options on the market for those looking for an air fryer that can dehydrate, and for good reason!
- Minimum temperature of 93 degrees Fahrenheit
- 6-liter capacity
- Cheap to run
- Easy to use
- Easy to clean
- Cooks quickly
Another one of our personal favorites is the PowerXL Air Fryer Pro with dehydrator. Again, we’d have no qualms about recommending this air fryer because it includes just about every feature you could possibly need, and it does the job brilliantly. We love it!
Like the Chefman, this air fryer comes with an array of multi-cooking features for regular frying, rotisserie, baking, and of course, dehydrating.
You can buy this air fryer with a capacity of 6-8 quarts (that’s a lot of dehydration space!), and the dehydration preset is set to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, making it ideal for dehydrating all sorts of food. Here’s what we love about this model:
- 8 one-touch presets
- Designated dehydration function
- 6-8 quarts
- Easy to clean
- Cooks quickly
- Includes three recipe books
How Else Can You Dehydrate Food?
Although air fryers and dehydrators are popular ways to dehydrate food, let’s not forget that food dehydration is by no means a modern invention.
This method of food preservation has been used for centuries, so it goes without saying that there are plenty of other ways to dehydrate your food.
Some of the oldest methods of dehydration are still used today - why? Because they’re effective. Simple. If you’re not drawn to the idea of using a modern appliance to dehydrate your food, take a look at some of our alternative suggestions below.
Most of us have eaten, or at least heard of, smoked food. Smoking is a popular way to dehydrate meat, but it’s not usually used on fruits and veggies.
By exposing your meat to smoke, you can dehydrate it in a much quicker fashion than other alternatives. Smoking is usually chosen over leaving the meat to dry in the sun or in an attic for a few weeks because, unsurprisingly, these methods can cause a lot of bacteria to grow.
To use the air drying method, simply place your food in a well-ventilated room, and shelter it from both wind and sunlight. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to completely remove the moisture from your food. However, this remains a popular option, particularly for dehydrating herbs and mushrooms.
As the name suggests, this method relies on the heat of the sun to dehydrate food. To sundry, food is simply left in an area where it’s exposed to the sun for a desired period of time. The food is then turned over a few times during the process to ensure that it’s dried from all angles.
When the sunlight hits the food, its moisture starts to slowly evaporate, and it dries out the food. Sun drying is a popular option for fruits, veggies, and herbs.
Using the Microwave
Of course, technology has evolved dramatically since the inception of these methods, so why not take advantage? Using a microwave is another popular way to dehydrate food.
However, dehydrating food in the microwave isn’t the most popular option. Although your microwave can dehydrate food quickly, it can sometimes be too intense for your food to handle. However, if you want to dehydrate herbs, the microwave is an effective method.
Simply place your herbs on a paper towel, and cover them with another paper towel. Then, place them in the microwave and ‘cook’ them for a few minutes on the highest setting.
This method involves a lot of trial and error, so keep checking on your herbs and repeat the process as many times as you need to achieve the desired result. The closer you get to your desired result, shorten the run time of the cycle, as overcooking can ruin your herbs completely.
Using the Oven
If all else fails, you can simply dehydrate food in the oven. Over the years, various versions of oven dehydration have appeared, and the process has been used since approximately 29000 BC. However, we’ll be talking about how to use all of the features of your modern oven to dehydrate!
There are several benefits of using your oven. First off, your oven will have a much larger storage capacity than an air fryer or a microwave, so you can dehydrate multiple batches at once. This is great if you need to get the job done quickly.
If you’re using your oven to air dry food, simply set your oven's temperature to around 140 degrees Fahrenheit or use another preset, such as the ‘keep warm’ option. Now, place the slices of your food on a tray in the oven, ensuring that they’re not overlapping.
Once they’re in the oven, it’s a good idea to leave your oven door open (by around 2-3 inches), and place a fan towards the oven. This may sound a little extra, but it will help circulate the air within the oven and give you the results you need.
The time it takes to dehydrate in the oven can vary, so keep a close eye on your food and adjust the cooking time and temperature accordingly.
The Bottom Line
Dehydrating may not be a modern trend, but using an air fryer to get there has certainly helped this food preservation method become more popular.
Although not all air fryers are designed to dehydrate food, plenty of models now come with their own dehydration presets or cook at low enough temperatures to dehydrate. Just make sure you do your research before making a purchase so you can buy the right air fryer for you!