How to Get Started with a Food Dehydrator

Nothing beats a hot meal at the end of a grueling day on the trail. Make your own backpacking meals and bring the goodness of home cooking to the backcountry. We’re about to dive into how you can use a food dehydrator to make your own backcountry meals!

How to Choose a Dehydrator

When it comes to food dehydrators you have several different options, however, there are a few features worth having. Number one is a timer. Most dehydrators don’t come with self-timers. Since dehydrating food can take an excruciating amount of time, the last thing you want is to wake up in the middle of the night to turn the dehydrator off.

Another handy feature is the ability to throw the trays in the dishwasher. This makes cleanup a breeze when dehydrating meats or sticky fruits. Tray liners are also handy. If you want to dehydrate smaller items or make tasty fruit roll-ups then you’ll need tray liners. If a particular brand you like doesn’t make liners, you can buy them from another manufacturer and cut them to size.

How to Dehydrate Almost Anything

Using a food dehydrator is extremely simple. All you do is cut veggies and fruits into small, bite-sized pieces, and put the dehydrator on. Literally, that easy. You know the food is done when it’s dry. To test, break apart a piece of food. If there is any moisture in the middle, keep drying. The amount of time food needs to dry depends mostly on water content. The more water, the more time. Start around six hours for a full dehydrator and increase the time as needed.

As a general rule of thumb, fruits such as apples, pears, strawberries, and kiwis should be a bit leathery. They will often bend and not be brittle. Most veggies, beans, and herbs should be brittle and almost crumble when they are broken.

To Blanch or Not to Blanch?

Certain veggies require blanching before dehydrating. Blanching softens the food before fully cooking it. It is helpful to ensure that your dehydrated food doesn’t leave you with a pile of colorful marbles posing as food. It also helps the veggies keep their color and flavor.

To blanch something, cut it up into the bite-sized chunks you want to dehydrate. Next, assemble your blanching station by bringing a pot of water to a boil and putting a bowl filled with ice water nearby. Throw the veggies in the boiling water. Cook time depends on the veggie, but four to five minutes is standard. Then, using a strainer, dump the hot water and immediately plunge the veggies in the ice bath. Finally, strain the veggies from the ice bath and pat dry before dehydrating.

Veggies that require blanching are those that are crunchy when eaten raw. A few common examples are corn (uncooked, not from a can or frozen), potatoes, celery, carrots, green beans, wax beans, brussel sprouts, squashes, cauliflower, asparagus, beets, and broccoli.

Other Foods for Consideration

Dehydrated sauces give backcountry meals a flavor kick. You can dehydrate almost any red sauce, salsa, or thick soup base, even curried lentils. Milk products don’t dehydrate well, so avoid anything with milk, cream, or yogurt.

Prior to dehydrating, make sure the sauce has an even consistency. Smooth out chunky salsas and sauces in a blender or food processor. Using those handy liners, line the tray and spread sauce out on the tray keeping the sauce at about an eighth of an inch thick. Keep it to one serving per tray. Then dehydrate until there are no wet spots on the sauce. The sauce will become leathery or brittle depending on how thick it was on the tray. Then, store the sauce in serving-sized baggies. Voila! You now have a homemade sauce that’s ready for use.

How to Store and Rehydrate Food

Dehydrated food keeps best when stored in the freezer. Ingredients should last up to two years in a freezer. Simply store ingredients in baggies and scoop out what you need for each meal you make.

In order to rehydrate food, put about two cups of water in per serving. For example, if your meal is for two, you’ll likely need four cups of water. Let the pot stand, covered, for about a half hour. Check the contents of the pot and see how much water has been absorbed you can always add more water or boil some off as needed. Next, crank that stove and heat up your meal.

Dehydrating certainly isn’t an exact science, but with these simple tricks you’ll be cooking up delicious grub in the backcountry in no time.

About the Author


Meg Atteberry

Meg ditched the 9-5 world as an architect in pursuit of adventure. Now a freelance writer for the outdoor industry, she’s made it her life’s work to inspire others to say “yes” to adventure. From the remote wilderness areas of Colorado, to exploring a foreign country, Meg specializes in off-beat destinations for the intrepid soul. You can find her in the backcountry searching for the perfect camp spot in her home of Colorado.