How to Dry Food at Home: 4 Easy Ways to Get Started

Stacking dehydrator trays with sliced ​​fruits

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Overview
  • Working Time: 30 minutes - 1 hour
  • Total Time: 6 hours - 1 day
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-40

Drying food at home is a great way to preserve a glut of fruit and vegetables from your garden, or make the most of some fresh meat and produce from local farmers markets.

We've listed our favorite four methods to get you started. You can try drying a variety of meat and produce in an oven, dehydrator, microwave, or naturally. Whichever method you choose, the ways to prepare and store your foods will be the same.

Tips to Prepare Your Food for Drying

No matter which drying method you choose, your preparation will be the same. Here are our top tips for fruits, vegetables, and meat to get you started:

  • Wash fruit well. Soaking fruit slices in a 50:50 mix of lemon juice and water can help prevent browning. Remove the peel if you prefer. Dry the slices on a clean kitchen towel or paper to remove as much water as possible.
  • Wash vegetables and decide if you're going to dry them with or without the skin. Peel if necessary. Vegetables should be blanched before drying.
  • Only dry lean cuts of meat. Fat can go rancid when dried, so trim any visible fat away when preparing. Beef is the best meat to try drying if you're a beginner. Raw pork can contain trichinella parasites so will need pretreating by freezing for 30 days before drying.
  • Food drying works best when everything is cut to the same thickness. Cut your food into 1/4-inch slices. Using a mandolin is a great way to speed up this step.
  • Place your food on a baking tray. You can line this with wax paper or a silicone baking sheet. For fruit and vegetables, placing the slices on a cooling rack set on a baking tray can speed up the drying process. Make sure there's space for the air to circulate between each slice.

What You'll Need

Tools and Supplies

  • Storage jars
  • Additional tools will vary depending on method

Ingredients

  • Fruits, vegetables, or meats

Instructions

How to Dry Food in the Oven

A person puts a baking sheet of sliced ​​apples in an electric oven to dry

Olga Gubskaya / Getty Images

Using your oven to dry foods at home doesn't require any special equipment, but depending on the food you're drying, it can take quite a long time. This method is best suited to a day when you're at home and can regularly check the progress of your foods.

Additional tools and supplies you'll need:

  • Baking trays
  • Cooling racks
  • Wooden spoon
  • Wax paper or silicone baking sheets
  1. Prepare Your Foods

    Use our preparation tips listed above to get your food ready for oven drying.

  2. Set Your Oven on to a Low Heat

    You'll probably need to use your oven's lowest heat setting. Aim for around 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

    The amount of time needed will depend on what food you're drying. Aim for around six hours to start, although for juicy or dense food you may need to increase this to more like 10 hours.

  3. Check and Flip Your Food Regularly

    Every few hours, check your food and flip each slice over. This helps the food dry out evenly.

    If you know that your oven has hot spots—and most of them do—turn the trays as well.

    With convection ovens you can usually leave the door closed, but for non-convection ovens, prop the door open with a wooden spoon. This helps the steam escape and speeds up drying time.

  4. Test Food to See if It's Dry

    After around six hours you can start testing your food to see if it's dry. Remove one slice and allow it to cool before testing. If it's the right texture, remove all the food from the oven. Store according to our instructions below.

How to Dry Food in a Dehydrator

Ripe fresh red cherries on a tray against the background of an open dehydrator

AlexImages / Getty Images

Dehydrators are perhaps the most efficient way to dry food at home. They preserve colors and flavors better than any other method. If you plan on drying a lot of foods at home they're well worth the initial investment.

Additional tools and supplies you'll need:

  • Dehydrator trays
  1. Prepare Your Foods

    Depending on whether you're drying fruits, vegetables, or meat, your preparation method will vary. Check out our prep tips above.

  2. Preheat the Dehydrator

    The temperature needed will vary depending on what you're dehydrating, but use the following temperatures as a guide:

    • Fruits: 135 - 145F
    • Vegetables: 125F
    • Tomatoes: 145F
    • Meats: 145F
  3. Place Food on Dehydrator Trays

    Lay your prepared food on dehydrator trays. It's best to try one type of food at a time, as the strong flavors from foods like peppers or garlic can transfer to other foods.

    As with oven drying, the amount of time needed will depend on the food. Set your timer for six hours to start with.

    Because dehydrator trays are designed to circulate air all around the food, you shouldn't need to flip the slices of food. You may decide to rotate the trays from top to bottom to make sure everything dries at at even rate.

  4. Check Your Food

    After around six hours, you can check the food.

    Foods with a higher moisture content like figs and pears may take up to 36 hours, while vegetables should take around 12 hours. Meat will need 10-24 hours.

Once your food is dry, store according to our instructions above.

How to Dry Food in a Microwave

Woman heating food inside the microwave. - Stock photography

Kanawa_Studio / Getty Images

Microwaves can be used to dry fruits and vegetables as a quicker alternative to other methods, although it doesn't preserve the flavor or color as well. It's not recommended to dry meat in the microwave as it may not dry evenly. Microwaves are only suitable for drying small amounts of food at a time.

Additional supplies you'll need:

  • Silicone baking mat
  1. Prepare Your Food

    Follow our general instructions above, and then lay your food slices either directly on the microwave plate, or on a silicone baking sheet.

  2. Start Drying Your Food

    Use the defrost setting and set the timer for 15 minutes. Turn your food then dry for another 30 minutes. Some fruits may take up to one hour to dehydrate fully.

    Once your food is fully dry, store it according to our recommendations at the bottom of this article.

How to Dry Food Naturally

Close-Up Of Food For Drying

Thomas Woollard / Getty Images

Drying foods naturally in the sun is recommended for fruits, as they're high in sugar so less likely to spoil than vegetables or meat. This is also a great method for chili peppers and tomatoes.

You'll need the following tools and supplies:

  • Stainless steel grids
  • Wooden blocks
  • Cotton twine (if drying on a string)
  1. Prepare Your Food

    Prepare your food according to our instructions above. Decide if you're going to dry them on a rack or by stringing them up on cotton twine. Chili peppers can be dried whole, and tomatoes can be split in half.

    If you're using a rack, place your wooden blocks on the ground before placing the metal grid on top. Lay out your fruits leaving space between each slice. If you have a lot of fruit to dry, create more racks with additional wooden blocks and metal grids.

    If you're stringing your fruit, use a large needle to thread each slice onto cotton twine. Leave a space between each slice.

  2. Check the Weather

    Air drying works best on hot days of at least 86F. A breeze will help speed up the drying process. If the humidity levels are above 60% your fruits may not dry completely, so you might be better off choosing a different method.

  3. Leave Fruit to Dry

    Air drying can take up to a week, depending on what you're drying. If you can, take the fruit inside at night, as cooler air can add moisture to the fruit which will increase your overall drying time.

  4. Treat and Store Fruit

    Because fruit dried in the air may be exposed to insects and their eggs, you need to treat it with an additional step before it's safe to eat.

    Place the dried fruit in freezer bags and freeze for 48 hours. After this step, it can be stored according to our directions below. It's still recommended that you condition the fruit before you store it.

How to Store Dried Food 

For every method of drying food at home, the way to store it is the same.

Airtight glass jars are the best way to store your dried fruits and vegetables.

When storing fruit, it's best to "condition" it first. Start by filling your jars only 3/4 full. Shake each jar daily and check for any build-up of condensation. If no condensation appears you can repack each jar fully. If you do see condensation, that indicates your fruit isn't fully dry, so you might want to repeat the drying process again.

Vegetables should be dried until crisp, so don't need conditioning in the same way as fruit. Dried vegetable slices can be fully packed into airtight jars right away.

Meat can be stored in airtight jars or frozen.

Try to store foods in smaller quantities that can be used in one go. Every time you open a jar and remove some dried food, the remaining food is exposed to moisture in the air that can affect its quality over time.

Keep dried food in a cool and dark place, and use as needed. Follow our guidelines for how long to keep each type of food, and discard any food that's not been used within that timeframe.

How Long Can You Keep Dried Food For?

The amount of time you can store your dried food for depends on what it is:

  • Fruit: one year
  • Vegetables: six months
  • Meat: two weeks at room temperature, up to four months if frozen

Before you use any dried food, always check that it looks and smells okay. Food that has reabsorbed moisture from the environment can either be re-dried or used immediately. Any food that smells musty or looks moldy should be discarded.