Nesco FD80 Square Dehydrator & Jerky Maker: An excellent and efficient dehydrator
Mar 8, 2011
Review by Rudi Xeno
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Variable temperature control, square shape=more usable area, expandable, no tray rotation needed, top-mounted heater/blower
Cons:Cannot slide trays in & out
The Bottom Line: The Nesco FD-80 is a well designed, efficient dehydrator that delivers much more than its modest price would suggest. Highly recommended.
When shortly after the Holidays last year, my now 14 year-old daughter decided she no longer wanted the 100 Calorie "junk packs" included with her lunch as snacks I was impressed. She wanted fruit, a good healthy alternative. So every morning I'd include an apple, pear, some melon pieces or a banana into her lunch bag. But in a few days we realized that whole fruit and a heavy crowded backpack didn't mix well. The apples and pears bruised badly and the melon and bananas tended to squish. "Can we get dried fruit Dad?"
Recommend this product?
So, off to Publix for some dried apples, pineapple and apricots. Ouch, I thought, dried apples cost over $10 a lb.? It was time to reacquaint myself with my food dehydrator.
A few years ago I found a Nesco/American Harvest 5 Tray FD-35 425W Food Dehydrator at the flea market for just $15. After a frenzied period of making beef jerky I retired it to the top of one of the cabinets in my garage. Rather than prudently climbing a step stool to get it down, I lazily started poking it with a pole expecting to catch it as it came down. I so wish I would have remembered that the dehydrator wasn't actually a solid unit, but a series of 5 independent trays topped by a dryer unit. The trays separated, striking the concrete floor and pretty much self destructed. Good idea, poor execution.
So, I decided to begin a search for a new dehydrator. It didn't take long on Amazon to find what I believed was going to be the ideal replacement. The Nesco/American Harvest 700W Square FD-80 was very well reviewed and available for only $49 with free shipping. Sold!
Nesco/American Harvest 700W Square FD-80 Food Dehydrator & Jerky Maker
The Nesco/American Harvest FD-80 is similar in design with many of Nesco/American Harvest dehydrators with the notable exception of having square rather than the more common round trays. According to Nesco, the square design allows the dehydrator to more efficiently use space giving you up to 41% more capacity. With a couple of months use under my belt I can agree. You have much more useable space with this square design.
Out of the Box
The FD-80 consists of a bottom drip tray/drain pan upon which 4 drying trays (included) are stacked. As many as 4 additional trays can be separately purchased and used. Each tray provides approximately 1 sq ft of drying surface, consistent with the units 14" x 14" outer dimensions. With the trays stacked, the dehydrator head which contains the heating element and the 2400 RPM 4 ½" plastic fan sits on top of the trays.
Around the edge of each tray is an interlocking air chamber that circulates the hot air that is generated by the dehydrator head. Air is forced down the perimeter of the trays, then horizontally across each tray converging in the center where it is sucked up by the fan and recirculated. Nesco refers to this design as its patented Converga-Flow Action. Nesco claims that this design "delivers not only speedy results but uniformity, so foods dry evenly--no need to rotate the trays around during operation."
The dehydrator head features thermostatic temperature control that ranges from 95F degrees to 160F degrees. There is however, no on/off switch. The unit is turned on simply by plugging it in. I found this an unusual omission, but one easily remedied by installing an in-line on/off disc on the power-cord for about $1.
Also included in the box is one Clean-a-Screen, a close mesh plastic surface that fits on the top of a tray and is handy when drying small things like berries or sticky fruits such as bananas and pineapple.
Also included is a reasonably good instruction booklet both for operation of the unit in addition to dehydrating in general and some basic Jerky recipes.
Dehydrating fruits and vegetables is a fairly straight forward procedure as it is with any dehydrator. Fruits such as apples and pears (my daughter's favorites) are peeled, cored and sliced to about 3/8" thick and spread out on the trays in a single layer. In order to prevent oxidation (browning), the fruit may be soaked for a few minutes in a dilute ascorbic or citric acid bath. Lemon juice can also be used here.
The dehydrator is set for 135F degrees and in about 6 - 10 hours the fruit is successfully dried and can be stored in airtight containers for a several days at room temperature, a few weeks in the refrigerator or several months in the freezer. Nesco claims that drying can be accomplished in as little as 4 hours. In practice, I find that 6 hours is the minimum for lightly loaded trays and as much as 12 hours for 4 - 6 trays that are fully loaded. Still this is impressive drying time.
To date, we have used the Nesco FD-80 to dry apples, pears, bananas, kiwis, melon, pineapple and strawberries. As claimed there is little need to rotate the trays. During the drying process I remove the dehydrator head and examine the fruit. Thinner slices of course will dry quicker and are removed when dry. This is where the only weakness of the Nesco design is obvious. Each tray nests on top of the one below. To examine trays, each has to be lifted after the dehydrator head is removed. More expensive dehydrators often have a solid outer shell and trays may be easily slid in and out of the dehydrator. Although I would prefer this latter design, I'm not sure I'd be willing to spend the necessary additional $150 - $200 to get it.
Although the motivation to purchase the FD-80 was to dry fruit for snacks, I (and surprisingly my daughter) have enjoyed making beef jerky with this unit. Although several packets of Jerky Cure and Seasonings were included, I prefer my own recipes which are heavily spice laden and sugar and molasses free. We watch our carbs here. After marinating sliced jerky or dry seasoning chopped meat Jerky and extruding it into strips or rods, jerky is dried in about 6 - 8 hours at 160F.
Economy of Dehydrating
Earlier I mentioned the cost of dried apples and pears ($10/lb.) Pineapple is costlier still at $12 - $14 lb. Here in South Florida fresh fruit is plentiful and inexpensive. At our local produce market I can usually purchase several varieties of apples and pears for as little as 89 cents/lb. Generally it takes about 3 lbs of fresh fruit to produce 1 lb of dried fruit. The electricity used for a batch of fruit comes to less than $1. So, even at $1/lb for the fresh fruit, a lb of dried apples or pears is less than $4.00 with the advantage of knowing the quality of the fruit used and what it has been treated with.
Although the Nesco/American Harvest is not quite as quick as the manufacturer may claim, it's faster than other dehydrators I've owned in the past, including the FD-35 referenced early in the review. The top mounted dehydrator head is an improvement over more conventional bottom heaters since drips into the heating unit are eliminated. This produces fewer odors and considerably easier cleaning.
The level of noise is quite low and the unit can be left running in the kitchen without being particularly noticeable. Units I've owned in the past needed to be operated in either a garage or basement due to their high noise level.
Cleaning the Nesco FD-80 requires little more than soaking the base tray and drying trays in warm soapy water for an hour or two. Alternatively the trays can be washed in the dishwasher (top rack) and removed before the heated drying cycle begins. The dehydrator head requires little more than a wipe with a damp cloth or a sponge. The underside of the head remains remarkably clean since it is top mounted.
The Nesco/American Harvest 700W Square FD-80 Food Dehydrator & Jerky Maker is a remarkably well designed, high performance dehydrator that delivers much more than you would expect from a similarly priced appliance. Not only does it produce uniform high quality results, it's fun for the whole family. The Xenos recommend it highly.
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