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I used to think that the dehydrator was nothing more than a novelty item — buy it, try it and then let it collect dust. But a brief stint working in a raw food restaurant, combined with my husband’s love of Doomsday Preppers, forced me to reconsider its place in my kitchen. Turns out it does much more than make fruit roll-ups. It saves produce that’s about to spoil, makes hella good jerky (store-bought is a rip-off), and — if you’re into disaster preparedness — spares you from potential melees at Costco just before a hurricane.

The problem is that most dehydrators are cheap pieces of crap. Weak fans make drying a days-long process, and uneven distribution of air requires the user to rotate trays of fruit/vegetables/meat in regular intervals.

Enter the new Excalibur Camouflage Deluxe Dehydrator. Its functions are identical to the company’s classic nine-tray version, but a flashy exterior is meant to appeal to hunters or nature lovers. Whichever model you choose, either is designed to put all other dehydrators to shame. As the owner of a similar model from a different company, I gave it a one-week test-run to see how it fared.

Positive (+)
Consider this the Cadillac of dehydrators. A solid plastic body houses nine 15” x 15” trays, equivalent to 15 square feet of surface space. A 600-watt fan makes the drying process quick (a certain late-night infomercial brand is only 125 watts) and a 26-hour timer is a convenient bonus that saves you from babysitting your food.

Another feature that sets the Excalibur apart from cheaper models is an adjustable temperature control knob. Because if you’re making apple chips one day and salmon jerky the next, a high/low function isn’t going to cut it. A color-coded chart even tells you which temperature is best for which ingredients.

Most important is that the machine’s performance is superior to any dehydrator I’ve ever worked with — in some cases, it’s even better than a conventional oven. For instance, fruit slices dried evenly without browning from the heat. Basil leaves on the verge of discoloring were quickly preserved and now wait in a glass jar for my next batch of pasta sauce. And watery, out-of-season tomatoes were transformed into chips that are highly concentrated in flavor. Finally, it made enough beef jerky to survive a nuclear blast (all I need now is a fallout shelter.)

Negative (-)
Good luck finding room for this behemoth. At 12-1/2"H x 17"W x 19"D, the dehydrator is almost double the size of my countertop oven. In fact, while making a very garlicky beef jerky, I moved the unit from the kitchen to my outdoor balcony. This kept the clutter, smell and noise to a minimum.

Oh, and about the latter. This machine isn’t loud, but the constant hum of the fan can be grating on your nerves. Run it while you aren’t home or overnight, while you’re sleeping in another room.

One last gripe is that cleanup is a hassle. Jerky marinade evaporated and stuck to the drying sheets and trays, as well as the bottom of the dehydrator. I solved the second problem by laying a Silpat on the floor of the machine. But each mesh screen had to be scrubbed meticulously to remove traces of garlicky soy sauce. Even after a thorough washing, brown specks were still stuck in some tiny crevices.

Verdict:
Given its size and price, this machine demands commitment, kitchen space and a constant craving for banana chips or dried meat. If you happen to fit the criteria, then this is a case of getting what you pay for. The Excalibur outperforms any of the more affordable dehydrators seen in big box stores. It’s an investment worth making. Excalibur Camouflage Deluxe Dehydrator; $399.99, homedepot.com

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