This is a variable temperature food dehydrator, with a timer. I don’t think there is a better product on the market.
I prepare all our hiking and backpacking food from scratch. I’ve seen and tried a lot of different dehydrators, but not a one of them can hold a candle to this company’s products.
The biggest difference in an Excalibur is that the air is forced across the drying trays, rather than up through them from the bottom (the way almost all round dehydrators work). This means that you get even drying, and even temperature dispersion inside the unit.
They make three sizes, and I own the large one. It now sells for $250. Mine has 9 trays, each 15 inches square. The trays have a support base, with a nylon mesh insert. All of these parts are top rack dishwasher safe, which does a nice job of getting them really clean after a food drying season. Between fillings when I’m really using it I just scrub them up in the sink, even though they don’t fit very well (in the sink). The other two have the same size trays, but the smallest holds 4 trays, and the next holds 5 trays. I have a friend who owns the 5-tray model and she is as happy as I am.
The thermostat can be adjusted from 85 degrees, all the way up to 145 degrees. This means that you can set the temperature correctly to dry herbs (lower) to making jerky at the high end. When you dehydrate things this is very important if you want them to keep well for any length of time. If the outside is dry but moisture is trapped in the middle your food will spoil even though it looks like it’s been dehydrated.
The fan is in the back of the box and forces air across the trays. The air then hits the front door and is forced downward to exit a crack at the bottom of the door. This keeps the circulation going, pulling as well as pushing the air. The airflow direction is critical because in dehydrators that just push air through the trays that air is being blocked by every piece of food that it hits on the way through. If you have lined a tray with plastic wrap to make a fruit leather... yup... you’ve just blocked the air flow completely making your dehydrator into more of an oven than a dryer. The Excalibur will dry foods faster and MUCH more evenly than a round dehydrator.
Mine came with two teflon sheets you can line the trays with for fruit leather. But I simply bought some commercial width plastic wrap. I like being able to tuck the wrap under the trays.
The appliance is basically a box with trays and a removable front door. The most difficult part is to occasionally wash out the inside of the box... so that’s not too tough!
Not only do I make all our camping food but at other times I’ve made jerky for gifts, I make my own yogurt nearly every week (having a known temperature for that process makes for more consistent results), drying herbs. They say it can be used for preserving flowers, or drying dough art creations.
You can preserve extra apples, tomatoes, zucchini – lots of things the garden makes TOO much of, for later use. I do apples and pears in small bits and use them all year like raisins. All kinds of squash or other vegs can be done in chunks and just thrown in soups to extend them the rest of the year.
Well, yes, I do give an entire seminar on preparing camping foods with the dehydrator, but I’ll refrain from giving it all in this review!
I’ve had mine for over 10 years, and I simply love it.
One-year warranty, or you can purchase an extended contract.
Update On Oct 11, 2009: I had the chance this past week to compare this to the Cabelas commercial dehydrator. This one is still best. The Cabelas blew air through the trays, and the trays had large (3/4 inch) mesh. It was clearly designed with making jerky and not much else in mind. It's controls were more "electronic" so it looked fancy, but it didn't give more options than this one, and the electronics really just gives more things that can break down.