I’m a big fan of beef jerky. Not so much eye-watering retail price, mind you, or the untraceable nature of the commercial product’s precursors — like when you get that one bag that’s nothing but scraps, unidentifiable knuckles and strands of desiccated flesh, ew. So I decided, in keeping with my recent self-sufficiency kick, to start dehydrating my own food for fun and, presumably, eventual profit. Certainly not because the USDA is warning that in 2022, “all food prices are predicted to increase between 8.5 and 9.5 percent,” with “food-at-home prices predicted to increase between 10 and 11 percent.”
Dehydration is one of humanity’s oldest and most useful food preparation techniques. We were doing it before we began farming, sun-drying meat and vegetable matter to wick away moisture that leads to spoilage, extending its durability and making it easier to transport. Even with later advances in fermentation, pickling, curing and canning, drying remains an ubiquitous practice with the global meat snack industry estimated at $9.47 billion in 2021.
Given that I was just getting into the activity, and am generally a cheap sumbitch, I ignored the advice of popular review sites and forewent the bells and whistles of Wi-Fi connectivity, stainless steel construction and associated smartphone apps, opting instead for the least expensive, most barebones dehydrator I could find: the Cosori C0165. It’s $70 and perfect.
I mean it’s a food dehydrator. It is, by definition, a box that blows hot air. You could literally MacGyver one out of a hair dryer, a plastic milk crate, a two gallon water jug, some chicken wire, and a roll of duct tape if you wanted to. And there is nothing fancy about the dehydration process. You set the temperature and a timer, then wait 6 - 18 hours for a bell to ding, so like why would I spend upwards of $200-500 for a bunch of features that only give the illusion of greater control but don’t make the actual process go faster?
The C0165 does exactly what it's supposed to and not one iota more and I absolutely love it for that. You get five BPA-free plastic stacking trays, a fruit roll sheet and a mesh sheet for herbs (yes, those herbs too). You put moisture-filled stuff on those trays, you stack the trays, you turn on the machine, you set the temperature (95ºF-165ºF) and time (30-minute increments up to 48 hours), and then you move on with your life. There are no pop-up reminders to clear, no app permissions to grant, and very little to break, so long as you don’t dunk the base unit in liquid. The thing is damn near silent, running under 48 dB — you won’t notice it operating overnight unless it's in the same room as you — and is compact enough to fit into the cabinet when not in use. Clean-up is also easy: just wipe down the base with a sponge and give the trays a light scrubbing to take off any dried bits left behind.
To date, I’ve managed to fit 2-plus pounds of sliced and marinated bottom round into the machine in one go, as well as around 3-pounds of roasted heirloom tomatoes at a time. Taller (or broader, depending on your angle of observation) items can be tricky as there isn’t much space between each tray level so stuff like hatch chilis will need to be cut down to size before being processed. And while I have to run the machine for the better part of a day to see results, it is still far more efficient than using a full-size kitchen oven (which draw 2000-3000W, on average, to the C0165’s 450W) and magnitudes faster than waiting for the dumb old sun to do it — and that’s assuming you even live somewhere hot and dry enough to prevent the food from rotting before it fully dries (hint: that somewhere is sure not San Francisco).