How to Make Dried Fruits and More Without Any Special Equipment
Dehydrating things can be an amazing way to preserve them, from saving herbs that you grow or purchase and may not use all of, to making your own fruit snacks or jerky, to salvaging scraps for stocks and sauces without having to take up room in your freezer. But not all of us have the inclination to purchase a dehydrator. And while many of the new small appliances like toaster ovens and air fryers have a dehydrating feature, chances are pretty good that you already have not one but two amazing dehydrators in your home already.
(Spoiler alert: It's your kitchen counter and your oven.)
These two methods—open air and oven dehydration—are both easy, surefire ways to dehydrate lots of different foods. Here's how they work, and which foods are best for each method.
Open air dehydration
What it's best for: I use this for low-moisture items that don't need added heat to draw out water. Citrus peels and herbs are great for this method.
How to do it: Just spread your items on a rack over a sheet pan and put in a cool spot out of the way in your kitchen, or even inside your turned-off oven as long as you are certain you won't accidentally turn it on while they are in there. Citrus peels might take a few days, herbs one or two—you want them to be fully dried out.
How to know when they're done: Peels will be hard and will snap if you bend them, herbs will have changed color and will crumble if you rub them between your fingers. If the peels are bendy or the herbs don't crumble, let them continue to dry. Store in an airtight container or ziptop bag in your pantry or in the freezer.
What it's best for: Anything with more moisture like vegetable scraps, jerky, or water-filled fruit will need some heat to help them along.
How to do it: Again, place on a rack over a sheet pan, and where appropriate, cut into slices or smaller pieces. Heat your oven as low as it will go: Most ovens start at 150°, but 200° is okay. Place the items in the oven for several hours or even overnight depending on the thickness of the items and how much water they have. When they reach the texture you want, turn the oven off and leave them inside, letting the items and the oven cool to room temperature together.
How to know when they're done: Vegetable scraps you want to use for stocks or sauces should be completely hard and fully dehydrated; fruits and jerky for eating should be slightly pliable—dry but not brittle. Store your dehydrated items in airtight containers in the pantry, fridge or freezer.
Bonus: You can convert most recipes that call specifically for a dehydrator to one of these methods, just make any necessary adjustments on timing to ensure proper level of dehydration.