Forms of food dehydration have been around for centuries. Modern devices have resulted in things like banana chips being popular snack choices in your local grocery stores. Now, there are many affordable options that can fit on your counter at home, allowing you to save leftovers from your garden and meals. Properly dried foods can last up to 10 years when stored properly. It can be an appliance that saves you the money you spent on it early in its lifespan.

With so many options and features however, it can be confusing to know where to start. Here we give you some simple things to keep in mind when searching for your first food dehydrator.

Size: Think about what you plan to do with it. If you aren’t in a hurry or don’t plan to dry large amounts of food at once, save the counter space, electricity, and money- and go with something more manageable. If you plan to use it often, have a big project in mind, or have cheap access to large amounts of food to preserve, go with something with larger food drying capacity. Just keep in mind that most foods take up to 12 hours to properly dry, so you are looking at 1-2 batches a day of food being dried for many foods.

Horizontal, or Vertical Layout: Food dehydrators work by applying controlled, warm air flow evenly over the food inside. Vertical dehydrators blow heat from a heating element from below the food, cycling the air up through the racks. Vertical is often less expensive than horizontal. But these are often less efficient because the lower trays get most of the warm air and the top trays get less. Vertical dehydrators work best if the trays are rotated on a regular basis, which means you have to monitor the drying more often to make sure everything is drying evenly than you would in a horizontal model. A horizontal model places the heating element off to the side or in the back, pushing the warm air across the racks evenly. Horizontal airflow can reduce mixing of flavors between different types of food being dried at once. It also eliminates concern of fluids dripping from foods down into the heating element, easing cleaning.

Features: They can come with all sorts of settings and functions, but there are 3 things to make sure your food dehydrator has. A custom timer is a must for perfecting your recipes and getting those banana chips just the right level of crunch. A temperature selector for optimizing heat for the type of food you are preserving (meats for example require higher temperatures to dry safely.) And finally, shoot for something that is easy to clean. If it takes as long to clean as it does to dehydrate your food, you won’t ever use it.

Price: Industrial quality dehydrators can cost you hundreds of dollars. You can find them for as cheap as $30. For a horizontal one like mine, that has some capacity and is easy to use, you can find similar models around $80.

Pick something that will fit your needs and experiment. If you are anything like me, you will have a pantry full of your favorite fruits, vegetables, and meats by the end of the month, and struggling to save them for eating in an emergency.

Image shown is a horizontal dehydrator with sheets filled with apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon.