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There is a lot of buzz around freeze drying foods at home. As a primer, be sure to check out the “prequel” on the Pros and Cons of freeze drying here.
Full Disclaimer up Front: One of the major drawbacks at the moment is the high cost of such a device. At the moment, home freeze dryers are going to be out of a lot of people’s budget but some may want to keep up with what is going on with this technology. Undoubtedly the price will drop as time goes on. Remember when a new basic computer was $2000 instead of the $400 it is today? We hope that home freeze dryers will also come down like this.
As of now your main choice is Harvest Right Freeze Dryers. Units from other scientific companies and others are special order and very expensive (really meant for larger scale commercial kitchens). Harvest Right is the first one – from what I can tell – that has been made available to the public.
One way to make this affordable would be if you have a group of prepping friends that are capable of sharing like if you have a local food cooperative together. Just make sure that you can actually share. Lets compare the three most accessible models for the home freeze dryer.
Best Freeze Dryers Comparison Table
Harvest Right Small Freeze Dryer
Harvest Right Standard Freeze Dryer
Harvest Right Large Freeze Dryer
1. Harvest Right Small Freeze Dryer
The smallest Harvest Right allows for batches of food of up to 4-7 lbs which allows for up to 900 lbs of freeze dried food per year. Each batch will fill 1-1.5 #10 cans with freeze dried food. The smaller freeze dryer doesn’t take up a lot of space so you could just leave this set up on a kitchen counter in a moderately sized kitchen. It takes a standard 110 volt plug so you can use it just about anywhere.
Cost: $2,195 available here
2. Harvest Right Standard Freeze Dryer
This is a neat looking machine that is small enough to fit on a counter top and holds 7-10 lbs of food which will dehydrate down to 1.5-2.5 #10 size cans. The manufacturer says you can put back up to 380 lbs of freeze dried food in a year with this machine and that almost all the nutrients will stay sound for up to 25 years when sealed in mylar bags.
Cost: $2,495 available here
3. Harvest Right Large Freeze Dryer
The larger version of the Harvest Right seems like a better deal. For one thing you get double the capacity for your extra $1,000. If you are already dropping serious money on a unit like this then you should just go large. With this unit you can freeze dry 670 gallons of food per year which is the equivalent of up to 2,500 lbs of fresh food.
The disadvantage is that the large model requires a 220 volt plug in so you cannot just go plugging this in anywhere you want. You get 5 stainless steel trays you can fill. The unit beeps to let you know when food is done.
Cost: $3,495 available here
How does the freeze dryer work?
- Fresh or cooked foods are put in trays and frozen to -40 F
- Freeze dryer creates a vacuum around foods and then they are warmed up a little bit causing ice crystals to vaporize and drying out the food
- Food is sealed in mylar with oxygen absorbers.
- When water is added back to freeze dried foods it regains most of its fresh characteristics.
What can be freeze dried?
Just about any food can be freeze dried. Fruits, vegetables, cooked entrees, ice cream, eggs, yogurt, sour cream, meats, etc.
Do I need a freeze dryer?
While I absolutely love the idea of people being able to create nutritious and shelf stable foods at home, the cost is pretty substantial for the average person.
At the moment standard dehydrators combined with mylar bags and oxygen and moisture absorber packets is going to be more economical in the short term for the average prepper. If the price drops on these to under $1,500, I might change my mind about this.
- If only makes sense if you are going to use it a lot
Unless you are very serious about putting back a lot of your own foods and doing all the prep work that is necessary and remember to take out batches regularly so you can keep processing, then you may want to wait as well. Again if you have a group and can share the cost and the use of the machine, this can change things a bit. These freeze dryers are wonderful machines but you need to make sure that you will use it enough to justify the cost. If you plan on putting back a lot of freeze dried foods then they are probably worth it even now.
- Long Term Emergencies or Political Turmoil
Also you have to ask yourself if you really need foods to stay good for 25 years anyway. Let’s be honest about some SHTF scenarios. If the nuclear power plants can’t stay up and cooling all that waste then a lot of us are going to be in major trouble anyway, long before we have a chance to eat a 20 year food supply. That is a doom and gloom way to look at it but I think it is worth mentioning that there are plenty of instances where you might never get a chance to use such a large food supply.
- Freeze dried foods can be a good trade item and offer the lightest load for bugging out
On the other hand having a large supply of food that has a long shelf life is worth a lot as a trade item to others. If you are planning on bugging out then freeze dried foods are going to offer you the most for the amount of weight you are carrying.
At the same time freeze dried foods retain their nutrients and keep them for several decades which is not the case with foods preserved other ways. If you have found that canning and freezing is too time consuming then freeze drying might be the way to go for you.
- Freeze Dryers Provide A More Space Efficient Way To Preserve and Store Foods
Think about how much water and fluids you are storing when you deep freeze or can foods! 100 quart jars take up a lot of space whereas freeze dried foods can be stored under more trying conditions and take up a lot less space. If you live in an apartment or other small space and want to be prepared food wise then a freeze dryer makes a lot of sense and can save you a lot of time and money while not taking up all your living and storage space.
- Having Your Own Freeze Dryer Can Inspire You To Be Creative With Foods Or Follow A Diet During A Crisis
There are some great freeze dried foods out there but they don’t necessarily follow some of the dietary guidelines that you might have to go by for your best health. Diabetes and other conditions are much more manageable if you have the right foods for example. A freeze dryer allows you to plan out a nutritious diet that you are in control of.
You can also have a lot of fun designing your own freeze dried creations. For example you might want to mix some dried mushrooms in with your freeze dried beef slices and add some freeze dried sour cream for a quick stroganoff style entree. How about a freeze dried fruit pouch that has blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and apples? The options are pretty limitless.
- Great For Small Businesses and Farmers or Homesteaders That Produce A Surplus
I have tried to weight the positives and negatives of home freeze dryers as things are now. I do think that the Harvest Right is a wonderful innovation and even with the higher price tag that it currently bears, it has a lot of potential for small businesses like farms.
Say you raise blueberries but find yourself freezing them or worse, some going to waste because you can’t sell them fast enough. With a freeze dryer you, can create a very high dollar product that will make up for what you spent and then start making you a profit. You can also take advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables and preserve them without heating up your house with canning or cooking down fruits and sauces. All those things taste really good and I love to can but as a small farmer myself, I welcome the idea of freeze drying.
- Harvest Right Freeze Drying Produces Better Quality
If you are a fan of freeze dried food for prepping, camping, or backpacking then you are probably well aware of the high cost of purchasing any food that is freeze dried, especially if it came from organic sources. Harvest Right dried foods look a lot more appetizing and you can use the best quality food if you want to.
- Power Issues During A Long Term Emergency
The large freeze dryer takes a 220 volt service so you have to have an outlet that can handle that. In a grid down situation most people will not be able to find a way to use a freeze dryer. This is a tool that is to be used before an emergency but is probably not that practical for a longer one if there is a lack of power.
The small and standard size Harvest Right would be better for using during a crisis because they use a standard 110 volt plug in like that found in any home or business. Technically, you could use a solar panel and battery system with inverter to run the small and standard ones but you will probably want to use your power for something else unless you have a larger set up.
Freeze dryers are not lightweight. The smallest is still 85 lbs so you will want to keep it either in a place where you never really have to move it much or keep it on a movable cart for easy versatility. The standard size freeze dryer is 105 lbs and the large is 147 lbs.
If you opt for the stainless steel version, you can add 20% to the weights listed above. I don’t think weight is something to worry about but you need to realize the size of what you are buying. If you are using it a lot then setting it up in a permanent place might be best.
Tips For Freeze Drying
1. Choose only the highest quality produce and fresh meats
This is food that is going to be stored for a long time so the better the quality to start with the better the taste and quality over the long term. Never use produce or meat that seems to be on the downhill side of fresh. Freeze drying takes time and energy and you don’t want to waste it with poor quality foods.
2. Remove foods from freeze dryer and seal in mylar with oxygen absorbers as soon as possible when a batch finishes
If food is left unsealed, it will not keep as long. For best flavor and shelf life, make sure to seal up foods within a few hours of a batch finishing if possible. This also helps ensure that you can process more food than if you just leave it in the dryer.
3. Never overload the dryer
Your freeze dryer is only made to hold so much. Cramming too much into it will lead to unsatisfactory results and in the worst case, might cause some damage or a big mess inside your machine.
When Harvest Right Freeze Dryers first came on the market, replacement parts were a little harder to get. Now that they are more common, you can order some parts online with just a few clicks. This means it could be easier to fix things without the hassle and expense of sending a machine back. While they are not the heaviest things, they are not lightweight either and thus cost a substantial amount to ship anywhere for repairs if the warranty doesn’t cover it.
Harvest Right sells their own brand of mylar bags and heat sealers. I imaging they are very good quality but that doesn’t mean it is not worth looking at other brands. Remember that mylar bags come in different thicknesses so you need to be aware of that when comparing costs. If you are going to be storing bags in plastic totes then you may not care if your bags are not the thickest.
Remember that some foods can be a bit sharp and poky after being dehydrated or freeze dried. My husband and I dehydrate a lot of Shiitake, Oyster, and Namenko mushrooms. Sometimes when we vacuum seal them we find that if we use the thinner vacuum seal bags, the mushrooms poke small holes and allow air in so we wind up using another bag thus saving zero money.
Freeze Dried Foods Are Usually Sealed In Mylar or Kept In Jars
While many of us are used to vacuum sealing, this is not something people do with freeze dried foods that often. From what I can tell the standard practice is to use mylar bags, add an oxygen absorber, and seal with a heat impulse sealer. The alternative is to use jars and oxygen and/or moisture absorbers. The problem I have with jars is that they are more expensive and don’t provide protection from sunlight and UV rays. They also take up a lot of space on a shelf and like all glass, they are prone to breakage.
Lightly vacuum sealing will not crush foods and that seems to be part of the trick if you choose to use vacuum seal methods. Stop the suction and seal before food is crushed. This means paying more attention when sealing up bags.
Deciding What To Freeze Dry
Most people start out freeze drying basic foods like fruits, vegetables, and meats. Chopping and dicing foods to a smaller size can help decrease the amount of time it takes to freeze dry and make the foods much more convenient to use at a later time.
- Look for sales and deals on bulk meats. Cut up into cubes or strips and freeze dry for a high protein addition to any meal.
- Find fruits and vegetables that are in season at farmer’s markets and freeze dry those for use throughout the year. For example you can get 50 lb bags of Vidalia onions at the larger farmer’s market in my area for around $25.00. That is $0.50 per lb, less than half the cost at the local grocery stores. A 25 lb box of tomatoes is around $10-$12 because we live in a big tomato producing area. If you are like me and love some of the heirloom tomatoes that have to be eaten quickly or preserved promptly you can pick up a box for $25-$40 and then freeze dry them. I find the idea of eating some Cherokee Purple tomatoes in the winter time very appealing, don’t you?
Combinations of Foods and Main Courses
The advanced freeze dryer user will want to experiment with freeze dried entrees. If you have ever tried Mountain House entrees when out on the trail or during an emergency you already know just how delicious they can be.
The trick is knowing what combinations can be freeze dried together and what cannot. It is best to stick to meals that combine meat, vegetables ,and some whole whole grains. Here are some examples.
- Rice and vegetables
- Stews. For example you could make a beef, vegetable, chicken, or turkey stew, and then put it in to freeze dry.
- Ham and potatoes in a cheese based sauce
Remember that if you just throw bread in the same tray it is going to absorb liquids before it is freeze dried so it is best to just freeze dry that separately and use for bread crumbs on top of your stew.
Conclusion: It is important to make sure that you follow the guidelines that come with your new freeze dryer. Also remember to start out freeze drying some basic foods and then move on to more complicated combinations.
Freeze dried foods if sealed properly can last for up to 25 years. It is important to store mylar pouches and bags in a rodent proof container unless you plan on using your stash sooner rather than later. Once opened, freeze dried foods are subject to moisture so you will want to make sure to put a moisture absorber in the bag if you have not already done so and roll down the top and clip to seal. This will help it stay fresh for longer. You can always re vacuum seal or use your impulse heat sealer to reseal a bag after opening and using what you need.
It is recommended that you consider what portion sizes work best for you and your family. For example, some people may prefer to have vegetables packaged in two different sizes. One could be for mixing in with other ingredients whereas the other size may be larger and intended for use if it is a main side dish. The beauty of having your own freeze dryer is that you are in control of this and can create an amazing prepper pantry based on the unique needs of you and your family.
Also Go through: Food Storage Ideas for Preppers
Harvest Right Promotional Layaway Plan
If you are interested in a Harvest Right, they are currently offering a plan where you can lay one away and pay no interest. They ship it to you when it is paid for. They understand that this is a large investment for many preppers and are working hard to find ways to make it easier to afford. No doubt over time we will see this technology become more affordable.
Do you have any experience with freeze drying?
Backdoor Survival will strive to keep you up to date on the latest home freeze drying news and products as they come out. If you have any experience with freeze drying at home, we would love to hear from you in the comment section below!
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27 Responses to “Best Freeze Dryers for Drying Food at Home”
Although this is an old article, I wanted to address one thing you mentioned: operating such a unit off-grid on solar power. Having done the calculations as I was pondering such a purchase: it ain’t gonna happen!
The power consumption of the Harvest Right (realize the duration needed!) is simply too much to run off of solar. As it must run 24hrs consecutively, you are going to run on batteries for over half the day. As I worked the numbers, it became clear that it wasn’t remotely cost effective or practical to run off-grid.
I think your comment was a little short sighted. First off it you are living off-grid you are most likely relying on growing vegetables, canning, harvesting your own livestock, etc. Things that are less energy demanding. I don’t know what sort of calculations you were running when checking to see if it would run on solar but you may have missed a decimal point or two. And just because your solar system might not be up to supplying the power needed but many people do. My system is a 14KWH system and even on January days in NC I can produce 40KWH of total energy.
I couldn’t find the power specs of the oil-free pump from Harvest right but I found a similar sized one that runs at 550W at 60HZ. If you FS cycle runs for at least a day that is 550W x 24 Hours 13,200Whrs = 13.2KwHrs. Even doubling that to include the FD itself would only be 26KwHrs. used in a 24 hour period. This is also equal to two Tesla Powerwall2’s. So you can certainly run a FD cycle even through winter every few days as you power builds back up. I suspect if someone was truly off-grid they would have a larger battery system to handle not only the FD but normal house power needs as well.
But I think you also missed the whole concept of getting a FD. It is to store up enough food so that if we did ever have a sustained grid-down situation, you have already stored up the food to get through it. Lord forbid it lasts more than a year(EMP?) and most folks who survived that will have transformed into agrarian-sustained communities anyways and you will only be using your FD food as supplements.
But that’s my two cents…I’m ordering one today. I think they have worked out a lot of kinks from the first Gen 1 models and definitely splurge for the oil-free pump. In a grid down if you do need this, last thing you want to do is try to find oil or worse, recycling the oil!
I thought about a Harvest Right freeze drier, but after reading all these reviews I think I’ll look elsewhere.
These comments were made mostly back in 2017. The machines have been upgraded with a better oil pump in early 2018 and there is also an option (although at a higher cost) to get an oil-less pump. The fact that you can even get a freeze dryer for home use is amazing to me. Even if it needs a little care and maintenance.
Most of the comments here make me laugh. From not sealing to oil problems.
Maybe you should try and get your money back from all the expensive universities you attended. I live around people that can fix anything and understand physics and mechanics. You would call them redneck high school dropouts. Whats funny, i know a few of these guys own a harvest right and have tweaked and made modifications to these units and run like a champ. They call all the highly educated idiots out there the first to die in a societal breakdown. They can’t fix anything, or understand how it works
That is a very rude comment. I’m just a woman who raised 7 great kids and tries to help others be prepared. I did not go expensive Universities, who cares if I did, you don’t need expensive Universities to teach you not to be rude or ignorant either. I think when you have a life time warranty the company should honor it. I think it should work without having to constantly call for trouble shooting and I dont’ think I should have to play around with something I don’t undestand. Why would I call anyone a redneck highschool drop out? I greatly admire guys who can fix anything, my dad was one of them with his 3rd grade education who left home at 10 to make his way in the world, and if he were still alive he’d come help me and not judge me. I share my skills freely as he did. I just don’t happen to have the skills to tweak this machine to work right but I do have lots of healing skills that people like you will need in societal breakdown. I won’t be sitting around to see who dies first, I’ll be out there helping my neighbor. Highly educated people have lots to offer just maybe different skills. Besides who’s to say people who can fix anything and understand physics and mechanics aren’t highly educated even if they are self taught. All types of education are valid and valued.
Does anyone know of any other machines that I can try to use for freeze drying fruit that are more cost efficient?
I wish I did! Home freeze dryer options are very limited. I expect this will change. The commercial units are even more expensive. Thanks for reading!
John Kohler at Growing Your Greens bought a Harvest Right Freeze Dryer.
It sucks. Does not work after 6 months. Might be better to try either the commercial version or a competitor.
In all the articles I have read about Freeze drying, not a one says anything about the cost of running the FD. and nothing said about how many loads you will get out of the lifetime of the machine.
I bought a freeze dryer a few years ago and used it a lot in the beginning. I had trouble with my door sealing tight, with food drying all the way, with the compressor spewing oil everywhere. Trouble shooting was hard cause I had to call the manufacturer and since I live in Oregon and not Utah they could only advise me over the phone. I can never forget the guy repeating over and over, “too bad you don’t live in Utah then we could really help you”. Yeah thanks a lot. I bought it mostly to dry my meats and broth. the results are not like they show on the website. It does not reconstitute back to a nice juicy steak or chop. You have to get every bit of fat off. I only buy grass fed, grass finished, humanely slaughtered local farmer raised meats. I do not think the flavor of the reconstituted meat is the same or close in taste or texture. Broth was way better, turned into a styrofoam looking substance. But again get all the fat off or you will be disappointed. Those of us who value the fat from healthy animals will have to find another way to store it. Canning or freezing.
It did fine with some fruits and vegetable but my purpose was to store meat. I personally prefer the taste of dehydrated fruits and veggies and less hassle and easier to use than the freeze dryer and less energy to preserve and less water to reconstitute. no compressor and no oil and few things to go wrong. Done properly and stored right, dehydration can last a long time as well. And less water to reconstitute.
You didn’t mention the water it takes to eat freeze dried food. You CANNOT eat it as is like with some dehydrated. it will kill you if you don’t have water. and lots of it. It will block up you intestines and suck all the water out of you. So store enough water as well and hopefully you will be able to get plenty to replenish and not just a ration. Even with fruits and veggies you have the compressor issues. Also the noise of operation in your house. It is loud keep it somewhere else and if the compressor spews oil you just made a huge mess in your kitchen. if you live in a hot climate you cannot operate it in the dead of summer. it will over heat trying to freeze in a hot area like a garage.
I have the standard size, 4 trays. They said if I freeze my food first and then put it in the freeze dryer it will cut down on freezing time but you can’t really do that. if you do it will not dry out sufficiently and you have to start over again. Wet patches. Cherries never dry out crispy, they stay chewy, same as in the dehydrator. So no difference. Except it cost you more money to operate the machine.
How much does it cost to operate the machine? I was hoping this article would have the true estimate. I don’t really know but with all the trouble shooting and double freezing times and failed batches I bet it cost as lot. I mean this is running 48 hours or more steady to get 1.5 to 2 pounds of food.
It still takes up the same amount of space so it is not a space saver when it comes to storing the food. It comes out the same size it goes in just lighter. No water content. It does not change the size of the food like a dehydrator where you can fit 5 pounds of peas in a half gallon jar.
If any one out there would be so kind as to mentor me I’d sure appreciate it. I have not used mine for almost 2 years now. I get depressed just thinking about it and going through all the difficulties to get meat that is chewy and funky tasting. I haven’t tried fresh meat yet cause they said there was no difference cooked or raw but cooked will save you prep time on the other end when you are pressed for time and resources cause you never know what time or resources you will have available when it all comes down. When we freeze dry and reconstitute with in a week it was okay but when we stored it for a few weeks and then reconstituted it didn’t taste good. Kind of like freezer burned meat. We did easy stuff like chicken and ham, Had to be thinly sliced not like the whole steak they show on line, seasoned and cooked and it was chewy and weird tasting. But then I’m a good cook so maybe I’m just picky, but nowhere close to the real thing. Just saying. Wish I had better things to say. I read where the manufacturer ran out of fresh ham for a celebratory dinner. He went and reconstituted a few slices of his freeze dried and no one noticed the difference. I tell you my family was not so easily fooled. I’ve never made a chewy ham. But then I’ve never eaten mountain house or commercially prepared freeze dried food so maybe this is how it is and everyone is used to it. In our house food doesn’t taste that way. I can’t keep my kids out of my jerky and have to hide it. Same with dehydrated fruits, but they don’t touch the freeze dried stuff sitting in a vacuum sealed jar in the basement.
Cheese worked if it was a hard cheese and was grated. Sour cream worked and reconstituted okay but not the same. Yogurt was okay too. didn’t reconstitute cheese yet. I think waxing cheese is just as easy.
Anyone want to buy my machine for $2,000? that’s $500 off and I’ll give you all my compressor oil, 4 extra trays and it has a life time warranty for the machine not the owner. it can be inherited or passed along. I live in Oregon.
I’m interested in your machine! Also located in Oregon. email me a firstname.lastname@example.org
Wow ……GREAT review …… I have done tons of dehydrated and always thought it would be great to have a FD processor…… Well, now, the dehydration looks a LOT better. I have a background in vacuum processing, not food processing , I KNOW the machines can be quite finicky .
I think there is an error in the article where you say how many pounds each freeze drier will produce per year. The small makes 900 pounds a year, and the medium makes only 380 pounds? Why would anyone buy the medium size?
Also, how long does it take to complete a batch? That’s important to know
There is a LOT of maintenance with a freeze dryer. If it doesn’t come to pressure, you have to troubleshoot. Even if you check all the hoses and change the oil, when you finally get to pressure with one batch, and then do another batch right away, and it doesn’t come to pressure, it is frustrating.
You need routine maintenance on it. You need to store it in a place that isn’t going to get in the way — we have ours in the garage. But it is too hot in the summer to run it, it would take forever getting it down to -50 F if it gets up to 90 in the garage during the day.
The batches are small. It takes a lot of electricity to run.
Becaues of the maintenance and high price, I do not recommend people pitching in together to buy one, because what if one person mistreats it or doesn’t do the required maintenance? Also it is a beast to move.
Just my thoughts and experiences with having one to use since last September.
I have the medium and am sorta disenchanted because I thought to replace a freezer but unless you powder everything it takes up 3-4 times the space with puffy bags and any oil either effs up the freeze dryer and the finished FD product goes rancid from remaining oil. Anything with added sugar or juice will not completely dry and ends up like a wet gumdrop. I can’t sell it for any where near what I paid after 20 loads so I have to live with it and I tried to recupe the loss by custom freeze drying for campers and hikers but cant get a positive cash flow competing with Mountain House, Wise etc. even though I use better quality product. I bet if they had a 30,60 or 90 day free trial like mattress companies, I and many others would not be “proud” owners and they dont have a trade in or trade up program if I could cut my loses with a larger FD’r
excellent point about the nuclear plants; i think they will be the limiting factor on survival in most parts of the world in a teotwawki situation. however, shelf life is also about keeping supplies viable while waiting for the other shoe to fall, and from that standpoint 20 years of shelf life is a pretty big deal.