What We Like
Digital controls are intuitive and easy to use
Whisper-quiet 1000-watt motor
Customizable temperature settings
Automatically turns off at preset time
What We Don't Like
Can accommodate 20 trays (four are included)
Dehydrated food can be a lifesaver for outdoor enthusiasts, healthy snackers, and busy parents. If you’ve ever picked up a bag, though, you know it’s pretty pricey to buy in small quantities. Enter the NESCO FD-1040 Gardenmaster Digital Food Dehydrator: a set-it-and-forget-it appliance that can quickly make your favorite fruit chips and jerky. We tested one out in our own kitchen for a few weeks; read on for our full assessment of the NESCO’s performance, design, features, and competition.
Setup Process: Ready when you are
Dehydrators usually aren’t too involved when it comes to set up, and the NESCO was no exception. Once we pulled all of the parts out of the box, we gave them a quick wash and got to work. Note that the fruit roll and Clean-A-Screen trays were stored inside the dehydrator itself, so you’ll have to pull those out if you are drying larger items.
Dehydrators usually aren’t too involved when it comes to set up, and the NESCO was no exception.
When we brought the NESCO Gardenmaster out of the cabinet for our second batch of dehydrated goodies, all we had to do was put our food in, plug it into the wall, and set the time and temperature. Because we stored it upright with the lid on, the trays were free of any dust and were ready to use right away.
Performance: Reliable for fruits, jerky, and other foods
Our household loves jerky and our kids especially love dehydrated fruit, so we had a lot of plans for the NESCO Gardenmaster. We were able to use the same 135-degree setting for thinly sliced mangoes, bananas, and apricots, which we spread out across two of the four included trays. We simply set the timer for the shortest amount of time the manual suggested—six hours for the mangoes—then added time to finish off the bananas and apricots. The bananas took around eight hours while the apricots needed 10 full hours to fully dehydrate. Since we dehydrated our fruits in a mixed batch, we had to periodically check in on their progress. When dehydrating just one fruit, this wouldn’t be necessary.
We set the dehydrator to the manual’s suggested 165 degrees and turned thinly sliced skirt steak into jerky in around 10 hours.
Meats generally take longer to dehydrate and they need to be on a higher temperature setting. We set the dehydrator to the manual’s suggested 165 degrees and turned thinly sliced skirt steak into jerky in around 10 hours. We used the included jerky cure and seasoning packets, but found them a bit too salty for our liking. While that didn’t stop our family from eating all of the jerky on an outing to the zoo, we will likely make our own spice rub in the future as we enjoy barbecue rubs with a smokier flavor.
The small pieces of jerky were a little bit dry, but the larger pieces were tender enough to be easily bitten and chewed. The fruit that we dehydrated was dry and leathery on the outside, but still a little bit moist on the inside. We loved that we didn’t need to add any sugar and still enjoyed sweet dried fruit. For crispier fruit or jerky, you can just leave it in the dehydrator for more time or cut them into thinner slices before dehydrating.
Design: A little dated
We love a good white or stainless steel appliance, which is why we were disappointed with the distinctly off-white hue of the NESCO Gardenmaster. The opaque exterior is designed to preserve more nutrients in your food, but we wish it were a brighter, cleaner white. When sat next to our modern appliances, the NESCO looked a few decades old.
The NESCO Gardenmaster measures 15.5 x 15.5 x 9.5 inches. While the dehydrator offers plenty of capacity, its larger footprint does make it harder to store in kitchen cabinets. The major upside of having larger trays to work with was that we could leave more space between our slices of fruit and meat. This allowed for quicker drying times, so keep that in mind before you fill the dehydrator to capacity.
When sat next to our modern appliances, the NESCO looked a few decades old.
Additionally, keep in mind that because the trays don’t lock together, you will need to be able to pick the dehydrator up from the bottom to be able to get it in and out of your cabinets. If you opt to purchase additional drying trays (it can accommodate 20 in total), it will most likely become too tall to store in a regular kitchen cabinet. All that said, the NESCO’s performance and ease of use may be enough to outweigh its design drawbacks.
Features: Top of the line
The digital temperature and time settings really set the NESCO Gardenmaster apart from other dehydrators on the market. The temperature can be set from 90 to 160 degrees and there’s a handy guide on top of the fan unit in case you, like us, forget which setting you should use.
Using the time setting, you can dehydrate food for up to 48 hours and have the unit turn off automatically. If you plan on being away from your kitchen when your food should be finished, this option can be a lifesaver. The 1000-watt motor made it so we didn’t need anywhere near that amount of drying time—just six to 10 hours for fruit and 10 hours for jerky. The NESCO Gardenmaster advertises four-hour drying times for meat but since we prefer drier jerky, we opted to leave it in longer.
The fan is definitely audible when running, but that’s to be expected from any dehydrator. While it was running on our kitchen counter, it quickly faded into the background amid all of the other noises of our home. We watched TV, talked on the phone, and entertained toddlers without being distracted by the sound of the dehydrator.
Care: Easy as can be
Cleaning the NESCO Gardenmaster was a breeze. The trays are sturdy and held up well to hand washing in the sink. The trays are also dishwasher safe so long as you place them in the top rack. Because this model has a top-mounted fan, we didn’t have to worry about any food or liquid dripping into it. All we had to do after cleaning the trays was wipe down the interior and dry it before tucking it back in the cabinet.
Price: Higher cost for more features
With a retail price of $150, the NESCO Gardenmaster is one of the more expensive dehydrators on the market. For the higher price, you do get the ability to set your preferred temperature and time, though, and a quiet motor and powerful motor make the appliance quick and painless to use.
We use our dehydrator almost every week, so paying more for upgraded features is a worthwhile investment in our home. We also dehydrate items while we’re out running errands, so the ability to set a timer and have the dehydrator automatically shut off when it’s done is a big advantage that justifies the cost. If you purchase dehydrated snacks pretty regularly, we think it’s worth the investment.
NESCO FD-1040 Gardenmaster Pro vs. NESCO FD-75PR Snackmaster Pro
In the world of dehydrators, the NESCO Gardenmaster is a considerable investment. If you’re new to dehydrating and want to start off with a beginner-friendly model, you can find a reliable dehydrator for less than half the price. NESCO is a reputable company that makes high-quality products—and luckily, they have some budget models. The NESCO FD-75PR Snackmaster retails for just $60. It’s a bit louder than its more sophisticated sibling, and it doesn’t have digital settings, but it still allows you to set your desired temperature. It employs a 600-watt motor as opposed to the Gardenmaster’s 1000-watt motor, and it can accommodate 12 trays rather than 20, but in our tests, we found it performed just as well.
Jerky and dried fruit eaters won’t regret it.
If you’re looking to make healthy dehydrated snacks at home and you don’t want to babysit your appliance in the process, this is the unit for you. Sure, it’s more expensive than other options, but it will still save you loads of money in the long run. Plus, the quiet motor, quick drying times, and intuitive digital settings make it standout performer.
- Product Name Gardenmaster Pro Dehydrator
- Product Brand NESCO
- MPN FD-1040
- Price $149.99
- Weight 11 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 16 x 16 x 11 in.
- Warranty 1-year warranty against defects in material and workmanship
- What’s included Top-mounted fan unit, four drying trays, one fruit roll liquid tray, one flexible Clean-A-Screen, 52-page recipe booklet and manual, jerky spice packet, and cure