Author Topic: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer  (Read 30113 times)

Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« on: January 26, 2012, 11:52:30 PM »
Finally, after almost two months my freeze dryer arrived.  I bought it on a used equipment auction site.   I couldn't resist putting something in it as soon as it arrived - here are some pictures.  This batch isn't for storage - it's just to see how various foods react to being freeze-dried in this particular machine.   I'm going to have to play around with it until I come up with optimal processing times for each type of food.

My plan is to freeze-dry stuff in bulk and then seal in #10 cans from the LDS cannery (w/ O2 absorbers).



"Specimen" (food) chamber on top.  This is cooled to about 0 degrees.  Condensation chamber on bottom.  This is cooled to -45 degrees.  Water sublimates from food and condenses in the lower chamber as ice.  The ice is removed periodically by a defrost cycle.




Pre-cooked fajita seasoned chicken strips, pre-cooked boneless chicken breasts and pre-cooked burger patties.  All of these are just grocery store items from the freezer section.


Food loaded.  Chicken, burgers, broccoli, green beans, corn and ice cream sandwiches (of course).  I don't have the rack assembly installed yet.  I'll have five racks after I do that.


After freeze-drying overnight.


Ice cream sandwich blowout.  These weren't frozen solid enough before I turned on the vacuum.   The lesson is one I should have remembered:  You need air in the freeze dryer to properly freeze the food.  Without air there can be no convection, which is the most efficient way to move heat away from the food.  The food has to be totally, completely rock-hard frozen before turning on the vacuum.

I pulled an ice cream sandwich out and they are nearly done.  They taste just like the Mountain House version and are crunchy and dry.  The other food isn't nearly done.  I expect it to take at least a week.

I'll update after this batch is done.



« Last Edit: January 27, 2012, 12:11:23 AM by NotAGrasshopper »

Offline Metaldog

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2012, 02:36:10 AM »
That's neat - thanks for sharing - what did it cost you and how much power does it take?
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Offline Nicodemus

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2012, 07:59:02 AM »
That's pretty darn awesome, NAG!

I wouldn't mind having one of those myself.

I wonder if part of the problem with the ice cream sandwiches might have been the air content in the ice cream going all marshmallow when the vacuum was applied. Do folks often freeze dry regular ice cream with the large amount of overrun (air content) that a lot of the cheaper brands have?


Offline Mr. Red Beard (UKtheBUNNY)

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2012, 09:32:02 AM »
Haha This is your first run? I'm guess you don't do anything half cocked! That is pretty friggin awesome. I want to see that thing loaded up with racks when you're finished so keep the pictures coming.

Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2012, 10:09:26 AM »
That's neat - thanks for sharing - what did it cost you and how much power does it take?

The freezer was three grand and shipping from New York to Dallas cost me $350.  1100 pounds... 

It seems expensive but when you consider that I can buy stuff like boneless/skinless cooked chicken breasts at Restaurant Depot cheap (example:  40 4-ounce cooked breast filets for $12.63), I'm going to save a fortune doing it myself.  Once I do a years' supply for my family (3) the in-laws (2) and the other family members who will show up at the cabin (4-6) I'll save many thou$ands.   And I can always sell the machine for what I paid for it.

Power...  I'm not sure yet.  It runs on 230V and has a 20A plug on it.  That of course says nothing about what it actually draws.  I'll have to put a meter on it to find out.

I wonder if part of the problem with the ice cream sandwiches might have been the air content in the ice cream going all marshmallow when the vacuum was applied. Do folks often freeze dry regular ice cream with the large amount of overrun (air content) that a lot of the cheaper brands have?

Nic - "going marshamallow" is exactly what happened and yes, it was the air content.  But I think it had more to do with the fact that I was impatient and didn't let the ice cream freeze solid before applying the vacuum.   I had just bought them and driven back from the store.  I should have let everything freeze at -15 to 0 for 24 hours before turning on the vacuum.  At least that's what my newly acquired (this morning) owner's manual says ;-)

Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2012, 10:10:48 AM »
Haha This is your first run? I'm guess you don't do anything half cocked! That is pretty friggin awesome. I want to see that thing loaded up with racks when you're finished so keep the pictures coming.

It takes so long to do a batch that I wanted to know how well various things work.  Might as well try a variety now.  My next batch will probably be 100% chicken breasts or 100% diced chicken.

I'm also going to try scrambled eggs, meatballs, cooked shrimp, all types of vegetables...

Offline Frugal Upstate

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2012, 12:57:57 PM »
That is seriously cool.  I wonder if there is anyone in my area who has one. . . didn't you mention in the original thread that the freeze dryer is what is used to preserve bouquets and such?  Maybe there is a florist in the area who has one. . . gears turning here.
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Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2012, 04:44:28 PM »
That is seriously cool.  I wonder if there is anyone in my area who has one. . . didn't you mention in the original thread that the freeze dryer is what is used to preserve bouquets and such?  Maybe there is a florist in the area who has one. . . gears turning here.

That seems to be a populat use for them.  Taxidermy too.  A florist with a freeze dryer would be a good resource, especially right now when there are fewer weddings going on.  Don't expect to find spare capacity in the spring!

Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2012, 08:45:50 PM »
Quick update:  The corn, beans, broccoli and sliced chicken are all done - 5 days.  I expected 2 weeks.  The whole boneless chicken breast and burgers might be done but to be sure I'm letting them run for a few more days.  This is great - it means I can do a load per week instead of 2 loads per month.  I can fit 100 pounds of chicken breast into the machine at a time after I get the racks in.  Yay!

I grabbed a handful of samples to bring home.  My dad is visiting and is a bit of a prepper himself.  He's fascinated by the machine and the idea of freeze-drying at home (or office).  All of this is now featherweight and bone dry.  It was probably a little over 3 ounces total before the freeze drying.

All of it tastes great rehydrated!  The peaches didn't fare so well.  What I've discovered is that the front 8 inches or so of the freezing compartment has no coils.  The peaches and ice cream weren't frozen enough and while the ice cream turned out great (except for blowout), the peaches sort of dehydrated and shriveled.  I'll try again further back in the freezer.

Update:  I have calculated my approximate cost to run this thing at $12 per day.  It is probably a bit less because the product chamber compressor isn't running all the time.  That means about $60-84 per complete run of food.   With what I'll be saving over purchased freeze-dried, it's a no brainer.  I *will* have to budget for it though.  It will be figured into my food prep costs.

« Last Edit: January 30, 2012, 09:34:30 PM by NotAGrasshopper »

Offline Mr. Red Beard (UKtheBUNNY)

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2012, 08:59:58 PM »
Just curious how much at auction, ballpark? I'm sold.

Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2012, 09:13:54 PM »
Just curious how much at auction, ballpark? I'm sold.

Three thousand dollars plus about three hundred fifty shipping.  PM me if you want more info.

Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2012, 09:31:10 PM »
Okay, a couple more pics.  First, the chicken breasts.  These weighed on average 4 ounces each (six in a 24 oz. bag).  After freeze drying three weigh a total of 3.5 ounces (!) with zero shrinkage or deformation:




I'm calling everything in the first test batch successful except the peaches, which never got cold enough to dry properly.

Next batch is 8 ounces each of cheddar and mozzarella cheese and 16 ounces of low fat cottage cheese.  Based on the timing of the last items, I expect these to take about 3 days for the shredded cheeses and 4 days for the cottage cheese.  We'll see.  You can see here how much extra capacity is available in the machine.  I'm starting to lean toward having six or seven levels instead of five.  Especially in the middle (widest) section, each extra level will be nearly 10 square feet of additional drying space and won't add appreciably to the total drying time.



While we're here, let's do some math...  Mountain House cottage cheese in the #10 can consists of 20 1/2-Cup servings.  My 16 ounce container of cottage cheese claims four 1/2-Cup servings.  So that makes the MH can equivalent to 5 pounds of cottage cheese (remember there is no shrinkage so the cups/serving is the same).

Nitro-Pak (fine establishment) sells the MH cottage cheese for $65.39.  Sam's, plus a can, lid and O2 absorber (<$1.25 total) will run less than ten bucks for the same amount of cheese (bottom cheese in the pic).  MH is "just" $2.67 per serving.  Mine will be 46 cents.


« Last Edit: February 01, 2012, 09:54:36 PM by NotAGrasshopper »

Offline Mr. Red Beard (UKtheBUNNY)

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #12 on: February 01, 2012, 09:54:21 PM »
You'll have to let us know how the cheese turns out. Too cool. ENVY

Offline mxitman

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #13 on: February 01, 2012, 11:12:04 PM »
Whoah...I need one of those...maybe I'll just build one, Looks like an older 3600 model. Those are sweet machines. I've worked on a few like that and worked on an industrial size version that's about 4 times that size. I wish I would have paid more attention to the controls and defrost cycle, If I had one to look at up close I could probably duplicate it to something pretty close. I even have a few condensing units laying around and a few vacuum pumps too.

How do you plan on canning it? Doing the freeze dry then drop them immediately into #10 cans and sealing them?
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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2012, 11:26:09 PM »
That is so awesome!  I'm totally jealous  ;)  Congratulations.

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Offline ChrisFox

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #15 on: February 02, 2012, 12:26:33 AM »
Ok that's so badass. I looked for about 20min into buying one before I realized that if I had one of those, I'd get in so much trouble. I would look at everything around me and wonder what would happen... Everything including the kitchen sink would end up inside there eventually.  ;D

Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #16 on: February 02, 2012, 06:42:32 AM »
Whoah...I need one of those...maybe I'll just build one, Looks like an older 3600 model. Those are sweet machines. I've worked on a few like that and worked on an industrial size version that's about 4 times that size. I wish I would have paid more attention to the controls and defrost cycle, If I had one to look at up close I could probably duplicate it to something pretty close. I even have a few condensing units laying around and a few vacuum pumps too.

How do you plan on canning it? Doing the freeze dry then drop them immediately into #10 cans and sealing them?

mxitman:  You're really close... It's a little smaller - a 2452.  The controls are simple.  Defrost is manual.  I can send you a copy of the owner's manual and wiring diagram if you like.  I see you're where I want to be (Seattle) but if you're ever in Dallas you are welcome to come see it and take notes/pictures.  Remember AA's big hub is here and the machine is 20 minutes from the airport.  If you're flying somewhere else and can swing a three or four hour layover I'll happily round-trip you to the machine.

Yes, I plan to take stuff out and with no delay seal in #10 and #2.5 cans w/ oxygen absorber (from LDS).

One of my next projects is going to be to clean up the wiring and replace the controls with a home-built touchscreen embedded computer.  This will let me automate the temperature step-ups you do later in the cycle (currently by turning a potentiometer with a screwdriver).  I'mm be able to load it and push the "chicken" or "cheese" button on the screen and have the computer take over. 

After that I'm going to build a bigger one.  This thing is so simple it's stupid.  Two refrigeration compressors, a vacuum pump, two double-wall steel chambers and some pipe and wiring.  That's it.

@ChrisFox:   Haha, I know EXACTLY what you mean.  I've been trolling the aisles of the grocery store and Restaurant Depot and the first question I ask myself when I see something is, "would that work?".   

Hmmm, the dog just walked by me...
« Last Edit: February 02, 2012, 06:47:33 AM by NotAGrasshopper »

Offline Nicodemus

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #17 on: February 02, 2012, 07:53:39 AM »
"Cheese Button" LOLz


Offline mxitman

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #18 on: February 02, 2012, 11:28:51 AM »
sweet, yea I figured if it was an older model might be a manual defrost using hot gas. They are quite simple actually if you know what your looking at. I have made some custom built wine cooler rooms using the guts from a cheap window A/C unit, added some digital controls, condenser blower and you would never know it wasn't a $2500 dedicated wine cooler unit.

If you get around to scanning the wiring diagram and anything else I would love to have a copy...Thanks ;)
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Offline Insidious

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #19 on: February 02, 2012, 03:27:35 PM »
Seriously awesome. I've been thinking about 'what does it take to freeze dry' since my last mountain house purchase.. and here's the answer! Also curious about flash freezing for leafy vegetables.

The overall mechanism looks pretty simple/straightforward..

Are the double wall chambers vacuum insulated?

This would be a fantastic 'how to make your own freeze dryer' e-book! ;-)

If you got really clever on the engineering it could have the condensation chamber double as a flash freezer. =)

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Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #20 on: February 02, 2012, 09:49:14 PM »
Seriously awesome. I've been thinking about 'what does it take to freeze dry' since my last mountain house purchase.. and here's the answer! Also curious about flash freezing for leafy vegetables.

The overall mechanism looks pretty simple/straightforward..

Are the double wall chambers vacuum insulated?

This would be a fantastic 'how to make your own freeze dryer' e-book! ;-)

If you got really clever on the engineering it could have the condensation chamber double as a flash freezer. =)

You could certainly flash freeze leafy vegetables in it but if you freeze dried them they'd be very fragile.  Worth doing, perhaps, for dishes like creamed spinach and whatnot, but don't expect to rehydrate a salad!

The annulus between the inner and outer walls of each chamber appear to have evaporator coils in them and the space is otherwise filled with spray foam like that stuff that comes in a can from Home Depot.

The condensation chamber is plenty cold (-45 to -55) and wouldn't need any engineering:  Just stick your stuff in there for 5 minutes and you're done.  I put a glass of water in the big chamber and it started icing over within minutes - and it's 50 degrees warmer than the condensation chamber.


Offline DrJohn

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #21 on: February 07, 2012, 12:36:35 PM »
Okay this has to be the kewl-est gadget EVER!
"In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security.
They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all - security,
comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."
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Offline Mr. Red Beard (UKtheBUNNY)

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #22 on: February 07, 2012, 12:42:58 PM »
Okay this has to be the kewl-est gadget EVER!

For some reason gadget just seems like an understatement.

Offline DrJohn

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #23 on: February 07, 2012, 12:47:55 PM »
For some reason gadget just seems like an understatement.

Better to understate than overstate, no?
"In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security.
They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all - security,
comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."
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Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #24 on: February 07, 2012, 05:36:50 PM »
This machine continues to exceed my expectations.  The cottage, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses are done and so are the eggs.  The only thing I've reconsituted are the eggs and they are excellent with a pat of butter and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  I think in the next batch I might add finely diced lean ham.

The cheeses taste good dry.  I have some of the cottage cheese mixed with warm water and put in the fridge.  I'll try that after it chills down.  I have high hopes for that, as a can of MH cottage cheese costs a small fortune.

For a good video on home freeze drying check this out (and see his other videos):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlywGYcY-tA


Offline Dainty

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #25 on: February 07, 2012, 06:01:45 PM »
Better to understate than overstate, no?

With both options superior to no statement at all.

Which was my response, as I was at a loss for words.

Great thread. Great info. Great pictures. Great project. Thanks for sharing it with us, NAG.  :)

Offline Insidious

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #26 on: February 07, 2012, 06:04:47 PM »
jealous x 10
 :)
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Offline nelson96

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #27 on: February 07, 2012, 07:37:42 PM »
I bought it on a used equipment auction site.

Any suggestions you can offer for where to look an how to look for one of these gems?
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Offline TexasGirl

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #28 on: February 07, 2012, 08:01:27 PM »
Hey NAG,

Have you determined how much electricity the machine uses?  I'm curious what the energy cost per tray sq ft, or cost per quart of finished product, would be.

Thanx,

~TG
 

Offline NotAGrasshopper

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Re: Finally Got My Freeze-Dryer
« Reply #29 on: February 07, 2012, 08:45:14 PM »
Any suggestions you can offer for where to look an how to look for one of these gems?

@nelson96:  I bought mine on a site called bidonequipment.com.  Search the site for "northstar".  Most of the other freeze dryers are too expensive or are for laboratory use.

@TexasGirl:  It draws 16 Amps with everything running, which isn't the case all the time.  That is about 3.5 kilowatts per hour.  I figure somewhere between 9 and 15 dollars per day.  If you rigged a way to vent the refrigeration condensor air into your home you would save on your heating bill.  It generates about 10,000 btu/hr as waste heat.

It looks like it can freeze dry most things in less than a week.  Once it has all its racks in I'll have about 30 square feet of drying space, maybe more if I put 7 racks in instead of 5.  Once I do a full load I'll do the math and post the real costs here.  In the end it won't be super cheap but will be *way* cheaper than buying commercial freeze dried and far better quality than dehydrating.