Shopping the bulk aisle, visiting farmer's
markets, or hunting, gardening and gathering your own produce are all great
ways to procure a real bounty of food. But what happens when you end up with
more than you can eat? Vacuum food sealers offer a quick, easy and ultimately
inexpensive way of preserving that extra food. Whether you're packaging meat to
prevent freezer burn, sealing in fresh veggies to prolong their life or
vacuum-sealing pantry goods, you can expect properly vacuum-sealed food to last
three to five times longer than unsealed food. A vacuum sealer is also a must
for preparing food via the sous vide method.
Types of vacuum sealers
This is the most ubiquitous type of home-use
vacuum sealer. These rectangular, countertop appliances clamp down on the neck
of a specially designed plastic bag from the outside. The sealer then vacuums
all the air out and uses a heated sealing bar to melt the neck of the bag shut.
Because you don't have to fit the food being sealed into the body of the vacuum
sealer, this type of machine excels at packaging large cuts of meat and filets
of fish. On the downside, the sealer bar sometimes needs to "rest" for 10 or 15
seconds between uses.
Once found only in professional kitchens, chamber vacuum food sealers are becoming increasingly popular for
home use. If you deal with messy foods frequently, or if you tend to vacuum
seal large batches at a time, it's worth investing in a chamber vacuum food
sealer. With these cube-shaped countertop appliances you put the food into the
chamber, the vacuum sealer evacuates all the air from the chamber --
establishing a vacuum without squashing anything out of the bag -- and then
seals the bag shut. You are limited only by the amount of food that can fit in
Handheld food sealers offer a good balance
between convenience and usability. They're a great choice if you want to have a
vacuum sealer on hand to use only occasionally, or if storage space is at a
premium. These petite appliances either draw the air out through a one-way valve
in specially designed bags, or draw the air out through a small puncture in the
bag, then seal all the way around the puncture. However, some caution is
advised before purchasing a handheld vacuum sealer. Motor size usually
correlates to vacuum power, so they're best reserved for sealing small
packages. Expert tests also found that handheld models don't always create a
lasting seal, so consider opting for a larger model if you need to store food
for long periods or seal medium to large batches.
A word about food safety
Vacuum sealing doesn't eliminate the need to
refrigerate perishable goods (or freeze them for long-term storage). See our
report on freezers to find out which models
do the best job of preserving your carefully packaged food. We also have
reports on other popular countertop appliances like pressure cookers and slow cookers;
the report on pressure cookers includes a section on pressure canners, another
economical option for long-term food preservation.
Remember to consider the
price of plastic bags
Vacuum food sealers are meant for use with
specially designed bags, usually made of tough
polyethylene. The optimal bag type depends on which type of sealer you're
using: Handheld sealers require bags with a zip closure and a one-way valve.
External vacuum sealers work best with bags that have textured air channels
molded into one side of the plastic. Because an external sealer's clamps hold
the bag more or less closed as the vacuum works, those air channels give the
air a way to move out of the bag. Some external sealers also have built-in
cutters to help you slice your own bags from long sheets of plastic (which can
save you quite a bit of money), and internal storage for the rolls of uncut
bags. The bags for chamber vacuum sealers, meanwhile, are the most economical
option; when purchased in bulk, their pre-made pouches cost just a few pennies
No matter what type of vacuum food sealer you
choose, it has just two jobs: Sucking all the air out of the food bag, then sealing it shut. The best models evacuate the air
completely, but also offer manual controls to keep the powerful vacuum motor
from crushing soft or delicate foods. Once sealed, food should last at least
three months in the freezer without showing frosting or freezer burn, and
pantry goods should come out of the bags still tasting fresh.
The best countertop vacuum
If you want a top-of-the-line external vacuum
sealer, the stainless steel Weston Professional Advantage (Est. $160) vacuum sealer is the top pick from a well-known test kitchen.
Those expert testers praise this Weston for its compact size, powerful motor
and intuitive controls, which include both automatic and manual control of the
vacuum motor. Users love how the Professional Advantage's fan-cooled motor
keeps it from overheating and the nice wide seal it forms on the bag. The only
frequent complaint we see is from people who aren't happy about having to
sometimes press down on the sealer's lid to help it create a good seal.
Like most external vacuum sealers, the
Professional Advantage's motor is loud, and although it has an angled vacuum
chamber that's supposed to keep liquids from getting sucked out of the bag and
into the sealer, users voice mixed opinions about how well that actually works.
We also see mixed reviews on how well the Professional Advantage works with
non-Weston bags, but the Weston bags are competitively priced at about $38 for
100 8-by-12 inch pouches. You can also purchase vacuum canisters and an
accessory hose, which connects to the Professional Advantage so it can suck the
air out of the canisters.
The Weston Professional Advantage can handle
just about anything a typical household throws at it. But if you're a frequent,
heavy user, consider the Weston Pro 2300 (Est. $400), also made of stainless steel. It has the same
manual/automatic control and intuitive LED display that shows its vacuum
progress, but seals bags up to 15 inches wide and packs a powerful 935-watt
motor for frequent, continuous use. On the downside, the Pro 2300 doesn't have
a built-in cutter for making your own custom bag sizes, it can't seal liquids,
and both units are relatively big and heavy -- great qualities when it comes to
durability, but problematic when it comes time to store them. As a final bonus,
customers say that Weston's customer service is very good, and even pays
shipping both ways if your unit needs to be replaced because of a defect.
If you need a vacuum sealer that packs enough
oomph to seal large quantities in a single session but is still portable,
consider the FoodSaver GameSaver Big Game GM710 (Est. $200). This vacuum sealer weighs just six pounds and is
built for portability, with a large carry handy, a 12v converter that lets you
plug it into a DC power source (a car, pickup, boat, RV and even some
The GameSaver GM710 is a little large for
storing in most kitchens, but that's not a big deal because it's truly built
for use in the field (although you'll still have to protect it from rain, dust
and all the other hazards that wreak havoc with any electronic device). Users
say it lives up to the promise of being able to seal up to 80 bags, or about
240 pounds of meat without overheating. The GM710's sealing bar can accommodate
bags that are slightly more than 12 inches wide, although most premade bags
only come in an 11-inch width.
We did find a few concerns about durability, indicating
that if this unit is going to fail, it'll usually do so within the first few
uses. But for the most part, owners say this vacuum sealer will stand up to at
least several years of heavy use (and it comes with a limited lifetime
warranty). Users also like that you have manual control over when the seal
kicks in, which they say makes it possible to seal some wet foods -- if you're
If you need to seal even larger cuts or higher
quantities of meat, check out the FoodSaver Titanium Game Saver (Est. $400). The Titanium accommodates bags up to
15 inches wide, and can seal up to 100 bags in a row without overheating. One
user says he used it to seal a full side of beef without stopping.
FoodSaver's premade bags are more expensive
than Weston's; a bag of just 13 gallon-size vacuum-seal bags costs about $12.
That said, you can save money by purchasing rolls of vacuum seal material and
cutting them up to bag size yourself (the GameSaver has a built-in slicer), and
you get a discount for purchasing either the pre-made bags or the rolls in bulk
quantities of five or more.
Both the Weston vacuum sealers just referenced
are great deals if you plan to use them frequently, and the FoodSaver GameSaver
is a great choice for frequent use outside the home. However, if your vacuum
sealer use is light to moderate, a price tag of as close to $100 becomes a real
selling point. The two best-reviewed cheap countertop vacuum sealers both come
from FoodSaver: The space-saving FoodSaver V3240 (Est. $100),
and the FoodSaver V2244 (Est. $80).
The FoodSaver V3240 offers particularly good
control over your vacuum sealing, with moist/dry food settings, an accessory
port and hose for sealing vacuum canisters, and two vacuum speeds to choose from.
All you have to do is feed the bag into the slot at the bottom of the FoodSaver
V3240, lower the handle, and the machine does the rest automatically. Many
users say they love watching this machine work; however, it receives poor
reviews for its ability to handle moist cuts of meat. Some users say the only
solution is to pre-freeze the meat -- and anything else with any liquid in it
-- so the juices won't be sucked into the machine. A built-in bag cutter makes
it easy to cut your own bags from FoodSaver rolls, and the removable drip tray
is dishwasher safe.
The FoodSaver V2244 also comes with a
dishwasher-safe drip tray and an accessory port/hose for vacuum-sealing
canisters. However, it takes up more counter space than the more vertically
designed V3240. The V2244 has just one speed to choose from and requires you to
manually latch the lid down. Users appreciate this appliance for being exactly
what it is: A great bargain for light use, with a vacuum motor that's strong
enough to crush bread unless you freeze it first (or watch carefully and hit
the "Seal" button to stop the vacuum motor).
However, most users agree that if you need to
seal more than a few bags at a time -- or if you want a built-in bag cutter --
it's worth investing in a more expensive model. The FoodSaver V3460 (Est. $130) is a good compromise between features and value, with two vacuum
speeds and a built-in bag cutter in a space-saving vertical configuration. In
fact, Vacuum Sealer Digest chooses this model as their number two external sealer, thanks to its combination of value and design.
Users, however, are a little more skeptical.
Those who prioritize compact size and automated operation love this vacuum
sealer, which has an automatic sensor that starts sucking air out when you
insert the bag, along with manual controls and a quick-marinate function. Those
who are more concerned with bag waste don't typically like this sort of model,
however, since you have very little control over how much plastic is wasted
with each seal.
Users say durability is also a little iffy with
this model so, overall, we think the FoodSaver V3240 and V2244 are still better
deals. But if you want those extra bells and whistles at a price that's still
well under $200, the V3460 is worth a look. It's covered by a 5-year limited
warranty, and premade FoodSaver bags typically run about $20 for a box of 44
quart-size bags, or $12 for 13 gallon-size bags, with discounts for bulk
purchases and, of course, the built-in bag cutter on the V3460 makes it easy to
use money-saving "bulk rolls" of vacuum sealer bags, too.
Chamber vacuum food
Chamber vacuum sealers offer the most
versatility and power. There's just one limitation: Whatever you're sealing has
to fit into the machine's internal chamber with the lid closed. The VacMaster VP112S (Est. $650) offers a great compromise
between internal space and a relatively low profile; its 12 by 11 by 5 inch
domed chamber can hold pouches up to 12 by 14 inches and, at 46 pounds, it's
downright portable -- for a chamber vacuum sealer, anyway.
Owners love the versatile controls on the
VacMaster VP112S that let them tweak vacuum strength, vacuum time, and time and
temperature for the sealer bar, although mastering the controls has a bit of a
learning curve, they note. If you only vacuum seal a few items a week, a
machine like this may be overkill -- but when it comes to heavy use and sealing
soup, flour, or the juicy cuts of meat that often cause problems for external
vacuum sealers, owners are uniformly thrilled about having made the investment
in a chamber sealer.
If you need a little more space, the VacMaster VP210 (Est. $800) has a
slightly deeper chamber, at 11.25 by 15.25 by 5 inches. Its maximum pouch size
is actually a little bit smaller than that of the VP112S -- 10 by 13 inches --
but the deep, flat bottom works better for vacuum sealing multiple canning jars
or vacuum canisters. No accessory is needed for either machine, as long as the
container fits into the internal chamber.
A couple of quick heads up about this machine:
the VacMaster VP210 weighs 72 pounds, so most users either make it into a
permanent fixture on the countertop or place it on a wheeled cart. Also, you
need to monitor and change its oil periodically. (The VacMaster VP112S has a
maintenance-free piston motor.)
No matter which VacMaster model you choose, the
bags are a real bargain, coming in about $37 for 250 10-by-13-inch bags, with
boxes of up to 1,000 bags available. Also, users say that VacMaster offers
excellent customer service.
Handheld vacuum sealers
are best for occasional use
If you want a vacuum food sealer for occasional
use that's small enough to store in a kitchen drawer, look no further than the Waring Pro PVS1000 (Est. $50) pistol vac sealing system.
The only handheld model to receive a recommendation from a professional test
kitchen, this valve-sealing model is smaller, quieter and cheaper than most
external or chamber vacuum sealers. Its built-in battery lasts for about thirty sealings between recharges, and it comes with two dozen reusable valve bags that are BPA-free and
dishwasher safe. When the bags need replacing, you'll pay about $25 for two dozen gallon-size bags.
That professional test reports that most of the
food sealed with the Waring Pro PVS1000 still looked great after three months
of storage -- far superior results to the other handheld models they tested.
Most owners report similar results, praising the PVS1000 for its power and
performance. It's so powerful, in fact, that if you're
vacuum-sealing bread and operate the pump for too long, users warn the bread
can be sucked down to not much more than a large crouton. Full manual control
helps keep that from happening, as long as you're attentive. You can even use
the PVS1000 to seal vacuum canisters; just place the suction cup on the point
of the PVS1000 against the valve in the jar lid and run the pump.
The one thing the Waring Pro PVS1000 doesn't do
well is seal liquids or juicy cuts of meat -- it sucks
the juice into the valve, which can keep the bag from sealing. Users also warn
that if you let the Waring Pro's battery go completely dead, it won't recharge;
so, it's best stored on the charger when not in use. (Alternatively, you can
charge it every couple of weeks.)
If you're looking for an inexpensive handheld
vacuum sealer, the best buy we found was the FoodSaver FreshSaver (Est. $20). Although we did find plenty of concerns
about its durability, users love that this little gadget -- about the size of
your hand -- is such a great bargain for occasional use. The FreshSaver works
with valve bags and rigid, valved containers from
both Ziploc and FoodSaver: Just place the suction area against the valve and
press the button to begin. When it comes to bags, replacements typically cost
about $8 for 18 quart-sized bags.
The biggest issue with both models mentioned
here -- and really, any handheld vacuum sealer -- is making sure that the bag's
zip closure is securely fastened before you start sucking the air out through
the valve. Overall, users say the Waring Pro's bags perform best, and also seem
to hold up to longer periods of reuse. They especially like that the PVS1000
comes with a small tool that you can slide over the bag's zip closures to make
sure they're really sealed.
Expert & User Review Sources
Although few experts review vacuum food
sealers, they're fair game for the expert cooks in the Cook's Illustrated test kitchen. Subscribers can access the test
results on all seven models the cooks tested, two of which are recommended
without reservations. User reviews at sites such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com, Costco.com, and JCPenney.com are invaluable at gauging how easy the sealers are to use, and how well they
operate under real-world conditions.