More Outrage Porn

I admit that I watch too many YouTube videos. I’ll start with one, then another, then another. It is clear that YouTube has a secret sauce that keeps me engaged. They can skillfully shift my interests by offering videos with enticing titles, and some of these can pull me into a dark place.

My regular diet of YouTube is pretty pedestrian. I like van-dwelling videos, especially ones that explore how people normally live out of cars or vans. Topics like van cooking, stealth camping, and van hygiene fascinate me. I also enjoy videos where I learn something new, perhaps a bit of history or a video that explains how something works. Finally, like many, I’m a sucker for heartwarming animal stories, and I can get sucked into watching one with an exciting title or cute thumbnail.  

This isn’t unusual, so why is it that YouTube sometimes takes me to the dark place called outrage porn? Videos that are so negative that they outrage and upset me. I don’t think of myself as a negative individual; I mostly have a positive attitude and respect for others. However, once I enter this chilling algorithm, I find that it swallows me, sometimes for days, and I have to fight my way out of it to break free of its negativity. 

My most recent descent started by clicking on a video titled, “Uber rider thinks she is a lawyer and gets kicked out.” It involves a group of 5 passengers trying to take a ride booked for 4.  Four is the maximum allowed for the particular level of Uber that they ordered, and the driver could be deactivated if he broke Uber rules. Further, his insurance would not cover him if he didn’t follow Uber policy. The customers wanted to debate why he should break the rules (they likely ordered this level of Uber because it is cheaper), citing that he didn’t know what he was talking about. One of the passengers stated that she was right because she was “a lawyer” and that he should drive them. He rightly canceled the ride; at the end of the video, one of the riders is heard saying that he would contact corporate about the driver’s behavior.  

After watching this video, I was presented with more outrageous Uber videos, ranging from people trying to scam the driver out of their fare to rudeness at unimaginable levels to verbal and physical driver assaults. Insults were directed at drivers’ ethnicity, job choice, and cars. In addition, several videos showed police verbally abusing Uber drivers for minor infractions, sometimes telling them to “Go back to your own country.”

Soon other videos were coming my way. The new ones highlighted obnoxious airline passengers. Parents letting their out-of-control kids run wild and scream for an entire flight. Fat shamers, angry drunks, and other passengers whose entitlement assumed a master/slave level of rudeness. Entire flights that had to be deplaned so that police could forcibly remove out-of-control passengers. Passengers who blamed the ground crew because the plane didn’t wait for them despite their being late. 

Lastly, there was the sad and horrible case of 69-year-old Dr. Dau, who was minding his own business when asked to give up his seat for a crew member. When he refused (he had patients to see the following day), he was assaulted and dragged off the plane by police, whose brutality left him unconscious, bleeding, and missing two teeth. 

Now the YouTube algorithm transported me to the world of angry Karens. Super entitled individuals who think that the best way to accomplish their obnoxious demands is by hysterically screaming. They commonly assert their “rights” by dropping F-bombs, racial slurs, and demeaning insults to those, they are targeting. 

The horrible woman who marched up to a Dunkin Donuts window, demanding to talk to the manager because her cream was added to her coffee instead of on top of her coffee. The equally dreadful lady who stormed up to a Burger King drive-through window demanding a refund because she was dissatisfied with her food. The Burger King had caught on fire, and all of the employees had retreated outdoors to safety as black smoke billowed from the building. The lady is seen on video screaming insults and f-bombs at the poor employees insisting that they go inside and get her a refund for her hamburger even though the building was in flames. Then there was the Karen who gave a zero tip to her waitperson writing on her bill, “Next time, wish me a Happy Mother’s Day,” and the male Karen who had a toddler-level fit when his pick-up grocery order wasn’t perfect.

And so it went, one video leading to another video. I watched, obsessed like I would be missing something of value if I didn’t click on the next video. As this immersion continued, I felt my stomach getting upset, and I became agitated. I was both angry and afraid at the same time. My reality had become a world of negativity. Everyone was the enemy; everyone was out to get me, and the world seemed unsafe. It was as if I was a drug addict who was no longer getting a high from my drug of choice but still couldn’t stop using. Luckily, Walmart intervened. 

Most of you know that I hate shopping for groceries at Walmart, and this has only intensified since they have gone to an almost cashier-free check-out system. There is nothing like having a week’s worth of groceries that you have to check out and bag yourself. Since we buy a lot of vegetables, there are also those inevitable “look-ups” that add to my frustration.

I had sworn off Walmart, but I needed to get things I thought they only had. I had just gotten my second COVID booster, and I was feeling pretty crappy. I asked Will and Grace to go shopping with me as I honestly thought I couldn’t do it alone. We piled into my van and started the 2.6 miles to the supercenter. I mentioned to them my plunge into darkness. William sighed, “Dad, you can’t watch those videos; they are just upsetting.” Gracie chimed in, “Those videos represent a tiny fraction of the population. Most people are nice if you give them a chance. Those people are the exception, not the rule.” Of course, they were right.

We got to Walmart and tried to get through the store as quickly as possible. But, as usual, many shelves were bare, and the two unusual items I needed to purchase, clam juice and fennel seeds, were nowhere to be found.

Despite those minor frustrations, I focused on the positives of the situation. We did get 99% of our groceries, and it was terrific having Will and Grace’s help. I deliberately tried to break my cycle of negativity by smiling at other shoppers and giving them the right of way. At the end of our experience, we approached check-out. Most of the lanes had been converted to self-check-out; however, many of those were not working. Finally, Grace spotted a lone checker working furiously at the far end of the store. We navigated to her and got in line. She was overwhelmed, and I made a deliberate effort to compliment her. As we left the store, I also made sure that I told the employee guarding the exit, “Have a wonderful day.”  

All of those YouTube videos highlighted how truly obnoxious and entitled people could be. They also reinforced how I never want to be one of those individuals. I guess that was the positive side of my YouTube binge. However, there was also the negative side of feeling physically sick, agitated, angry, and fearful. Despite all of those negative feelings, I continued to watch one video after another. Each one took me into darker and darker places. I needed a physical break and wise words to break the cycle.

I believe that such manipulations are common tactics to increase engagement. This is also evident on cable news channels, whose editorial commenters can say the most outrageous and biased opinions. They act like newscasters but, in reality, are well-dressed male and female “Karens” who espouse their subjective opinions as truth. As I have said many times, stop watching cable news shows because they will poison you.  

It is easy to get sucked up into a cycle of outrage porn, but to what end? Yes, mine led to some empathy and awareness. Could I have achieved those goals without subjecting myself to a day of viewing the worst of humanity? Likely so. Today I am grateful for my kids who needed me to go grocery shopping and their wisdom that helped me center myself on the reality that people are mostly good.

Review Of The Sabotheat Smart Oven For Vandwellers

If you are a vandweller, car camper, flight attendant, trucker, or business traveler you probably have had to cook meals on the road.  Today, I’ll be reviewing the Sabotheat Smart Oven with an emphasis on vandwelling.  However, the information will be useful for any person who needs to prepare meals without the benefit of a formal kitchen.

The classic way to cook in a van is to use a butane or propane stove.  These devices are proven, work well, and heat fast.  However, they consume fuel that may be expensive or hard to find when you are camping in the wild.  

Another way to cook has been to use the van’s house battery system.  As these power banks have become more powerful it has become feasible to cook with induction cooktops and microwaves.  However, these high draw devices quickly flatten a van’s power system if it is not robust (i.e. expensive) enough.  

There have been a number of low wattage 12 and 120-volt devices that have been around for a while, and some new ones, like the micro-small electrics from Dash can do everything from poaching eggs to making mini-bundt cakes.  

The Hot Logic Mini and the Road Pro Lunch Box Oven are two gadgets that have stood the test of time; they approached low-wattage electric cooking from two ends of the spectrum.  

The Road Pro runs off of a standard 12-volt car outlet and can reach 300 F, which allows for real roasting and baking. It uses about 145 watts/hour making it compatible with most 12-volt car outlets and is a favorite among truckers who can load a meal into it and have it cook their food while they drive from point A to point B.  In addition, its low power consumption makes it possible to use it with a relatively small solar generator/solar panel setup.  I have cooked raw chicken in a Road Pro in less than 90 minutes (145 watts x 1.5 hours = 217 watts used).  Naturally, there are many foods that require less cooking time than that. A heat-resistant cooking vessel is necessary when using these devices, and most find that disposable 8” loaf pans work well.

The Road Pro Lunchbox Oven has been a staple among 12-volt cookers for years.

The Hot Logic Mini approaches heating food a bit differently.  It is a small collapsible heater that can be purchased in both a 120 volt and a 12-volt version.  It only uses 45 watts per hour, so it is very solar-friendly.  Although it is marketed as a “mini-oven” it is more of a collapsable slow cooker that is permanently set on low.  It heats to a maximum of 160F, which is a food-safe temperature.  It is possible to cook some raw foods in the mini in addition to heating up already prepared dishes.  The mini is not only popular among van dwellers, but also flight attendants who may live for days in a hotel without access to a microwave.  

The Hot Logic Mini has been around for a few years. It comes in both a 110-volt and 12-volt version.

Since the Mini only heats to 160 F degrees there is no chance of fire, and you can even heat foods directly in their cardboard or plastic boxes.  Like a slow cooker, the Mini is time tolerant.  Do you have to leave your food in it for an extra hour or two?  No problem.

Recently, I saw YouTube reviews of a new collapsable “mini oven,” the Sabotheat Smart Portable Oven.  This should not be confused with the Sabotheat Mini Portable Oven, as that device seems to be a clone of the Hot Logic Mini.

Can the SabotHeat work like a Hot Logic and a Road Pro?

The Smart Portable Oven had a few features that I thought could be useful for both vandwellers and other travelers.  Notably, it has a controller that contains both a timer and a six-level power adjustment.  At power level one it uses only 30 watts, and at power level 6 it consumes 110 watts. Because of this, I thought that the Sabotheat Smart Portable Oven could serve a dual purpose role.  When using it on its lower power setting it could function similarly to a Hot Logic Mini. At its high setting, I thought it might perform similarly to a Road Pro Oven, and allow baking and roasting.  However, both of these assumptions are incorrect.

Features of the SabotHeat Smart Oven.

The power level control controls the rate of heating, but not the final temperature.  Eventually, the hotplate will heat to around 260F. This will happen very slowly at level 1, and faster at level 6.  If you are very careful it could be possible to heat up something in cardboard or plastic on levels 1 or 2. However, if you forget about your food you could have an internal melt-down and fire in the oven.  Therefore, Sabotheat advises that you only use metal or heat-resistant glass when cooking.  Further, they don’t want you to use tight-fitting lids for the same reason.  This is an advantage of the Hot Logic.  Since you can use tight-fitting lids in the Hot Logic you will prevent spills while on the road.  By the way, the SabotHeat Smart Oven advises against mobile use.

The operating manual says that all heating levels will eventually reach 260F.

The Sabotheat can reach 260F, but not the 300F that the Road Pro Lunchbox Oven reaches. This is a Road Pro advantage when you want to roast or bake something.  I have made quick mixes and cornbread in the Road Pro.  The top doesn’t brown, but the results are perfectly edible.  I tried to make a Jiffy Mix in the Sabotheat, and it was a disaster.  After 3 hours the top of the cake was still gummy, while the bottom was over browned.  The cake was inedible.  

I also tried to heat liquids at level 6.  After 2.5 hours the temperature of the liquid got to 195F.  Hot enough to make some instant coffee or to heat up a can of soup, but not hot enough to boil water.  The hotplate itself was very hot, likely well over 200F, but the tip of the probe on my instant food thermometer was too narrow to measure its actual temperature.

I could only heat water up to 195F after two and one-half hours at level 6. I tried several different cooking vessels.

The bottom line is that the Sabotheat Smart Oven is a useful device, but it is not a replacement for the Hot Logic Mini or the Road Pro.  If you have either device there is no reason to upgrade.  The Sabotheat Smart Oven can’t achieve the 300F of the Road Pro, so it doesn’t get hot enough to bake.  No matter what heat setting it is set to, its hotplate will eventually reach around 270F which makes it too hot to heat up plastic or cardboard containers (like you can in the Hot Logic).  

I am aware of flight attendants who like to directly heat up their home-prepared meals in FoodSaver bags, however, these may melt with the direct heat of the Sabotheat.  It may be possible to use a lower heat setting combined with careful timing to mimic a Hot Logic Mini, but you would have to do that at your own risk.  Why not just use the Mini which has a proven heating ability, and won’t melt your food containers?

The Sabotheat is a decent product that comes in both a 110 and 12-volt version, but I think existing devices are already available and do a better job. 

The Dirty Little Secret That Lives In My Knife Drawer

One of the benefits of getting older is having more life experiences. Not only unique adventures but also repetitious ones. Repeated activities can be exciting and educational if you allow yourself to learn from them. 

You know that I can cook, and I have been cooking for many decades. My friends know this too, so it is not uncommon for me to participate in meal preparation when I’m invited over for a casual dinner.  

I’ll often be given some sort of slicing-and-dicing job, and because of this, I have used many different knives. In my younger years, I chopped with castoffs and Goodwill bargains. In later times I have used knives that bear brand names like Chicago Cutlery, Cutco, Global, Henckels, Shun, and Wusthof. Frankly, most of these knives have been pretty crappy to use—more on that.

My ex got everything when we divorced in the mid-1980s. I moved into a basement apartment in Skokie and furnished my new life with handouts, second-hand store purchases, and things I found in the trash. I had a desire to establish myself as an adult, and for some reason, I thought that I needed adult kitchen gear. Unfortunately, I worked as a resident physician and had little to no cash after paying rent and child support.

During that time, there was an emphasis on having good kitchen knives, and in those pre-internet days, there were several magazine articles on the topic. What should I buy? The articles told me I should buy forged, not stamped knives, resin (which is plastic), not plastic handles, exotic-sounding blade steel instead of steel that sounded less fancy, full tang instead of partial tang, bolsters instead of no bolsters…and so it went. I took every word as the Sunday gospel and followed their collective advice. Please note that I would like you to forget all of this advice as it is not essential; it turns out that it was primarily fake news for home cooks. 

In the end, I went with Consumer Report’s recommendation and purchased Gerber Balance Plus knives. Due to my finances, I bought my 4 Gerber knives individually over six months, starting with an 8″ chef’s knife, which cost well over $100. The blades were good, and I used them until I married Julie in 1993. By then, my knives were dull and dangerous. She relegated them to basement storage and bought an inexpensive Farberware Santoku-style knife from Target. The Santoku was pretty dull out of the box, so I taught myself how to reprofile its knife-edge, and with some effort, I ground it to an acceptably sharp angle.

This knife is similar to the one that Julie bought. The blade was pretty dull right out of the box and I had to spend some time reprofiling the edge to an acceptable sharpness.

I learned cutting skills using a standard chef’s knife, and because of this, I was never thrilled using a Santoku-style blade. Then, one day I was roaming around Sam’s Club (now vacated from our area), and I came across a chef’s knife that I impulsively bought. That was over 25 years ago, and we still use that knife every day. What is this excellent knife, and what is our secret trick to keep it paper slicing sharp after all of these years? All will be revealed later on in this post.

First, let’s look at some case scenarios. (doctors love case scenarios) 

The professional chef

These guys and gals are trained to be expert knife handlers. They know how to extract every ounce of a knife’s potential. They can slice at blinding speeds. They can chop with their eyes closed. Then, they can professionally sharpen their tools to a razor’s edge using a whetstone.

They need knives of the highest performance. Knives that can hold an edge for a day of endless slicing, chopping, deboning, and cutting. Knives are their most essential tools, so money is no object. If they have to pay 50% more for a 5% increase in performance, they are happy to do it. They have the skill and ability to maximally use that slight benefit.

Since they are so knowledgeable, they are the ones who are consulted about consumer knife advice. They are experts, but their cutting needs differ from most home cooks. Unfortunately, the knife attributes that they need go wasted on us.

The commercial cook

Most of us don’t frequent Michelin-rated restaurants, but we do like to eat. We dine at family restaurants and chain establishments. We might frequent school or work cafeterias. Our foods may be prepared by an outside service like Blue Apron or Meals on Wheels. These places employ countless cooks, and one of their main jobs is to cut up things.

Bushels of potatoes, bags of onions, and bunches of carrots all have to be processed daily. These cooks may or may not have formal training, but they are expected to perform professionally. 

Chefs purchase their knives, but an employer supplies a cook’s cutlery. Their blades have to be comfortable, non-slippery, and sharp enough to hold an edge for hours of hard work before they can be resharpened. Form follows function, as these knives have to be as inexpensive as possible while still being capable of safely getting the job done. Foodservice knives won’t win any beauty contests, but they do what they are supposed to do.

Foodservice knives aren’t much to look at, but they are designed to get the job done as cheaply as possible.

The home cook

Most home cooks don’t have formal training, yet they have to perform many of the same tasks as their professional counterparts. However, they have time on their side. They don’t need to chop a bushel of onions rapidly; they can take their time chopping half of an onion. Despite this difference, they still need good tools, not for speed but for safety.

Home cooks fall into three general groups:

The “It will do” group.

These folks get by with as little equipment as possible. They cook because they have to and would rather spend their money on other things. They are happy to use castoff knives or inexpensive ones purchased from their local big-box store.

The “Thank you very much” group.

These cooks were given their cookware, including their knives. Often such gifts were wedding presents, and they continue to use these items decades later. Classic knife blocks adorn their countertops, often filled with 10 or 12 cutting instruments, most of which go unused.

You can buy a block set of knives for less than $100 or spend much more. This one cost over $1,200. I’m sure that the knives are very nice, but do you realize that you are spending over $80 per piece? That is $80 for the block, $80 for the scissors, and $80 for each steak knife! In addition, there are probably some knives that you will never use.

The “Look at me” group.

These folks have cash to burn, and they burn it. They buy high-end cooking equipment, including knives. Spending $400 on a single general-purpose knife is not out of the question. 

This chef’s knife sells for over $200 and it looks pretty cool. However, if you don’t maintain it the blade will become dull and dangerous.

——

I have sliced and diced in friend’s kitchens from all three of these categories, and I have encountered crappy knives everywhere. Yes, I have the solution to this problem, but first, you need to understand just a little bit more about cutlery. 

Some more stuff about knives.

Kitchen knife blades can be made from several different materials. But, go with stainless steel and make your life easier. 

The cutting part of a knife is called the edge. In most cases, the knife’s blade is ground down until it becomes a triangular point. Knives are ground at different angles. A knife designed for heavy, rough use may have a broader inclusive angle of 50 degrees (25 degrees per side). In contrast, a knife designed for more delicate work, like cooking, may have an inclusive angle of 40 or even 30 degrees (20 and 15 degrees per side, respectively).  

A knife’s edge is ground to a specific angle depending on its use.

Narrower angled edges are perceived as sharper by the user. However, a thinner angle means that these knives will dull quicker and suffer from more edge roll. Knife manufacturers use more rigid steel for these blades to compensate for this. However, harder steel is more likely to chip, and it is more difficult to sharpen than softer steel. Because of this, knife manufacturers compromise to find the best angle of the edge and the best steel hardness for the knife.   

In the past European and American kitchen knife manufacturers used an inclusive edge angle of 40-degrees (20 degrees per side) and moderately hard steel. Japanese manufacturers used an inclusive angle of 30-degrees (15 degrees per side) and a harder, more brittle steel. The Japanese configuration has become popular in the US during the last decade, and European and American knife manufacturers are now making some of their blades using the Asian 30-degree parameter. 

Both 40 and 30-inclusive degree knives are capable of effortless cutting if they are maintained. Maintaining a knife includes honing, which smoothes out micro-burrs and bends on the knife’s edge, and sharpening, which involves removing metal to return a dull knife to its former self. 

Classic steels don’t sharpen a knife, they hone it-they remove little burrs and other imperfections in the edge’s surface. You can do the same thing with a knife sharpener by making your final passes very light. In addition, many multi-stage sharpeners have specific honing slots.

It is best to resharpen a knife at the angle it was designed for. For example, a knife created with a 40-degree inclusive should be resharpened at that angle, and one with a 30-degree inclusive should be resharpened at that angle. It is possible to reprofile a knife’s edge to a different angle, but it is often more practical to stick with the manufacturer’s intended design. 

So why did all of the knives that I used suck?

The bottom line is that most people don’t properly care for their knives. It doesn’t matter if you have a $20 knife or a $200 knife; if you don’t properly care for it, it will soon become trash. Remember, a dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp one. 

What are the most important factors to consider when buying a kitchen knife?

I told you to forget all of the exotic handles and fancy-sounding steel information. Let me reinforce this… That stuff may be necessary if you are a professional chef, but it is not important to the home cook. However, there are a few essential things: the knife’s ergonomics and the style of the knife’s blade.

Ergonomically, a knife should feel reasonably balanced in your hand. The handle should feel comfortable, and (most important) it should be secure when wet or greasy. Knives come in different styles, and styles come in different blade lengths. Therefore, it is important to find a knife that works for you.   

Both a Santoku and chef’s knife are versatile, jack-of-all-trades kitchen knives.

If you only want one kitchen knife…

The most used and most versatile knife in any kitchen is either a chef’s knife or a Santoku knife. Both form factors do the same thing but originated from different parts of the world (Europe vs. Japan). Both styles are manufactured in different blade lengths, but most prefer an 8″ chef’s knife or a 7″ Santoku knife. Very experienced cooks use longer blade lengths, and smaller ones work better for people with smaller hands. However, if you go too short on blade length (for instance, less than 6″ on a chef’s knife), much of the knife’s versatility is lost, and it becomes more of a utility knife than a jack-of-all-trades device. 

Both styles are equally versatile. Some newer cooks find the blunted nose of a Santuko less intimidating, while others like the rocking action of a chef’s knife.  

A classic chef’s knife has a triangular shape with a rounded cutting edge.

I am most comfortable using an 8″ chef’s knife. I have used one to do just about everything. I have carved 18-pound turkeys, hulled strawberries, and cut crusty French bread. Over time, Julie has also converted to using our 8″ chef’s knife. 

If you want to own only one knife, it should be either a chef’s knife or a Santoku knife. These blades can do about 90% of all kitchen cutting tasks.

If you only want two kitchen knives…

Start with a chef’s knife or a Santoku knife, and add a paring knife.

A paring knife is a small knife with a blade length between 3-4.5 inches. Most folks find 3.5-4 inches a good length. The shape of the blade may vary from design to design, but the job remains the same…small tasks. For example, mincing shallots, hulling strawberries, and peeling potatoes are easy to do using a paring knife.  

Paring knives are 3-4.5 inches in length. Their blade shape may vary, but they all do the same task, cutting up small things.

If you only want three different kitchen knives…

Go with the above two knife styles and add a serrated knife. Serrated knives come in a variety of lengths and styles. Serrated knives that are 8″ -10″ in length are the most versatile. A serrated knife is more of a saw than a knife. Serrated knives are great for foods with a tough or slippering surface and a tender interior. They bite into the food and force you to use a sawing action, preventing crushing. Serrated knives are suitable for foods like crusty French bread and ripe tomatoes. I have cut these foods with a sharp chef’s knife, so a serrated knife isn’t indispensable. 

Serrated knives come in a variety of shapes, the above is a classic. They are good at cutting foods that are tough on the outside and tender on the inside.

What about all those other knives?

There are different specialty knives designed to do a variety of tasks. You can buy blades designed for filleting fish, boning chickens, slicing roasts, and cutting grapefruit, to name a few. Each specialty knife will perform its task better than a generalist knife. If you are constantly filleting fish, buy a knife for that purpose. However, if you do specialty tasks rarely, you can get by with the primary three. 

So what is the big knife secret that has allowed me to use the same knife for over 25 years?

Decades ago, I purchased a foodservice-type chef’s knife from Sam’s club. It cost less than $10, and it was etched with the Tramontina brand. It had a stamped blade and a black textured polypropylene handle. I have no idea what type of steel was used or if the tang was full or partial. None of that made any difference. It was comfortable to hold and non-slippery when wet. It was designed to work.

It came with a sharp edge, and it had reasonably good edge retention. However, all of those things only go so far. The knives that I used at friends’ places had one unforgivable flaw; they were never adequately cared for. As a result, even the most expensive were dull and hazardous.   

For the last 25 years, I have run a small, handheld sharpener 5-6 times over the blades of all my smooth-edged cutting knives every single time that I have used them. If I’m sharpening the edge and it feels rough (you can recognize this feeling in short order), I may make 10-12 passes. I start with light pressure, and my strokes become very light as I get close to the end of the process. Phase one sharpens the knife, and phase two hones the blade.

I like using these small hand-held sharpeners. They are inexpensive and they do a good job.

I’m the only one in the house who does this, so in reality, our knives are getting sharpened every 2-3 times they are being used. I do this with all of my straight-edged knives, and they have remained paper-slicing sharp and a delight to use. I believe that Accusharp makes the best version of a small manual sharpener, and it costs around $10. Recently, I gave my Accusharp to my daughter and picked up a similar sharpener by Smith ($7). It does the job, but I think the Accusharp was better. 

I prefer to use a simple handheld sharpener that I keep in our knife drawer for convenience. Since it is right there, it reminds me to use it. There are many different pull-through sharpeners, some of which offer several sharpening stages. These fancier devices could potentially refine a knife’s edge better than a single-stage sharpener. However, a simple device’s convenience makes it more likely that I will sharpen a knife. The best sharpener is drawer junk if you don’t use it.

This pull-through sharpener has multiple angles and multiple stages. However, it is on the bulky side making it less desirable for daily use.

Note: At the time of this writing, most straight edge foodservice knives are cut at a 40-degree inclusive (20-degree per side) angle. The exception is Victorinox, which uses a 30-degree inclusive (15-degree per side) angle. Some Mercer foodservice knives also use a 30-degree inclusive angle. Check with the store or the manufacturer when you buy your knives to determine the proper angle.

In addition, there are other ways to determine a knife’s edge angle, one is the Sharpie method, which is widely discussed on YouTube.  Another way is to use a laser edge meter.

Here is my laser edge meter. It works best on a new knife as once an edge is damaged the laser can’t refract cleanly off the blade. Write the angle down somewhere so you will have the angle value when you need it.

What about buying inexpensive knives from big box stores?

It is a mixed bag. Some knives are OK, some can be made serviceable if you reprofile the blade, and some are terrible. One of the most significant issues with many cheap knives is their handles, which can be extremely slippery when wet.  

Over the years, some of these knives have entered Kunaland. I already told you about the Farberware Santoku that my wife bought. Many years ago, I purchased a chef’s knife for 88 cents from Walmart to use in our former RV. It was made from super cheap stainless steel, had a slippery handle, and an edge with micro-serrations so it could never be sharpened. I left it in the RV over the winter, and despite being stainless steel, it completely rusted. It was a horrible knife. When I built out Violet the campervan, I bought a colorful five-piece Cuisinart knife set for less than $15 at Home Depot. The knives’ balance was slightly off, but they weren’t too bad. I used them for a couple of years, and about two years ago, I upgraded the set to a Victorinox foodservice chef’s knife and a house-brand foodservice paring knife. I didn’t need to do the upgrade, as I cooked simply in the campervan. I did it because… well, sometimes I just do stuff like that. The bottom line is that you may get an OK knife from a big box store or get a piece of junk. Foodservice knives will vary from good to pretty good, so you can’t go wrong by going the foodservice route.

I bought a set similar to this one for $15 to use in Violet the campervan. Honestly, they weren’t too bad but their foodservice equivalents were better.

Don’t listen to knife nerds!

Knife nerds will tell you that pull-through knife sharpeners don’t work and that they will destroy your knives. Of course, this is not true, but I understand how these ideas are promulgated. 

You can get a knife sharper using a whetstone or a fancy sharpening system, but you will not use one every time you use your knife. It is much better to have a sharp knife all of the time instead of a blade that is super sharp once a year.

Knife nerds love to set up demonstrations where they show how pull-through knife sharpeners destroy knives. They will start with a new knife and proceed to ruin its edge by repeatedly slicing into granite or some other hard stone; once the blade is completely trashed, they then vigorously run the knife through a pull-through sharpener using so much force that you can see chunks (not dust) of metal coming off the blade. After they do this for a minute, they will test if the knife is sharp by slicing a sheet of paper. The blade has improved, but it is still not very good. The nerd uses the metal chunks and the somewhat dull knife to prove their hypothesis.

This is NOT the way to use these types of sharpeners. I have sharpened my chef’s knife thousands of times over its life. Despite being a very inexpensive knife, there has been no apparent metal loss, and the blade is sharp enough to cut paper. Ten seconds of sharpening before every use makes all of the difference in the world. 

I have to go beyond my simple knife sharpener a few times a year, but this is because of knife abuse. If we were more careful with our kitchen knives, a pull-through sharpener would be all that we would ever need. I’ll talk more about knife abuse in a bit.

Proving knife nerds wrong.

Over the last 25 years, I have sharpened my kitchen knives with a pull-through sharpener. If you assume that I did this around three times a week, that is over 4000 sharpenings. I don’t have before and after photos, but the knives look about the same. They also feel sharp, and they are sharp enough to slice paper. However, those tests are relatively subjective. I like objective, quantitative data. Is there a quantitative way to determine the sharpness of a blade? The answer is yes. Can I access such instrumentation? This answer is also yes. I’m obsessive and trained as a scientist; of course, I have geeky testing gadgets!

Here are the main two sharpeners that I’m using for my kitchen knives.

There is an international standard for knife sharpness called the BESS C scale that measures the amount of force needed to cut a piece of test media. This scale goes from zero to two thousand. The lower the number, the lower the force required, and therefore the sharper the blade. A double edge razor blade has a BESS score of 50, whereas a butter knife has a BESS score of 2000. High-end cutlery right out of the box scores between 260 (super sharp) to 350 (very sharp).  

The BESS C rating system.
Testing my 25-year-old, $10 chef’s knife on a BESS certified edge tester.

I took my 25-year-old, $10 foodservice knife and sharpened it as I usually would with a pull-through sharpener. Next, I took out my handy dandy Industrial Edge Tester and tested the knife. The BESS value was 250. That is sharper than the sharpest high-end cutlery right out of the box. I then took the same knife, ran it through my Chef’s Choice electric sharpener for a few passes, and repeated the test. That value came back at 191; the sharpness of a utility razor blade!

This reading was after I used a pull-through knife sharpener. At this point, my cheap knife is sharper than brand new high-end cutlery.
I then ran my cheap knife through my Chef’s Choice electric sharpener and got a value of 191. That is the sharpness equivalent of a utility razor blade!
Here is a macro-shot of the Chef’s knife’s edge. There are certainly cleaner knife edges. However, this does not look like the ragged messes that you see when nerds show shots of knives that were sharpened with a pull-through. In reality, the edge looks reasonably clean and totally serviceable.

How do you abuse a knife?

Earlier I mentioned that it is easy to destroy a knife’s edge. Here are some ways to do it.

Banging them around.

Don’t keep your knives in a drawer with a lot of other junk. First, it is dangerous to dig through such a drawer. Second, rubbing up against other hard stuff will damage your knives. There are many ways to protect your knives. Use a knife block, or get a magnetic strip for the wall. You can also use a sleeve to cover the knife’s blade. We have a narrow drawer that we exclusively use for knives. It is not ideal, but it works well enough.

Excessive hard use.

If you regularly use your knife like a chopping cleaver, it will quickly dull. Cleavers have thicker blades and blunter edges for this reason.  

Washing in the dishwasher.

Many years ago, this type of damage would happen in our home, but everyone is now trained to wash cutting knives by hand. Unfortunately, a round or two in a dishwasher will pit and dull just about any knife. So don’t wash your cutting knives in the dishwasher even if the manufacturer says that the knife is dishwasher safe.

Dried on food/excessive soaking.

Leaving food to dry on a knife can dull it. Washing a knife with dried food is more dangerous than immediately cleaning one. Also, soaking a dirty knife for hours can dull it. A brief soak is fine.

Cutting on a hard surface.

It would be best if you only cut on softer surfaces than your knife’s blade. This means you should only cut on a wooden or plastic cutting board. Never cut on a glass plate, glass cutting board, or (gasp) directly on a countertop. We cook pizzas on a pizza stone, and sometimes the snacker finds it easier to cut the pizza directly on the stone. This is a disaster as it immediately turns the knife’s edge into trash. I can sometimes reclaim the blade with a pull-through sharpener, but it is often easier to go with Plan B.

Plan B

What to do when you mess up your blade’s edge.

Simple pull-through sharpeners keep a blade sharp. These would likely be the only sharpeners that a home cook would need in a world of zero abuse. However, as mentioned above, there are many ways to damage a knife’s edge. Sometimes you need to go the extra step to keep your blades ready to battle with the next butternut squash. Here are some options.

Outside sharpener/professional sharpener

Some people sharpen knives for a living. In addition, some hardware stores have automated sharpening machines. For example, my local Ace Hardware will sharpen a knife for about $6. But unfortunately, they can only sharpen at a 20 degree (40 degree-inclusive) knife angle. The good news is that most kitchen knives still use this edge angle. 

Some hardware stores will sharpen your knives for about $6 a blade.

The electric knife sharpener

There are many of these on the market, some inexpensive. American Test Kitchens reviews knife sharpeners every couple of years, and one brand always comes up on top, Chef’s Choice. Typically their favorite model is over $150, so purchasing such a device can be costly. However, I have had one for more than 20 years. I use it 1-2 times a year to fix badly abused knives. In addition, I use it more frequently to sharpen entire sets of knives for friends and family. Chef’s Choice makes models that sharpen at 15 degrees (30 degrees inclusive) and 20 degrees (40 degrees inclusive). They also sell combo units that do both angles. 

American Test Kitchens note that some other brands of electric knife sharpeners make knives duller, so I would stick with their recommendations.

Pros: Does a good job, and is very fast.

Cons: Costly

My Chef’s Choice model 130. I also had a model 100 that I just gave away to one of my nieces.

Lansky Sharpening System

This system has been around for ages and comes in various versions, the least expensive one costing under $40. It is called a guided system, as you use a guide to make sure that you are sharpening at the proper edge angle. The system allows for many different blade angles, including 20-degrees. Unfortunately, it does not have a 15-degree guide, but it does have one for 17-degrees, which is good enough (at least for me). This gadget does an excellent job.

Other companies (like Smith) make copycat sharpeners. I have also used the Smith system, which works well. Some of the copycats may be a bit less expensive than the original Lansky.

Pros: Easy to master. Does an excellent job. Can do a variety of sharpening angles.

Cons: Fiddly to set up. More time-consuming to sharpen than a powered sharpener. 

This basic Lanksy system can be had for under $40.

Spyderco Sharpmaker

This simple to use and compact knife sharpener is a favorite among many who say it gives their knives a razor’s edge. I can sharpen knives on this system, but never to the degree of sharpness that others seem to be able to—around $80.

Pros: Compact and easy to use. Does both 20 degree and 15 degree angles.

Cons: I can’t sharpen a knife on a Sharpmaker as well as I can using other systems. You may need to purchase coarser sharpening rods for badly damaged knives, which can cost almost as much as a whole sharpening system. Not motorized, so it is slightly time-consuming.

Many people love the Sharpmaker. Unfortunately, I am only able to get mediocre results when I use it.

Other manufacturers make similar systems at a lower price. However, the Sharpmaker is known for its quality build, compact size, and versatility. 

This is the Lansky clone of the Sharpmaker. It is a bit less versatile, but it is considerably less expensive.

Work Sharp knife and tool sharpener Mk2

Don’t let the looks of this gadget scare you; it is super simple to use. It is also fast and gives a very sharp edge. It can not only sharpen kitchen knives, but it can also sharpen scissors, axes, pocket knives, and even lawnmower blades—around $80.

Pros: Works very well and for many sharpening needs. Simple, almost foolproof to use.

Cons: Requires some setup, and you need to change belts during the sharpening process. Sharpening guards can only be set to 25 degrees (50 inclusive) used for pocket knives and 20 degrees (40 inclusive) used for standard kitchen knives. No 15-degree (30 inclusive) angle guide for Asian-style knives.

Don’t let its industrial looks scare you. This is the KO version, it is similar to the regular Mk2, but it has a few more bells and whistles.

You can buy the KO (Ken Onion) version of this sharpener, allowing many edge angles, including 15-degrees. But, unfortunately, that unit is more costly at around $120.

Work Sharp Precision Knife Sharpener

This knife sharpener mimics high-end sharpeners like the KME and the Edge Pro, which sell for hundreds of dollars. However, construction is lighter in weight. At only $49, it has a massive following among budget-conscious knife nerds, as it is possible to achieve a mirror edge on a knife. This is a manual system.  

Pros: Inexpensive and can sharpen a knife’s edge to a mirror finish. Similar design to pro units that cost hundreds of dollars. Does many edge angles.

Cons: Construction is more lightweight than similar but more expensive sharpeners. Non-electric so it will take longer to sharpen a knife than when using an electric device.

The Precision Knife Sharpener is a knife nerds dream at an affordable price.

The Precision Knife Sharpener also comes in a professional version for $120 that includes a wider variety of sharpening stones. However, the basic kit is more than enough for most users.

There are other quality sharpening systems, but I’m reluctant to recommend them since I have not personally used them. I would avoid using a whetstone. Professionals get the sharpest edges using whetstones, but it can take years to master sharpening techniques. Amateurs are more likely to mess up a knife’s edge using a whetstone than sharpen it.

What about sharpening serrated knives?

A serrated blade is more of a saw than a knife. Some of the knife sharpeners listed above claim that they can sharpen serrated edges, but most only do a so-so job. I have experimented with sharpening such blades, and the process did improve their edges, but I think that such actions are unnecessary. Serrated knives don’t need to be sharpened as frequently as a straight edge knife because they don’t cut; they tear like a saw. I advise using your inexpensive serrated knife until you feel that it is no longer doing its job, then buy a new one. We have been using ours for decades, so don’t fret that you will need to run to the store every week. 

The bottom line

If you want the fanciest, sharpest, most extraordinary kitchen knives you will need to buy the best knives, invest in an excellent sharpening system, learn how to use that system, and sharpen your knives very regularly. It is doubtful that you will do the above.

Most home cooks do the opposite. They rarely or never sharpen their knives, making kitchen work more difficult and accidents more likely. Even an expensive top-of-the-line knife will turn into trash if you don’t hone and sharpen it regularly.

My solution to this problem is a compromise that works very well. I would advise buying three foodservice type knives-an 8″ chef or 7″ Santoku knife, a 3″ -4″ paring knife, and an 8″ -10″ serrated knife. Foodservice-type knives offer the best bang for the buck. They are not pretty, but they work hard and have very comfortable handles that are non-slippery. They must be able to do the job and to reasonably hold their edge. Otherwise, foodservice buyers would shop for a different brand. Their overall quality is a cut above a similarly priced big-box store knife, although they are less stylish. 

Big box store knives can also be pretty inexpensive. However, their quality is a mixed bag. Consumers are not knife experts and are more likely swayed by factors, such as name recognition, style, price, and packaging. A consumer may think, “Oh well, this knife is good enough.” In contrast, a professional cook has a working knowledge of how a good cutting tool should perform. 

I love my Tramontina, 25-year-old foodservice knife, but there are many other choices. You can get a decent house brand Chef’s knife for well under $10, a known name like Mercer or Dexter for $10-$20, or a popular brand like Victorinox for under $40. Paring knives often cost under $5. Just about any serrated knife will do, but buy one that is 8’-10″ depending on your needs. Expect to pay under $10.  A shorter serrated knife may be good for cutting tomatoes, but it will be too short to cut crusty bread, which is one of the main benefits of having such a knife. 

Foodservice knives are inexpensively bought at restaurant supply stores (in-person or via the internet). You can sometimes find them at warehouse clubs, and you can find some on Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.com. A quick eBay search yielded a knife similar to mine, along with a short serrated knife, and a paring knife selling as a set for less than $13. Shop around as some outlets charge inflated prices. We have a Gordon foodservice (restaurant supply) in our area, but their prices on cooking equipment are high. 

Recently, I found a knife similar to mine in a three-knife set on eBay for less than $13.

Buy a handheld pull-through sharpener. You can purchase them everywhere, including hardware stores, big box stores, and grocery stores. I like the Accusharp brand, but any brand name will do. Although multi-stage pull-through sharpeners may do a slightly better job, they are bulkier, and you are less likely to pull them out. I like having my little sharpener reside in the same drawer as my knives. If I see it, I will use it. Pull the knife through 6-12 times, depending on need. Start with light-moderate pressure, then hone with very light passes for your last few pulls. 

Currently, I am using a Smith’s handheld sharpener. It is pretty good, but I prefer the Accusharp.
This small sharpener can sharpen at three different edge angles.
The above sharpener in action.
I also found this Lansky D-Sharp that can sharpen at 4 different angles.

Because you are sharpening every time you use the knife, the quality of the steel is irrelevant. I have used my knife to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for 19 on multiple occasions. Not only was the knife used for food prep, but it was also used to carve an 18-pound turkey. Its edge sharpness was perfectly acceptable during the entire process. It is hard to imagine that any cooking task that a home cook would need to do would be significantly more demanding. Your knife will always be sharp enough for any daily home kitchen task if you take 10 seconds to sharpen it before you use it.  

Protect yourself and your knives by keeping them in their own space: a block, a magnetic strip, a sleeve, or their own drawer.  

If you are human, you will likely mess up your knives on occasion, and they may need the additional attention that I mentioned in the Plan B section of this post.

Remember, home cooks don’t need to speed chop, and they don’t debone two dozen chickens in a single sitting. As a home cook, your cutting needs are simple. You always should use a sharp knife, but expensive, exotic knives are unnecessary. By spending an additional 10 seconds to sharpen your knife every time you use it, you will be rewarded with a tool that is a pleasure to cut with. The right tool for the job is a sharp knife, and you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to have one.

Mike

Adding A House Battery Powered Radio To A Camper Van.

One of the best parts of adventuring in a van is that you can camp anywhere, including isolated BLM and national forest land. Unfortunately, this often means you are boondocking in less than ideal cell coverage places. Even when using a cell signal booster, it is not uncommon for me to have a single bar, and that signal is only present when I’m seated in the van’s cab area.

Luckily, there is a fantastic fallback for information and entertainment- radio. I have never been in a location where I couldn’t receive multiple AM and FM stations. Of course, I have a car radio, but I don’t use it when the engine isn’t running as I have fallen asleep in the past while listening. I don’t need the hassle of waking up with a dead car battery 20 miles from the nearest town.

I converted my camper van in 2018, and my previous solution was to carry a portable radio with me. This option works great when used outside the vehicle, but reception is impossible inside the van’s signal-blocking metal cabin. 

I have left my cargo door open and placed my portable radio half in and half out of the van. At other times I have precariously perched my radio next to the driver’s side window to eke out a scratchy signal. Neither solution is ideal.

Yesterday I installed a better option, a secondary car radio that runs off of my house battery. High-end aftermarket car radios are expensive, but basic models are surprisingly cheap. Over the last few years, radios have been redesigned where almost all of their circuitry can be placed on a single IC chip. This has reduced their price, and it has also allowed fancy features to be built in at no additional cost. These features include large station storage presets, loudness compensation, equalization controls, and the ability to play MP3 files from a flash drive. Most of these inexpensive radios feature Bluetooth, so you can stream from your phone. Many also have a remote control option (either a little RC or a phone app).  

You can buy these radios for under thirty dollars. In addition, you will need to buy a second outside radio antenna. Small speakers complete the setup and can be repurposed or purchased. The photos below will outline my simple DIY process.

This is the inexpensive radio that I purchased on Amazon. It has Bluetooth and it also came with a little remote.
This Dual brand has good reviews and can be purchased for less than $25 from Walmart. It uses a phone app for a remote.
I liked this all-in-one solution from Amazon, as the speakers are included. It was suggested by someone on a car stereo forum. However, it only receives FM and I wanted a radio that could also receive AM.
You will also need an external antenna. There are many choices on Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.com.
Lastly, you will need some speakers. These are small and inexpensive. They are 8 ohms and most car radios have a 4-ohm output. It is OK to use a speaker with a higher impedance, but your volume may be reduced. It will still be fine for most purposes. It is not OK to use a speaker that has a lower impedance than the rated output as this can overdrive the radio’s amplifier. You can also repurpose other home speakers if they fit into your design. Old rear channel surround speakers are small and may do the trick.
You could also use an inexpensive set of car speakers which are 4 ohms. You won’t get monster sound, just nice audio. If you go this route you will need to come up with some sort of a mount for the speakers.
Installing the antenna only involves using a drill with a hole saw. I’m always afraid to drill on my van so my friend, Tom did the drilling for me. Buy an antenna that has the coax attached to make your job easier. The length of coax will likely be long enough, if not you can buy a short extension.
The antenna fully attached. This antenna can be attached as a side or vertical mount depending on your needs. I was concerned with the height of the antenna, but it is a “rubber ducky” type and flexible.
I had this switch left over from a different project. It allows me to cut all power to the radio when desired. My radio pulls around 2 watts when off. When on it uses around 5 watts at moderate volume. If I’m conserving my house battery power I can eliminate the small 2-watt loss if desired with the switch. Any switch that will break the circuit will do. This is a DPST (double pole single throw) switch, but an SPST (single pole single throw) switch would also work. Since I use a Solar Generator I connected both the + and – to my fused break out-box (instead of connecting the negative to ground as you would do with a car battery).
I found these connectors on the Crutchfield website. There were very cheap and worked very well. However, you can use whatever method that you want when connecting wires to the radio’s pigtails.
As an aside, buy a multimeter and keep it in your van. I used it to make sure that all of my radio connections were solid and that I was delivering power to the radio. However, this is a device that has a million and one van/home uses. You can check for broken wires, battery strength, and so much more. Mine is pretty old (I know, it looks crusty) and probably cost around $10.
Here I’m connecting wires to one of the radio’s pigtails. This radio had a pigtail for audio and another one for power. Some radios may combine both functions with one pigtail, so read the manual that comes with the radio. When it comes to power, you will likely have one negative and two positive leads. One positive is for continuous power and the other is designed to be active only when the car’s ignition is on. The continuous power is there so that the radio can retain data like station presets. I just connected both positives together. When the power is switched off to the radio you will lose your presets, but that isn’t a big deal. If you have enough solar you can leave the power on to your system and set local stations. Note that I’m using those little Crutchfield connectors to attach my wire to the pigtail.
Here you can see the radio set up on the shelf above my bunk. I attached it with sticky pads and reinforced the system with bungee cords; it is staying in place well. However, you can attach your set-up any way that you choose. It was easy to run wires behind panels due to my Wayfarer buildout.
A close-up view. The system is very compact and sounds surprisingly good.
A quick demo. Yes, I’m lounging on my bunk… perfect, don’t you think!

Le Creuset Dutch Ovens, Hot or Hype?

I’ve been cooking since I was 10. I believe most would say that I’m a good cook, and I certainly don’t have any fears about being in the kitchen. I know how to make a smooth white sauce, I can cook steaks on the grill, and I can even bake a decent chocolate cake. I don’t mind cooking, but it’s not the center of my life. Instead, I want to get into the kitchen, eat, and clean up with the least mess. Because of this, some may call me the king of the one-pot meal.

I’ll use any tool at my command to achieve my simple goals. For example, if I know that I’ll be out for the day, I toss some ingredients into a slow cooker, and if I only have an hour before dinner, it’s common for me to plug in my InstantPot. Both of these methods produce good results, but I cook in a dutch oven for even better results.

I love cooking one-pot meals.
Everything in the pot and ready to go into the oven.
Super moist chicken and delicious roasted vegetables. Simple to make.

Cooking in a dutch oven offers many advantages as well as some disadvantages. A dutch oven is probably the most versatile pot in any kitchen, as you can sear meats on a burner and then place the same pot in the oven to complete cooking. A dutch oven can be used like any other pot in the kitchen, but its thick walls and tight lid make it an ideal slow cooker. Its heavy mass holds the heat, which allows for good searing, and its hot surface promotes the formation of a caramelized fond on the bottom of the pot. This residue adds a delicious complexity to the dish being cooked. If you have a dutch oven that is big enough, it is even possible to bake in it directly on the stovetop. You place a trivet on the bottom of the dutch oven to hold your baking pan. Cover and adjust the burner, and off you go. Of course, you can also directly bake in a dutch oven to make bread, cakes, and cornbread in your range’s oven. 

Searing in a dutch oven produces a delicious caramelized fond on the bottom of the pot.

However, dutch oven cooking does have some disadvantages. The pots are heavy and bulky and may be too difficult for some. In addition, they have to be handled with a certain amount of care. This is especially true for enameled coated dutch ovens, which can chip and crack if treated harshly. Lastly, many meals involve time and a bit of handling. A recipe may take three or four hours, and during that period, you may need to stir the pot or do some other maintenance task. You will be rewarded with a richness of flavor that can’t be achieved in a slow cooker or pressure cooker, but you will need to commit to being around the house during the hours-long cooking process.

You may ask, what is a dutch oven? It’s a heavy pot with a secure lid. A dutch oven can be made of many things: clay, aluminum, stainless steel, and even ceramic. But, by far, the most common material used for dutch ovens is cast iron. This is because cast iron acts as a giant heat sink. It absorbs heat and slowly radiates it back into the food. Ovens and electric stovetops constantly turn off and on during cooking, and their temperature can vary widely. Cooking in cast iron evens out this cycling, which results in better and more consistent results. 

 You’ve probably seen someone with a traditional dutch oven if you’ve ever gone camping. These pots are often big, black, and the cast iron is without any external coating. Raw cast iron pots can be used for home cooking, but they have limitations. First, aesthetically they are not very attractive. In addition, cast iron can react with acidic foods and give them a metallic taste. Lastly, raw cast iron can rust if washed and not immediately dried.

A classic dutch oven is made from uncoated cast iron.

A long-standing solution to this problem has been to place an enamel coating on both the inside and the outside of the vessel. This isolates the food from the metal and provides a beautiful and colorful finish to the pot.

The outside of an enameled pot can be any color, but its interior color is typically cream or black. Cream-colored interiors allow inexperienced cooks to visualize what they are cooking a bit better. Black interiors allow for somewhat better searing. Some pots have very smooth interiors; others have rougher finishes. Although manufacturers emphasize these differences, I have found that all of these ovens work well.

Staub is one of the few companies that use a black interior on its pots.

Enamel is vulcanized glass. It is sprayed on cast iron, which is fired at a high temperature. This fuses the glass to the cast iron for a long-lasting finish. Different companies have their own formulas and techniques for this process, and some claim that their procedures produce a more durable coating.  

There is no absolute size determiner to define a dutch oven. Some people believe that a dutch oven has to be 5 quarts or larger in capacity. However, the vocabulary for dutch ovens is fluid. Some manufacturers sell dutch ovens that start around 1.5 quarts and move upwards. Other companies will call their smaller dutch ovens casseroles and their shorter ones braisers. Staub refers to their dutch ovens as La Cocottes, which translates to casserole in English. The bottom line is don’t get hung up on a definition. 

Staub dutch ovens are often referred to as cocottes, which translates to casseroles in English.
Here are two, 2-quart dutch ovens that I own. The blue one is an Our Table brand and was less than $30, the orange (“flame”) one on the right is a Le Creuset pot that retails for 10 times that amount. As you can see, they are more similar than they are different.

Enameled Dutch ovens come in several shapes and designs. Dutch ovens can sell for as little as $40 or more than $400 for the same size. The most expensive dutch ovens are manufactured in France. Le Creuset and Staub are two elite French brands with very loyal followings. Le Creuset is especially good at romanticizing its products, noting that each one is unique and that some consumers have even legally stipulated who gets their pot when they die. Strong statements for a piece of cookery. Is this all hype, or do they make a significantly better product to justify the magnitude jump in their price compared to other brands?

This 8-quart Le Creuset dutch oven is oval which allows it to hold larger cuts of meat. However, this shape also places less of its base on a stovetop’s burner.

Chiefs and reviewers love these French brands and often give them top ratings based on finish and design features. However, remember that there are only so many shapes for a dutch oven, and there are many copycat brands that have reproduced the designs of these French pots.

I own dutch ovens from both Le Creuset and Staub and other brands, including Lodge and Tramontina. So I feel that I had the tools to determine honesty from hype. 

My 15-year-old 6-quart Lodge still looks pretty good.
This 5.5-quart Le Creuset dutch oven performs very well, but is it that much better than dutch ovens that retail for ten times less?

If you own an elite brand, I have some good news. If you can’t afford these brands, I have some good news. This is a win-win post! 

To strip away the hype, we need to understand a little science. I mentioned that the most common dutch ovens are made from cast iron. But what is cast iron? You may think that it’s iron, but that is incorrect. Cast iron is an alloy. In other words, it consists of several substances mixed together. Cast iron is made of iron with a small amount of carbon added (2%-4%). Different formulas of cast iron may add other substances, like a bit of steel, into the mix. These elements are heated at a very high temperature until they become liquid. The liquid can be poured into a mold to form a pot or a lid. Steel is another alloy made of iron and carbon. However, the concentration of carbon is lower than it is in cast iron (less than 2% carbon). This small change gives steel different properties from cast iron.

Steel has more tensile strength (can be bent and stretched without breaking), but it is difficult to cast molten steel into a mold. Most steel pans are made of stainless steel, which has additional ingredients added to make it corrosion resistant. Quality stainless pans are stamped from several layers of different metals bonded together. It is hard to stamp a complete pan, so handles are made separately and then bolted to the pan’s body. All of these additional steps add to production expenses. 

Cast iron liquifies at a lower temperature than steel. It has less tensile strength, so it is difficult to stamp, but it has better flowing properties. Cast iron is cheaper to produce, and because of its flowing properties, it can be molded into any 3D shape by casting it into a mold made of sand. You can add handles and helper handles directly into the design, which adds integrity to the pan and lowers manufacturing costs at the same time.  

Sand is used for the mold as it has a higher melting point than cast iron. Every cast iron pan is unique as the sand mold is destroyed to remove the pan. Don’t feel too sorry for the sand, as it is reused for the next mold. Cast iron is brittle, so pans made of it have to be thicker than those made of steel. This adds weight to cast iron pans, making them too heavy for some. However, this additional mass makes cast iron pans so fantastic to cook with.

Contrary to popular belief, cast iron is a poor conductor of heat. However, it will completely heat up if you heat a pan slowly. Because pans have to be thick, they become virtual heat sinks. If you drop a steak onto a cheap stainless steel pan, the steak absorbs the pan’s heat, and the pan quickly cools down. Because of cast iron’s great mass that doesn’t happen, which is why many chefs prefer cast iron when searing or browning foods. In addition, this same property regulates temperatures, resulting in more even and consistent cooking.  

Cast iron’s roughness allows oils to polymerize on its cooking surface, making a natural non-stick surface that only gets better with continued use.

Some boutique cast iron manufacturers make pans lighter and smoother than typical pans. They tout this as a major achievement and charge an inflated price. However, Lodge manufactured thinner, lighter, and smoother pans in the 1930s and 1940s, and Le Creuset continues to use thinner cast iron in their cookware line-up. 

Lodge switched to thicker and bumpier cast iron in the 1950s. They say that they went with bumpier cast iron because it developed a patina (non-stick coating) quicker. They don’t state why they also went with a thicker-walled pan. However, thicker cast iron would differentiate their products from stainless steel or aluminum products, as its greater mass would offer the cooking advantages mentioned above.

As stated above, raw cast iron pots do have some notable disadvantages. They can rust if left wet, so they must be thoroughly dried after washing. Cast iron can be washed with dish detergent but never in the dishwasher. However, many, including myself, hold on to the tradition of washing only in water and drying on a range’s burner. During the drying/heating process, I’ll often add a small amount of cooking oil which I’ll spread over the pan’s surfaces. 

The fact that cast iron may add a metallic taste to acidic foods may be objectionable to some. Lastly, others may be put off with cast iron’s practical (i.e., ugly) appearance.

These problems were solved in the late 1800s when manufacturers started to bake a coat of enamel on their cooking vessels. Spray enamel consists of tiny particles of glass mixed with clay, pigments, water, and other things. It can be applied to a pot similarly to spraying paint. The pot is then placed in a hot kiln where the glass is melted and permanently bonded to the vessel’s surface. Since enamel is a form of glass, it is subject to chipping and cracking; each manufacturer has its formula to make its enamel more durable. Durability can also be enhanced by applying a thicker coat of enamel and also by applying more than one coat.

Enamel solved many of raw cast iron’s problems. Enameled cast iron won’t rust, it doesn’t impart a metallic taste to foods, and it can turn ugly duckling cast iron into a beautiful swan. 

The downside to enameled cookware is that the enamel can chip. In addition, rapidly heating a pot can result in fracture lines in the enamel. Enamel is a fairly fragile coating that must be treated similarly to Teflon. Only wood or plastic utensils should be used. In addition, enamel cookware should be hand washed as washing in the dishwasher could pit and dull the glaze turning a beautiful pot drab. 

Many dutch ovens now come with lid guards which prevent the lid from bashing into the pot during storage. You can buy some on Amazon if your pot wasn’t shipped with them.

Now that you are an expert in cast iron science, we can look at Le Creuset dutch ovens with a knowledgeable eye. Let’s explore some of their claims:

  1. All of Le Creuset’s dutch ovens are made from a unique mold that is destroyed after the pot is cast. This makes their pots and pans sound like one-of-a-kind works of art. However, what they describe is casting cast iron in sand, which is how all cast iron pots are made.  
  2. Le Creuset is so desirable that some people list who will inherit their dutch oven in their will. This may be true, but so what? I cherish a dimestore Ecko soup ladle from my mom. It has no monetary value, but I kept it because of the many lovely stews and soups served using it. One of your kids may want your dutch oven. However, I think that most adult children don’t want their parents’ old pots and pans.  
  3. Le Creuset comes in many beautiful colors and has the widest selection of enameled cooking vessels. This is true. Most Dutch oven brands come in several colors, but Le Creuset dutch ovens can be purchased in almost 20 different colors. In addition, some colors are retired while new ones are introduced. Le Creuset also produces exclusive colors for special retailers (Williams Sonoma, I am talking to you). If you are into colors, Le Creuset is the way to go. In addition, Le Creuset makes many different sizes, types, and shapes of cookware.
  4. Le Creuset dutch oven’s enamel is more durable than other brands; it won’t chip. Despite claims, Le Creuset can chip just like any other enamel cookware. Its cream-colored interior is subject to staining, and its glossy finish can dull over time. If you don’t believe me check out vintage Le Creuset on eBay. These items are often procured from estate sales, and they show quite a bit of wear and tear. However, I believe that Le Creuset pots may be slightly more durable than some other brands.
  5. Le Creuset uses three coats of enamel. This is a bit of an exaggeration. Le Creuset uses a clear bottom enamel layer and adds a tan layer for the interior and a colored layer for the exterior. That is only two layers per surface. Lodge also uses a two-layer enamel process.
  6. Le Creuset has a lifetime warranty. They will replace a defective dutch oven for life. This is true, but the devil is in the details. They will replace a pot only if the damage is not caused by abuse and only if the damage impacts the pot’s function. Chips on the rim or outside the pot are the most common damage for any enamel dutch oven, but they are not covered. Likewise, unsightly fracture lines don’t impact the pot’s cooking ability. However, a significant chip inside a cooking vessel could further flake; swallowing glass (enamel) is not a good thing. In such cases, Le Creuset will send you a replacement. Lodge also has a lifetime warranty. 
  7. Le Creuset pots are lighter because they have a secret cast-iron formula. Le Creuset pots are lighter because they cast thinner than other dutch ovens. The downside is that they have less thermal mass and, therefore, less thermal regulation. However, this isn’t a very significant problem. Lodge made thinner cast iron in the 1930s and 1940s and deliberately switched to thicker cast iron in the 1950s.
  8. Le Creuset’s superior and smoother enamel coating prevents food from sticking. Food sticks on all enamel, but that produces a fond, which can be deglazed and adds to the dish’s flavor. However, all enameled cast iron is surprisingly easy to clean. Although Le Creuset may produce a pot with a slightly smoother finish, that finish does not seem to perform differently from other dutch ovens that I have used. 
  9. Le Creuset’s light interior makes it easier to determine when food is properly seared. Most dutch ovens have a light interior. My Staub has a black interior, and Staub claims that this allows it to sear better. Its inside coating is rough, and Staub says this allows its pots to be seasoned like regular cast iron. I have used light and dark as well as smooth and rough interiors, I don’t see a significant cooking difference. However, a dark interior doesn’t show stains.
  10. Le Creuset’s straight sides provide a more searing surface than pots with a curved bottom. This is true but not very important for a home cook searing family-sized amounts of meat. In contrast, pots with curved bottoms are supposedly better when making soups and stews. In practice, either shape works great for all foods. If you are stuck on a Le Creuset shape, be aware that many clones are sold at a fraction of the price.
On the left is a Le Creuset 5.5 quart dutch oven and on the right is a similar product from Tramontina. You can see that they are more similar than different. The finish on the Le Creuset seems a tiny bit glossier, but the handles on the Tramontina are bigger.
Top-down view. You may notice that the Le Creuset’s cast iron is slightly thinner. In addition, the Tramontina’s lid has ridges in it. These are called “self-basting” ridges and supposedly allow condensation to drip directly back onto the food, making it moister. Personally, I have not seen a difference and both lids work fine.

11. Le Creuset pots are made in France, and that is cool. Yes, that is cool.

Beyond the hype, the most important question is, does food taste better cooked in a Le Creuset dutch oven than in some other brand? The answer is no. I have made dishes in many different dutch ovens, and they perform similarly.  

So is Le Creuset worth the money? That depends.

Le Creuset pots are impeccable. They come in really beautiful colors, and their finish is a notch above other brands (except for Staub, which is equally expensive). They are made in France by craftsmen. Their glaze is a bit more durable, and with care, they will probably look a bit better 20 years from their purchase date compared to a Brand-X Chinese unit. If you are into pots and have some cash burning in your pocket, go for it!. However, I would not buy old beat-up Le Creuset pots on eBay; remember that they are just old beat-up pots selling for crazy prices.

If you don’t have a boatload of cash, rejoice! You can buy a five or six-quart dutch oven for $40-$100, and your dishes will turn out just as well as in a $400 Le Creuset. Yes, the glaze may dull slightly quicker, but my 15-year-old Lodge still looks pretty good. Remember that form follows function.  

If I could have just one brand, would it be Le Creuset? They are very fine dutch ovens, but I would probably go with Staub. I prefer their black interiors. Staub features fewer outer colors, but their enamel seems to be slightly higher quality than Le Creuset pots. If I couldn’t afford the luxury of a French dutch oven, I would have no problem using a Lodge or a Brand-X dutch oven. Cast iron dutch ovens are more similar than they are different.

With proper care, most enameled dutch ovens can last a lifetime. However, with improper care, most dutch ovens will be destroyed in short order. Here are some tips:

  1.  Always heat your dutch oven slowly when you’re using it on the range. Heating quickly can result in cracked enamel.
  2. Dutch ovens work best when the burner is set no greater than medium-high. 
  3. Never wash your dutch oven in the dishwasher; even if the manufacturer says it is dishwasher safe, it will dull its finish. Hand wash with warm soapy water. 
  4. Never use metals like steel wool when washing your pans.
  5. Treat your enamelware like you would a Teflon pan. Only use plastic or wooden utensils when cooking in it.
  6. If your dutch oven has a white or cream interior, it will eventually stain. Some people will add a few tablespoons of bleach to water and allow it to sit in the dutch oven for 20 or 30 minutes. This can remove some of these stains. Note that stains don’t impact a dutch oven’s functionality.
  7. Dutch ovens often get burnt-on food in their Interiors. However, their glassy surfaces allow for easy cleaning as long as you soak them for a bit in hot soapy water before you scrub them out.
I let a dutch oven cool to warm before I fill it with hot soapy water. In this example, I’m washing a 5.5 quart Le Creuset vessel. It is surprising how easy enamel cleans when soaked for a little bit.
  1. Be careful of thermal shock. If you rapidly cool a dutch oven, for instance, by filling a hot dutch oven with cold water, you can cause it to crack. Wait until the hot pan cools to warm, and then fill with hot water to soak.

If you follow these simple tips, your dutch oven will retain its beauty for many years. However, remember that it is just a pot and not a design piece in your home. Therefore, a dutch oven should show some wear over time; that is normal and is also a good thing.  

As stated above, my favorite dutch oven brand is Staub, followed by Le Creuset. Both are beautifully made classics. If you have the cash to spare, you will not be disappointed in either of these brands. If you already have these dutch ovens, you are likely very pleased with your purchase. However, if you can’t afford a status brand, I believe that you’ll be just as happy with an off-brand or a Lodge. Remember that most cast iron brands are more similar than they are different. You can obtain fantastic results with a $40 dutch oven that will be indistinguishable from the food coming out of a $400 one.

Happy cooking. 

Which Vacuum Sealer Should You Buy?

This post is the third of three posts on the topic of vacuum sealers. In this post, I’ll attempt to guide you to a vacuum sealing system that is right for you. The prior two posts present a wealth of information if you would like to do a deep dive on the topic.

First, a few thoughts.

Don’t be afraid to use generic bags. This is especially true for channel sealer bags (embossed bags), as the brand-name ones are quite expensive. I have used many different off-brand bags, and they have all worked for me. Their cost can be one-third to one-fourth of the cost of a brand-name version. If your bags are less expensive, you are more likely to use the sealer. I recently vacuum sealed half of a lemon, which was perfectly usable three days later when I stuffed a chicken with it. 

If you are planning on using a vacuum sealer regularly, make sure that it is accessible. When my wife was our primary cook, she moved my vacuum sealer to basement kitchen storage. I still brought it upstairs, but only for major tasks, like breaking down bulk packages of meat into meal-size portions. Now that I do much of the cooking, I have created a little vacuuming station, and it is easy to vacuum seal items like half of an avocado. We live in a world where people are starving, so wasting food seems shameful to me. 

If possible, leave your sealer on the counter. If not, try to store it in an easy-to-grab spot. If you are storing a unit, consider purchasing a simpler, lighter one as it will not only be easier to store but also easier to grab.  

The Decision Tree

I’ll present several case scenarios; find the one that is most suitable for your needs. 

  1. You mostly want to preserve fresh food. You want your strawberries and salad greens to last longer. You would like your blocks of cheese to stay fresh. You want your lunch meat to be usable longer. You want to quickly marinate foods by placing them with a marinade into a vacuum canister. You want a simple, easy system that anyone in the family can use. Go to A.*
  2. You want to save money by buying bulk foods and freezing them into smaller portions. You are considering other freshness options, like freezing away leftovers that you can reheat for future meals. You want to try out sous vide cooking. You are the kind of person that likes to try out new things, but you don’t always stick with them. You are very value-conscious or on a limited budget. Go to B.
  3. You want to do all of the above, but you prefer to go with a name brand. You want the security of having a product that you can return locally if you don’t like it. You want a product that will likely offer replaceable parts, such as a sealing ring if needed. Go to C.
  4. You want all of the above, but you have heavy-duty needs. You are a prepper who does bulk storage of large amounts of foods. You are a hunter who needs to process and prepare for freezing an entire animal. You have used home-level machines, but they quickly burned out because of your high demands. You may need a machine that can seal bags that are wider than 11 inches. Go to D.
  5. Your needs are similar to #4, but you frequently vacuum seal a large number of items on a regular basis. You need reliability and dependability. Go to E. 
  6. You are an experienced vacuum sealer, and you want to use a product that uses the least expensive consumables (cheap bags). You want to vacuum seal liquid foods without freezing them first. You want to achieve the highest vacuum possible because you plan on storing items, like meat, for years at a time. Go to F.
  7. Your needs are consistent with the user described in 6. However, you sometimes have to vacuum seal large items that do not fit into a chamber sealer. Consider purchasing two systems—one from category F and the other from categories D or E.

*If you plan on sealing canisters, but you think that you will be sealing some bags, find a system from category B through E that is most suitable to your needs. Make sure that the device has an accessory port that would allow you to vacuum external seal containers.  

The categories

A

There are a number of canister and food storage systems that come with containers and a little hand-held manual or electric vacuum pump. These systems are small, practical, and maybe all that you need if you want to keep your perishable foods fresh longer. Expect to pay from $30-100.

We use this system at home. The simple hand-operated vacuum pump requires a lot of strokes, but it is easy for everyone in the family to use. It came with a number of storage containers. We use it to store items like salad greens, and fragile fruits like strawberries. Cost around $60.
This Nesco unit is battery-operated and comes with a few containers and zipper-style bags. It sells for around $60.

B

There are many no-name brand vacuum sealers. Some offer many features at a very reasonable price. Others offer fewer features, but they are backed by a national store. I have not tested all of the available products (there are many dozens). However, I did watch reviews on many off-brand machines, and I did test a few. Surprisingly, they performed about as well as brand-named consumer products. These can be a great option if you want to try vacuum sealing, but you are unsure if you will stick with it. Will they last as long as a brand-name product?  Likely, but I can’t say with absolute assurance. Expect to pay from $25-$60.

I bought this no-name Tisou sealer for under $30. It worked well and was surprisingly feature-rich. I have no idea how well its warranty will be honored or how long it will last. Construction seemed comparable to basic brand-name devices.
This Ambiano unit is sold at Aldi stores for around $30. It has a good warranty and it is backed by a solid company (Aldi). However, it doesn’t have a vacuum accessory port. The port is only needed if you plan on vacuum sealing special canisters, Mason jars, or special zipper-type bags.

C

Brand-name products will possibly have better overall quality control. In addition, it is possible that you will be able to buy user-replaceable parts, such as sealing gaskets, if needed. Note that many generic products give you an extra sealing gasket for free, so the above may be a moot point. Basic machines will do everything that you may need, and most of them will offer an accessory port to vacuum canisters external containers. More expensive machines will be more aesthetically pleasing, and many offer some additional convenience features, most of which are unnecessary. Expect to pay from around $50-$200.

Seal-A-Meal is a sub-brand of FoodSaver. This is a very basic unit that has very few options and doesn’t have an accessory port. Walmarts sells it for around $50. If your needs are very simple this may be all the unit that you need.
This basic FoodSaver device costs between $50 to $80 (depending on Amazon’s changing logarithms). It offers everything that the majority of customers need at an affordable price.
Here is a fancier FoodSaver. It typically sells for around $150, but I sometimes see it at Costco for around $100. It adds some style and convenience features.
This Nesco vacuum sealer is solidly built, has many features, and has an accessory port. It sells for around $80.

D

These prosumer machines are designed for heavy-duty or specialty use. Some have 12-volt operation for field use. These units allow for more seals per session than a typical consumer-level sealer. They may be constructed with thicker plastic, a stronger pump, or more solid construction. Every machine is different, so figure out your needs and then check around. Many machines have a standard 11″ -12″ sealing bar, but some have larger bars that allow for specialty bags that are wider. Expect to pay from around $200-$400.

This GameSaver (a sub-brand of FoodSaver) is more ruggedized than a home unit. Some versions can operate on 12-volts and can accommodate bag widths that are larger than 11 inches. These machines can do up to 80 seals in a row before needing a 30-minute cool-down. Most home machines can only do 20-40 seals before you have to rest them. $170-$270 depending on the model.
This Nesco may look similar to the Nesco shown in the “C” category, but it features a dual-piston pump as well as dual sealing strips. Its manual doesn’t list its duty cycle but you can assume that it will do more seals than a typical consumer machine before it needs to cool down. The cost is around $120.
Weston makes professional machines. This is their entry into the prosumer market. It is sleek, and industrial in its design and costs around $200.
This Primal Tek unit is near-professional level. It has very solid construction, smart circuitry to allow more sealing per session, and a cooling fan for longer operation. Cabellas sells a version of this unit as does Avid Armor. The different units may have different control panels. The use of a lot of plastic makes this unit a prosumer item instead of a professional sealer. You can get units with 12″ and 15″ sealing bars. Prices range from $300-$400.
This LEM unit can do an amazing 250 seals before it needs to take a cooling-off break. LEM manufactures professional food processing equipment. This is their prosumer offering. The cost is around $230.

E

These machines are light-duty professional machines. Some will include consumer-level options, like an accessory port. Others will not. They are designed for continuous use on a daily basis. Often allowing many seals without taking a break. They are big and bulky and not very easy to store in a cabinet. They are serious machines for serious users. Many machines have a standard 11″ -12″ sealing bar, but some have larger bars that allow for wider specialty bags. Expect to pay $300-$600.

Avid Amor makes high-end products for home consumers. This unit has some consumer features, such as an accessory port and a pulse function. However, the construction quality of this unit makes it suitable for light-duty professional use. The number of seals is not listed. However, the Avid Armor website says, “Double Piston Pump with Cooling Fan for Continuous Bag Sealing.” It has a 12″ sealing bar and sells for around $300.
This LEM unit has some consumer features, like roll bag storage, a locking lid, and an accessory port. However, it has professional features like stainless steel construction and it can operate for 500 seals or 5 hours without having to have a cool-down period. It has a 14″ sealing bar. It sells for around $350.
This is a classic Weston 2000 series unit. It is very well built and has a 15″ sealing bar. It sells for around $430. It is a workhorse and will last a long time. However, it does not have consumer features, like an accessory port.

F

These chamber sealers use a different technology than traditional domestic channel sealers. Chamber technology is commonly used in shops and by large volume users as the consumables (bags) are cheaper, parts are replaceable, and it is easy to seal items like liquids without freezing them first. In addition, chamber sealers can pull a stronger vacuum than a channel sealer. This may be important if you plan on storing foods like frozen meats for years. Bag size is restricted to the size of the machine’s chamber, which is why some users have both a chamber vacuum sealer and a standard channel sealer. Channel-type sealers allow the user to make custom-sized bags, but that is not possible for chamber sealers.  

This is the brand-X chamber sealer that I currently own. I bought it for under $300 on eBay (its price has since gone up a bit). It works great, but its components are not as robust as a name-brand product, like VacMaster. I also have a standard channel sealer for those times when I need to vacuum seal larger items. With that said, I can vacuum seal a 4.5-pound chicken or a 4-pound chuck roast in its chamber. It is able to seal bags that are up to 10″ wide.
This is a high-quality prosumer-level chamber sealer from VacMaster. It has very good construction and components. However, it only has a 9″ sealing bar limiting bag width to 8 inches. This is fine for many things but is likely that an owner of this machine would also need a channel sealer for larger items. It does feature an accessory port and some consumer-oriented features like a marinate cycle. It sells for around $700.
This VacMaster 215 is a light-duty professional machine that is highly desirable for serious heavy-use consumers. it is very well made and has a large/deep vacuum chamber. However, it weighs almost 100 pounds and it won’t win any beauty contests in a high-end home kitchen. It sells for around $1000.

Food Vacuum Sealers, Q&A

I have been a FoodSaver user for decades.  My last post outlined the benefits of vacuum sealing, and I also explored the different types of vacuum sealers that are available for home users.  I’m going to continue along this vein in two more posts.  This post is a Q and A post. The next post will attempt to answer the question, “Which sealing system is right for me?”  

I’m basing both of these posts on my decades of experience, as well as quite a bit of research on the topic.

What are the advantages of vacuum sealing?

Vacuum sealing removes most of the air from a thick plastic bag or other vessels.  Air contains oxygen, and by removing oxygen the enclosed food stays fresh longer for several reasons.  

Vacuum sealing can eliminate oxidation, which is the process that turns some cut foods brown, and also causes oily foods, like nuts,  to go rancid.  In addition, oxygen is important for most organisms to live; removing it can prevent or slow down certain microbial growth, and eliminate insect (weevil) infestation.  In addition, moisture is removed along with the air which prevents freezer burn.

Oxidation causes some fruits and vegetables to turn brown after they have been cut.

Does a vacuum sealer remove all of the air in a vacuum bag?

It is impossible to obtain a 100% vacuum, even with laboratory-grade equipment.  A small amount of oxygen remains, so certain organisms, like mold, can still grow if the conditions are just right.  However, mold will grow at a much slower rate under these conditions.

Do all vacuum sealers remove the same amount of air?

No, home channel sealers create less of a vacuum than commercial channel vacuum sealers, which, in turn, create less of a vacuum than a chamber sealer.  Unless you are trying to store food for a very long time this difference is not significant.

Does vacuum sealing prevent food from going bad?

No, it only slows down the spoiling process in properly stored foods.  For instance, a pound of hamburger stored in the fridge will stay fresh longer when it is vacuum packed.  However, if it was left out on a warm counter it would quickly spoil.

Freezer burn is the dehydration of frozen foods caused by damage from ice crystals.  Vacuum sealing reduces ice crystals from forming and can eliminate freezer burn.

However, certain bacteria don’t require oxygen to live and may “overgrow” in a low oxygen environment.  Some of these bacteria can cause illness. It is not advisable to vacuum pack soft cheeses, as well as a few other foods because of this.

The bottom line is to always use good standard practices when preserving food.  Vacuum sealing is an additional step in food preservation, not the only step. 

I’m still using my FoodSaver Compact by Tilia, which I purchased in the 1990s.

What foods vacuum seal well?

Cooked and raw meats and seafood.  Hard cheeses, but not soft cheeses (like ricotta).  Vegetables, with the exception of raw onions, garlic, and mushrooms. However, these vegetables can be vacuum packed if cooked or immediately frozen for future meals.  Prepared foods, such as soups, stews, casseroles, and side dishes.  Coffee, and tea.  Flour and cornmeal, beans and lentils, and many other foods.

It is also possible to vacuum seal non-food items to preserve them or to keep them dry.

What foods don’t vacuum seal well?

Vacuum sealing soft cheeses may promote a bacteria called Listeria to grow, which can cause illness, so they should not be vacuumed sealed. However, hard cheeses vacuum seal well.  

Vacuum sealing certain raw vegetables, such as garlic, onions, and mushrooms could promote the growth of the bacteria that causes botulism, so they should not be vacuumed sealed.  However, these vegetables are safe to vacuum seal if cut up and then immediately frozen, or cooked (as in a dish) and frozen.  

Soft or fragile foods can be crushed when vacuumed sealed in a bag.  However, they can be successfully sealed if placed in a jar or canister which is placed under a vacuum.  In addition, you can first freeze berries to prevent crushing and then vacuum seal them in a bag.  

What else can a vacuum sealer do? 

A vacuum sealer can vacuum seal meat for sous vide cooking. 

Meat plus a marinade can be placed under a vacuum and will marinate in around 20 minutes.  This is usually done in an accessory container.

What is the most common type of home vacuum sealer?

The majority of home vacuum sealers are the channel (also called external bag) type.  In these sealers, the open end of a  special embossed bag is placed in the machine’s vacuum channel and the sealer is closed.  A vacuum is pulled on the bag.  At a set vacuum level, a wire is heated which seals the open end of the bag.  

This Ambiano unit is sold at Aldi for around $30. It is basic in design and it does not have an accessory port, but it does the job.

Are there other types of vacuum sealers available for the home user? 

Yes, there are a number of different systems.  Some use manual or electric hand-held pumps with special Ziploc bags or vacuum canisters.  Others place the vacuum bag inside of a vacuum chamber.  Still, others may use a nozzle inserted into the bag to create a vacuum.  Each system has advantages and disadvantages.

Is a channel-style vacuum sealer complex?

No, it is a simple machine.  An electric motor powers a vacuum pump which pulls a vacuum on the bag that the operator is sealing.  A sensor determines when the vacuum is sufficient, which triggers a sealing wire to heat up and melt the open end of the bag sealing it.  At that point the process is complete.

What are the advantages of a channel-type vacuum sealer?

Many home-style sealers are affordable and do a good job.  Even prosumer and professional channel type sealers are reasonably priced. They can seal a variety of different sized bags, and you can make bags of any reasonable length out of special vacuum sealer roll material.  

What are the disadvantages of a channel-type sealer?

Channel type sealers use a sucking action which can suck liquids into the machine and damage it.  It is necessary to freeze liquids, like soups, in a separate container and then transfer the frozen food into a vacuum bag to be sealed.  Some people carefully vacuum seal liquids without freezing, but I would not recommend it.

Liquid items, like soup, have to be frozen before vacuum sealed. Otherwise, their contents would be drawn up into the vacuum pump and destroy it.
I like these silicone Souper Cubes to pre-freeze soups before vacuum sealing.

Moist foods, like meats and fish, can ooze juices when vacuumed sealed in a channel-type sealer.  In most cases, the small amount of juices will be trapped in the sealer’s channel and won’t damage the machine.  However, the meat juices can contaminate the bag’s sealing area making it difficult for the bag to seal.  Many machines have a “moist” function that extends the sealing time in these situations.  Other options include partially freezing the meat before sealing, or placing a strip of paper towel in the bag between the food and the bag’s sealing area to absorb extra moisture.  

The green channel on this machine is its vacuum channel. It can collect a small amount of liquids and protect the machine. However, very liquidy foods (like soups) will quickly fill this channel and will get sucked up into the unit’s vacuum pump destroying it.

Channel-type sealers require special embossed bags that can be pricey if you buy the brand-name versions. 

Do you have to use brand-specific bags?

I have used generic bags from various manufacturers for many years without problems.  However, I can’t say that newer machines won’t include some sort of bag recognition to force you to buy their particular brand of bag.  This has nothing to do with the quality of generic bags, and everything to do with the profit of a company. Sort of like the way printer manufacturers incorporated print cartridge recognition to prevent people from refilling their printer cartridges. 

Do you recommend a particular generic chamber bag?

I have used bags from a variety of vendors without problems.  

These Costco vacuum bags are much cheaper than brand-name FoodSaver bags.

Why not just use the brand-name bags?

The only reason to not use a brand-name bag is cost.  If you shop around you can find generic bags and rolls that are roughly one-fourth the cost of their brand-name version placing generic bags at a price point similar to a Ziploc bag.  You are more likely to preserve a wider variety of foods if the bags are cheaper.  If a brand-name bag costs over fifty cents you may think twice about vacuum sealing half of an avocado.  However, if it only costs twelve cents you are more likely to do so.

Are there any differences in channel bags that I should be aware of?

Many bags are 3 mil in thickness, which is fine for most uses.  Some bags are thicker, for instance, 4 mil, and they would provide a greater barrier from the outside environment.  I have never had a reason to use a thicker bag in my decades of vacuum sealing.  However, I could imagine some case scenarios.  For instance, a hunter freezes large amounts of meat which he will store for a number of years.  That meat could be better preserved using a thicker bag. 

Have channel-type sealers changed over time?

The basic concept and components have not changed, but the materials used have.  I have an original FoodSaver (launched in the late 1980s) as well as a FoodSaver Compact (launched in the 1990s). 

The original FoodSaver’s components are more robust than the FoodSaver Compact.  However, both machines have significantly larger power transformers and motors than current models. Smaller components may lead to a shorter appliance life span. 

This is an internal view of a FoodSaver similar to my unit. Note the large power transformer (1), the relatively large motor (2), the fairly cheap/plastic vacuum pump (3), and the altimeter (4) that lets the device know when it has pulled enough of a vacuum. The arrow points to the vacuum pump’s piston, which is made out of plastic. It surprises me that these pumps don’t fail more.
Here is the internal view from a more recent machine. Note that the same vacuum pump is being used (1). However, the motor that powers the pump is much smaller (2). In addition, the power transformer is now tiny (3). Note the addition of a circuit board, which is not seen in earlier models. This board appears to be mostly for the power supply.

Newer FoodSaver models also have more electronic circuitry. This allows for additional features, like programmed sealing cycles (dry/moist), and vacuum levels (regular/gentle). However, circuit boards and their components add another point of failure.  

Some higher-end consumer models will have motorized features, like automatic bag loading.

Do I need all of the new features?

No, if a vacuum sealer can pull a vacuum on a bag and then seal it, it is doing its job.  Nothing else is needed.  

Are there some features that could be useful?

The answer is subjective. You do you.

Here are a few features that I think may be useful.

A moist sealing setting may be useful when packaging moist foods like meat. However, there are a number of workarounds if you don’t have this function.

An accessory port may be useful if you plan on sealing canisters, Mason jars, or special Ziploc vacuum bags. However, this feature is completely unnecessary if you only plan on sealing vacuum bags.

This basic FoodSaver has an accessory port which may be useful for some users.

A bag cutter may be useful if you use bag rolls instead of premade bags. It is not needed if you only use premade bags or if you can cut with a pair of scissors. Some machines with bag cutters also have a bag storage area, which is a convenience.  However, this also makes the machines bulkier.  Besides, the storage areas often limits bag rolls to be no larger than 20’.  You can buy rolls that are 50’, 100’, and even 150’, but they wouldn’t fit into a consumer-level machine. 

A pulse function Allows you to pulse the vacuum pump in bursts. This can be useful if you have a soft item and you don’t want to crush it as you can stop the process before the bag is maximally evacuated.  Conversely, some sealers will have a gentle option, which performs a similar function.  Other machines will allow you to press “Stop” or “Seal,” which will stop the vacuuming and immediately seal the bag.

Is there a difference between lower cost and higher cost machines from the same brand line?

As far as I can tell the machines use very similar vacuum components.  Additional costs may give you more features, like a motorized bag feed, or a permanently attached accessory hose.  In addition, you may get cosmetic enhancements, like a thin piece of stainless steel over a plastic shell. 

This deluxe FoodSaver features a motorized bag feed, an attached accessory hose, and a stainless steel facade.
Here is a more deluxe FoodSaver. Now there are several circuit boards. These add more functionality, but also more failure points. Note that the motor and vacuum pump assembly (extreme right) are the same as in the less expensive model pictured above.

Some companies may make machines that are specially designed for a purpose, and they will be different from base models.  FoodSaver has a GameSaver line that has a number of features desirable for hunters who need to process an entire animal in one session, and Nesco’s top-of-the-line VS-12 features a double vacuum pump and a double sealing strip which allows faster and more secure bag sealing. Both of these models would be of the prosumer variety.

The GameSaver line of FoodSaver vacuum sealers features a more ruggedized case and can do up to 80 seals before it needs a cool-down period. Several versions are capable of running off of a 12-volt battery allowing hunters to process meat in the field.
Although this Nesco unit looks like any other vacuumed sealer it has twin vacuum pumps and can double seal making it a prosumer machine.

Professional level machines are built to last.  Plastic is replaced with metal, and motors, pumps, and power supplies are much more robust.  Many professional machines have cooling fans that allow them to run longer without overheating.  These machines are big, bulky, industrial-looking, and designed for work. However, for the average home user, they are overkill and too big for a standard kitchen.

Professional machines and big, bulky, and built to last.

What is a seal?

When you close a bag with a unit’s heat bar you seal it.  A premade bag is open on one end, so to close it requires one seal.  A bag made from a roll has to be sealed on both ends, so that would require two seals.  A unit that can perform 20 seals would allow you to process 20 premade bags, or 10 roll bags before it is needed to cool down.  In addition, many consumer and prosumer level machines advise a 15-60 second “cool down” period between sealing every bag.

In consumer machines, the seal times are fixed, and with repetitive seals, the bar will get hotter and hotter.  Eventually, it will melt the bag to the point of cutting the bag with the seal bar.  More professional machines may allow the user to either set the sealing time or they will sense the temperature of the sealing bar and automatically adjust the bag fusion accordingly. 

How long can I continuously run my vacuum sealer?

Many consumer machines will want you to wait at least 15-60 seconds (depending on the model) between sealings to prevent the sealing bar from overheating. Some units have built-in circuitry that monitors and adjusts the temperature of the sealing bar and eliminates the “wait” restriction.

There is usually a limit as to how many bags you can seal in a row.  Often that number is about 20 to 30 seals for a consumer-level machine.  After your machine’s recommended number you should allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes so its components can cool down. For the normal consumer, this restriction is not a problem. 

Prosumer machines vary.  The FoodSaver GameSaver machine can do 80 seals before it requires a cool down. Other machines may allow even more seals. For instance, LEM’s prosumer model can do up to 250 seals before it needs to rest. 

Professional machines can do hundreds of seals, or hours of use before they need a break. Some of these machines intelligently reduce the heat on the sealing bar to prevent overheating.  Others allow you to adjust the sealing time, which accomplishes the same goal. It is common for a professional machine to allow for over 500 seals (or 5 hours uptime) before they need a cool-down period.  Some machines can do over 1000 seals (or 10 hours run time) before they need a break.

Are there different size heating bars, and why is that important?

Yes, different machines may have different size sealing bars.  The size of the heating bar will determine the maximum width of the bag that you can seal.  For instance, a few machines have a small 8-9 inch bar and will only seal bags with a maximum 8-inch opening.  This can be limiting.

Most machines have an 11-12 inch bar which will allow you to seal any bag up to an 11-inch opening.  This allows maximum flexibility.

A few machines have larger heating bars in the 13-15 inch range.  These larger machines are only needed if you need to freeze very large cuts of meat and might be used by individuals who process entire animals, like hunters.  With that said, many hunters can get by using a machine with a standard 11-12 inch sealing bar.

Is the thickness of a seal important?

Most home sealers will fuse the two sides of a bag together with a very thin line.  Prosumer and professional sealers will often fuse the bag with a thicker line or in some cases several lines.  Both of the latter options provide more assurance that the bag will remain sealed and air-tight.  This may be important if the bag is stressed, or if the food is to be stored for a very long time.

With that said, the FoodSaver that I have used for decades fuses with a thin line and a properly sealed bag has never failed me.

Do all vacuum sealers remove air at the same rate?

No, professional sealers can vacuum a bag and seal it faster than a consumer product.  However, this is only an issue if you are doing very high-volume sessions.  

How long can I expect a vacuum sealer to last?

It is very difficult for me to give you an absolute answer to this question.  However, longevity depends on the level of use as well as the level of care from the customer.

The motors on newer consumer vacuum sealers are quite small.  However, I couldn’t find any complaints of motors failing.

The vacuum pumps appear to be cheaply made, being all plastic (including the piston).  However, the only time that I could find reports of vacuum pump failure was the result of a user sucking up liquids into the pump mechanism.

Consumer-level machines are mostly plastic, including high wear areas like the latches.  I did come across a few reports of plastic parts wearing out or cracking.  However, these issues were usually after a machine had been used for a number of years.

I came across some complaints that a sealer had stopped sealing.  The seal wire in all machines will eventually fail.  On a consumer-level machine, it is not replaceable. However, a wire should last for years in a normal use situation. 

One area of frequent failure is the gasket system, especially the gasket that encircles the vacuum channel.  If that gasket is defective it is impossible to get a proper seal and you will not draw an adequate vacuum on your bag.

What causes a gasket seal failure?

The gasket is elastic and spongy.  It is compressed every time you seal a bag and eventually it will cease to properly seal the channel.  However, that should take quite some time.

On many newer machines, the sealing gasket is easily replaceable.

You can shorten the life of a gasket by contaminating it with food debris. In addition, you can quickly ruin a gasket by storing your device in the locked position, as this is the position where the gasket is the most compressed. 

How long should a gasket last?

Another difficult question.  The gasket on my 1990s FoodSaver Compact is a very solid rubbery material.  It is permanently glued in and still works fine decades later.  Newer gaskets are more spongy, and I would expect them to have a shorter lifespan, even with good care.

FoodSaver suggests that their gaskets should be charged out yearly for “heavy users.”  However, that is a very arbitrary statement.  My pressure cooker manufacturer also suggests a yearly change out of the pressure cooker’s sealing gasket.  However, I take care of my gasket and it has lasted me over 5 years and it is still going strong. 

A gasket should be changed if it is no longer providing a seal for the vacuum channel.  For some, this may be within the first few uses (if they somehow damage the gasket).  For others, I suspect that a gasket will last years.

What should I do if my gasket isn’t sealing?

The first step is to inspect the gasket.  Does it have food particles on it?  If so, clean it. Is it not seated properly in its channel?  If so, reseat it. 

If your gasket is permanent (like on some older machines) you can try to repair or reseal it.  I have read articles where people have used food grade silicon and even gasket sealant (food grade?) to repair a permanently mounted gasket. I recently used form-a-gasket sealant to repair my original 1980s food saver.  It has a sump plug that was sealed by an O-ring.  The O-ring was in good shape, but it had stretched a bit causing it to lose its seal.  I couldn’t get a replacement so I “glued” it in with the sealant and my old FoodSaver is once again working.

If your gasket is removable you might try to gently wash it.  Dry it before returning it to the machine.  You could also try to invert it (put the bottom on the top) to see if that would help.

Brand-name vacuum sealers (like FoodSaver) often sell replacement gaskets at reasonable prices. Other brands will sometimes provide an additional gasket or two with the original purchase.  If you get an extra gasket, store it in a cool, dry place where it won’t be crushed. Replacing a gasket is a very simple job.

How long should my vacuum sealer last?

If you are a very heavy user, like a hunter who has to process entire animals in one sitting, you will overtax a consumer-level machine and it will likely fail in a year or two. You should purchase a prosumer or professional sealer.

If you are a typical consumer who treats their machine with respect and care it should last 3-5 years or longer.

Do brand-name vacuum sealers work better than no-name vacuum sealers?

If we are talking about consumer-level machines, my subjective answer is, no.  I watched numerous videos of people using off-brand machines and they seemed to be as quick and sealed as well as brand named products.  It is likely that most of these machines are built in the same factories in China. 

Will a brand-name machine last longer than a no-name vacuum sealer?

I have tested a couple of no-brand machines in the $30 range.  One was an Aldi brand, and the other was an unknown brand purchased from Amazon.  Both machines were fairly lightweight and their plastic parts were not as robust as my old Compact FoodSaver. However, the same could be said of a modern FoodSaver. Things are not built as well as they used to be.

This Tisou vacuum sealer was purchased on Amazon for less than $30. It is feature-rich (for the price) and performed well during my short testing.

My guess is that if the construction seems similar to a brand-name device it will last about as long as a brand-name unit. 

Should I buy a prosumer or professional model?

Only if you have a need for one.  For instance, if you are a prepper and seal dozens of bags in a sitting you may overheat and damage a consumer machine.  You would be better served with a more robust device.

Prosumer devices are designed for bagging a lot of product infrequently.  Professional devices are designed to work heavily on a daily basis. 

Professional devices are more serviceable.  Most will allow you to change out components, like the sealing bar. Professional devices are often simpler in design. Many won’t have a latching mechanism as having one slows down workflow.

This Weston unit is simple to operate and built to last.

Professional models will pull a greater vacuum than a consumer model.  That may be important if you are storing foods for years.  However, it won’t make much of a difference for the average user. 

Lastly, some prosumer and professional models will accept a bag width greater than 11”, which could be useful for those needing to package huge cuts of meat.

What are the disadvantages of buying a prosumer or professional model?

Some prosumer models look very similar to a consumer model, so their only disadvantage is a higher cost.  Other prosumer models are bigger and bulkier than a typical consumer model and may be awkward to keep on the counter, or difficult to pull out of a cabinet. 

Professional units will be larger, heavier, more industrial-looking, and have noisy cooling fans. Some will omit functions like an accessory port or the marinate feature, as they are unneeded for packaging.  Naturally, these units will cost more, starting at around $300 and moving upwards.

What are some other types of vacuum sealing systems, and why would I want to use them?

Two types that some may find useful are handheld devices and chamber devices. I won’t discuss nozzle systems, which are uncommon in the consumer world.

What is a handheld device?

These are mini-vacuum pumps that are either battery operated or hand-pumped.  They are used as part of a system.  For instance, with special Ziploc bags, or specific vacuum canisters.

Why would I want to use a handheld system?

For convenience and size.  The handheld pumps can be stored in a drawer and easily used.  These units do not heat-seal bags like a traditional vacuum sealer.  Ziploc-type bags have a traditional zipper closure, and canisters have a vacuum valve on their lids.

These devices can be less intimidating than traditional sealers. In my house, I use the vacuum sealer for food preservation, but everyone else is comfortable using a little canister set with a hand pump to preserve salads and soft fruits (like strawberries).  

We use this simple vacuum-sealed canister set at our home.

A handheld system can also speed marinating, and slow down oxidation in foods like vegetables and nuts.

Generally speaking, the level of vacuum will not be as great as if you used a standard sealer with an accessory port. 

What is a chamber sealer?

A chamber sealer is a fairly bulky device that contains a vacuum chamber instead of a vacuum channel.  In these machines, the vacuum bag is placed inside the vacuum chamber.  

This professional chamber-sealer is popular for home users. However, it is big, heavy, and expensive.

What are the advantages of a chamber sealer?

There are a number of advantages.  Since both the chamber and the bag are placed under a vacuum at the same time, there is no fluid sucking from the bag and into the machine.  Therefore, it is easy to vacuum seal liquids without freezing them first.

Powdery substances, like flour, require special treatment when vacuum packing in a channel machine.  However, flour can be put into a chamber sealer with no additional prep.

Chamber sealers use non-embossed vacuum bags, which are considerably cheaper than the embossed bags that channel sealers use.  In fact, you can buy a pint-sized chamber bag for around three cents, which is less than a Ziploc sandwich bag. 

It is more likely that you will waste less food if you have a chamber sealer.  Carrots and celery are inexpensive vegetables and it made more sense for me to toss unused vegetables than vacuum seal them.  However, since a pint-size chamber bag is so cheap I now freeze unused vegetables for my next stew or soup.  The combined cost of a bunch of celery and carrots is around $3 where I live.  If I throw away half, I’m giving away $1.50.  I can now save that money using a 3-cent bag plus a tiny amount of electricity. 

Chamber sealers can pull a stronger vacuum than a channel sealer.  In most cases, this won’t make a difference.  However, it may be important if you are storing food, like meats, for a very long time (years), or if you plan on doing redux canning. 

What are the disadvantages of a chamber sealer?

Until recently, chamber sealers were commercial machines.  Even the small ones were close to 100 pounds in weight, and took up a large amount of kitchen counter “real estate”. Many chamber sealers have an oil-type vacuum pump that requires some maintenance.  Most chamber sealer styles are more suited for a functional butcher shop rather than a homey kitchen.

Chamber sealers can only accept bags that will fit inside of their chamber.  You use premade bags (which come in many sizes) instead of rolls of bag material.  Industrial chamber sealers may be slightly more complicated and intimidating to operate than most channel sealers, which only require a single push of a button.  Until recently, even the cheapest chamber sealer was close to $1000.00 and did not offer any additional functionality.  

Are there any consumer-level or less expensive chamber sealers?

Yes, in the last few years some new models have been introduced.  They may have a smaller capacity and use more plastic, but they are considerably less expensive.  You can buy a consumer-oriented chamber sealer in the $400-$1000 range.  In addition, some of these consumer-oriented machines offer functions like an accessory port, or a marinate function. Some of these machines have a dry vacuum pump instead of a wet vacuum pump (oil-based) which eliminates pump maintenance. 

This home-use chamber sealer can be had for around $700 and is built like a professional model. It is limited by a smaller sealing bar that will only accommodate 8″ or narrower bags, as well as smaller chamber depth.

You can also buy Chinese clones of traditional chamber sealers. I have one, and my sealer was inexpensive.  However, my chamber is only 2” deep with a 2” lid dome (4” total), which is much shallower than a commercial brand.  In addition, my chamber is painted steel instead of stainless steel (wouldn’t pass NSF certification), and it is likely that the overall quality of my components is not as good as a commercial machine.  However, it works well enough for me!

My Chinese-clone chamber sealer is not built to the standard of a pro model, but it works for me.

Is there an advantage to having an oil-based vacuum pump?

All channel-type sealers use a dry (not oil-based) pump, whereas professional chamber machines mostly use oil-based pumps.  Dry pumps are maintenance-free, so why use oil vacuum pumps at all?  Oil-based pumps are more efficient and will vacuum larger volumes of air faster.  In addition, oil-based pumps last longer.  

Changing the oil on an oil-based pump is a simple job.  However, you have to remember to do it.  Your user manual will recommend when you should change the pump’s oil. 

Are there any vacuum sealers that are manufactured in the US?

I can’t speak on industrial-level sealers, but as far as I know, all vacuum sealers mentioned here are manufactured in China.  

A company may design a unit in the US and have a Chinese manufacturer build it, or it may modify a Chinese designed unit, or it may simply rebrand a Chinese designed unit.

When it comes to consumer-level machines it is likely that a no-brand machine is similar in construction to a branded machine.  However, it is easy to return a defective FoodSaver to Costco, but few will return a no-name device bought on eBay back to China.

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I hope that I have answered any questions that you may have about vacuum sealers.  The next post will help you sort through which sealer is best for you.

Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs-Quick Tip

Making a hard-boiled egg should be a simple process. However, mine always turned out with a green line around the yolk. Worse yet, I could never get the shell off without taking half of the egg with it. I would boil them and place them in an ice bath, but they would still turn out terrible.

My results were so poor that I started to buy pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs at the store. They are much more expensive and a bit rubbery, but at least they looked like eggs.

All of this has changed with a simple cooking technique. I now steam my eggs; they come out great and they peel perfectly.

I’m a gadget guy, so I use an egg maker. It is also great for making poached eggs for avocado toast. I like it because it is automatic, and it chimes when the eggs are done.

However, you can do the same method with a pot and some sort of steamer insert. This could be on the stove or using the steaming function of an InstantPot or rice cooker.

Here is how to do it without an egg cooker.

  1. Puncture the end of the egg. A push pill works well. This prevents bursting.
  2. Put about an inch of water in a pot. Bring to a boil.
  3. Temporarily take the pot off the heat. You don’t want a steam burn.
  4. Place 6 or 12 eggs in a steamer rack and put the rack back in the pot and cover. Return the pot to heat.
  5. Steam for around 12-15 minutes for 6 eggs, and 15-17 minutes for a dozen.
  6. Steam time will vary slightly based on the egg’s size and temperature.
  7. Using a spoon, transfer the eggs to an ice water bath to shock chill them for a few minutes.
  8. Peel under cold running water.
  9. Store in a covered container. They will stay good for about a week.

See photos below for the egg maker method.

Eggs are punctured to prevent bursting and placed in the machine. Water is added to the egg maker. Egg makers can make soft and hard-boiled eggs, poached eggs, and steamed omelets.
The egg maker will chime when the eggs are done. I used a spoon to transfer them to an ice water bath for a few minutes.
The steaming method makes peeling a snap. No more egg stuck to the shell! My mom always peeled eggs under running water, so I do the same. However, you can probably peel them dry.
Six perfect hard-boiled eggs are ready for the fridge. They will stay fresh for about a week refrigerated, and they taste a lot better than the rubbery store-bought variety.

Buy A Vacuum Sealer, Really!

My last post was on saving money at the grocer. One segment of that article involved using a vacuum sealer (FoodSaver), which can extend the freshness of foods up to 5 times. That segment generated some interest, so I thought I would do a deep dive on the topic. I’ll also provide best practices and tips in this post.

Fact: The average household throws away 30% of purchased foods. A typical family of four can save more than $3000.00/year by using a vacuum sealer to reclaim already purchased foods and to repackage less expensive bulk foods. 

Why vacuum seal?

When you vacuum seal something you pump out the air in its package. Then the vacuum sealer heats the open end of the bag to completely seal its contents from the outside. Air contains 21% oxygen, and many foods oxidize when exposed to this gas. One example of oxidation is the browning of cut avocados, potatoes, and apples. Another example is the effect of oxygen on fatty foods, like nuts. Oxidation turns their fats rancid. How many times have you thrown out half of an Avocado or a bag of baking walnuts because they had gone bad? Sealing in a vacuum bag can dramatically extend the life of these foods.

This apple was left out for a couple of hours and it has turned an unappetizing brown. Vacuum sealing prevents this.

Poorly packaged frozen food is subject to freezer burn, but what is freezer burn? The moisture in the air condenses on the food creating ice crystals that puncture the food’s structure. This alters the texture of the food and causes it to dehydrate. The result of this process is called freezer burn. Remove the air and seal and you eliminate freezer burn. 

Baked goods, like crackers, are moisture absorbers. Leave a tube of crackers open for a day or two and they go from crips to stale. Remove the air and seal the package and the crackers stay fresh.

Foods like flour and cornmeal are subject to weevil infestations. These tiny critters can hatch and multiply in grains that have been sitting around. Weevils are not harmful, but no one wants to eat food that contains little bugs. Weevils need oxygen to survive; eliminate the oxygen and you eliminate the bugs.

I seal 5-pound bags of flour to keep them fresh and to prevent weevil infestation.

In most cases, it’s safe to eat hard cheeses that have a little mold on them. Just cut off the mold and proceed. However, why deal with moldy cheese if you don’t have to? Molds are a type of fungus, and they need oxygen to grow. Eliminate the oxygen and your hard cheese can stay fresh for a long time.

Beyond food preservation, vacuum sealing is also used to prepare foods for Sous-vide cooking. This technique allows a chef to perfectly cook foods while retaining their natural juiciness. 

If you like to marinate meats you can dramatically speed up that process by using a vacuum sealer. Place the meat and marinade in an external vacuum canister and draw a vacuum. The vacuum opens up the meat and allows the marinade to penetrate in under 30 minutes. You don’t need a marinade function on your vacuum sealer; any machine that has an accessory port will do. You can also marinade in a vacuum bag, but you need to be careful to not draw up the liquid marinade into the machine.

Vacuum sealing can preserve and protect non-food items. Real silverware won’t tarnish when sealed in a vacuum bag. Hunters can vacuum pack ammo to keep it dry and usable. Adventurers have even vacuum-packed clothes for wet outings allowing them to change into something dry after their experience. Vacuum sealing uses are only limited by the user’s imagination.

Why not just wrap in foil, place in Tupperware, or seal in a Ziploc freezer bag?

The above solutions do help keep food fresh longer, but not nearly as long as vacuum packing. Why? They don’t eliminate the air in the package, and they allow outside air and humidity to enter. However, they are better than leaving food exposed. 

What do I vacuum seal?

I have used a FoodSaver Compact vacuum sealer for decades. It is a simple manual device. Mine was one of the early machines that were made in Italy (not China), and it is very sturdy and solid. I treat it well and it has served me well.  

I have used my Compact FoodSaver for decades. It was made in Italy and is built like a tank. Here I am vacuum-sealing bulk hamburger meat into meal-sized portions.

I know that over time my FoodSaver has saved me a lot of money. I’ll buy meat in bulk, on sale, or when it has a close to expiration price drop. I’ll then split it into meal-sized amounts and vacuum seal it into bags ready to be frozen. 

It is cheaper to buy meat in bulk and then repackage it into smaller portions.

I’ll buy a large block of cheese, and vacuum seal it into smaller chunks. They stay fresh in the fridge.

I’ll cook a turkey breast in my slow cooker, slice it for lunch meat, and seal and freeze it into conveniently sized packages that I thaw as needed.  

I also freeze leftovers, like homemade soups and stews. When vacuum packing liquids it is best to freeze them first in another container. Remove the frozen item from the container and place it in a vacuum bag and seal it. I like Souper Cubes because frozen soups just pop out. However, any freezable container will do. If an item won’t release, gently warm the bottom of the container for a few seconds in a bowl of hot water. I have also seen people freeze liquids in Ziploc freezer bags. Once frozen, they peel off the freezer bag and reseal the block in a vacuum bag to ensure a much longer freezer life.

I like to freeze liquidy foods in these Souper Cubes. Each section holds about a cup and once frozen soup easily pops out to be repackaged and vacuumed-sealed.
Here is some cream of chicken wild rice soup frozen in Souper Cubes. You can vacuum-seal the cubes individually or together, and they pack flat in the freezer. I like to pack them individually and break out as many as I need for a meal. You can reheat them in many ways including, “boil-in-bag” or in a microwave. When heating in a microwave make a small slit in the bag to allow steam to escape.
The frozen cubes quickly defrost on a counter and can be reheated in a variety of ways. Here I’m using the boil-in-bag technique. I won’t even have to wash out the pot!

Recently, I bought a Chinese chamber-style vacuum sealer off eBay, and it has been a game-changer. It is now easy to vacuum pack liquids and powdery foods (like flour) without any prep. Additionally, chamber-style vacuum bags are very inexpensive, even cheaper than Ziploc bags. With this new gadget, I’m starting to vacuum seal additional foods, like vegetables. Many vegetables are reasonably priced, but why waste half of a bunch of celery if I don’t have to? More importantly, I know that I’ll have soup fixings in my freezer even if I don’t have the fresh veggies in my crisper drawer. I can freeze enough celery and carrots to make an entire pot of soup using a single chamber-style bag that only costs 3 cents. 

The history of vacuum sealing.

The first commercial vacuum sealer was invented in the 1940s. The first home vacuum sealer was designed by Karl Busch in 1963, but it was very basic. The first practical home vacuum sealer was developed by Hanns Kristin in 1984 and was named the FoodSaver by Tilia. The unit was easy to use but had a nozzle to remove air instead of the now ubiquitous vacuum channel. This FoodSaver hit the market in the late 1980s, but it didn’t take off. Sales increased dramatically in the 1990s when the company started to air infomercials about it. The early models were very well built and made in Italy; current units are manufactured in China. Seal-a-Meal was an early competing brand that was originally owned by Dazey Corp. The FoodSaver and Seal-a-Meal brands are now owned by Newell Brands; that company also owns many other household brands including Rubbermaid, Mr. Coffee, and Sharpie. 

This is the original Foodsaver. It was big, bulky, and built like a tank. It used a nozzle system rather than the now common vacuum channel. Sold in the 1980s, they are still being used today due to their quality construction and ease of repair.

Many other companies make commercial and home vacuum sealers. Prices for home sealers range from around 20 dollars to several hundred dollars. Commercial/prosumer sealers range from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars.  

Foods that vacuum seal well.

Many foods benefit from vacuum sealing. Fresh and cooked meats and fish, hard cheeses, soups, stews, most vegetables, grains, pasta, cookies, crackers, coffee, and more. However, you may need to adapt the way that you seal some of these items. I’ll describe some techniques below. 

Foods that don’t vacuum seal well.

Raw fruits, like bananas and pears, emit ethylene and will over-ripen when that gas is trapped in a sealed bag. However, cooked and dehydrated fruits store well.

Some vegetables freeze better when first blanched-place in boiling water for a few minutes, then rapidly cool in cold water, and pat dry. When in doubt, Google how to freeze a particular vegetable. However, you don’t have to always blanch every vegetable. My excess carrots and celery just get vacuumed packed and tossed in the freezer. I know that they will be fine for soups and stews.  

Excess celery and carrots are vacuumed sealed and ready for my next soup-making adventure.

Mold is a fungus that requires oxygen to grow, a vacuum sealer removes the majority of the oxygen in a package, but a tiny bit remains. Mold can still slowly grow under these conditions. Moist foods are vulnerable to mold growth even if vacuumed sealed. Naturally, mold can’t grow if food is frozen.

Certain strains of bacteria thrive without oxygen and can create deadly botulism toxin* or bacterial illness. You shouldn’t vacuum seal soft cheeses**, or certain vegetables like fresh mushrooms, garlic, and onions.* However, you can vacuum seal blanched or cooked vegetables. In addition, most pathogenic bacteria can’t grow at freezing temperatures, Listeria being the exception, so it is OK to peel and chop an onion, vacuum seal it, and freeze it for future use.

*Botulism poisoning is very rare. The CDC reports that there are around 27 cases of food-born Botulism a year (The US population is 329 million). All of the cases that I could locate were caused by poor home canning techniques or improper processing of commercial foods. I could not find a single case of botulism poisoning due to home vacuum sealing. However, better safe than sorry. Clostridium botulinum (the bacteria that makes the botulism toxin) cannot grow at freezer temperatures. 

**Listeria is a bacteria that may proliferate in soft cheeses and other foods. It can grow without oxygen, and it can even slowly grow at freezer temperatures. Since many other bacteria need oxygen, the lack of it can provide an open playing field for Listeria to multiply. Listeria can cause serious GI illness, which is why you shouldn’t vacuum pack soft cheeses. 

Practice common sense.

Vacuum sealed foods last longer, but they still can spoil. Vacuum sealing is an additional step, not the only step in food preservation. Food left out will still go bad. Treat vacuumed sealed foods just like you would if they were not vacuumed sealed. If you would normally refrigerate a leftover, do the same.  

Always practice standard sanitary practices when repackaging food. Wash your hands and utensils before and after a repackaging session. Clean surfaces and sanitize your area before and after. Additionally, wash and sanitize between packing different foods. If I’m repackaging beef and chicken I’ll re-sanitize everything between the two jobs. You can wear and change out gloves if you wish; I just wash my hands a lot.

Keep everything clean and sanitized when repacking bulk foods.

What are the different types of vacuum sealers?

The handheld vacuum seal systems.

These are either battery-powered or manual pumps and are used with special Ziploc-style bags or containers. They are sometimes sold with canister sets, and they are useful in situations where you are opening and closing a package. Salad greens, cereal, and fresh strawberries are some foods that come to mind. They can also be handy for marinating.  

A typical vacuum canister set. Note the hand vacuum pump in the foreground.

Channel vacuum sealers (below) often have an accessory hose or port that can be used to vacuum special canisters. However, many people don’t have the counter space to leave a machine out. The handheld pumps are small and can be tucked away in a drawer.  

The channel vacuum systems.

This is the most common type of home vacuum system. All current FoodSaver machines are channel-type vacuum sealers. An external bag is placed in the machine’s vacuum channel and the device is closed. A vacuum is drawn and the bag is then sealed using a heat bar. The channel will protect the unit’s vacuum pump from being contaminated if a small amount of liquid is sucked up from the bag. However, foods that contain large amounts of liquid can enter the machine’s innards and damage it. Most home systems will accommodate standard 11” and 8” wide bags, however, a few will only accept 8” wide bags. A machine that handles all sizes of bags offers the greatest versatility.  

This Amazon basics sealer is fairly full-featured and can be had for less than $50.
A typical vacuum sealer is opened and ready to accept a bag to be sealed. The yellow arrow shows the vacuum channel where the open end of the bag is placed. The red arrow shows the sealing bar. The green arrow shows where an accessory hose is connected to this particular machine.

Advantages of channel systems

These units can be small, accommodate a wide range of bag sizes, and you can make custom bag lengths using rolls of bag material. Many units are inexpensive. You can buy an off-brand machine for as little as 20 dollars, and a basic branded one for about 50 dollars. Add more features (many unnecessary) and the price can go up to several hundred dollars. Popular brands include FoodSaver, Seal-a-Meal, Cosori, Hamilton Beach, and Nesco.

This vacuum-sealer can be had on Amazon for around $16. I watched a YouTube review of it, and it does work. However, its operation seems fiddly.
This Seal-a-Meal model is very basic, but it is a brand name. It sells for less than $50 at Walmart.
This Nesco vacuum-sealer is a mid-range consumer model that is highly ranked.

Household sealers have small motors, tiny plastic vacuum pumps, and thin heating bars. Most are made for limited use and will overheat if you try to vacuum seal many bags in one sitting. This is not usually an issue for the home user but could be a problem for someone like a hunter, prepper, or gardener who needs to seal dozens of bags at one time. A home sealer’s longevity will depend on its level of use and care. Mine has lasted decades, but hunters (who may package an entire animal in one session) may need to buy a new machine every year or two.  

This is an internal shot from a typical FoodSaver vacuum sealer. The small black square is the plastic vacuum pump module. The white object to the left of it is the mount for the small electric motor that powers the pump.
Here you can see the tiny electric motor that powers the vacuum pump. The disc in the upper right of the photo is the vacuum pump’s piston removed from its housing. You can see crud on it from the machine sucking up liquids, which is why the repairman had to disassemble the unit.

High-use individuals are better off buying a commercial-grade channel sealer. These sealers are built to last and have quality vacuum pumps, strong motors, and good cooling systems. Professional and prosumer sealers start around $300. Popular brands include Weston, VacMaster, LEM, and Avid/Amor. These units are designed for near-continuous use, and some can accommodate bag widths greater than 11 inches. They are bulkier than home units and can take up quite a bit of counter space.

This Weston unit is big, bulky, and powerful. Hunters and preppers would benefit from its high duty cycle and durability.

What these sealers are good for; what foods require additional prepping?

Solid, dry, and moist items are good candidates for channel machines. Powdery or liquid foods require special preparation to be successfully vacuum-packed using a channel-type sealer.

Meats can ooze juices when vacuum packing, which can contaminate the sealing area and prevent sealing. Some machines have a “Moist” setting that extends the sealing bar’s heating time/temperature to ensure a seal. My old FoodSaver is a manual model. I seal the bag before I see the meat juice reach the sealing bar. Very cold, semi-frozen, or frozen meat won’t ooze when vacuum packed. Another easy trick is to place a narrow strip of paper towel after the meat but before the bag’s sealing zone to catch the juices. This works with any channel machine. 

Powdery foods, like flour, can get sucked up into the vacuum system and damage it. An easy solution is to repack bulk flour into brown lunch bags. Fold over or loosely tape the lunch bag’s top and insert it into a sealing bag, vacuum as usual. I like keeping an extra 5-pound bag of flour as a backup. I simply put the flour (in its original bag) in a gallon vacuum bag and vacuum seal it to keep it fresh and weevil free. 

Liquids, like soups, can get sucked up into the machine’s internals, and that is not a good thing. Some folks carefully vacuum seal liquids, but there are easier ways. If you have leftover soup, freeze it in another container, then remove it from that container and vacuum seal it in a bag. It will take up less space and stay fresh longer. You can also vacuum seal it in a Mason jar (using a jar vacuum sealing adapter) and then freeze it.

We like this soup mix, but it makes more soup than we can eat.
However, the soup is delicious!
Here I am repackaging leftover soup into Souper Cubes. Once frozen I’ll remove the cubes and pack them in vacuum bags.
The cubes are frozen and ready to be repackaged into vacuum bags.

Bags and rolls.

Channel-type vacuum sealers require special embossed bags that allow air to be pulled out of them. These bags can be quite expensive. I looked on the FoodSaver website and quart bags were over 50 cents apiece. I have been using generic vacuum bags for years, and they work well. Instead of paying 50 cents, I can buy a generic quart bag for 12-14 cents, which is roughly the same cost as a Ziploc freezer bag. Bags come in pint, quart, and gallon sizes.

Many people prefer using rolls of bag material, often citing that rolls are more economical than bags. That is only partially true. If you made an equivalent number of bags from a roll it will cost you roughly the same amount as premade bags. The cost savings of rolls come with the fact that you can customize the size of your bag. A quart size bag is 8” x 12.” Let’s say you mostly use a bag size that is 8” x 10,” over time you will save a little cash because of this. However, I’m lazy and use pre-made bags.  

Generic bags are significantly less expensive than branded ones. You can pick up this kit at Costco or shop online for other choices. Some feel that generic bags are inferior, but I have used them successfully for years.

FoodSaver always claimed that you could reuse their bags by washing them in the dishwasher, keeping the bag open with something like a clothespin, and pointing the open-end down. They have now revised this recommendation, and advise to not reuse bags that have been previously used to store meats or cheese, as they may not be cleaned adequately by this method. 

Machine features.

Manufacturers upsell consumer vacuum sealers by adding features, many of which are not needed unless you have a specific need. Here are some of them.

Motorized bag feeds– unneeded and just one more thing to break.

Marinade function– Meats marinade in minutes when placed under a vacuum. Machines with a marinade function pulse a vacuum to enhance this action. However, just using the vacuum function also works well. It is best to marinade in an external canister, but it is possible to use a vacuum bag. Just be very careful to not suck the marinade into the machine. 

Moist sealing setting– Nice when vacuuming moist things like meat. The sealing bar stays on a bit longer to ensure that the bag is sealed even if a small amount of meat juice has contaminated the bag’s sealing zone. Some machines are programmed to reduce their suction a bit if you use this option. If you don’t have a moisture setting there are several workarounds (see above).

Gentle cycle– this function is used for delicate items like chips, crackers, and cakes. A weaker vacuum is pulled, so these items are crushed less. However, a weaker vacuum means that less air and moisture is pulled out; besides you will still get some crushing. A better option is to use an accessory canister or a Mason jar sealer for crushable items like crackers. I freeze soft items, like muffins, in a Tupperware container, and avoid vacuum sealing altogether. They will still stay fresh for quite some time when stored this way.

Built-in roll storage– Many units have a space to store vacuum seal rolls. In addition, they will often have a cutter so you can easily cut the roll into bags. This is nice if you are a roll user. However, this also makes the machine’s footprint larger, which could be a problem if you have limited storage or counter space. Many folks keep their rolls in a drawer and simply cut their bags using a pair of scissors. Additionally, you can also buy separate roll storage containers with cutters. 

If your machine doesn’t have a bag storage compartment you can buy a separate holder/cutter. Conversely, you can keep a roll in a kitchen drawer and simply cut it with a pair of scissors.

Removable channel tray-It is OK if a small amount of liquid is sucked into the vacuum channel. Just wipe it out with a damp paper towel. Some vacuum sealers have trays that can be removed and washed directly in the sink, which may be a convenience for some.

Some machines have a removable channel tray so you can wash it in your sink. However, it is just as easy to clean up the vacuum channel by using a moist paper towel.

Accessory port– A wonderful feature that I rarely use. Many machines have a little port that allows you to connect a hose to the machine. This way you can vacuum seal special containers or (using a jar accessory) vacuum seal mason jars to be used as storage containers.

This Mason jar accessory allows you to vacuum-seal Mason jars, which is a great option for items that are crushable, or ones that you need to use and reseal. This model is for the FoodSaver brand but people with other machines have adapted it to use with their sealers.

I know several people who have vacuum sealers and none of us use this handy feature. Why? Because it is inconvenient to pull a machine out for one task. However, there are prepper types on YouTube who love this feature. They preserve all sorts of things, from spices to nuts in Mason jars that are then vacuum-sealed.

The arrow shows the accessory port on a basic FoodSaver model. A port can be located in different parts of the machine, so read your manual. Most, but not all, channel-type sealers have an accessory port.
This machine has an accessory hose with an adapter built into the machine body.

Most people will only use a vacuum sealer for its most basic function, bag sealing, so avoid wasting a lot of money on extras unless you know that you will use them. 

Are there performance differences between models and brands?

No vacuum sealer can completely pull all of the air out of a package. However, a partial vacuum is still adequate for food preservation. Models within a brand perform similarly and are differentiated mostly by features. A vacuum sealer must pull at least 20” Hg to properly seal a bag. Food Savers will pull around 22” Hg, and pro-style channel systems may pull as high as 25” Hg. Chamber-style machines are capable of pulling an even higher vacuum.  

It is pretty easy to tell you your machine is working well enough. Vacuum seal a block of cheese and examine the results. If the block is sealed with no air gaps your machine is working.  

Here I have vacuumed-sealed a meal-size portion of stew meat. Note that this type of machine can use less-expensive non-embossed bags.

The chamber sealer systems.

Chamber Sealers are the way that most commercial products are vacuum-sealed. They have several advantages, but they also have some disadvantages for home users.

A chamber sealer is a large appliance that has a cavity (or chamber) where the vacuum bag is positioned. A vacuum is placed on the entire chamber instead of sucking the air out of a bag.  

This VacMaster chamber sealer is popular among serious users. It is a light-duty professional machine and costs over $1000.

Advantages of Chamber Sealers.

Because the entire chamber is placed under a vacuum there is no pressure difference between the bag and the chamber. Liquids (even water) stay in the bag and as do powdery items like flour. You can easily and quickly vacuum pack all sorts of things from homemade soup to pasta sauce. Fill and place the bag, press a button, wait a bit… and it’s done!

Here I’m repacking tilapia, stew meat, and salmon using my chamber-style packer. I weigh out portions so that they are roughly equal. Naturally, I sanitize between each type of meat.

Chamber-type bags don’t require special embossing, so they are much cheaper to buy than channel-style bags. A quart-size bag can be had for 5-6 cents and a pint-size one for 3 cents. This makes them less expensive than Ziploc bags. Because the bags are so inexpensive it is more likely that you will vacuum seal foods that you might not if you had a channel-style sealer.

Chamber vacuum bags don’t require embossing, so they are less expensive than embossed bags (like those used for FoodSaver machines). Note that I folded over the top of the bag. This keeps the sealing zone clean when filling the bag. Naturally, I’ll unfold the bag when I place it into the vacuum sealer.
It is much easier to label a bag before it is filled. A simple Sharpie will do the trick. Always date your packs with at least the year.

Chamber vacuums are designed for continuous operation. They have big motors and strong vacuum pumps. They use wide sealing bars to ensure high protection from leakage. Parts, including the sealing bar, are replaceable. 

Disadvantages of a chamber vacuum sealer.

These gadgets are commercial machines. Until a few years ago the most basic ones were over $1000.00. They are big, bulky, and heavy. They can’t easily be tucked away and pulled out when needed. 

Bags have to fit the chamber. You can’t customize a large bag like you can with a channel sealer. There are no roll bags, just premade bags.  

Recent chamber sealer trends.

Manufacturers have recognized that there is a consumer market for these machines and many are now making somewhat smaller units for home use. These machines are lower-priced, in the $500-$1000 range. You can also buy Chinese clones. My Chinese chamber vacuum sealer was purchased on eBay for only $250, and that included free shipping. Naturally, quality control can be an issue when buying an unknown brand. So far, mine is working.  

This is my Chinese off-brand chamber vacuum sealer. It was only $250, and that included shipping. I doubt if it will be as durable as a brand-name sealer, but it is fine for my simple needs.
Its retro control panel is easy to operate and cool in an industrial sort of way.
Food repacked and ready to go to my freezer. I could have done the same job with my FoodSaver. It would have been slightly more expensive since channel bags cost more. So why do I have a chamber sealer? As I told my wife, “I could come up with a logical reason, but the honest truth is that I like gadgets.”

Other vacuum sealing systems

There are a few other systems that you may come across. The original FoodSaver was made in Italy and built like a tank. People are still using these machines that were purchased in the 1980s. They had a vacuum nozzle instead of a vacuum channel. They require regular FoodSaver embossed bags (just like current FoodSavers). They are simple to operate, easy to repair (many parts are still available), have a high duty cycle, and their manual operation lends itself to adjusting on-the-fly. I own one of these original machines, which I’m in the process of trying to repair.

Lastly, a few companies make machines that resemble channel vacuum sealers, but they have retractable nozzles. These sealers can use the less expensive chamber-style bags and have an external canister to catch liquids.  

Conclusion.

A vacuum sealer is one of those appliances that you may think that you don’t need, but you do. Studies have shown that you can save thousands of dollars a year in food costs by using one.

For most, a channel-type vacuum sealer is the way to go. They are inexpensive, and they do the job. Their consumables (bags) are more expensive, but you can find generic bags on sites like eBay or Amazon. Shop around as prices are variable even for the same brand. Rolls may save you a little money, but I prefer the convenience of premade bags.  

The internal components for most consumer vacuum sealers are pretty similar, a small motor that powers a cheap plastic vacuum pump. If you want to use your vacuum sealer to save money by purchasing bulk foods and freezing leftovers, just about any model will do. I watched many product reviews on YouTube and they all seem to work. However, if you want assurance, stick with a name brand like FoodSaver or Nesco. As far as I can tell the motor and pump for a basic FoodSaver are the same as a more expensive one. The more expensive one just has more features, many of which you are unlikely to use. 

My 1990s Compact FoodSaver sealing a soup cube. It is completely manual and it still does a great job.
For the sake of this post, I bought this cheap channel-style sealer off Amazon. It was under $30 and I wanted to see how well it would work. For an incredibly low price, it has a bag cutter (no storage), gentle and moist settings as well, and a manual function. It feels pretty lightweight, but it performed as well as my FoodSaver. How long will it continue to work? That is unclear.
Here are soup cubes sealed using various machines and different bag sizes. The top ones were sealed with my original FoodSaver and the $30 no-name machine. The cubes in the red tray were sealed using my chamber vacuum. All machines performed well, and I could see no difference in their sealing ability.

If you want to vacuum seal other items, like liquids or powdery foods, watch YouTube videos to learn some simple techniques. Some YouTubers seal liquids without freezing, but, I wouldn’t advise that as you could suck up the liquids into the machine and damage it.

If all you want to keep fresh are salad greens or chips, you may want to consider a system that comes with several canisters and a small hand-operated pump. 

Some foods should not be vacuum sealed (see above), and other items lend themselves to other freezing methods. I don’t vacuum seal soft items like cupcakes or muffins. I simply freeze them in Tupperware-style containers. They stay fresh, and they are not crushed by a vacuum. 

If you seal foods in very large batches, consider a prosumer or professional channel sealer. They cost more, but you won’t be replacing them every year or two.

If you are very serious about high volume vacuum sealing consider a chamber vacuum sealer, which offers a stronger vacuum, great durability, and the ability to vacuum seal liquids and powdery foods with no additional prep. Some consumer-oriented chamber-sealers have accessory ports and marinade cycles. However, prepare yourself for higher costs and a bulkier footprint.

If your goal is to preserve small amounts of food your refrigerator’s freezer will suffice. However, if you plan on buying bulk, shopping sales, or freezing garden harvests you will need a separate freezer. Small freezers are surprisingly affordable. See last week’s post on that topic.

Separate freezers are relatively inexpensive to buy and operate. Simple, mechanical ones will last decades. Manual defrost machines will keep your foods fresher longer and will use less energy than self-defrosting models.

Lastly, a vacuum sealer is only useful if you use it. Think about your needs, freezer space, and goals. If you don’t use it, a vacuum sealer is just another paperweight. 

Peace

Mike

Here is a fun infomercial from the 1990s.

How To Fight Rising Food Costs

Last Saturday I went grocery shopping. I only filled my cart halfway and didn’t buy any meat, but the total cost at check-out was roughly what I would have paid for a full cart several years ago. The cost of food continues to climb at the grocer, and costs are even higher when dining out. We are experiencing inflation at a level that we haven’t seen in 40 years, and high prices are hurting everyone. However, these increases are most difficult for folks on low or fixed incomes.  

This simple restaurant dinner cost almost $90 when the tip was added (in a resort town). Eating out has become a very expensive proposition.

There are many videos on YouTube with titles like, “Eat for a week on ten dollars.” These videos are often an exercise in starvation and monotony. Usually, they consist of someone trying to stretch a pound of rice, a pound of beans, a bag of veggies, and a dozen eggs for 21 meals. Some people may have to resort to such extreme options, but most of these videos seem more stunt than substance.

In the mid-1980s, I was a medical resident and a divorced parent. Even when I became the chief resident of psychiatry, my take-home pay was low. Being chief resident of psychiatry gave me a lot of extra work, but only a $100 pretax bump in my monthly income. 

Because my daughter often stayed with me, I needed my own apartment. In my case, it was of the basement variety. I also needed a working car. Finally, of course, I had child support payments. These three expenses pushed my small salary to its limit, and I had to learn how to stretch every penny. Sometimes I made the mistake of being too frugal with my grocery purchases and bought inedible items. At other times I blew most of my week’s food allowance on a single restaurant meal. Eventually, I established a pattern of spending that struck a balance between economy and reality. I developed a system that worked for me.

During my many years of medical practice, Julie did most of the shopping and cooking for our family of five. I didn’t worry about cost; if prices went up, I just worked harder. I have been retired for four years and on a fixed income for the last three. I have saved during my working years, and Julie continues to work. However, I know that I am at a phase where I am spending more money than we are earning. When Julie retires, we will only be spending. I still have three adult children at home (although two are at boarding college during some of the year). Feeding 3-5 adults is an expensive proposition.

After my retirement, I took over many household jobs, including grocery shopping and some of the meal preparations. I’m a good and confident cook, but cooking multiple meals a week can be a drag, so I use a simplified system that I’ll describe later in this post.

My goal for today’s post is to give you some practical tips that will save you money. There are additional ways to cut your food budget, but these tips work for me. That last point deserves highlighting. It is critical to find a system that works for you. For instance, I know that I could save even more money by clipping coupons. However, I hate clipping coupons and I always forget to bring them when I shop.

In our family of adults, individuals are responsible for making their breakfasts and lunches. Julie and I take turns making dinner. I’m accountable for dinner four nights a week, Julie makes dinner twice a week, and Saturday is either a carry-out or YOYO (you’re on your own) meal.  

Carry-out food can be expensive, so why do we do it? This post is about saving money, but not about spending the absolute minimum amount of money. Our family likes a carry-out meal once a week. Lastly, we do go out to restaurants. However, as the cost of restaurant meals has gone up, our restaurant dining has gone way down.

To Costco or not to Costco, that is the question.

My friend, Tom, can go to Costco for a broasted chicken and leave with a broasted chicken. I go to Costco for a broasted chicken and leave with a $400 bill. That is not the way to save money. Costco prices are often excellent, as is the quality of their foods. However, the company uses shopping psychology to get you to buy more. If you want to save money at Costco, follow a few simple tips.  

  1. Decide what you need, and stick to buying only those items.  
  2. Make sure that you will use up an item before it goes bad. A massive bag of flour is only a bargain if consumed before it goes rancid.

Like other Costco shoppers, I have bought frozen foods that no one would eat. So they sat in the freezer, taking up space until I threw them out due to freezer burn. I’m now more cautious about purchasing untested items.  

The vacuum sealer.

Meat and cheese are expensive, but you can save considerably on them when you buy them in bulk. However, if you toss a giant package into the fridge or freezer, you will likely waste a significant portion of your purchase. I have used a vacuum sealer for years (mine is at least 20 years old). Vacuum sealers use unique bags that can be expensive, but I buy generic versions, which are significantly cheaper. It is possible to wash and reuse vacuum bags, but I’m too lazy to do that. The quart and gallon size bags work the best for my needs. When I get home, I divide up bulk packages into meal-size units and vacuum seal them. For instance, I’ll split a 5-pound block of ground beef into 4 or 5 separate vacuum packs. I’ll then place these packs in a plastic grocery bag and stick them in the freezer. It is easy to look in my chicken bag or hamburger bag and know if I need to buy more. 

Hamburger will last many months when frozen in a vacuum-sealed bag.

In the past, I had used Ziploc freezer bags for the same purpose. They work, but food stays fresher longer when vacuum sealed. However, Ziploc bags are an option if you can keep on top of your freezer’s contents. I also know people who wash Ziploc bags in their dishwasher and reuse them, getting several uses out of a single bag. 

The freestanding freezer

I bought a freezer about 25 years ago. It is a 14 cu ft upright model that needs to be manually defrosted. The freezer was inexpensive and has really served us well over the years. A frost-free freestanding freezer is not a good choice for long-term food storage as it has to heat up a bit when it auto defrosts. That process uses more energy and also shortens the storage life of frozen items. Freezers are energy efficient and use very little electricity. The chest-style ones are the most energy-efficient, but digging for things can be a pain. 

I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy a freezer if you are struggling to buy food. However, you could consider slowly saving for one or checking give-away sites like freestyle. I do think that our freezer helps us save money; equally importantly, it is really convenient to have the extra freezer space. Having items on hand makes it easy to prepare meals. I have even froze milk that I purchased during a 2 for 1 sale. All I had to do was remove a little from the gallon so it wouldn’t burst when frozen. 

Use less meat, cheaper meat, or no meat.

When we do use meat, we use less of it. Steak has gotten so expensive that it is a rare treat. When we make it, we will split a steak to serve two people. We are eating more hamburgers, chicken, and pork. We are also reducing our serving portions of these meats, often by combining them with other foods in one-pot meals. Lastly, we are moving towards more meatless meals. In fact, one of my kids’ favorite meals is my homemade mac and cheese, which I usually serve with cornbread and a vegetable. Eating less expensive food shouldn’t feel like a punishment.

My kids love my homemade mac-n-cheese.

House brands.

In many cases, I buy house-brand items. Are they as good as brand names? Honestly, I have been buying them for so long that I can’t say. However, I can say that in most instances, they are good enough. It may be cheaper to buy a brand-name item with a coupon, but I have never been able to get into clipping coupons. Items like flour, sugar and canned tomatoes are usually safe bets. In addition, many other items are of good quality. I’ll go with a house brand first and only buy a brand name if the house brand doesn’t cut it.

Brand names.

There are a few brand-name items that my family prefers. Bread, cheese sticks, and lunchmeat are some of them. I accept this and buy those items.

Dairy and eggs.

When it comes to items like milk, cheese, sour cream, and eggs, house brands are almost always cheaper, and I can’t tell the difference between them and brand name. House brand white eggs are nutritionally the same as brown eggs or free-range eggs. You may think that cage-free chickens happily roam an open field pecking for grubs. That is not the case; cage-free is closer to caged. Don’t buy advertising hype.

Bargains on meat.

I already mentioned that you can save by buying family-sized packages and splitting them up. In addition, stores will sometimes run buy-one-get-one-free sales on meat. Many stores will sell meat reaching its expiration date at significant savings. These markdowns are usually done at a particular time of day. Ask the person in your store’s meat department for more details. Buy and immediately freeze for future use.

Where to shop.

I hate shopping at Walmart, but this is where I buy most of my groceries. They offer lower prices, and they are a full-service store. I prefer smaller Aldi stores, which offer slightly lower prices than Walmart. However, the closest Aldi is somewhat out of the way and is limited if I need to buy items like toothpaste, TP, or shampoo. I also like a small nearby store called Fresh Thyme. Fresh Thyme has excellent produce that is reasonably priced. Their grocery selection is complete but less expansive than most stores. That is a good thing as I’m less tempted to buy a lot of stuff that I don’t need. Find the store that fits your needs.

Find a market that fits your needs.

Use a list.

One of the most beneficial things that you can do to save grocery money is to use a shopping list and (within reason) stick to it. In addition, you won’t come home without the eggs or butter that you were supposed to buy. Any list system will do. I use the Notes app on my phone. 

I use my phone’s list app. I check or uncheck items and I use the same list over and over.

Buy staples.

Having essential ingredients allows you to make a myriad of foods from scratch. A cake mix makes a cake, but flour makes a thousand foods. Items like flour, eggs, sugar, and rice should always be available in your kitchen. There are some more prepared foods that are inexpensive and good to have around. Pasta, peanut butter, and condensed cream of mushroom soup (as a casserole base) come to mind.

Making soda bread for a belated St. Pat’s celebration.
The end result was a bit messy but still delicious. Soda bread uses very basic ingredients and it is very easy to make.
When my daughter, Grace is at home she likes to bake with me. Here we made 6 loves of 100% whole wheat bread for less than $1 a loaf.

Buy frozen.

Certain foods can be good values when you buy them frozen. Items that we like to buy include frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, and frozen french fries.  

Use less disposable items.

Reusable items save money. My daughter uses a Rubbermaid container for her lunch sandwiches, and I use small towels to wipe up kitchen messes. However, we still use too many paper plates. Progress, not perfection!

Pack your own.

I recently bought coffee for myself and a friend; it cost over 6 dollars. I could have made the same amount of coffee at home for well under 50 cents. Using expensive K-cups is cheaper than buying coffee shop coffee, and using a standard coffee maker is much cheaper than using K-cups.

I guess we love hot beverages. It is much cheaper to make your own coffee. We usually grind our beans and use the Bunn to make a big pot. I need to drink special “low acid” coffee so I use a K-cup machine. The silver gadget is an automatic tea maker, a gift from me to my wife. She loves tea.

Buying lunch can cost around 10 dollars. Investing in reusable containers and a lunch bag can save you a fortune over time. My daughter packs a sandwich, yogurt, and fruit/or treats every day for lunch. My wife stockpiles cups of dehydrated soups and other lunch items in an office drawer. She keeps an electric kettle at her office for these soups and tea. When I was working, I would take the previous night’s leftovers in a microwaveable container and heat them up at work.  

Julie keeps a stash of lunch items in an office desk drawer. She also has an electric kettle so making a quick lunch is a snap.

Learn how to cook.

If you never learned how to cook, the prospect of doing so can be daunting. It is possible that you tried complicated recipes for an event or holiday and were left with frustration and a mess. There are an endless number of dishes that are both delicious and super easy to make. This is especially true if you have stock ingredients on hand. However, you have to accept that there may be a learning curve when you start. I guarantee that in short order, cooking will become easy. 

I would suggest buying a classic cookbook like The Betty Crocker Cookbook or The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Go with a hard-cover version. Caution is advised, I just checked Amazon, and someone was selling a ring-bound BH and G cookbook for almost $80! At most, pay around $25. I bought our Betty Crocker Cookbook new in 1991, and we still use it all of the time! Don’t be afraid to buy a used copy for a few pennies at a thrift shop. These books use simple ingredients, have tried and true recipes, and obvious instructions. Once you are a confident cook, you can branch out to the internet and other recipe sources. 

Using my 1991 Betty Crocker cookbook.

You need very few physical items to cook, and it is likely that you already have the basics. Are you just starting out and short on cash? Shop Goodwill or other resale stores. People get rid of cookware all of the time. All you need is a frying pan, a couple of pots, a pot lid, and a cookie sheet. Add a paring knife, a chef’s knife, measuring cups and spoons, a can opener, and a pancake turner and you are all set. Naturally, certain styles of cooking require additional equipment, which you can slowly buy as needed. You may need tongs, a vegetable peeler, mixing bowls, and more. However, you can often adapt what you have until you buy those items. I have turned meat with a fork and used a pot as a mixing bowl in my poor past. 

Clean as you go.

I can’t stress this habit enough. As I cook, I clean up. When I use a measuring cup, I wash it as soon as possible, so it is ready to be reused or put away. If you clean as you go, you will have very little mess at the end of meal preparation, and you will want to cook again. There is nothing more disheartening than having to deal with a massive mess after you finish eating your dinner.

Use it up.

It is estimated that Americans waste 40% of their food. This means that if you used up all of the food that you purchased, your food bill could be 40% less! That is a considerable number. I already talked a bit about preserving food using a vacuum sealer and using up leftovers. Also, consider using what you have in the fridge creatively instead of cooking a meal based on what you have a taste for.

The other day I made chicken soup for the family. However, the day before, my wife made dinner that included a small broasted chicken. I used chicken pieces that I had already thawed, but I also threw into the pot the broasted chicken carcass. The end result was delicious. 

Sometimes I’ll make banana bread using overripe bananas that I would normally throw away. Banana bread is simple to make, and my family thinks of it as a special treat. 

Banana bread is easy to make and really delicious!

Sometimes I add wilted salad greens or leftover rice to a soup. At other times I’ll use stale French bread to make delicious French toast. There are a multitude of ways to redefine leftovers or to use up food items that are still good but a bit past their prime. 

I added some wilted salad greens to this lentil soup.

One-pot meals.

I love one-pot meals. In fact, as I write this, I’m making one for dinner. This morning I drained some sauerkraut and added a little brown sugar, mustard, and a grated apple. I seasoned some pork chops and added everything to a slow cooker, which is now cooking on low. My wife made some excellent roasted cut-up sweet potatoes yesterday. I’ll reheat them for today’s side dish.

It took me less than 10 minutes to throw everything together this morning, and we will have a homemade dinner tonight.  

Pork chops and sauerkraut made in a slow cooker. This is our small slow cooker. I bought it in 1984 for $9 at the grocery store. I cooked countless meals in it when I was a resident doctor. After a long day, it was great to come home to a warm meal. We still use this gadget today, although we have a 6-quart model for larger meals.

One-pot meals can be made on the stove or in the oven. However, I like using small appliances, which I find to be more convenient.  

I love my pressure cooker and slow cooker. However, you don’t need an appliance to make one-pot meals. Here I’m using a dutch oven, but any appropriate pot would do.

There are an endless number of one-pot meals that use essential ingredients. Soups, stews, chili, casseroles, and much more. They are not only easy to make, but they are also economical. As a bonus, cleanup is a breeze.  

Should you buy small appliances?

Only if you use them. I have an air fryer that I never use. I know some people love them, but their capacity is too small for my large family. However, I am always using my slow cooker and electric pressure cooker (An InstantPot knockoff). In addition, I often use a waffle maker-an item that many would never use. Figure out what foods you make, and determine if an appliance would be helpful. I don’t want to be bound to the kitchen, so a gadget like a slow cooker makes my life easier. If you are on a budget, check out second-hand stores for appliances. You can always find items like toasters and slow cookers for pennies on the dollar. 

I have a few small electrics that I often use. One of them is an electric pressure cooker. Here I’m cooking corned beef. The vegetables will go in towards the end of the cooking cycle.

It is not a sin to use prepared foods.

Weigh the cost vs. benefit of your purchase. I’ll buy a frozen family-style meal, like lasagne or stuffed peppers on occasion. I find that the Walmart brand costs around six dollars and is tasty. For that price, three adults can eat dinner, and there are often leftovers for at least one lunch. I would never want an exclusive diet of these meals, but they are convenient when cooking motivation is low. I’ll add a salad, along with some bread and dinner is served. 

In addition, we frequently have a frozen pizza for Friday dinner. It is an easy tradition that isn’t very expensive. 

Bonus tip!

Make your own cleaning products.

Over the years, I have bought countless specialty cleaning products. Granite cleaner, stovetop cleaner, stainless steel cleaner, window cleaner, various toilet cleaners, mildew removers, you name it. All of these items are relatively expensive and come in single-use bottles.  

I now use homemade cleaners. I also use powdered Comet (around a dollar a can) to clean my stainless steel sink. A little goes a long way, and it does a better job than dedicated products.

I use any liquid soap (shampoo, shower gel, hand soap) to clean my toilets. One pump is all that you need.

It is easy to make homestyle window cleaner (2 cups water, ¼ cup white vinegar, a few drops Dawn).

For Mildew removal, I fill about ⅓ rd (or less) of a spray bottle with bleach and then fill the rest of the bottle with water.  

I use my homemade all-purpose cleaner for just about any surface. To make it, I add about 1 ounce of any all-purpose cleaner (Lysol, Fabuloso, PineSol, etc.), a few drops of Dawn dish detergent, to a 32 oz spray bottle, and fill the rest with warm water. I use this to clean everything from surfaces in my kitchen and bathrooms to the inside of the fridge and microwave, to the top of my glass cooktop, to my kitchen table.  

I use this cleaner multiple times a day on just about everything. One ounce all-purpose cleaner, a few drops of Dawn, and water. This one bottle of Fabuloso will make over 50 spray bottles of cleaner.

You can reuse an empty Windex-type bottle (adjusting the amount of your ingredients). However, a high-quality spray bottle is an inexpensive purchase and will last longer.  

Who cooks dinner when?

Monday Julie cooks

Tuesday I cook

Wednesday Julie cooks

Thursday I cook

Friday I cook (sort of)

Saturday Carry out or YOYO (you’re on your own)

Sunday I cook

I’ll leave Julie’s meals to Julie and only talk about what I make. I cook the way that I do because this pattern makes the task more palatable. In addition, I always involve my kids in the cooking process. This makes my job a bit easier, and it teaches them beneficial skills.

Tuesday- a light meal day. I’ll usually make something very simple for dinner. This could be breakfast for dinner (omelets with toast and sausage, waffles, and bacon), grilled hamburgers with frozen french fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, and tomato soup. You get the idea. 

My daughter, Kathryn gave me a new waffle iron for Christmas. My prior one was over 30 years old!
Waffles for dinner? Why not!
Eggs are another great “breakfast for dinner” option.
My kids love hamburgers. I’ll usually add some frozen french fries and “dinner is served.”

Thursday-a regular meal. This could be a one-pot meal, a meatloaf, homemade mac and cheese, and so on. Naturally, I’ll balance the meal out with vegetables and other sides.

I love one-pot meals. Here I’m making a cream of chicken wild rice soup.

Friday-Pizza night. I make sure that we have a frozen pizza (Home Run Inn is our favorite), but it is my daughter’s responsibility to pop it into the oven. Once done, I’ll take over and cut it up. A pizza costs around six dollars and will feed three of us, and there will usually be a piece or two left over for a late-night snack. We started pizza night when everyone was working. By Friday, we just wanted an easy-to-make dinner. Friday pizza has now become a family tradition.

Sunday-A regular meal. Many options here. Pot roast made in the pressure cooker and real mashed potatoes. Spaghetti with meatballs, garlic bread and a salad, oven-fried chicken, red beans and rice, and so on.  

If so inclined I’ll make a more complicated meal on Sunday.

I try to make things that we have in-house so that I’m not throwing out stuff. I’m far from perfect, but I know that I’m saving money.  

I know that some of you will be dismissive of our food choices. Perhaps you will think that we need to cook organic or reduce gluten or use less fat. Adapt your meals to your preferences. We love waffles for dinner, but they may not be your jam. You do you. 

Finding your balance is key to making this system work. You don’t need to do everything that I do. However, You may want to do more. I still have financial resources, so my choices may be different from someone else’s. Use these suggestions as a starting point, not as scripture. When I started along this journey, I just did a few things and then added more behaviors as time went on. Currently, I’m trying to use less disposable items (like paper towels and paper plates). Honestly, that has been difficult for me. As I said above, progress not perfection!

Good luck!

Peace

Mike 

Random thoughts and my philosophy of life.