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.
- 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.*
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.