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