Is the hunt for a new vacuum sealer taking the wind out of you? In this guide, we explain what these kitchen appliances are actually used for, how they work, and what are some of the characteristics to look for when picking out which one to buy. Additionally, we also go over the different types of vacuum sealers available and what they are best used for. If you already know everything you need to know about vacuum sealers, then you might want to check out our comprehensive Vacuum Sealer review to see which models we thought are the best of the best.
Step 1: Do You Even Need a Vacuum Sealer?
The first thing you may be asking yourself when looking at these products is: "Do I even need one? What do these actually do? Vacuum sealers are designed to considerably extend the storage life of various food items by removing as much air as possible from around and inside your food. Additionally, they can also reduce the amount of freezer burn your food might experience when frozen for long periods of time.
The shelf life of your food is considerably extended in a vacuum, due to the fact that the vast majority of bacteria that cause your food to spoil can't thrive in an anaerobic, or oxygen-free environment. However, there are some forms of food-spoiling bacteria that will happily grow in a vacuum environment at room temperature, so vacuum sealing isn't a substitute for refrigerating or freezing your food. Vacuum sealer manufacturers claim that you can extend the shelf life of food stored in a vacuum by three to five times that of non-vacuumed food. However, the USDA hasn't done extensive research into the maximum longevity of vacuum sealed foods, so we would recommend you follow their food storage guidelines regardless if the food has been vacuum sealed or not.
Vacuum sealers are a great way to save some money by buying food items in bulk or allowing you to preserve seasonal foods well past their peak season, allowing you to do things like saving those perfectly ripe berries from the farmer's market in the summer for pies around the holidays — even though they might be slightly squished.
These products are also a great option for people who hunt or fish, allowing you to preserve and spread out the large quantity of meat you get at once into more manageable portions to be eaten over the next few months.
Additionally, you can also use these products for some other culinary methods, like flash pickling or sous vide cooking, though flash pickling is typically reserved for chamber vacuum sealers. Now that you know some of the reasons why a vacuum sealer would be a great addition to your kitchen, it's time to look at the different types and pick out which one is the right choice for you.
Step 2: What Type of Vacuum Sealer Should You Get?
Now, there are three main different types of vacuum sealers commonly available: handheld, chamber, and external. We'll go over the pros and cons of each type and what they are most commonly used for to help you make the right choice for your needs and budget.
Handheld vacuum sealers are usually the least expensive of the three but are also pretty much widely accepted as also being the worst type. These devices attach to specially made plastic bags or containers and the evacuate all the air through an integrated valve. While these devices are much smaller, cheaper, and more convenient to operate, they usually have smaller motors and can't even come close to the vacuum pulled by the other types of these products.
Additionally, there are tons and tons of users online that complain that it is very hard to get these type of bags to properly seal and they can become undone with only the slightest movement. Additionally, many of these handheld vacuum series are battery powered and there are a plethora of reviews complaining that certain brands lost the ability to hold a charge after only a small amount of use. Needless to say, we have excluded these from our review, focusing on much more prevalent and popular types.
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from the handheld vacuum sealers, chamber vacuum sealers are as heavy-duty as you can get when it comes to these products. These products are much larger, produce much stronger vacuums, and — unfortunately — are significantly more expensive. Rather than evacuating the air from the bag alone, these vacuum sealers require you to put the bag inside the chamber with the lip on the sealing bar and then close and latch the entire chamber.
Air is then removed from both the bag and the chamber and the bag is then sealed shut with a heat seal. One of the main advantages of this method is it allows you to seal liquids without freezing them, as there is no pressure differential between the bag and the space outside. These machines are also able to seal many more bags successively than other products. This makes them the perfect choice if you are sealing tons and tons of meat at once and the perfect option for someone who is an avid hunter.
However, this type of vacuum sealer usually costs at least $500, take up a significant amount of counter space, and require a great deal more preventative maintenance than other types of vacuum sealers, meaning they are overkill for the vast majority of people. Therefore, we also omitted chamber vacuum sealers from our review, which leaves us with the last types of vacuum sealer: external.
The most commonly encountered type of vacuum sealer, external vacuum sealers are the main focus of our review. This type of sealer strikes the perfect balance for most people, pairing solid performance with a relatively compact package, all at a reasonably palatable price. These appliance use either pre-cut or rolls of quilted bag material, with the higher end models even having built-in storage and an integrated cutter. Many of these products also have an accessory port, making them compatible with similar products that you would use a handheld vacuum sealer with or letting you seal mason jars, with the proper attachments.
While these models usually don't pull as strong a vacuum as chamber vacuum sealers, they are more than adequate for taking your food storage to the next level or for sous vide cooking. To seal a bag, you either take a pre-made bag, fill it with your desired type of food, then open the external vacuum sealer and place the open end of the bag across the seal bar and lock the lid in place. Air is then removed from the bag and the seal bar will heat up and melt the bag closed. If you are using a continuous roll of bags, you simply need to cut off the desired length and then seal one end using the seal only function, then repeat the same steps.
Unfortunately, these products do need a brief respite every few bags and you can seal liquids or other foods with particularly high moisture content. It can actually permanently damage these products, as the vacuum pump can draw in liquid, rendering it inoperable. However, most of these products have a removable drip tray to catch small amounts of liquid and make cleanup a breeze.
All in all, we think that these traits combine to make external vacuum sealers the best bet for almost anyone. It's only if you have intensive food storage needs that we would recommend upgrading to a chamber vacuum sealer and we are overall reticent to recommend handheld vacuum sealers.
Step 3: Interested in Other Functions?
The last thing to consider now that you have a better idea of which type of vacuum sealer, the last thing to look at when narrowing down your choices are any additional features or functionality that you might find useful. In addition to the aforementioned accessory port on many external vacuum sealers that let you seal specially made containers or mason jars, there are a few others that stand out. Namely, some of these products are compatible with an attachment that allows you to vacuum seal wine, allowing you to enjoy a single glass without the pressure to finish the bottle in the next few days.
Hopefully, this guide has helped illuminate some of the various uses of these products and the pros and cons of different types. If you are curious about how we scored these products, then then you might want to head over to our How We Test article or check out our complete vacuum sealer review to see which products came out on top!