Unfortunately, the food packaging you get from the grocery store doesn’t help your food last as long as it could and should. Produce in plastic bags or crackers in opened boxes leads to stale, moldy food within days, costing you a fortune in wasted food. To help protect your bottom line and the environment, you can preserve food yourself with just a little know-how and make them last ages longer. To do this, you need a vacuum sealer.
If you want to buy a vacuum sealer but have no idea what makes one better than another and are overwhelmed by the amount of choice out there, have no fear! We’ll help you choose the perfect vacuum sealer for your needs. No matter which type of vacuum sealer you’re after, be it handheld or countertop, automatic or manual, there are key features and considerations to be made before making that final purchase decision. We’ve prepared a detailed buying guide on how to choose a vacuum sealer. Let’s dive in!
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Vacuum Sealer
- Do I want to marinade or sous vide cook food with my vacuum sealer?
- How much do I want to spend?
- Are the vacuum sealer reviews positive?
- How often will I use it?
- Do I want to use vacuum seal canisters for delicate goods?
- Will I be vacuum sealing wet foods?
Answering the above questions will help you narrow down your search and figure out exactly what you need so you can choose the best vacuum sealer for you.
What is a Vacuum Sealer
A vacuum sealer is a device that is used to seal packages (usually food) to make them last longer. It follows two important steps; first, it removes the air from around the food so that it won’t go bad due to oxygen exposure, then it seals the bag with heat that melts the plastic together to create an airtight seal.
Vacuum sealers can be used for all sorts of things in and out of the kitchen. Here are some of the best ways to use a vacuum sealer:
- Seal prepared meals for freezing
- Seal opened dry snacks like chips or crackers so they won’t go stale too quickly
- Sous Vide cooking
- Save bulk ingredients like herbs or meats for later
- Preserve fresh in-season produce for access all year round
- Seal homemade sauces
- Dry sealing jars and containers
- Seal non-food items like clothes or bedding for a smaller storage footprint
- Seal valuables to make them waterproof in a safe, such as photos and important documents
Vacuum sealers are an essential household tool for many people, no matter how they choose to use them. They extend the shelf life of your foods from a week or two to months or even more than a year in some cases. Vacuum-sealed products are immune to freezer burn, and the sealing process prevents bacteria growth on your foods so they’re fresh when you finally get around to eating them. They can be used on all types of foods from stews to steaks to veggies. and can perform numerous functions from helping to marinate a dish to waterproofing essential documents. With so many benefits to vacuum-sealing food, there’s no reason not to have one in your home.
Now, let’s find out how to choose the right one for you.
How to Choose a Vacuum Sealer
There are many features to consider when shopping for vacuum sealers. Not all models and brands have the same features, so it’s important to make a note of which ones are most important to you and verify that your vacuum sealer meets all of your requirements. Here are the top features to consider when choosing a vacuum sealer for home use to preserve food.
For most people, the price of the model they choose is one of the most important factors. While individual features are appealing, your budget will determine the quality, versatility, and overall usefulness of the vacuum sealer. The most affordable options are handheld sealers that only apply heat to a bag, rather than the larger units that suck out air as well as seal wet and dry foods.
A fully versatile vacuum sealer will be more expensive, especially if it can be connected to a hose or has other additional features and accessories beyond the necessities. The right price point up front will streamline the process and prevent any heartbreak over falling in love with a model that’s just not in the cards financially.
Starter Kit Size
There are many things that may be included with the vacuum sealer upon purchase. The kit that comes with your unit will vary in size from model to model, but there are a handful of common items you’re likely to get no matter which one you choose. The first is bags. Most vacuum sealers come with a roll of vacuum sealer bags that allow you to customize the size from mini to large.
There are also zipper bags, but these are less common and usually require a hose attachment to be usable. Sometimes, you’ll have multiple sizes of bags that are two or three different widths for more versatility and less wasted plastic. You may also receive a set of pre-cut bags, though these are less common than the rolls as well since these types of bags are generally less popular due to the lack of customizability and commonly wasted space.
Another thing that may be included in your kit is a vacuum pump. The pump can be attached to things other than rolled bags, such as zipper bags or vacuum seal containers designed for sealing and preserving foods. On models with an accessory port, you’ll most likely receive the complementary accessory hose in your starter kit. Rarely, your countertop vacuum sealer will also come with a handheld vacuum sealer that can be used on the go. If your vacuum sealer has a hose, you may also receive a couple of canisters to go with it.
Seal Bar Size
Vacuum sealers are not all the same size, so you’ll need to pay attention to the size of the seal bar on each model as it will vary greatly. Most models are around 11” to 13” wide, but some may be smaller if they’re designed for portability. If you’ll be meal prepping and storing whole meals at once, a larger seal bar is probably a good idea since it can accommodate larger bags. A longer seal bar would also allow you to seal multiple smaller bags at a time, which makes a ton of sense from an efficiency standpoint.
Automatic vs. Manual Sealing
When purchasing a vacuum sealer, there are two options for how it seals your food. If you choose an automatic model, you won’t have to press the seal button to create a heat seal on your bag. Instead, the machine automatically sucks out the appropriate amount of air and seals by itself. When using a manual model for extending your food storage time, you’ll need to individually press the suction button and then the seal button as two separate functions.
While you may initially question why anyone would want to manually seal during meal prep, it has one major benefit over automatic sealing; manually controlling the suction and seal processes allows you to customize your seal and keep delicate items intact. Both models will take up about the same amount of counter space, are both available from top brands like Foodsaver, Weston Pro, and Nutrichef, can handle wet foods as well as dry, and have similar warranty coverage. There will be a difference in price between the two, however.
There are two types of vacuum sealers: chamber vacuum sealers and those that use a sealing bar. Chamber sealers are much more commonly used in commercial settings, but it’s worth discussing their benefits. Rather than suck the air out of the bag like a normal vacuum sealer, a chamber vacuum sealer pumps all the air out of the chamber at once. This achieves a truly airtight seal that suction vacuum sealers can’t match. Their settings can also be adjusted to give you a completely airtight seal regardless of what you’re preserving, and they do a better job of making food last. However, they are slower and much more expensive than ordinary suction vacuum sealers, which is why most homeowners choose the standard style for at-home vacuum sealing.
Pulse Sealing Setting
A pulse seal option is critical if you’ll be preserving more delicate foods. It is helpful for delicate items like bread, chips, and other soft or easily breakable foods that would be damaged without using a pulse seal to suck the air out a little at a time. Vacuum packaging baked goods would be a disaster without this feature since they would end up crushed, squished, and depressing-looking, so ensure your vacuum sealer has this option if you intend to seal any delicate foods.
The vacuum sealing system is only as useful as the accessories that can be used with it. The most commonly used accessories include canisters, bottle stoppers for extending the life of wines and other beverages, and multiple sizes of jar sealers. Accessories are extremely useful since they make the vacuum sealer much more versatile, allowing you to do more with it and get your full money’s worth. As long as your vacuum sealer has an accessory port, you are only limited by your imagination.
Vacuum seal bags usually come in a roll, so having built-in roll storage is an essential feature for many users. Not only does it keep the bags neatly rolled and easily accessible, but it also makes the meal prep process much easier since the bags slide right out ready to be sized and sealed. One thing to keep in mind with the bag roll storage is that not all rolls are the same size. Most are around 25ft in length, but some may be as long as 50ft. The larger rolls may not fit if you have a narrower roll storage slot, so you’ll have to only purchase the smaller bag rolls.
On models that have bag storage, there will also be a built-in bag cutter that allows you to size your bags according to each food item you seal. This is the best option financially since you can make the most of every inch, and storing preserved goods will be easier since there isn’t extra plastic taking up space in your cupboard or freezer.
Most vacuum sealers can seal moist foods and even wet concoctions like sauces and soups, so a drip tray is a must-have feature. The drip tray will be removable so that it can be emptied and wiped clean. The tray is essential for keeping the vacuum sealer clean and functioning properly. If liquid gets into the inner mechanics, it may break, so a removable drip tray really comes in handy.
Size is a lesser concern when buying a vacuum sealer, but there are still a few key points to keep in mind. First of all, a larger model like a chamber sealer will take up much more room, so it can be difficult to store when not in use. If you’ll be vacuum sealing regularly this might be a worthy sacrifice, but it isn’t ideal for more casual use.
Standard external suction vacuum sealers are still a bit bulky, but they will most likely still be one of your smallest kitchen appliances. The main thing to keep in mind with this type of vacuum sealer is the width since a larger sealing bar is more versatile than a narrower one. There are vacuum sealers that fit in your hand as well, so that’s something you can consider if you need to seal occasionally and don’t have a ton of space to spare for yet another kitchen gadget.