There's no question that a vacuum sealer can save you a small fortune on your food bill. If you want to save this money, then the only question is, "How much should I spend on a vacuum sealer?"
Do I Really Need a Vacuum Sealer?
In case you've been wondering, yes: you need a vacuum sealer. If you cook and eat at home, a vacuum sealer is a no brainer to help you get the most out of your food budget.
How can we be so sure? Unless you have never wasted a scrap of food in your life, you can benefit from this miraculous machine that keeps food fresh up to 5 times longer than other storage methods and eliminates freezer burn pretty much indefinitely.
Here's a table that shows just how much longer vacuum-sealed food can last (info from the FoodSaver website):
Freezer Shelf Life
Beef and Poultry
Soups and Stews
Refrigerator Shelf Life
Pantry Shelf Life
Flour and Sugar
Rice and Pasta
This is compelling--and these estimates are conservative. Food can last for years--even decades--when vacuum-sealed. (We're not recommending that you save food for that long. But if you forget about something in the back of your freezer, there's a good chance it's going to taste okay if it was vacuum sealed.)
Here are just some of the people that can benefit from having a vacuum sealer:
- People who want to cut down on their food waste.
- People who want to save money by buying in bulk and freezing food.
- People who want to save space in their fridge, freezer, and pantry.
- Hunters and fishermen.
- Gardeners who want to preserve their crops for use through the winter.
- People who sous vide.
- People who want leftovers to last longer in the fridge.
- People who like to marinade meat quickly.
- People who want to practice portion control by weighing out their food in advance
- People who want to prep food in advance and have it stay as fresh as possible.
Vacuum sealers are excellent problem solvers beyond the kitchen, too. You can use them to secure important papers, to make waterproof packages for camping and emergency kits (such as for matches), to protect valuable jewelry and coin collections, and to keep first aid items sterile until needed.
You may be able to live without a vacuum sealer, but there are so many uses for it that once you have one, you'll wonder how you got along without it.
How Does a Vacuum Sealer Work?
A vacuum sealer is a simple machine: it pumps air out of a bag, then heat-seals it to keep the air out.
The reason this is so useful is that air is the primary carrier of bacteria, mold, and other organisms that cause food to go bad. Air can also create staleness. And the oxygen in the air is the primary cause of oxidation (browning).
Therefore, the more you can decrease the amount of contact your food has with air, the longer the food will last.
There are two basic methods of removing air from containers (primarily bags): externally and internally. External sealers are the most common and the cheapest. They come in two varieties: edge sealers (also called channel sealers) and nozzle sealers.
The internal method is done with a chamber vacuum sealer.
External sealing is accomplished with edge sealers (you may also hear them called called channel sealers or simply external sealers) and nozzle sealers.
All edge sealers look something like this:
Edge sealers are the most common type of vacuum sealer. You fill a bag and place the top edge in a "channel" meant to hold the bag in place and catch any stray liquids or crumbs that fall out of the bag. A pump draws out the air, then the sealer applies heat to seal the bag.
On some edge sealers, this process is mostly manual: you have to place the bag and push the lid down to start the vacuum sealing process; in some cases, the edge sealers are finicky and it can be a bit of a learning curve to get the hang of using the sealer.
Some edge sealers are partially automated or fully automated: the sealer detects the bag and does everything itself.
Most edge sealers also have controls for "soft" and "moist" foods which decrease the vacuum so as to not crush foods or suck liquid into the sealer.
All edge sealers allow the user to stop pulling vacuum at any time during the process and seal the bag.
Some edge sealers have a Pulse feature, which makes it very easy to seal soft, delicate, or moist foods. It allows you to start and stop the sealing process completely manually until you've reached the exact amount of vacuum you want.
Nozzle sealers work by pumping the air out of a designated hole. The bags have both a zip top for adding food and the hole for pumping out air. Once the air is removed, the bag is good to go.
Most nozzle vacuum sealers are handheld, like this one:
Nozzle sealers don't have very powerful pumps, so while they're not great for long-term freezer storage, they are excellent for leftovers, storing open bags of food, chips, etc. Their main advantage is that the bags are reusable, and usually dishwasher safe as well, so they're a good choice for items you'll want to open and re-seal often.
This is what nozzle-sealer bags look like (it's like a sturdy zip-top bag with a little hole for the nozzle):
The zip tops are sturdier than on zip-top storage bags, but this is what makes the bags reusable. They can be tricky to get the hang of using because it can be hard to seal the zipper and to suck air out of the hole. But they can be handy for many foods, and they will help your food last longer.
If you're concerned about using a lot of plastic, a nozzle sealer is a great choice.
2-in-1 sealers: Some edge sealers come with a handheld nozzle sealer accessory built in, like this FoodSaver V4400 model:
This is useful because the nozzle sealer bags are designed for re-use, while the edge sealer bags are not.
Can you re-use edge sealer bags? Sometimes, although they're not designed for it. Manufacturers tell you to use the bags only once. There can be food safety issues if the bag had raw meat in it or other high-bacteria items and isn't washed out properly.
Other than food safety issues, though, there's really no reason to not re-use the bags, as long as you can wash them well and get them to seal properly. So if you want to re-use these bags, go ahead. Just be sure to wash and dry them thoroughly.
Edge sealers come in a wide range of quality. If you spend a little more for a commercial-grade model, it will pull stronger vacuum and work for many years. Consumer-grade edge sealers (like FoodSaver) usually last just a few years. Spending more up front will save you money in the long run.
Internal Sealers (Chamber Vacuum Sealers)
Internal sealers are known as chamber vacuum sealers or chamber vacs. Chamber vacs work by removing the air not just from the bag, but from the entire chamber. Once the air is removed, the heat seal is activated and seals the bag inside the chamber. When done sealing, the lid pops open and the vacuum is immediately released.
When most people think of vacuum sealers, particularly home vacuum sealers, they think of edge sealers. But this doesn't mean edge sealers are better, or that you should automatically choose an edge sealer over a chamber sealer. The only reason they're the go-to sealer for most people is that they're affordably priced.
But because of how chamber vacuum sealers work--evacuating the entire chamber rather than just the bag--these sealers have a number of excellent features (which we discuss below). If you have the room and the budget, a chamber vacuum sealer is an excellent investment, especially if you have a big garden or like to buy food in bulk and have it in long-term storage.
Up until just a few years ago, you had to spend about $1,000 to get a chamber vacuum sealer. That's all changed now, with good options well below the $500 mark. In fact, some chamber vacs geared toward the consumer market cost the same or just a little more than a commercial grade edge vacuum sealer.
Chamber sealers are The Rational Kitchen's choice for a home vacuum sealer. They pull a better vacuum, you can seal liquids, and the bags--your biggest ongoing expense--are cheaper. If you have room for one and can afford it, it's a great choice.
Okay, I Want a Vacuum Sealer. How Much Should I Spend?
Our philosophy on vacuum sealers may surprise you, but we believe that you should buy as much vacuum sealer as you can afford.
Ok, no, you don't need to spend 6 grand on a giant industrial sealer. But if you want to do vacuum sealing right, you should be willing to spend $300-$1000.
Before you stoop over to pick your jaw up off of the floor, let us explain our reasoning.
Think About How Much You'll Save
First of all, look at your savings. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average family of four spends about $700 per month on food. Of the perishable food they buy (dairy, produce, and meat), up to 30% gets thrown out. (Some studies say that figure is as high as 40%.) If we estimate that perishable food is about half the grocery bill ($350), and conservatively say that 20% of that is thrown out, then the average American family is throwing away about $70 worth of food per month.
If you think that's high, start keeping track. You will probably be disgusted at how much you're actually tossing out.
Even if it's half that amount, or about $35 per month, that amounts to $420 per year in food waste. And if it actually is the full 20%, then the average family wastes close to $1000 a year in food. (And quite likely even more.)
Therefore, if you spend $1000 on a chamber vacuum sealer, it will pay for itself in about a year.
Okay, you'll probably still have some waste--after all, a vacuum sealer can't rescue everything. But remember, that $1000 figure is conservative--and even if it takes 2 years to pay for itself, that's nothing compared to the life of the chamber vacuum sealer.
For an average American family, a $1000 vacuum sealer can pay for itself in less wasted food in about a year--but you don't have to spend anywhere near that to get a great chamber vac.
Don't Forget About Bags!
And don't forget about the bags: since bags for the chamber vac are a fraction of the cost of bags for an edge sealer, you'll save even more money in the long run with the chamber vac.
A side-by-side comparison is impossible here because the cheapest way to buy edge sealer bags is on a roll (like this roll). Chamber vac bags come pre-sized because you can't cut them yourself--they're inside a pressurized chamber when they're sealed. A box of 500 8-in. x 10-in. chamber bags is about $50, while a 100-ft roll of edge sealer bags is about $16.
If you use 10-inch bags, which is a good average size, you'll get about 120 bags out of that roll. This is about $0.13 per bag--not bad. Definitely a better buy than pre-made edge sealer bags (although they're a bit of a hassle to use because you have to seal one end before you can seal the food inside it). With VacMaster bags of a comparable size at about $0.10 per bag, the edge sealer rolls are still more--but not by much.
So you can see that the chamber bags are less expensive. And remember, we're comparing brand name chamber bags to generic edge sealer bags--you can buy generic chamber bags too, which cost even less. We haven't tried them (VacMaster bags are cheap enough) so we didn't include a comparison.
And if you're super thrifty and want to re-use these inexpensive bags, it's even easier than with edge-sealed bags. Why?
First, because chamber vacuum bags have no ridges, they're easier to get clean.
Second, because you can completely control where the seal goes--so if you want to use a bag multiple times, put the seal at the very top and move it down as you re-seal it.
This is much harder to do with an edge sealer because most of them require quite a bit of bag for the sealer to work--some up to a third of the bag. The FoodSaver FM2000 is an exception to this, and it is Rational Kitchen's number one choice for a reasonably priced edge sealer.
Throwaway Products Vs. Durability
Today, inexpensive vacuum sealers are considered throwaway items. That is, once they're broken, they're broken. It costs as much to repair them as it does to replace them. And repairs rarely return the vacuum pump to "like new" condition.
This is true for all the edge sealers that cost less than $150 or so--and even true for some that cost more! (If you want more information on this, check out Vacuum Sealer Reviews: The Best Sellers on Amazon. This article goes into a lot of detail about the differences between vacuum sealers.)
However, if you make a higher initial investment in a vacuum sealer, you're going to get a product that you can buy parts for, maintain and repair yourself, and/or send off to the company for repairs.
(Also: you probably won't need to repair a $600 vacuum sealer anytime soon.)
If you're handy, you can fix some problems on the throwaway sealer yourself: the seal bar, for example.
That's a good thing. But you must also consider the fact that more expensive sealers--edge or chamber--pull more vacuum and are more robust in every sense. So they'll do a better job of preserving your food, and they'll last longer without any repairs or maintenance.
We prefer not to contribute to our "throwaway society" mentality whenever we can avoid doing so.
It will make you happier to have a few high quality tools than cupboards full of throwaway junk.
All The Advantages of a Chamber Sealer
A chamber vacuum sealer has a number of advantages over an edge sealer:
- Stronger vacuum pull (the more air removed, the longer your food will last)
- You can seal liquids
- You can seal continuously without cool-down periods
- Bags are cheaper than edge sealer bags
- You have more control over the sealing process
- Marinades and oils/seasoning for sous vide without messing around with freezing first.
Additionally, if you compare to a consumer-grade edge sealer like FoodSaver, a chamber vac is repairable rather than a throwaway appliance that you can buy parts for or send away for repairs.
Commercial-grade edge sealers like the Weston Pro 2300 are also repairable and pull almost as much vacuum as a chamber vac (but not quite). But you can't seal liquids with them, and you will spend more on vacuum bags.
With the new generation of chamber vacs made for home users, you can now buy one that weighs less than 30 pounds, yet has a commercial-grade vacuum pump. If you're considering a heavy duty edge sealer like Weston or Avid Armor, you should give a chamber vac (like the VacMaster VP200) some serious consideration.
Our Recommendation: The VacMaster VP200
Rational Kitchen highly recommends the VacMaster VP200 chamber vacuum sealer. It is the best sealer for home use on the market right now.
- Under $500 (under $400 on Amazon)
- Maintenance-free dry piston pump
- Can seal continuously with no cool down period needed
- Weighs just 25 pounds
- Accessory port (hose included with purchase)
- Tall chamber height compared to other chamber sealers at this price point
- Uses inexpensive chamber sealer bags
- ...And it can seal liquids!
This is a great all around vacuum sealer that will serve you well for decades. It's well worth every penny you spend on it. This is one purchase you won't regret!
Buy VacMaster VP200 Chamber Sealer:
If You Can't Spend That Much, Buy One of These
If you want a great vacuum sealer and can't afford the VacMaster VP200, get one of these:
Weston Professional Advantage Edge Sealer (about $180, with good quality components):
FoodSaver FM2000 (about $100, including a starter kit of bags--uses the less bag to seal (about a quarter rather than a third):
About the Bells and Whistles
FoodSaver makes a dizzying array of models, and it's hard to make sense out of all of them without doing a lot of research. You can go from a basic, mostly manual model all the way up to one that unrolls, cuts, and seals the bags automatically.
In general, when you're buying inexpensive sealers, more automation = a higher price tag. So if you want a model that does it all for you, you're going to have to pay for it.
What you generally don't get with the higher price tag, though, is higher quality parts. A $180 FoodSaver sealer is going to have most of the same internal components as a $60 FoodSaver sealer--but with more to go wrong on it.
We're not anti-automation. We just think you're better off buying a sealer that has a heavy duty motor in it rather than automated features and cheap internal components. So if you want to spend somewhere around $200, you have to decide: do you want automation (the FoodSaver V4440), or do you want a more powerful vacuum and a better build quality (the Weston Professional Advantage)?
There's no wrong answer, although we'd go with the better build quality every time.
So, how much should you spend on a vacuum sealer?
- If you are on a tight budget, spend about $60 on the FoodSaver FM2000.
- If you can spend a little more, get a Weston Pro Advantage for about $180 or a Weston Pro 2300 for about $400.
- If you can afford it, get the VacMaster VP200 chamber vac. It's about the same price as the Weston Pro 2300, weighs about 10 pounds more, but you can seal liquids with it and the bags are cheaper.
Note: These prices are approximate and subject to change.
Thanks for reading!
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