Anyone who wants to extend the shelf life of their food should consider getting a vacuum sealer. Vacuum-sealing removes most of the oxygen around food, slowing the deterioration process caused by aerobic bacterial growth.
Most makers of vacuum sealers estimate that the shelf life of vacuum-sealed food is three to five times longer than the normal storage time, whether it’s refrigerated or frozen.
Read on for my guide on shopping for and using a vacuum sealer, along with my recommendations of the best vacuum sealer machines in a variety of categories.
Why Use a Vacuum Sealer?
Save (Serious) Money On Groceries!
If you frequently buy or store food in bulk, vacuum-sealing provides a far more secure way to portion and package it than using containers, plastic wrap, or zip-top bags.
If you seal raw proteins (such as meat, poultry, and seafood) before freezing them, you’ll keep freezer burn at bay longer.
Normally, raw frozen meats can be stored safely for about six months to a year, but vacuuming removes about 99 percent of the air, so that meats can last about three years.
Michaela Cisney from kitchn offers some excellent tips in her article 5 Ways Your Freezer Can Save You Money (And Time).
Longer storage is especially important for avid hunters or fishermen. In Practical Game Processing: Field to the Freezer, butcher Garry Zick explains,
“If you shoot big animals like elk or a moose, where you’ve got some tonnage there that you really need to store safely for a long period of time, I would recommend vacuum packaging.”
Even for storing a couple of pounds of ground meat at a time, vacuum-sealing will help prevent oxidation so it retains its color and integrity.
Preserve Peak Season Produce
Vacuum-sealing is also a convenient way to store fruits and veggies at peak ripeness from your garden or local farmers market.
For instance, fresh berries can be frozen and vacuum-sealed to be used for pies in the middle of winter. The absence of air in vacuum-sealed bags also slows the rate at which pantry items, like crackers and nuts, go stale or rancid.
Sous Vide, Flash Pickling, Intense Marinating, Oh My!
Sous vide, which means “under vacuum” in French, refers to the process of vacuum-sealing food in a bag, then cooking it to a very precise temperature in a water bath.
This technique produces results that are impossible to achieve through any other cooking method.
You can use a vacuum sealer for several cooking applications, including flash pickling. For delicious sous vide cooking, a vacuum sealer ensures that you get a secure seal on your bagged food before using it in a circulating water bath.
You can also use a vacuum sealer with a marinating canister to intensify flavoring for your meat or poultry, or for flash pickling.
Tip: Fine Dining Lovers has a great article on The Tricks of Vacuum-Sealed Pickles.
Types of Vacuum Sealers
Handheld Vacuum Sealers
In its review, Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) found the bag seals were weak, saying:
“It’s difficult to be certain they’re closed, and once they are, a firm jostle can break the seal.” Since valve sealers aren’t highly rated, we opted not to test them for this guide (though most external models we tested include an accessory port that allows for valve-sealing).
External Vacuum Sealers
With external vacuum sealers, you place the lip of the bag opening into a narrow chamber over the seal bar (see the section on how to vacuum-seal a bag below). After you shut the lid and lock it in place, the vacuum pump pulls air directly out of the bag. When most of the air is removed, the seal bar melts the plastic bag shut to seal the contents within.
External models require using “quilted” bags so the air can be drawn through the material during the vacuuming process (you can purchase pre-made bags or continuous rolls that you cut to size). And you’ll need additional accessories if you want to seal things like Mason jars.
External models have less vacuum power than chamber sealers and are louder. You’ll also usually need to wait 20 to 60 seconds between sealings to avoid overheating the unit.
Also, liquids need to be frozen before sealing to prevent moisture from being sucked into the vacuum motor and causing damage to the machine.
However – external vacuum sealers are sufficient for most tasks unless you’re planning to portion and package a lot of food at once. External vacuum sealers are by far the most popular choice for home use because they’re relatively small, affordable, and widely available.
Chamber Vacuum Sealers – The Cadillac of Sealers!
With chamber vacuum sealers, you place the entire bag inside the chamber with its lip positioned over the seal bar. When you close the lid and turn on the vacuum pump, air is sucked out of the chamber, which removes all of the air from the bag. Once the air is removed, the machine heat-seals the bag, the pump stops, and normal air pressure returns to the chamber.
Chamber vacuum sealers have powerful motors that are quieter than external sealers. They’re best for extended use because they don’t require as long of a rest time in between sealings.
Another advantage is that liquids don’t need to be frozen before sealing. Most models have a chamber large enough to fit 2-pint Mason jars, so they don’t require any additional accessories to seal jars.
While chamber models have a lot of advantages over external machines, they can be expensive, heavy, and take up a lot of space. Some also require extra maintenance (such as oil for the pump), and most are intended for professional use.
Chamber vacuum sealers are fantastic, but external vacuum sealers are sufficient for most tasks (unless you’re planning to portion and package a lot of food at once).
Unless you’re an avid hunter who wants to seal a lot of meat at once, or a commercial enterprise, I recommend getting an external vacuum sealer.
What to Look For in a Vacuum Sealer
A Strong Vacuum
Most manufacturers use inches of mercury (inHg) to indicate the vacuum strength of their sealers. The more inHg attained, the stronger the suction will be. Keep in mind, depending on the inHg attainable by your vacuum sealer, it may not function quite as efficiently at higher altitudes due to changes in atmospheric pressure.
A Wide Range of Controls
A manual, or pulse, button is among the most important controls a vacuum sealer should have. It allows you to slowly pulse the vacuum when sealing delicate foods—like berries, chips, and crackers—so you can stop before they’re crushed.
You can also freeze some delicate foods, like angel food cake, before sealing them if you don’t want to risk smashing them. I prefer models that have a cancel button, too, which lets you stop the vacuum or sealing cycle at any time.
Some models allow you to control the vacuum pressure by switching between gentle or normal pressure. The gentle setting uses less pressure so that you don’t break delicate items like crackers. A normal setting uses full pressure and is best for pantry items like nuts or brown sugar.
Other useful controls include moist and dry modes. The moist mode extends the sealing time to ensure an even more secure closure. Dry mode seals as normal.
Most external vacuum sealers come with an accessory port to be used for various attachments, which are often sold separately.
A tube or handheld sealing attachment connects to the port and can be used for a variety of accessories, including a jar attachment for sealing wide-mouth canning jars, a marinating canister for quickly marinating meats, or bottle stoppers to remove air from opened bottles of wine.
Note that sealing jars using a vacuum-sealing jar attachment is not a substitute for water-bath canning. Refer to the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning for more information.)
Conveniently, the FoodSaver attachments (which are the most widely available of any brand) are compatible with most models. That means that if you decide to get a new machine down the road, you won’t need to purchase an entirely new set of equipment.
Chamber vacuum sealers don’t require any extra accessories, like jar attachments, because standard 2-pint Mason jars will fit directly inside the chamber. Also, since you can seal liquids in a chamber vacuum sealer, you don’t need to freeze them first or use marinating canisters.
All external vacuum sealers have a channel in the chamber to collect any excess liquid that escapes during the sealing process.
Some models, like those made by FoodSaver, have a removable drip tray in the chamber to catch any stray liquid that escapes the bag while sealing. Although this feature isn’t absolutely necessary, it makes cleaning easier.
Ideally, a good vacuum sealer should be able to accommodate a range of bag widths. For most home cooks, an external model with a 11- to 12-inch-wide seal bar is sufficient.
Chamber vacuum sealers can hold a wider range of bag sizes, which makes them ideal for packaging larger cuts of meats, like roasts. Depending on how large the chamber is, it can also seal multiple bags at once.
I like vacuum sealers with a dedicated slot for storing extra bag rolls and a bag cutter for customizing bag sizes (a built-in cutter allows you to size bags much faster than using scissors). While these features increase the overall size of the unit, I think it’s a reasonable trade-off for the added convenience.
In general, external models will be much louder than chamber vacuum sealers: On average, most external vacuum sealers measure between 70 and 83 decibels (dBA)s, which is about as loud as a vacuum cleaner.
Vacuum sealers for home use can cost anywhere from $50 to about $750.
In general, machines less than $100 have smaller motors, less vacuum strength, and fewer controls (like a pulse button for delicate foods). These cheaper models usually lack a built-in bag cutter and space to store the bag roll too.
Models in the $100 to $200 range typically have larger motors, more vacuum strength, more control options (such as pulse, pressure, and cancel functions), a built-in bag cutter, and storage for the bag roll.
Machines costing $200 and up generally have the same functions as models in the $100 to $200 range, but most of these machines have larger motors that generate more vacuum strength, which isn’t always necessary for home use. Some also have extra-long seal bars to accommodate larger bag sizes (in some cases, up to 15 inches).
How to Vacuum-Seal a Bag
Here’s a run-through of how to make and vacuum-seal bags using an external model (remember, you can use only channeled bags, like these, on external vacuum sealers):
How to make a bag from a bag roll:
Cutting a bag roll usingthe Nesco VS-12.
- Cut the bag to the desired length (allow about 3 inches of space between the edge of the bag and the item you’re sealing).
- Place one edge of the bag over the sealing element and close the lid.
- Press the manual seal button to create a seal on the end of the bag.
- Open the lid and remove the bag.
The edge of the material is heat-sealed to create a bag. (
- Cuff the bag to avoid getting moisture or food particles on the area you intend to seal.
- Place the food in the bag (if sealing meat containing sharp bones, I recommend covering them with a small piece of waxed paper or parchment so they don’t cut through the bag).
- Uncuff the bag and insert the opening into the chamber canal (be sure the edge of the bag is positioned beyond the foam gasket in the channel, past the Teflon-coated heating element).
- Close the lid and lock it into place.
- Press the vacuum and seal button and wait until the cycle is complete before removing the bag (you can also select the pulse button for delicate items).
- Remove the bag from the machine and check to see that it has sealed properly.
Care and Maintenance
Best Vacuum Sealers