Here’s a small secret: I love vacuum sealers. Several years before I even started getting into sous vide cooking (over 10 years ago now!), I got a FoodSaver GameSaver Turbo and used it for vac packing bulk meats for freezer storage. I’ve always enjoyed the process of sucking the air out of a bag and making a neat sealed package. It’s sooooo satisfying!
I’ve owned a few FoodSaver models over that time, but as I got more deeply into sous vide cooking, I wanted more power and flexibility.
With a common edge sealer, the vacuum pump sucks the air directly out of the bag and then seals it. This puts an upper limit on the strength of the vacuum, and liquids in the bag are tricky to deal with because they get sucked up out of the bag and also interfere with sealing if they’re too close to the edge. It’s possible to deal with this a small amount by using a longer bag and hanging it over the edge so the pump is working against gravity, or freezing the liquids first, but neither of those is a great general solution. Because of the lower suction power, edge sealers can’t really be used for compression, and their infusion powers are limited.
Enter the chamber vac.
Instead of drawing the air out of the bag, they have an enclosed chamber into which the bag goes. The pump sucks the air out of the entire chamber, then the bag is sealed, so when the pressure in the chamber is released, the bag compresses back down against the contents. The vacuum strength is much higher than with an edge sealer, and liquids can be sealed. Because the pump doesn’t need to suck air through the bag, special textured bags aren’t needed, and the plain chamber vac bags are substantially cheaper. Depending on your source, $40 will get you around 5 rolls of FoodSaver bags, about 60-80 bags depending on length. The same amount of money will get you a box of 1000 chamber vac bags. If you seal regularly, even a bag or two a day, that price difference will add up pretty quickly and is not to be discounted when factoring in the cost of the machine.
In addition to drawing a powerful suction for food storage and sous vide, the chamber vac’s compression is a powerful culinary transformation tool.
Fruits, especially melons, can be compressed and infused with flavors:
The vacuum compression is incredibly useful for instantly hydrating flour in cookie and pasta doughs, eliminating the recommended rest period for these doughs and permitting them to be easily worked immediately. Vacuum-hydrated pasta dough passes exceptionally easily when worked through the rollers.
The greater compression is useful for maintaining the shape of cured fish:
It’s also good for marinating meats, sealing meats with liquid in the bag (steak with a generous helping of soy sauce is a favorite), removing air bubbles from custards, quick pickling (quickling!) of vegetables (cucumbers, daikon radish, etc…), and vacuum infusions.
Edge sealers can be used to seal mason jars with an optional attachment, but I’ve never found that to work very well. The relatively weak vacuum doesn’t hold for long, and the lids pop off after a day or so. For longer-term storage, the chamber vac can be used to seal any mason jar that will fit in the chamber (jars containing no liquids can be turned on their side) and the seals are very strong.
There is one drawback to the chamber vac - because the seal bar relies on the suction in the chamber to activate, it can’t be used to reseal a bag without vacuuming it (say, for a bag of chips). Similarly, if you need to seal something with very minimal suction, the chamber vac isn’t good for that. The tradeoffs are more than worth it for me.
A chamber vac is a substantial investment and requires a decent amount of dedicated space. FoodSavers can be had for as little as around $30, while the cheapest chamber vacs are in the hundreds of dollars. Vacmaster, a leader in this field that manufactures primarily commercial machines, used to have a prosumer model VP112, but it seems that the plastic chamber was susceptible to cracks over time and they’ve completely re-engineered their low-end model. They recently replaced the VP112 line with the VP200 which has an all metal chamber. These low-end models start at around $550. The VP210 has a larger chamber and a stronger (but still dry) pump, for a retail price of $999. The next model up, the VP215, switches to an oil pump which is faster and quieter, but which requires periodic oil changes, and retails for $1,150. They go up from there into even more commercial units. Even at the low end, these are pretty steep prices for home use, but they do periodically go on sale for up to 30% off. There are a few other brands available, but I haven’t had opportunity to try them. Again, if you’re a heavy user, the price of bags may counteract some of the price difference.
It’s definitely a niche product for a home user, but one that I think is a great addition. Having lived with one for a few years, I’m very glad I have it.
A little about me: I cook a lot, mostly dinner at home for my family and friends but sometimes for massive parties of upwards of 200 people. I’ve been doing sous vide cooking since 2010. I run a food blog called Unselling Convenience (also @unsellingconvenience on Instagram if you’d rather follow along there), which is mostly an inspiration board and memory database of things I’ve enjoyed cooking and probably want to cook again. I believe that shortcuts are great, but not at the expense of quality. I administer the Everyday Sous Vide and Instant Pot Love groups on Facebook. If you buy something from one of the links, I probably get a small commission which won’t even come close to defraying the amount of money I’ve spent on these things over the years but which will make me happy anyway.
There’s a lot more of my food writing at https://counter.kitchen.
I hope this has been helpful!