If you pick bushels of berries, buy steaks in bulk, or return from a fishing trip with unexpected bounty, you have more than you can immediately eat. Freeze your stockpile with the notion of feasting all winter, and just one month later you are likely to find it encrusted with fine white crystals. Should you buy a vacuum sealer, a device that promises to keep food fresher in the freezer (“up to five times longer,” swears one brand) by creating an airtight wrap? We tested eight models with prices ranging from $18 to a whopping $470.
As food freezes, moisture migrates to the surface and forms ice crystals. Over time, the food dehydrates, discolors, and loses flavor. A good supermarket zipper-lock freezer bag can stave off these problems for a few weeks. But in our tests, food stored in freezer bags was covered with frost after a month. Would vacuum sealers work better for longer-term storage?
An Airtight Case
We assembled ground coffee, fresh strawberries, 50 pounds of raw steak and chicken breasts, and a fully cooked Thanksgiving dinner, then sealed and froze all of it. Our sealers ranged from handheld models to countertop devices. Most of the latter were about the size of a shoebox; one was larger.
Two handheld models seemed dummy-proof: We zipped the food into a plastic bag that has a valve, where we pressed the motorized device to suck out air. All was well until a few coffee grounds or a smear of mashed potatoes got in the way of the zipper. Suddenly, the bags refused to become airtight. Countertop models, which use heat for a tight seal, were more reliable. Most came with both premade bags and rolls made of two layers of plastic already sealed along the sides. We preferred the rolls, which let us create custom-sized bags.
To use the roll, you cut a piece to size, insert one open end into the machine to seal it, add the food, and then close the remaining open side, activating both vacuum and seal. All but two of the models required that you press firmly on them while sealing. One cumbersome model required that we press on different corners while simultaneously flattening the bag. Our favorite models all had sensors to detect overflowing liquids.
We pulled out the frozen packages after two weeks. We weren’t surprised that the food in two models was coated in ice crystals, the first sign of freezer burn. Those models had failed to form tight seals from the start, especially around the curvy contours of strawberries. Handheld models had formed seemingly airtight seals, but at the two-week mark, bricks of coffee were limp sacks.
After one month, our top four continued to hold up. One model was frost-free; tiny air pockets filled with frost surrounded the others. After two months, one wrapped steak remained bright red with just a little frost, while the remaining three contenders showed early-stage freezer burn.
It turns out that jagged ice crystals can poke pinholes through plastic, letting air and moisture seep in. At 0.05 mm thick, the winning model’s bags were 0.02 mm thicker than the runner-up bags, and 0.03 mm thicker than a standard zipper-lock bag. Small as it may seem, that extra protective bulk made a lot of difference and pushed our winner to the top.
It's a Wrap
Are vacuum sealers economical? It depends how much food you freeze. Each vacuum sealer works only with its own plastic, and cheaper models didn’t necessarily come with cheaper plastic. A quart bag costs 26 cents with the $470 model and nearly three times that with the $30 model. The others averaged 45 to 55 cents per bag or foot.
Without a doubt, our winner did the best job of getting an airtight seal and keeping food fresh in the freezer. But it requires lots of counter space, a little muscle, and a very large budget. For most people, our runner-up is a better choice. It was the easiest to use and kept a respectable seal after a month. It’s our Best Buy.
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus.
Hefty in weight, this knife was a solid performer when removing poultry bones, and the handle was easy to grip, even when covered in chicken fat. Piercing silver skin was a challenge since the tip wasn’t sharp enough and the long narrow blade produced slightly jagged cuts.
|Recommended with Reservations|
The sharp tip performed well when removing silver skin, but it was too flexible when maneuvering around poultry joints, leaving testers feeling a lack of control. The heavy handle was slightly unbalanced and became slippery once covered in poultry fat.
Designed to replicate a samurai blade, this expensive knife was a disappointment. It struggled to pierce the silver skin, although long cuts were smooth and even. Minimal flexibility and extreme curve got in the way when maneuvering around joints. The smooth handle was hard to grip and slippery.
The large, cumbersome handle reminded testers of an outdoors knife for fishing and hunting. The blade was too wide to maneuver around joints and it struggled to pierce silver skin. Unlike other knives, this boning knife could only slice in one direction, making intricate cuts around joints difficult.
The blade was so flexible it led to erratic cuttings; testers said the knife was hard to control. The blade was not sturdy enough to maneuver around joints and the lightweight handle felt flimsy and unbalanced.
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