Vacuum Sealer: Cooks Illustrated vs Amazon

October 5, 2014 · 20 comments

While Consumer Reports hasn’t weighed in on which is the best vacuum sealer (yet), Cook’s Illustrated and the reviewer community at Amazon are singing together nicely on the subject.

We ended up buying a vacuum sealer somewhere in the middle of the melody line: the FoodSaver V3840.

Vacuum sealer cartoon by Rick Jamison

Have I mentioned that we recently moved to a new home that has both a Costco within a 10-minute drive AND a fish dock where local fishermen bring their catch almost daily? And that Rick has an extreme obsession a hearty enthusiasm for bargains, fresh food acquired as close to the source as possible, and provisioning our larder?

This new situation had us running both out of freezer space and into the risk of losing frozen fish due to freezer burn and/or expired “use by” dates. It was clearly time to either:

a) Buy a chest freezer (no room)

b) Stay out of Costco (ha!)

c) Eat fish every meal for the next six weeks straight (nope, no can do), or

d) Buy a vacuum sealer

Rightio!

Time to tune in to the home vacuum sealer rating game.


Weston Professional Advantage Vacuum Sealer

In the recent Cook’s Country—sister magazine of Cook’s Illustrated—review of vacuum sealers, the Weston Professional Advantage Vacuum Sealer (above) came out on top. While it doesn’t seem to have much traction at Amazon with only 3 ratings (4.7 out of 5) and 2 reviews, I suspect the just under $200 price tag is the driver there. Between Cook’s and the two reviewers on Amazon, though, this model gets a lotta love.

The Amazon reviewers were light on specifics in the midst of their gushing: “This is the best vacuum sealer and I have had others…” and “I love this after I learned how to use it. It’s working wonders. Love it.”

Cook’s was more specific:

“This compact, powerful heat-sealing model kept food fresh for three months and counting. Its intuitive interface has a responsive pulse mode and bright blue lights that indicate its progress. It works with a wide variety of bags, canisters, and rolls that were the cheapest of any sealer in our lineup.”

foodsaver-vacuum-sealer_rickandkathy.com-6

And thank you Cook’s for that last tidbit, because here we pause for a brief and entirely relevant tangent: you need to have vacuum sealer bags or customizable plastic rolls-waiting-to-be-turned-into-vacuum-sealer-bags for any of these models to work.

And while Weston (and Cook’s) claim that this model will work with a variety of bag brands (as long as they’re textured or embossed bags that are intended for use with vacuum sealers), several of the reviewers on Amazon vigorously claimed otherwise, specifically mentioning that Food Saver bags don’t work with the Weston. However, based on a cost comparison of  current “list prices” on Amazon*, this shouldn’t be a problem since the Weston bags are less expensive anyway.

Cost Comparison: 11″ Vacuum Sealer Rolls

Brand
Product
Cost*
Cost / Foot

$25.96

(3) 16′ Rolls

54¢

$23.57

(3) 18′ Rolls

44¢

$12.99

(2) 9′ Rolls

72¢
Generic

$32.97

(2) 50′ Rolls

33¢

* Cost = Discounted prices @ Amazon.com as of 10/5/2014

A few tips on getting the most from your bags:

  • Cut the bags several inches longer than you need. Once you open them, you can then wash them out and re-use them.
  • Avoid the generic brands: the reviewers say they have a seriously low success rate at sealing, meaning you end up spending as much or more anyway with added work for your trouble.
  • For models without a “moist” setting, freeze wet foods before sealing to avoid getting moisture in the sealing zone. Moisture will prevent a solid seal.
  • While I’m not certain about the other brands, the FoodSaver brand bags are BPA free, microwavable, and because they’re suitable for simmering, perfect for the increasingly popular “sous vide” style of cooking. (UPDATED SEPT. 2015: Find out what sous vide machine Cook’s Illustrated now recommends, and which one we bought.)

Close behind the Weston Professional Advantage Vacuum Sealer is the Waring Pro Pistol Vac Professional Vacuum Sealer System, which Cook’s Country rates as their “Recommended – Best Buy.”

 


Waring Pro Pistol Vac Professional Vacuum Sealer System

Okay, so maybe it’s just me, but this looks so much like my blow dryer that it made me nervous: what if I got them mixed up?

Plus, the idea of me using a “handheld” powered vacuum in the same vicinity as a piece of slippery fresh fish conjured to mind the probability of a Chevy Chase-like kitchen scene that Rick would rather not have to clean up. I have no clue how you would use such a thing.

In fact, I had no clue how to use a non-handheld model either, until we got one and I found out how easy it is.

In the middle of the pack, Cook’s Country recommends three vacuum sealers “With Reservations”: the FoodSaver 2-in-1 Vacuum Sealer System, the FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System*, and the Seal-A-Meal Vacuum Food Sealer.

Of the five models that Cook’s recommends, we actually didn’t buy any of them but went with a ringer instead.

 


FoodSaver V3840

As you can tell from the video, in the end we bought a FoodSaver V3840. Serendipitously, it features everything that Cook’s liked about the other two FoodSaver models and avoided the bulk of the one and concern about durability of the other:

foodsaver vacuum sealer_rickandkathy.com-3

  • It automatically grabs, vacuums, and seals the bags.
  • It has a roll storage compartment with a built-in plastic slicer that tidily cuts bags to size.

foodsaver vacuum sealer_rickandkathy.com-5

  • It has both a normal and “gentle” vacuum setting, plus a manual override option that allows you to stop the vacuuming operation before it crushes more delicate or compressible items such as bread or shredded mozzarella cheese. (Pop quiz: What is your first clue that we have moved to Canada?)

foodsaver vacuum sealer_rickandkathy.com-2

  • It also has a marinade option. We haven’t tried that yet but friends claim it is a thing of beauty when you want to speed marinate chicken or beef.
  • It has a robust, durable housing, yet the trim vertical profile made it easy to find a spot for it in our cupboard.

foodsaver vacuum sealer_rickandkathy.com-1Finally (and this was, in truth, the deciding factor for us), it was on a killer sale at our local hardware store. While we knew we wanted a vacuum sealer, we sort of impulse purchased this one based on a “Look! There’s one on sale!” basis before doing our homework. Having said that, we’re very happy with our FoodSaver V3840.

BTW, if you happen to find Seal-A-Meal bags or rolls for less than the FoodSaver bags, we tried them (also on sale locally) and they worked fine.

As for the Seal-A-Meal vacuum food sealer itself, the Cook’s Country “Recommended with hesitation” review said, “It has no manual pulse mode, so it crunched pretzels and cereal into crumbs. That said, it kept frozen food ice-free just as long as models that cost four times its price, three months and counting.”


Seal-A-Meal Vacuum Food Sealer

And cost is indeed a factor here: at around $30, the Seal-A-Meal vacuum food sealer is the #1 Best Seller on Amazon.  Also, it is reported to work well with the less-expensive (at least on Amazon) FoodSaver rolls.

Ultimately, to answer the question “What is the best vacuum sealer?” the real-world answer should consider the combination of “best vacuum sealer reviews” with “best vacuum sealer bag price.” Here’s why:

Back in the pre-online banking era when people used to write paper checks, Rick had an interesting conversation with Intuit founder Scott Cook. Rick wanted to understand how Intuit was able to sell Quicken software for almost no money without upsetting shareholders. The insight he received was that Quicken customers would inevitably become buyers of Quicken checks and other paper products—consumables with high profit margins. There you have it: a high-tech redirect to a lucrative low-tech profit center.

Translated to the world of vacuum sealers, the best vacuum sealer is the one that performs well for your needs—and isn’t too expensive to feed with bags.

*On a completely corporate-facing note, Foodsaver is owned by a publicly-traded company, Jarden (NYSE: JAH) that acquired the Foodsaver brand in 2002 when it bought Tilia International, maker of the Tilia Vacuum Sealer. Jarden is a 33,000-employee, $7.7 billion company that also owns Kerr, Ball, and Bernardin of canning jar fame as well as Bicycle and Hoyle playing cards, First Alert smoke detectors, and Yankee Candle. Oh, and also Mr. Coffee, Oster, Sunbeam, Crock-Pot, Coleman, K2, Aerobed, Rawlings, and Marmot.

These people know a thing or two about food preservation and preparation, and survival equipment, including that ingenious wireless entertainment system known as “a deck of playing cards.”

And now you know.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen B. December 26, 2016 at 11:11 am

Sounds like a pain in the butt and expensive to boot! So glad I read this review as I was on my way out the door to buy one of these. Changed my mind and I just think I’ll shop for reasonable amounts of food and freeze the extra for short times in glass dishes or baggies, just as I have been doing.

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Jed Grey September 21, 2016 at 1:01 pm

Did you research or test the Nesco brand sealers? Do you have any comments on them?

TY
Jed

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Anne July 23, 2016 at 9:43 am

My daughter-in-law’s FoodSealer model has an add-on which vacuum-seals mason jars; I’m seeing no mention of that in these reviews = ??

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kathy September 12, 2016 at 6:14 pm

Hi Anne,
Sorry for the lag in response. No excuse… just missed it!
We didn’t explore the mason jar angle because it wasn’t a use we are particularly interested in. The version we bought doesn’t have that option, although this one does: http://amzn.to/2cS4LvE. I think you’ll also need the attachment if you decide to go that route. http://amzn.to/2cjPajp

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Vicky Roberts March 24, 2016 at 2:57 am

Food storage is on top of my list this year. All the signs are there, we know the storm is coming…the question is just how long we have before it hits, what we’ve done to prepare ourselves for it and how bad it will be.

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Len March 5, 2016 at 10:16 am

OK, so it’s been 15 months now. Do you STILL love your v3840 purchase?

Another question: you said you got the 3840. But the box you show says 3800. Is this one and the same?

I liked your review much more than others I’ve seen 🙂

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Len March 5, 2016 at 10:21 am

A concern I just found out about: the seals (most likely the part to need replacing at some point) are not replaceable. Have you encountered any sort of problem in that area?

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kathy April 5, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Hi Len,

Yup… still loving it! And no issues with the seals so far.

If you squint closely, you’ll see the box says “3800 series,” so that’s probably where the confusion comes in. All I can tell you is that we’re using and enjoying what came out of the box! 😉

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Jed Grey September 21, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Here are replacement sealer strips that fit many brands

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EGW7GMM?psc=1

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Andrew July 23, 2015 at 9:43 am

There are only two of us in my house now and I’ve never really managed to limit my dishes for two people and my husband doesn’t really like leftovers so I love to have one of these to save my dinners to have for my lunch in the future.

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vince June 11, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Hey guys,
You have to do a better job objectively reviewing the machine. fr’instance working with marinade feature etc. putting it through its paces. rather than giving a blanket approval of a large company……. there are a lot of large companies that do terrible things to consumers……GM, takata, monsanto,lehman bro’s

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Ryan January 14, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Hey Rick, have you had a chance to check out the marinade feature yet?

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Vacuum Sealer Geek January 25, 2016 at 4:42 pm

The Marinade feature is amazing, I can speak from experience. My BBQs have improved no end since I bought one of these bad boys.

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Steve December 8, 2014 at 10:39 am

I disagree about generic bags, I buy bags on eBay exclusively and have never had an issue using them on a cheap foodsaver vacuum sealer. Recently started getting generic ones that are embossed on both sides, work very well. I would never buy name brand vacuum sealer bags personally. The generics will easily keep you freezer burn free for over a year.

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kathy December 13, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Steve, thanks for the feedback. Maybe the higher-end sealers are just more fussy! On your recommendation, I’m going to try the “embossed on both sides” generic ones and see how they work. We’d love to find less expensive options that work just as well!

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VacuumSealerPicker January 11, 2015 at 5:37 am

I have to agree with Steve here – in most cases branded vacuum bags are not necessarily. Most of the models including the ones from Foodsaver will have no problem sealing in other bags. Chamber vacuum sealers are doing even better with that, you have absolutely free choice if it comes to bags and that’s one of the reasons why I like them so much.

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Sandi Fentiman October 11, 2014 at 10:22 am

Loved your review! I myself love to get bargains or deals; save money and possibly get a “second one free.” Be a member of stores helps.
I watched the video and your sealer is great! It’s kind of funny when it’s sucking out the air. Sounds like a cow that swallowed a gazoo. lol

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kathy October 20, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Moo

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