Ever since I began writing TBG, I’ve had “vacuum sealer” on my list of article ideas. And I keep postponing it because I didn’t know exactly what to say. But shortly before the holidays, I got a couple more questions as people were preparing their “wish lists” and I realized that I can’t duck the issue any longer.
Here’s the deal: I bought a vacuum sealer for Que Tal and loved it, but it was a “luxury.” And the company went out of business shortly after I bought mine and I haven’t seen one that I like nearly enough to really recommend. And most people with boats get by just fine without one.
Whether you’re full- or part-time cruisers, vacuum sealers do a better job of bagging food than Ziplocs. They remove more air, generally use tougher bags and once sealed properly, won’t accidentally pop open. If you head to the boat for weekends or even a week at a time, a vacuum sealer at home is great for preparing bags of snacks and even pre-prepared frozen food that you can put in the cooler or refrigerator on the boat.
If you’re a full-time cruiser, they’re nice when you’re at a major provisioning stop and are stocking up on things that will be hard to find for the next several months.
And on any boat where you’re catching fish, a vacuum sealer is wonderful when you catch more than you can eat immediately. Vacuum-sealed fish (or meat of any type) is much less likely to get freezer burn than fillets just put in Ziplocs, and the overall texture stays better, too.
But a vacuum sealer is only good if it works consistently. And that tends to be the problem. Many don’t always get all the air out and numerous ones have a reputation for not always sealing the bag. Now it’s one thing if it doesn’t seal correctly if you don’t line up the bag correctly (that was true of mine), but just inconsistent sealing can drive you nuts.
A good vacuum sealer is not cheap: the better rated home-use ones go for about $150 and the bags themselves cost 15 cents each (or more!). Small commercial units tend to work better, but are over $300 and the bags cost just as much.
So after all that, what did/would I look for if buying a vacuum sealer now?
- Recent user reviews. Some that were good a few years no longer are, and some models have improved drastically. User reviews are really helpful in this area.
- Size if you’re going to have to store it on the boat or are limited in storage space at home. Some are extremely large! The one that I loved was about 13″ wide, 2-1/2″ high and 4″ deep, which meant that it didn’t take up a lot of space. And don’t forget that your stock of bags will take up quite a bit of space, too (they’re almost impossible to buy in the Caribbean or Mexico, so you’ll have to stock up ahead of time; I don’t know about availability in other places).
- Bag size accepted. You want to be able to use bags that are at least 8 or 9 inches wide, and 10 inches is even better. Yes, you’ll use smaller bags for many things. But I found that I used larger bags far more often than I had anticipated.
- Bag availability. You don’t want a sealer that uses proprietary bags unless it’s a big company that’s not likely to suddenly go out of business or discontinue their bags.
- Return policy. A 30-day or more return period is good. Once you get the unit, try using it immediately . . . and not just on one item, but as many as possible. Make sure it works well, particularly if you’re about to take off cruising. (I’m not saying that it won’t work well, but reading through the reviews, even the best models can have bad units.)
Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t talked about power. If you’re going to be using the sealer at home, it’s not an issue. And I found that at least 90% (probably more) of the time I used it, I was doing major provisioning from a marina where I had shore power. And when I used it otherwise, it was only for a few items — such as fish fillets — at a time and didn’t take many amp-hours. The only thing to watch for is if you do plan to use it on the boat and away from the dock, make sure your inverter is large enough for the unit you choose (read more about inverters here).
My bottom line on sealers: they’re wonderful if you can get a good one, don’t buy just on price, and consider it a luxury — nice to have but if money is particularly tight, there are many other things that are more necessary.
If you’ve got a vacuum sealer, please leave a note with brand/model and whether you’ve been happy with it or not!