My Vacuum Sealer Is My Childhood Dream Come True

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Elisabeth Coelfen)

As a kid in the late ’90s, I had the perfect weekend ritual: I’d put on my slippers, pour a bowl of Corn Pops, and curl up in front of the TV. I’d flip past ABC’s morning cartoon lineup, past live-action adventure shows, and the weekly music video countdown, until I found it: the FoodSaver infomercial.

Hosted by self-proclaimed “freshness fanatics” Nancy Nelson and Jan Muller, the infomercial heralded the Tilia compact vacuum sealer as the greatest thing in food since the refrigerator. Despite occasionally veering off into too-over-the-top as-seen-on-TV stunts — at one point, Muller used the jar-sealing attachment to lift a bowling ball above his head — it was my entry point to food television, and I was obsessed.

The Need for a FoodSaver

For years, I parroted lines from the earnest hosts, sure that the teachings of Nancy and Jan would convince my parents that we needed a vacuum sealer of our own. If you’re locking in air, you’re not locking in the freshness! You could be throwing away $1,000 a year! I raided our chest freezer with a flashlight, peeking under the lids of margarine tubs we used as Tupperware in search of freezer burn just to prove my point.

And I seriously started thinking about food waste.

Our small family — just me and my parents — threw away our fair share of food. My folks are boomers; their own parents lived through (and served in) the Second World War, but the Greatest Generation’s legacy of using every last kitchen scrap was once removed from millennials like me.

Part of our problem was a flawed approach to portion control. My mom’s motto was “eat until you’re full,” in defiance of the customary obligation to clear one’s plate. And part of it was time — or more accurately, a lack of it.

Instead of taking the time to sort out Goldilocks-sized helpings, we cooked giant chicken breasts (each of which probably could have fed two people) and condemned the scraps to the garbage. (Or sometimes to the fridge — because we fooled ourselves into thinking we’d eat them later — and then to the garbage.) As Jan and Nancy would say, we were throwing cash in the trash! And even as a 9-year-old, that seemed heartbreaking.

Finally Getting One

So when I started living alone, I became obsessive about planning my meals. The process doesn’t technically require a vacuum sealer, but Nancy and Jan’s words still ring in my head as I squirrel away perfect-for-me portions in my freezer and update the food inventory taped to my fridge.

While I love my Dutch ovens and couldn’t live without my Microplane, my FoodSaver — a Christmas gift from my grandpa more than a decade after the infomercial debuted — stands for something greater. It’s the only gadget in my kitchen that has profoundly influenced the way I think about and respect food.

How I Use My FoodSaver

1. When bulk-buying chicken, meat, and fish.

Whether it’s a warehouse club tray of chicken thighs or a whole bird from the local farmers market, I try to buy in bulk and freeze what I won’t use right away. We’re talking masses of minced pork and sizable pieces of salmon — the bigger, the better, at least where your wallet’s concerned.

The vacuum bags are microwavable, so it’s easy to thaw portions as needed. (You can also sous vide in them!) The only downside to this is that you can’t reuse the bags if they’ve held raw meat or fish. Even though they’re dishwasher-safe (like all great things), apparently there’s no way to clean them thoroughly enough.

2. When batch-cooking meals.

In my corner of Canada, it gets cold. Really cold. So even before the leaves hit the ground, it’s time to start stockpiling comfort food. Turkey chili, beef stew, curried chicken soup — anything that’ll stick to your ribs and warm you up from the inside. If you’re like me, you probably run out of plastic containers (and space to store them) before you’ve even started. Using my vacuum sealer for the portions I plan to freeze allows me to organize my freezer so much more efficiently.

3. When marinating something quickly.

Back in my infomercial-watching days, this was the FoodSaver feature that really blew my mind. Here’s the theory: The vacuum process opens the pores of whatever you’re marinating, which allows the marinade to penetrate better and faster than if you plonk it in the fridge overnight. In practice, I can’t really say if that’s true. There’s a slight improvement in flavor (versus speedily marinating without the FoodSaver), but I haven’t managed to keep the machine from sucking half the liquid into the vacuum chamber, which is a pain to clean up.

4. When resealing junk food packaging.

On the (rare) occasions when a bag of chips doesn’t get polished off in a single sitting, being able to reseal the package is a serious boon. It does make a difference in preserving the crunch — which is half the joy of eating chips. Just cut the bag down a bit before you seal it so you don’t lose too much cupboard space.

More on Vacuum Sealers

Do you have a vacuum sealer? Do you love yours as much as I love mine?