External Suction vs. Chamber Vacuum Sealers
By Lee Davis, CFSP
There are two basic types of vacuum sealers: external suction vacuum sealers and chamber vacuum sealers. My FoodSaver® brand sealer, that I bought through a TV infomercial years ago, is an example of the first. It does a nice job of sealing up solid foods. I use it for granola, dried fruit, cheese, loose tea, and dried herbs. Just place the food in one of the sealing bags, insert the open end into the sealer, and press “go.” The unit draws air out of the bag, and then seals the end using a heat strip. Commercial quality variations are built for the rigors of a commercial kitchen, and offer additional features, but they operate on the same basic principle. They don’t take up a lot of space on the counter, and most are economically priced.
With a chamber vacuum sealer, the food is placed in a bag, and then the entire bag is placed inside the vacuum chamber with the open end laying over a sealing bar. The chamber closes, and a powerful motor draws a vacuum on the entire chamber. When ready, the bag is sealed and the vacuum is released. These units typically require a larger initial investment, and take up much more space on your counter. But they offer several advantages, especially if you want to do more than just vacuum seal dry goods.
First, when using a chamber vacuum sealer, the vacuum on the inside of the bag remains the same as the vacuum on the outside of the bag. This means you can vacuum seal soups, sauces, stews or anything with liquids. If you tried to seal a bag of soup with an external suction vacuum sealer, it would suck the air out of the bag first, and then begin to suck the soup out as well, making a mess, and likely ruining any chance of a safe seal. You might even run into trouble with raw meats and moist items such as fresh mozzarella cheese. As the bag collapses around these products, liquids are released and sucked out of the bag along with the air, so unless you plan to freeze your liquids first, or take other special precaution, you should limit the use of external vacuum sealers to dry and solid foods.
A second advantage is that chamber vacuum sealers use a much larger selection of available bags. External suction sealers require specially textured bags that are more expensive. One source I read claims that you can save up to 80% on bags, quickly recouping the additional cost of a chamber vacuum.
Third, depending on the model and size, some chamber vacuum sealers can seal multiple bags in a cycle. This speeds up production in a busy kitchen.
Finally, because you can draw a vacuum on liquids, chamber vacuum sealers are great for infusions and marinating. You don’t even need to use a bag. You can place a pan of meat, covered with marinade, into the machine and draw a vacuum to infuse the marinating liquid into the meat. Or you can infuse fresh fruits with your favorite liquor to make great dessert toppings. You can even cold pickle vegetables with seasoned vinegars. Ultimately, chamber vacuum sealers have a higher initial cost, and take up more space, but they’re just more versatile.
Among my favorite chamber vacuum machines are Vollrath’s VP12, VP16 and VPP16. They offer two different sizes with a variety of great features. Vollrath also offers a great commercial quality external suction vacuum sealer. Berkel, part of the Vulcan family of foodservice equipment products, also makes a reliable, high quality chamber vacuum unit. Hamilton Beach Commercial has offered an external vacuum sealer for years, and at the 2017 NAFEM show earlier this month, introduced their new chamber vacuum unit. It’s sure to be a popular unit. Finally, Waring offers a completely different pistol style vacuum sealer that uses proprietary bags. See our article from April, 2014 for more about that.