Vacuum Sealing Guide for Sous Vide Cooking

Why Vacuum-Seal Proteins for Cooking Sous Vide?

Vacuum sealing proteins is the best way to ensure that air is removed from the package so that the proteins will be completely submerged in water during the sous vide cooking process. There are two types of vacuum sealers that are available for the home cook: chamber vacuum sealers and external vacuum sealers.

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Chamber Vacuum Sealers

Chamber vacuum sealers work by placing a sealable bag in a chamber, lowering the atmospheric pressure, creating a seal, and then releasing the pressure.

If you plan on doing high quantities of your own vacuum sealing and are interested in using liquid marinades, a chamber vacuum sealer might be right for you.

Pros: Chamber sealers work well with liquid marinades, which can be a challenge for external vacuum sealers. Chamber sealers also give more control over the strength of the vacuum. Adjustments can be made to the sealing time and pressure to create a gentler vacuum for more delicate proteins. 

Cons: The main drawback to chamber vacuum sealers is they are fairly large due to a heavy duty vacuum pump, and are quite expensive.

External Vacuum Sealers

External vacuum sealers require more specialized bags that keep their shape while the atmospheric pressure is being lowered. Unlike chamber vacuum sealers where the pressure is reduced both outside and inside the bag, external sealers only reduce pressure in the bag. 

Pros: If cost is a consideration external vacuum sealers are significantly cheaper than their chamber counterparts. Even though the bags you need to use are more expensive than those used in chamber sealers the upfront cost of purchasing an external vacuum sealer is a fraction of the cost of a chamber sealer. External vacuum sealers are often easier to use and require less set up. 

Cons: Sealing liquid marinades is tricky with external vacuum sealers because these sealers only reduce pressure in the bag, which means liquids may be forced out of the bag before the seal is complete, which can be messy.

General Vacuum Sealing Tips & Tricks

  • Be sure to follow all safety and operating instructions provided by the manufacturer. 
  • For any type of vacuum sealer, allow ample room between the open end of the bag and the food to ensure a proper seal and to keep any moisture from escaping. Also make sure the bag is clean and free of any food particles where the seal will be made. Be sure to fold the opening of the bag back and away from the opening to keep it free of food. 
  • When sealing wet food, stop sealing before the liquid escapes the bag (it will start to creep out towards the opening but don’t let it escape!). You can also pop marinated foods (in vacuum bags that are yet to be sealed) in the freezer for 5 to 10 minutes to help solidify the marinade. This step keeps marinades from running out of the bag when vacuum sealing.

What if I don’t own or want a vacuum sealer?

Don’t worry! There’s an alternative to vacuum sealers that requires a little patience and finesse, but is much less expensive than purchasing a vacuum sealing machine. All you will need is a heavy-duty food safe plastic storage bag, and a large, deep container of water. Here’s how to do it:

1) Place your food in a heavy-duty, food safe plastic bag. Press out as much air out as you can and seal the top all the way except for the last inch or two. 

2) With the top of the bag slightly open, slowly submerge the bottom of the bag in a large pot or bowl of water, allowing the weight of the water to push the air out of the top of the bag. Stop submerging the bag once you are nearly to the top of the bag. 

3) Use your fingers to move any trapped air bubbles up to the opening of the seal. When all of the air is removed seal the bag without removing it from the water. 

4) You can now proceed with recipes that call for vacuum sealed items. To ensure that your bags remain below the water line we recommend the use of small magnets affixed to the side of the pan to keep the bag submerged or a heavy metal weight on top of the food.

Note: When using plastic storage bags, we recommend using bags that are heat safe. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines for your bags before proceeding with a recipe. When developing your own recipes, keep in mind that salt is more likely to penetrate foods when they are sous vide. We recommend using a little bit less salt than you normally would when sous viding.