The first time I registered what a chamber vacuum sealer was, I was watching a cooking competition show in the late aughts. The camera zoomed in on a chef putting a plastic bag of fruit into what appeared to be something the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation might have used to test samples of dirt from an alien planet. The contraption looked ugly, in a utilitarian lab equipment kind of way, and was so big it required its own table. This, I thought, was something I’d never use. Even as I learned more about the benefits of vacuum sealers, that negative opinion hardened when I found out that chamber sealers were ridiculously expensive—“consumer” models could cost thousands of dollars. A good edge vacuum sealer, by comparison, is less than $200.
But because I know there are a number of benefits to using a chamber sealer instead of an edge sealer—the ability to seal items in a marinade, for example—I was intrigued by Anova’s new release, the Precision Chamber Vacuum Sealer. Here was a chamber sealer that cost less than $350, and at 8x14x10", it was small enough to keep on the kitchen counter (and good-looking enough you wouldn’t be embarrassed to do so). But like everything else we recommend here, we had to try it first.
First, what is a chamber sealer? How is it different from an edge sealer?
Most home kitchens have edge sealers, which work by simply sucking the air out of a bag. The problem is, it sucks everything it can out of the bag, so if you have liquid in there along with your food, it will get pulled out and can interfere with the sealing process. A chamber sealer, on the other hand, seals your food by creating a vacuum within the machine’s chamber. Since the pressure is equalized in the whole chamber rather than just within the bag, no food or liquid can interfere with your seal. This means you can use a vacuum sealer to make infused oils or drinks, or to seal meat with a marinade—and that you’ll get a better seal on your standard chicken thighs and vegetables. To really put this to the test, I filled a bag with nothing but water and it vacuumed and sealed just fine. A chamber sealer also allows you use open vessels like jars or small baking dishes for tasks like infusing.
How does the Anova chamber sealer work?
I spent several weeks with the Anova chamber sealer and found that it’s a delightful little contraption that does many things well. First, there are the basics: Does it seal food well for preservation or sous vide cooking? Yes and yes. The chicken thighs I sealed sank right to the bottom of the pot of water when I went to cook them sous vide, a sure sign that the vacuum had removed all the air. When I’ve sealed food with my edge sealer, I occasionally have to place spoons inside the bag with food in order to give it enough weight to sink because there’s a tiny amount of air left in the bag keeping it buoyant. Also, as I mentioned above, the Anova made it possible to seal chicken in a marinade of citrus juices and spices. Just make sure not to fill the bag more than halfway with liquid or it can spill out the top when you lay the bag down in the chamber.
Beyond just sealing food, there are so many fun things you can do with a chamber sealer. I’ve started making what I call two-minute pickles: I place an open jar of cucumbers in pickling liquid to the sealer. The changes in pressure break open cell walls, allowing the pickling liquid to soak into vegetables more quickly (in just a few minutes!) than in a traditional process, which requires the solution to move through the cell membrane. I think of it like the difference between pouring water through a mesh strainer compared to a paper coffee filter. Liquid gushes through the strainer but drips through the filter.
That same cell wall breakdown allows you to use the chamber sealer to make fruit and alcohol infusions. I made some delicious tequila watermelon that came out tasting pretty potent, even when I used only two tablespoons of tequila and a tablespoon of simple syrup. You can also compress foods in the chamber sealer. I put some pineapple through the sealer and it came out with a chewier texture that reminded me more of a bagel than a piece of fruit (this is good, trust me!).
It works the other way, too, infusing liquids with whatever solid food you add to them. I made cucumber-infused vodka in 90 seconds that made me say out loud in an empty house, “Wow, that’s really cucumber-y.”
The nice thing about the Anova chamber sealer is that it comes with presets on its touchscreen for all of this. While early consumer chamber sealers required a better understanding of the science behind the machine, this sealer is easy for beginners to use.
Wet, dry, large, and small: Our top choices can suck the air out of just about anything.
Re-creating what is essentially an industrial, professional machine for home use is never without its pitfalls. I found two issues with the Anova. The first is the double-edged sword of its small size. The very thing that allows you to reasonably keep it in your kitchen also limits how much of anything you can make in it. Any jars put in the sealer need to be less than three inches tall and can’t be filled more than halfway or they will boil over as the pressure changes. So pickles, for example, need to be sliced small—and alcohol or oil infusions generally have to happen ½ cup or less at a time. One workaround I found for this was with a three-cup Pyrex baking dish that was short enough to fit in the sealer, but even that can only hold a little more than one cup of liquid without boiling over.
I also had an issue using vacuum bags from a roll. Anova recommends its own vacuum pouches, which come pre-sealed on the bottom (Anova has partnered with Plastic Bank to offset plastic bag purchases) and they work great. Ideally, I wanted to use some of the hundreds of feet of vacuum bag rolls I already have, though, particularly since I started using compostable vacuum bags. The problem is that bags on a roll need to be sealed at the bottom before putting food in them. I was able to do that, but only after running a full vacuum and seal cycle, which just seems inefficient. Ultimately, I found both of these issues to be minor compared to the advantages this relatively inexpensive, small-footprint chamber sealer offers.
Vacuum sealing is good idea: It allows you to keep food in the fridge for a longer time and to freeze it with no risk of freezer burn. Vacuum sealing food in a chamber sealer is a more effective way to do that—and it comes with the added benefit of shortcutting all sorts of projects, like pickling and infusing, that would otherwise take days or weeks. Anova has shrunk the chamber sealer’s size and price to a place it is absolutely worth adding to your kitchen tool kit.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious