Vacuum sealing meat and vegetables. We’ve all heard of it, and maybe even seen it, but why get a vacuum sealer? If you like fresh taste and texture from your frozen items and want long term storage of your meat and vegetables, vacuum sealing is for you.
Vacuum sealing is a lot easier than most people think. Sealing does require a little bit of an investment; the machines aren’t ridiculously cheap, but they aren’t really expensive either. In the land of vacuum sealing, you get what you pay for. And if you’ve been following me, I have a financial principal you should read.
Why Vacuum Seal?
In a nutshell, you put your goods in a special bag, stick it in a special machine, the air is “vacuumed” out of the bag, and then it is sealed. You may say, “I don’t need this; I can do this with a Ziploc bag no problem.” Well, okay, but it is a bit more than that. Lets go into it.
Keeps Food Fresh Longer… much longer
Air, more specifically oxygen, is necessary for most bacterial growth. Less oxygen means less growth of bacteria and fungus. Vacuum sealers take out significantly more oxygen than you can by squeezing a bag, and certainly more than food containers (these are my favorites) which doesn’t take out any oxygen.
|Food||Normal Freeze||Vacuum Sealed Freeze|
|Fish||6 months||2 years|
|Meat||6 months||2 years|
|Ground Meat||4 months||1 year|
|Vegetables||8 months||2 years|
Seal-able bags like sandwich bags like to claim they are sealed and leak proof. And that is true to an extent, but they definitely “breathe” and I’ll prove it to you. Put a banana in a bag, and seal it up the best you can. Now put that bag in another bag or container and wait an hour. Open up the outer bag, I bet you’ll smell banana. And if you are smelling banana, then the bag is breathing.
If you were to try this same experiment with a vacuum seal bag, you would not smell banana. It is a true oxygen barrier. This does have some drawbacks though, and you should check out vacuum sealing vegetables.
Prevent Freezer Burn
If there ever was a killer to the freshness and texture of frozen foods, it’s freezer burn. In the olden days of yore, freezers needed to be de-iced using an ice pick or screwdriver or hammer. This was because the freezer was cold all the time, and any moisture in the air eventually froze. In the new age, most are frost-free freezers and automatically defrost themselves by going through a warming and cooling cycle.
Now, I know this could be a hotly contested debate… because a lot of people have chest freezers (these are typically NOT frost-free) and others have the fridge/freezer combo which is most likely frost-free. The debate rages if the frost-free feature either helps prevent freezer burn, or helps contribute to more freezer burn.
Frost-free features contributes more to freezer burn than a traditional chest freezer. My argument is frost-free freezers are by design removing moisture from the compartment, acting like a dehumidifier. Freezer burn IS dehydrated meat. Please put in a comment below if you want to debate more. Back to preventing freezer burn…
Freezer burn is a dry spot where the cold and low humidity climate of a freezer has taken out all of the moisture from the spot on that juicy meat and then subsequently oxidized. The dry spot can be prevented by tightly wrapping the surfaces, and the oxidation can be prevented by removing oxygen. Vacuum sealing can do both of these tasks.
For those of us that like to store meat, this is a big deal. Under no circumstances would I serve my guests freezer burned meat. It’s mushy and tastes funny. For all the effort that we put into making the best Q’, I’m a firm believer in garbage in – garbage out. When you get a vacuum sealer, there is less garbage in your life.
This may sound silly, but vacuum sealed bags are easier to handle than plastic bags or even containers. Besides, you aren’t putting a trimmed up pork shoulder in a Ziploc or tupperware.
The special vacuum seal bags are thicker than normal plastic bags; They have a rigidity to them. After your meat has been sealed by the machine, it gets even stiffer. Depending on how you package the goods in the bag, you can make space management much easier. For example, I typically will buy 10 lbs of ground beef at a time from my butcher. I will then divide it up into 1 pound portions and vacuum seal each. Following the more efficient freezing techniques here, I make it flat as a pancake and less than a 1/4″ thick. These stack very nicely!
To also help in organization, I have a large sharpie tied to a string on my vacuum sealer.
Marinating with a Vacuum
I have another write-up on marinating, but as it relates to vacuum sealing there are various theories on how the vacuum helps marinades. I’ll give you the short of it here.
First, my opinion is marinades are generally a gimmick, and only have value if they have the right ingredients, and even then it only serves to tenderize the meat more than add flavor. Yes, marinades add flavor, and can be used as a “grill sauce”… but they do NOT get absorbed by the meat. That is the myth.
With that out of the way, the vacuum marinating theory: Vacuum pressures in meat cause air pockets in the meat to grow and the marinade will “rush in” to fill the void. Nonsense.
Yes, when a significantly lower pressure is present outside of a SEALED container, air in the container will try to expand. This is true science, and it is why balloons expand as altitude increases and various other common place examples. However, the failure of this theory is two fold: 1) the meat is not a sealed container, and if marinade can “rush in”, then the air already escaped leaving no void. 2) meat is 75% water… it is a soaking wet sponge. How much more liquid does a wet sponge absorb and take to the center of the sponge?
Okay, so with that said, people will sometimes get a vacuum sealer or even other products out there that specifically target and perpetuate the vacuum marinating myth. They do help add flavor to your meat, but not like anybody is advertising, so you’ll be disappointed. Most of the people that give these rave reviews like the taste of the marinade more than the meat. Maybe one day I’ll do a side by side comparison.
Sous Vide Cooking
This is an area of cooking that is relatively new to the Q’ world, despite being around for many years. Sous Vide Cooking relies on a consistent very low water temperature to cook something in a bag. For example, you could cook and hold a steak at 130 degrees (Medium Rare) for hours. Bacteria dies at 130 degrees after 30 minutes. The steak however will look raw when it comes out of the bag… no grill marks, no burning, nothing… but it’s cooked and edible!
This didn’t really catch on in the Q’ world until lately, where people started experimenting with ribs for 24 hours and then throwing on the smoker for an hour to get the color and flavor. I’ve even seen people doing a full packer brisket for 48 hours, only to put it in the fridge to make it cold, and then smoke it for another couple hours to get the smoke flavor with the bark.
With that said, you do not want to put raw meat in the water to cook it. Putting the meat in a bag keeps your food dry. However, since the water is the cooking medium, it needs to be in contact with the meat as much as possible. A vacuum sealed bag, with the bag ‘sucked’ to the meat, maximizes this and greatly improves the thermal transfer from the water to your meat. Can a regular bag work? Absolutely… but it’s way easier to defrost your meat, then drop it in the water without ever getting your hands dirty.
I’m not afraid to admit that vacuum sealing is a guilty pleasure of mine. If you have one, you likely know what I’m talking about. I only wanted to mention it and if you are a habitual sealer like me, let me know! I hope I’m not alone.
I’d be hesitant to say that it is a cult, because once you start sealing it can be hard to stop. I got a vacuum sealer and ended up sealing a lot… meat, vegetables, and sometimes office supplies.
Saving meats and vegetables is easy. Whether you have a garden or are a hunter, go to the butcher with a nice long list, or decide to get a few extras when something is on sale at the grocery store, you absolutely must get a vacuum sealer for long term storage and freshness. You’ll be wondering why you didn’t have one before.