One of my favorite kitchen tricks that grew out of frugality - how to seal your produce for freezing with a DIY straw vacuum sealer.
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I've always been wary of lots of kitchen gadgets. First, they cost money and second, I never seem to have enough room for everything I've already got, let alone add another thing.
I know that there are people who would never do without their ________ (insert favorite gadget here: rice cooker? steam juicer? bread machine?), which is fine, too - each of us has to determine what works for us vs. cost, time, and such.
The one thing all these items I use have in common? The only cost involved is the purchase price.
Pros & Cons of Vacuum Sealers
Which is why I've never understood the vacuum sealer.
Con: You pay for a machine, then you have to continue to pay for special bags to use the machine. Yes, you will buy bags for freezing anyway, but using sales, coupons, and/or club stores I can usually get freezer bags for a lot less than the vacuum-sealer bags.
Con: The sealer machine bags are more difficult to reuse and can only be reused for sealing again. Once I've used zip top freezer bags once for produce, I reuse the zippered bags multiple times for just storing foods and dry goods.
Pro: My brother-in-law loves vacuum sealer, and he's one of the most frugal people I know. He says the food stays better in the freezer and lasts longer.
Maybe it does, but our food gets used up in 6-8 months anyway.
The longest anything has been in the freezer is a year, and I guess we are just not sophisticated enough to taste a difference. Probably because the produce is usually used in soups and the fruit in smoothies at that point. (Also probably because we don't have a frost-free freezer - see more below on this.)
Pro: I've seen it used to preserve dried/smoked meat and fish to keep on a shelf and if you do a lot of that, I guess it makes sense, then.
Pro: If you buy a lot of meat at one time (a cow share, for example), then you'll want to keep the meat for as long as possible in the best shape - again it may make sense for you, then.
Since I feel a vacuum sealer doesn't make sense for us, I'll keep using the one trick that's worked for years on regular produce and fruit, as well as bread and baked goods, to get the most air out of freezer baggies:
A Straw "Vacuum Sealer"
Yep, a straw. I keep it in the same drawer with the baggies and reuse it numerous times until it needs to be replaced.
Update: I also now use glass or metal straws, though they can be a bit harder to remove as much air.
How to use a straw as a vacuum sealer
1. Prepare the produce.
2. Zip close the bag, then open a little slit to insert the straw.
3. Hold the opening closed on both sides of the straw, and then use it to suck all the air out.
4. Then quickly pull the straw out while closing the small opening.
5. Flatten the bag for easy storage, label and date, and put in the freezer.
Update: You can see this demonstrated in this video on how I freeze green beans without blanching:
Wait, what about freezer burn?
Here's the thing with freezer burn - it's more pronounced in frost-free freezers, which is why frost-free aren't recommended for long-term storage freezing.
(Side note: it's because the motor is constantly cycling on and off to keep the frost at bay, circulating air and causing more damage to food. It's also why they are more expensive, energy-wise to own.)
We don't have a frost-free big freezer for this reason and that may be why I don't notice much damage in our freezer bagged foods even after 8 months.
It's also why I encourage anyone who wants to store food for a year or more to buy a regular freezer. Yes, it's a pain to defrost - here's how to defrost a freezer as easy as possible.
When I showed my brother-in-law my DIY straw vacuum sealer trick, he laughed at me, lol. What do you think?
I have gotten so many comments over the years along the lines of, "Just get a food saver."
Beyond the fact that I tried to emphasize above that what fits for your kitchen and needs doesn't always mean it will fit for someone else's I did want to point out a few more reasons I've STILL not bought a vacuum sealer.
1) The bags are WAY more expensive to begin with, not to mention how I reuse them for many things because of the zippered tops. Here's a price breakdown I did recently (may have changed a bit):
Costco price: Quart freezer bags 13.79 for 216 = .06 per bag
Costco price: Foodsaver combo pack 39.99 for 36 bags and 5 rolls (roughly equal to 111 qt. sizes) or 147 bags = .27 per bag
Foodsaver machine is about $60 on Amazon.
2) It takes more time to use than zipping the top of a freezer bag. One reader told me, "The thing that surprised me most was how much time it takes to process a large quantity of food. It’s not nearly as quick as a ziplock bag. If you use the roll, you have to cut it, seal the bottom, fill it, then seal the top."
3) Meat lasts fine with butcher paper. We have gotten meat from a butcher and simply use the butcher paper that's been used for many years. We use it within 6-8 months and it's fine.
I've also gotten many comments suggesting I use the water method of removing air:
-Fill a sink/bowl with water and then lower your filled baggie into it with just a bit of the top not sealed. The pressure pushed the air out and you can close the top.
If that seems best to you, go for it! I'll stick with my much easer method that requires on a quick suck on a straw. 🙂
This article has been updated - it was last published in September of 2009.Disclosure: affiliate links in this article will earn commission based on sales, but it doesn't change your price. Click here to read my full disclaimer and advertising disclosure.