The following is a review of the VacMaster VP215 Vacuum Chamber.
I first became aware of vacuum chambers when I became interested in the world of sous vide, a method of cooking that involves sealing food in a plastic bag and submerging the sealed food in a temperature controlled water bath. Sous vide allows food to be evenly cooked to precise temperature targets. In order to effectively sous vide, as much air as possible needs to be removed from the plastic bag. You can accomplish this with a ZipLock bag using the water displacement method, a FoodSaver vacuum sealer, or with a vacuum chamber.
Vacuum chambers have the highest upfront costs of all the methods to remove air from a bag, so I held off on the purchase for quite some time. However, I got really frustrated with Ziplock and FoodSaver bags that would float to the surface during sous vide cooks. Additionally, trying to vacuum seal food that contain a lot of liquids was a pain, requiring me to pre-freeze the contents before sealing. The cost of the FoodSaver bags was also getting out of hand.
After much research, I decided that a vacuum chamber could solve the gripes I had with the other methods. I decided upon the VacMaster VP215 vacuum chamber for the following reasons:
- It has a heavy duty 1/4 horsepower oil pump, opposed to a dry piston, which means that it will last much longer. Yes, it requires oil changes, but draining and replacing the oil is easy. There’s also a window on the back so that you can easily monitor the quality of your oil. According to the manual, you only need to change the oil after 60 hours of use. As a home user, I expect this to happen no more than once a year, if that.
- VacMaster is an industry leader, meaning that parts for the VacMaster are available in abundance. The vacuum chamber is modular, with each part easily removable. If anything were to ever go wrong with this investment, I could easily locate the parts and fix the machine.
- As a piece of commercial equipment, it is large and heavy; however, it still fits nicely into an average home kitchen. It has chamber size of 11.25” x 15.25” x 5”, which is large enough for most home applications. VacMaster will tell you that the maximum bag size is 10” x 13”; however, I use 10″ x 15″ bag with no problem because the length dimension of the bag gets smaller as you fill it with contents.
Unlike FoodSaver vacuum sealers, a vacuum chamber will actually evacuate all the air out of a chamber. This is demonstrated by a neat experiment I performed upon receiving my vacuum chamber. I filled a bowl up with cold tap water, placed it in the chamber, and then began to pump out the oxygen. The cold tap water soon began to boil! This surprising outcome is due to the reduced atmospheric pressure contained inside the chamber; this is the same reason why water boils at lower temperatures at higher altitudes, or why they say your blood will boil without a spacesuit in space.
After performing this experiment, I proceeded to vacuum seal three steaks in preparation of a sous vide cook. The steaks emerged from the vacuum chamber with a tight compressed seal. I tried to physically move the plastic away from the steak and had no luck; there was no air inside the bag to allow this. Then I placed the steaks inside a circulated hot water bath and cooked them for an hour. I did not need to use any weights to weigh down the bags, and at no point did the steaks float to surface. After the sous vide cook, I cut open the bags. The bags were still vacuum sealed, even after the cut, and I had to physically separate the two sides of the bag. I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the vacuum! I proceeded to sear the steaks in a cast iron pan. Absolutely delicious and perfectly cooked!
Because a vacuum chamber removes virtually all of the air from a bag, you can do neat tricks like flash pickling and infusing foods with liquids. In fact, one of the first things I did with my new VP215 vacuum chamber was infuse a banana with maple syrup and strawberries with peach schnapps. I also rapidly pickled some cucumbers and bean sprouts for dolsot bibimbap, a Korean rice bowl! Pure deliciousness!
You can also compress other porous fruits and vegetables, such as other types of melon, pineapple, and tomatoes.
Since buying the VacMaster VP215, I’ve found myself using it to save considerable amounts of money. Because the bags are significantly cheaper than FoodSaver bags, I can easily stock up on for sale items at the grocery store without having the cost of the bags negating the savings. I’ve already got a freezer full of vacuum sealed chicken breasts, thighs, and wings; ground beef and pork; and pork chops. I’ve also vacuum sealed left over whipping cream in 1 cup portions, homemade chicken stock in 2 cup portions, and tomato paste in 1TBSP portions—that’s all I usually need in a recipe, but frustratingly they only sell it in much larger quantities. I also use the sealing bar to quickly reseal chips, brown sugar, and other pantry items. I can easily see my vacuum chamber as an investment that will pay for itself in a few years time.
You can also vacuum seal mason jars. Just place your food contents inside the jar, pop on the lid and loosely secure the ring. Throw the jar into the vacuum chamber, run the chamber for 30-40 second, and tada, you’ve got a vacuum sealed mason jar! A recent trip to the grocery store had me taking advantage of this technique. It was at my local grocery store that I found Ghirardelli chocolate chips on clearance for $1.39 a bag! These are my favorite chocolate chips to use in baking, as they have a richer more complex flavour than other brands. While I was sad to see that I might not be able to procure these locally anymore, I took the opportunity to stock up on them, and to preserve them in vacuum sealed mason jars put in the freezer. I figure I should have at least a year’s supply.
Below is a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of the VacMaster VP215 vacuum chamber:
|Minimizes floating bags during sous vide cooking.||Heavy (84 lbs)|
|Heavy duty 1/4 horsepower oil pump that's built to last||Requires oil changes after every 60 hours of use|
|VacMaster is built in a modular way, and the company is an industry leader with easily accessible parts for maintenance|
|30-40 seconds to vacuum and seal|
|Ideal for long term storage of meats, produce, and pantry items|
|Flexible: can vacuum seal in bags, mason jars, and other containers|
|Ideal for sous vide, rapid pickling, and infusing fruits and vegetables with liquids|