Pros: THIS THING WORKS. Easy to use once you get the hang of it.
Cons: Accessories are terrible (but you can buy other brands)!
Can you keep a secret? I'm a sucker for infomercials. I have actually found that the most relaxing start to my day is not by watching the world's tragedies on the early morning news, but rather by numbing my (already numb) mind to paid programming. (That I am writing a review of a food sealer should be clue #1 that I have no life... my morning informercial fetish probably seals that label, doesn't it?)
So it came to pass on one fateful morning, as I broke the fast, that I was first introduced to the FoodSaver informercial. You guys have seen this, right? A gentleman with a porous face and curly hair enthusiastically shows off this little appliance that will make you save your food, and your money!
The concept is really quite simple. By taking out the air that would otherwise accelerate food corrosion, you appreciably extend the shelf life of your food. In addition, the special bags are insulated such that you can avoid any freezer burn.
Needless to say, after watching "Curly" make this pitch over and over, I was hooked on the FoodSaver... I just had to have it! There was just one problem: the price. At the time, these units were selling for $150 a pop. Thankfully, the price has fallen quite a bit. Still, if you want a decent-sized FoodSaver machine, you have to fork out a good bit of dough... on the order of $70-80 for a basic unit with no frills at WalMart.
That's when I looked over to see a very similar-looking unit right next to the FoodSaver: The Black & Decker FreshGuard VS200. For under fifty bucks! Figuring I could trust the B&D marque, I took a chance and bought the FreshGuard, along with some bag refills and two FreshGuard canister sets.
OUT OF THE BOX:
Taking the unit out of the box, the heft of the unit had a quality kind of feel to it, notwithstanding the kinda cheap plastic on the outside. It's a pretty simple design. A single button on the outside unlatches the unit to open. On the inside, there is a thin heat ribbon on the front, which serves to melt the storage bags shut after sucking the air out of them. Side by side with the FoodSaver, there is a bit of a quality discrepancy here, but nothing to write home about.
The tray where you place the end of the storage bags is removable - a nice feature for easy cleaning if you accidently suck up some of the marinade in the bags.
Next to this tray is another button, which you press to activate the suction to seal your optional canister sets (more on that later).
In short, it's not the most beautiful appliance... but its design is intuitive and easy to clean.
EASE OF USE:
My folks had bought the FoodSaver for over $100 when it first came out. It came with a video, which shows how to use the unit. You don't necessarily need a video to get the hang of this, but there is a little bit of a learning curve to it. At first, it seems complicated: unroll the desired length of bags (open on both ends), cut it carefully with scissors, seal one end with the heat ribbon, put the food in, place the open end over the suction tray, close the unit, suck the air out, wait for the heat ribbon to seal the storage bag.
Rest assured, it sounds much more tedious than it really is. It only takes a couple of tries before you master it (if that). The hardest part (IMHO) is judging the length of the bags you will need for storing your food. Too short, and you might not be able to re-use the bag later.. or even fit the food properly. Too long is no good either, because these bags cost a pretty penny!
I've found a way around this: the nice folks from Food Saver make these pre-made bags, stored in boxes much like sandwhich bags are... I use those instead, and it works great.
The FreshGuard also makes cooking easier, too: I use the bags and canisters for "turbo-marinating" my meats and veggies. Instead of waiting for an entire day for marinades to saturate the food, it's ready in hours to minutes.
Using the canisters is great for food that you want to access regularly (like coffee beans/grains), or don't want to crush in the storage bags during the vacuuming process. I use them for keeping fruit, chips, coffee, and cookies fresh... yeah. It works great.
SO, IS IT WORTH IT?
In a word, ABSO-FRIGGIN-LUTELY. This machine is wonderful and pretty much everyone should have one. I mean, even if you don't cook, you can always doggie bag your food when you go out, and seal it when you get home. Eat it whenever you want... the food stays viable, and tastes fresh days, weeks, even months later. As an example, I had gone to a Puerto Rican restaurant and ordered a huge plate of chicken with rice. This dish is full of spices and flavor. Unable to eat the whole plate, I brought the leftovers home and vacuum sealed 'em. About 5 weeks later, I was scouring the fridge for a meal. I came across the frozen bag... would I die of food poisoning? Would it be edible? Not only did I survive my meal, the flavor was well-preserved... as an added bonus, I still had enough food to last another couple of meals!
Foods that have stayed fresh for long periods of time: (last MONTHS longer when frozen)
- Crackers/cereals/cookies/cookie dough
- Fruits, vegetables
Foods that have lasted just a week or so longer...
Foods I'll never vacuum seal again:
- Lettuce (gets soggy faster!)
The money-saving implications of were obvious to me from the beginning... I've owned this unit for over a year now and it's already paid for itself. I save money by not having to buy food as frequently, and by buying in bulk. I actually like eating leftovers from eating out now... before, I used to just throw them away after a couple of days.
In addition to saving money, I've actually discovered a perk I hadn't previously thought about: when I eat out, I eat healthier now! I'll explain: in Miami, eating out is expensive, and I used to feel pressured to eat the whole plate out of guilt of wasting food and money. Not anymore! I eat until I feel full, then seal the rest to enjoy later. Piece of cake. While I didn't see this benefit coming, it's become one of the main reasons why I'm happy I bought this unit.
Oh... and in case I forgot to mention it, the whole vacuuming process is cooooool to watch!
YEAH, BUT IS IT BETTER THAN THE FOOD SAVER?
You know, even though the folks at FoodSaver would have you think otherwise, it's all essentially the same thing... things being equal, the Black & Decker really does hold its own against the Food Saver... and costs appreciably less.
There are newer, fancier FoodSaver units out there, with added features like precise cutters that cut your storage bags straight every time, or diffent vacuum speeds... problem is, these extra features will cost ya. Personally, I don't need 'em. You might.
In short, if you want a solid basic unit that does what it advertises, I say go for the Black and Decker. Anything fancier, go for the Food Saver.
WAIT, YOU HAVEN'T SAID WHAT YOU DON'T LIKE!
I guess I've sounded like an infomercial so far... well ok, here are some brutal truths...
1) The optional canisters suck! I've gone through FOUR sets of canisters, including 3 quart-size and one half-quart size. "What happened," you ask? All four of these canisters have cracked suddenly from the pressure of the vacuum (thus losing the seal)! All four! I'd write the folks at B&D, but a) I'm too lazy and b) what are they going to do... send me another piece of crap for free? No, thanks.
Ah, but I found a way around this problem, too! The good folks at Food Saver sell their own canisters (better variety, better quality), and all I have to do is fiddle with the cheap hose mechanism included with the canisters to make my FreshGuard work with the FoodSaver accessories. See? We all could learn something from these appliances on how to get along, right?
2) The storage bags suck! They cost a little less, but they're of inferior quality, and have the "waffle" pattern only at the edges of the bags... this waffle pattern covers ALL of the FoodSaver bags helps maintain a better seal... I quickly made the switch to FoodSaver bags when the FreshGuard bags would keep losing their seal (very annoying).
3) It's a workout! Like another reviewer said, you really gotta push down to make this thing properly make a seal on the bags... otherwise, it might not work. This complaint really belongs in the nit-pick column, but for the sake of completeness...
4) Reports of overheating... Even though it hasn't happened to me, I've read reports here and there of people complaining that their FreshGuard overheats after continued use. Based on my experience, all you have to do is follow the recommended instructions of waiting 20 seconds in between vacuuming sessions... problem solved.
VERDICT: BUY THE FRESHGUARD, BUT WITH FOODSAVER ACCESSORIES!
I guess there's not much more to say other than that... this has clearly been one of my best purchases for the kitchen... seems like watching "As Seen on TV" has paid dividends! Now on to those 6 Second Abs... REALLY? Six seconds?! Sold!