Jun. 16th
2011
written by scott

ziploc vacuum bags
Even if you managed to find an inexpensive solution for cooking sous vide at home, it used to be the case that you were still on the hook for a vacuum sealer, and the $150 FoodSaver was the de facto appliance for the job.  Sure, for short cooking times, you can immerse a zip-top bag in water and force out most of the air, but that strategy doesn’t let you safely cook-then-chill foods for reheating later.  Furthermore, as the small amount of remaining air expands in non-vacuumed bags, they tend to float to the surface and cook unevenly.  However, Ziploc recently introduced a line of vacuum seal bags that use an inexpensive hand pump and achieve nearly the same results as that pricey FoodSaver.  Read on for my head-to-head test and conclusions…

 

Seal Test

The Ziploc vacuum bags work via a special flat, plastic valve built into one corner.  To seal foods, you zip the top of the bag closed, then place the hand pump over the valve and pump until all the air is removed.  This process only takes a few seconds, but achieves a similar compression strength to the FoodSaver (I attempted to measure the strength of the vacuum, but neither the FoodSaver nor the Ziploc registered a vacuum pressure high enough to register on my vacuum pressure gauge).  And, unlike the FoodSaver, there’s no heat sealing required.  If you’ve ever had the unpleasant experience of trying to get a FoodSaver to seal moist foods, you’ll know that heat sealing and liquids are nearly incompatible.  I can’t count the number times I’ve had to reseal a vacuum bag of meat because the heat seal failed.  The Ziploc bags don’t solve the liquids problem completely (for that, you want a chamber vacuum sealer) but it does seal just as well for wet foods as dry ones. 

To compare the seal and permeability of each bag, I placed a folded paper towel in a Ziploc vacuum bag and an equivalently sized FoodSaver bag.  I measured the mass of each paper towel before sealing, then placed both bags in a 60C water bath for 8 hours.  I dried the bags and measured the mass of the paper towels from each – if there were any increase in mass, I could attribute it to a leak in the bag’s seal, or water permeability of the bag itself.  For both the Ziploc and FoodSaver bags, there was no detectable increase in mass, implying that when sealed properly, both bags offer the same leak resistance. 

Price

Since pricing varies between retailer, I’m running the numbers based on Amazon’s prices.

Ziploc Vacuum System
Starter Kit (includes pump and 3 quart bags) – $4.20
1 Gallon Bags – $0.69/ea

FoodSaver Vacuum System
FoodSaver V3460 – $149.50
1 Gallon Bags – $0.71/ea

 

Other Considerations

Although the Ziploc bags are just slightly cheaper than their FoodSaver equivalents, the FoodSaver system offers continuous rolls of bag material which I find to be extremely convenient for sealing odd-size foods like a rack or ribs.  In addition, the FoodSaver offers accessories such as rigid vacuum canisters.  In my experience, these canisters are the best part of the FoodSaver system.  Whereas vacuum bags don’t create negative atmospheric pressure (since the atmosphere keeps pressing the bag against the food) the canisters allow you to actually create a vacuum environment.  This is highly useful for making vacuum-set foams, vacuum brining or vacuum infusing foods. 

Since the Ziploc bags don’t rely on a heat seal, the bag is not permanently altered when you use it.  That means that you could theoretically re-use your Ziploc bags over and over again.  Ziploc (wisely) recommends against reuse in general because the bags are difficult to clean and the risk of contamination between uses is significant.  However, if you’re using the bags to store dry goods like rice or grain, you can open the top, take what you need, then reseal.  If you were using a FoodSaver, the bag would get about three inches shorter every time you wanted to open and close it. 

Both FoodSaver and Ziploc bags are BPA-free and have been tested for to meet food safety standards.  The Ziploc bags are advertised as microwave-safe, but are not intended for use in boiling water.  After eight hours at 60C in the sous vide bath, the Ziploc bag showed no signs of deterioration.  That’s great news if you want to cook red meat.  However, I did not test higher temperature cooking conditions.  The Ziploc bags are not marketed for sous vide cooking, though ironically the words “sous vide” appear on the bag because they are printed in both French and English (“sous vide” is French for vacuum). 

Given my experience so far, I highly recommend the Ziploc system.  For the ability to vacuum seal foods for less than five dollars, there’s no reason not to give it a try.  In my opinion, this is a great step toward reducing the total cost of cooking sous vide at home and reducing the barriers to entry for people who aren’t obsessively geeky in the kitchen.  And, of course, if you’re still looking for a good way to heat your water bath, may I recommend another cheap solution?

[If you noticed that the picture at the top of this post looks just like the picture comparing sous vide bags from Modernist Cuisine, +10 points!  Instead of sealing colored water, though, I opted for a heartier payload.]

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18 Comments

  1. 16/06/2011

    Thanks for this review. I’ve been wanting a Food Saver for years, but never could bring myself to spend the money. And I had my doubts about the Ziploc system. I’m making a big batch of decorated cookies for an upcoming gift, and I think I’ll try to the ziploc product to keep them fresh until the event. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll graduate to the food saver. LOL Anyway, thanks.

  2. 17/06/2011

    Are the Ziploc bags made of the same materials as the Foodsaver bags? I wasn’t able to find the answer. I see that the Foodsaver bags are made from food grade silicone that does not contain any chemicals that could contaminate the food. I use a foodsaver vacuum sealer that I picked up at a garage sale for $5. It works fine and there are plenty of used ones on Amazon and Ebay in the $25 – $60 price range.

    As for a cheap water bath I do the crockpot + DIY temp controller.

    http://screwdecaf.cx/yatc.html

  3. Andrew
    17/06/2011

    Hi,

    I measured my Foodsaver at 20″ Hg vacuum. The ziploc bag was about 10″ – 12″ Hg depending on how quickly you moved the pump.

    Andrew

  4. 18/06/2011

    Haha! This is great! We wrote about and have been using the Fresh Saver bags with a bicycle pump turned vacuum pump for our diy sous vide set up ( http://www.rauom.com/2010/11/03/our-equipment-for-sous-vide-and-low-temperature-cooking/ ). I’m tickled as hell that there’s now a professional looking version of our set up now available.

    As far as I can tell though the ziplock version is not adaptable to mason jars (in case you’re paranoid about cooking in plastic at higher temps) or trap flasks, which means liquid marinades will present somewhat of a problem to clean up or get sucked into the pump itself.

  5. Rob
    19/06/2011

    I found the ziplock backs to leak after a day or two.

  6. Lauren
    20/06/2011

    FoodSaver’s counterpart, comparable to the Ziploc: FreshSaver (29.99, with 2 bags and a plastic container included)

  7. Cheryl
    20/06/2011

    I also noticed that the Ziploc Bags would leak over time and didn’t hold the seal as well as the foodsaver. Expecially when in the freezer.

  8. dub
    22/06/2011

    The Ziploc Sous Vide bags I used in my homemade immersion circulator failed after about a hour of cooking.

  9. pbleic
    05/07/2011

    To avoid leakage of the Ziploc system over days, I came up with a combined method I haven’t seen described, and wanted to share it. It seems to work well for the home cook.

    Start with the Ziploc Vacuum system. Zip the bag and use the hand pump to create a fairly effective vacuum.

    Put a single piece of scotch tape over the pump hole.

    Use an impulse thermal sealer (16″ variety, $49 on Amazon), and seal the bag below the “zipper.”

    This seems to last without leaking for a substantial period. It gets around some of the issues of fluid and the pumps, and concerns about leaking through the one way ziploc valve or zipper.

  10. Gary Hayman
    19/07/2011

    Re: using Ziploc bags with Sous Vide cooking

    An SC Johnson (Makers of Ziploc bags) representative wrote me in response to an inquiry about using Ziploc bags in conjunction with Sous Vide cooking:

    Thanks for getting in touch with us.

    While we appreciate hearing new and innovative ways to use our Ziploc® Bags, we must be cautious that these new ideas follow label directions.

    Ziploc® Bags are not designed or approved to withstand extreme heat, and therefore should not be used to make any recipe that requires the bag to be boiled or cooked in hot water.

    Like all our products, Ziploc® Brand Bags can continue to be used with confidence when label directions are followed.

    Kind regards,
    Sara

    Consumer Relationship Center
    SC Johnson, A Family Company

  11. 19/07/2011

    @Gary That’s interesting… the bags actually say “sous vide” on them, but only because they’re printed in French and English :-) Based on what I read on the SC Johnson site, the bags are BPA-free, but aren’t rated for boiling temperatures. I certainly can’t say that these bags are perfectly safe to use for all types of sous vide cooking if that’s the response you got from SC Johnson, but based on my limited experience with them, they do just fine at typical sous vide temperatures of 50-80C.

  12. I used to be recommended this website via my cousin. I’m no longer certain whether or not this put up is written by way of him as no one else understand such specific approximately my problem. You’re incredible! Thank you!

  13. 21/02/2012

    I’m first time Sous Vider today. I followed the direction on this site and I’m using the Ziploc Vacuum bags for my sealing. I cut and sealed the refrigerated meat last night. The seal was still great in the morning. After 3 hours into the sous vide process, there are some small/medium pockets of air the flat iron bags and small pockets of air in the hanger steak bag. Are these air bubbles normal? Will it affect the cook? Do I need to re-vacuum the pouches or is letting them go fine?

  14. 21/02/2012

    @Matt These air bubbles are totally normal. Using a hand sealer, it’s not possible to remove ALL of the air. When the remaining air in the bag is heated by the sous vide bath, it expands in volume to reveal those bubbles. If you were cooking 72-hour short ribs, I’d recommend that you use a stronger vacuum method or pump out the air after the bag heats up. However, if you’re cooking steak for 1-4 hours, I wouldn’t worry much about small air bubbles.

  15. Greg
    31/05/2012

    I have used both FOODSAVER and ZIPLOCK, I like the ZIPLOCK vacuum bags and seal.

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