I have a Food Saver that I got at a yard sale several years ago... for $10. Asked seller if it worked... she said perfectly. Asked WHY she was selling it? Said originally bought it thinking she's make major savings buying "family packs" of meat/chicken to put in freezer. When she discovered a family pack of ANYTHING didn't sit in freezer long enough to be damage... husband and THREE boys at home... decided it wasn't worth the trouble or cost of bags.
Since getting it have found MANY of their cannister things... at yard sales and thrift stores. I like them for storing things that don't technically "go bad" but can get stale... like cookies, crackers, rices, pasta.
Once tried to vac seal some rolls to freeze... should got THAT on video... as they SLOWLY squished totally FLAT! Made note to self... FREEZE bread/cake BEFORE sealing!?!
Found the attachment that lets you seal things in wide-mouth Mason jars... NOT the same as canning! I like it for rice, dried beans/lentils, little pastas.
Bags are kinda pricey. You automatically lose a good inch or so when sealing. They CAN be washed and reused. I use them mostly to repackage normal sized amounts into something good for 1-2 servings... typical package of boneless chicken breasts is usualy 3-4 BIG hunks of meat... way more than I want to eat. Found if I make a bag MUCH longer than it needs to be, can open, take out ONE piece, and reseal.
I'll portion, bag, and put in freezer for hour or so before sealing. "Wet" stuff, like chicken, can ooze liquid into the little trench... not something you can remove and super clean... kinda skeeves me out a bit.
I try to remember to date stuff I put in freezer. Properly sealed, stuff doesn't get freezer burned. If I vac seal something I leave it on top of the "heap" for a few days to check seal. If no air apparent, then I try to put newer stuff on bottom.
Stuff frozen, in single layer, can be ready to cook however you want in maybe 25 minutes in a big container of room temp water. I always remove meat from those styrofoam trays first.
They make a "universal" lid... maybe 5-6 inches across that'll seal any GLASS jar it'll cover.
One of the great things about the "original" foodsaver is that liquids don't hurt the pump and the sealing bar and transformer are strong enough to seal the bag even as moisture is traveling through it. Another thing is that it is not automatic so the operator can stop the vacuuming by activating the heat bar. This will keep bread and other soft items from being crushed.
I just came across a very informative article covering the history of external home style vacuum sealers that I had almost forgotten about. It was written by a pioneer in the field . It is a must read for anybody considering buying one. It can be found under "Foodsaver History, PMG".
This article gives a very in depth look at the history from the very first machine to where we are today. It breaks down the 2 basic types, Nozzle/Snorkle vs Channel, giving the pros & cons of both types.
It also discusses the 3 main components of a vacuum sealer, (Pump, Transformer & seal bar). Most importantly is covers the transition from putting the $$$ into those 3 main components years ago which created a powerful long lasting machine that could be repaired, to where we are today where the $$$ is put into fancy "looking" throw away machines that perform poorly and last just beyond the warranty date.
VERY, VERY informative read. Bottom line, look (EBAY) for a Foodsaver original nozzle style for high volume sealing (I use one) or an old Foodsaver II channel machine for ease of use but low volume.
Tom, if it doesn't discuss chamber machines, it isn't too thorough. Chamber machines are always the best option - not only do the machines last much, much longer, but the bags they use are at least 60 to 70% cheaper to use than any bag an external suction machine like Foodsaver uses. Yes, they cost more but pay for themselves quickly.
He has many videos that discuss Chamber Vacs and there is no question they are cheaper to operate because of the cheaper bags, far more versatile & much more powerful and a must in a commercial setting.
Unfortunately, he and other experts in the field who repair as well as sell vacuum sealers are saying the working parts in the "Newer" LIGHT duty Chamber Machines in the $700. - $1200. range have been cheapened up considerably, have some performance issues and the significant lower quality of their less expensive parts puts the longevity of the machines in question as well as long term parts availability.
Real commercial units have powerful sealing components capable of consistently sealing slimy bags & retort bags. They also have BUSCH or equivalent rotary oil pumps and will seals tens of thousands of bags before major service is required. You and I both know these machines, regardless of their manufacture, START around $1800. The reason is because they all contain the same industry standard commercial grade components produced by a small handful of manufactures and all the vacuum sealer manufacturers pay about the same price for those components. This is not the case with the new generation of light duty chamber vacs which is precisely why they are so much cheaper.
Now from my perspective, If I am going to bite the bullet and by a Chamber Vac, I want a machine that: 1. Consistently seal any type of bag under any any reasonable circumstances. 2. Be built with proven commercial grade continuous duty parts so the unit will last a lifetime and if something does go wrong 25 yrs from now the parts will be available. That means $1800. to start.
ECONOMICS: On ebay I can get a like new Italian made original Foodsaver nozzle vac for $100.00 or Foodsaver II channel vac for $50.00. They are both great machines and the parts are avail to repair them. I can buy QT vacustrip bags for .18 cents to the front door vs about .08 cents for the Chamber Vac bags. I go though at most 300 p/year so the annual savings would be about $30.00 which would put the break even point at about 56 years. If during that period my foodsaver machine is replaced 3 times and their is zero maintenance cost on the Chamber Vac the break even point comes down to about 50 years.
Would I love to have a commercial grade chamber vac for the power / versatility / longevity and cheaper bags, heck yes. Would my wife want to see that huge thing as a permanent fixture on the counter, absolutely NOT. Would I want to constantly hump a 50 plus LB beast around each time I went to use it, certainly not. Would it be cost effective for ME, If I lived to be well over a 100 maybe.
To find a machine that's going to be easy on the delicate things you mentioned AND handle liquids like soups will be difficult and could be costly. There are front end suction machines that have pulse options on them to only vacuum out as much as you need. These are really slick but would be tough to handle your liquids. For that, you'd need a chamber model where the entire bag is inside a chamber and all of the air is removed from the pouch and the chamber. Once the desired level of vacuum is achieved, the bag seals and air is let back into the chamber. Using this type of chamber, you can vacuum seal even bags of water. The machines are more expensive but, while the technology required to develop a front end sealer bag makes them expensive, chamber pouches are simple smooth-sided bags and are really inexpensive to buy and use.
For soups, sauces and other liquify things, we use gallon ziplock bags and squeeze the air out up to the seal. My wife lays them flat on a jelly roll pan and gives them a final burp and then to the freezer. A day later, we stack the frozen product on the wire shelves and store the pan away. This way the bags don't wrap themselves around the shelf. Otherwise, we use either a large food saver or the Reynolds handy vac and stop the vacuum just as the bag starts to form around the delicate items. Hope this helps.
I have a FoodSaver brand sealer that I bought 20 years ago (it's still going strong) and it handles all of the foods you mention. For soups, it is best to freeze them first in a container, then pop the frozen soup out and vacuum seal the frozen block.
No regrets buying this machine... vacuum packed frozen foods keep perfectly well for a LONG time...
There are other threads here on this with a lot of info. Use the search function.
Whatever you get, remember that the makers make a *killing* on the bags, not necessarily the machines. Sorta like inkjet printers... Also, if you're going to freeze what you package, you will probably want to buy storage bins for inside your freezer--otherwise you'll have frequent "food avalanches" that can poke holes in the bags causing them to lose their seal. BTDT.