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December/January 2008

Stand Mixers (Inexpensive)

Can you buy a solid mixer for under $250?

How We Tested

The $500 standing mixers in our test kitchen are powerful enough to work all day. Can the home cook who needs less muscle buy a good standing mixer for less money? To find out, we rounded up eight models priced under $250.

 

THE WORKOUT

We whipped cream, creamed butter and sugar, made chunky cookie dough (with chocolate chunks, pecans, oatmeal, and dried cherries), and kneaded pizza dough in each machine. These are tasks that larger, pricier mixers (including the winner of our prior testing of high-end mixers) can do effortlessly.

 

SIZING UP THE COMPETITION

Expensive mixers come with 5- or 6-quart bowls, big enough to knead a double batch of bread dough. Bowl size in the models we tested ranged from 3.5 to 4.6 quarts-large enough to mix and knead the dough for one large loaf of bread or three medium pizzas. Among the eight models tested, variances in bowl size and shape did not impact our results.

 

TEST DRIVING

A standing mixer should be easy to operate, and some in our lineup weren't. Both Sunbeam mixers required substantial strength to engage the head-tilt and beater-eject buttons. One mixer has two sets of controls to manage. In contrast, all testers found two other mixers intuitive and easy to operate. Most mixers handled the whipped cream and cookie dough tasks with aplomb. The pizza dough, however, was another story.

 

DO OR DYE

To measure the power and efficiency of each mixer, we mixed 35 ounces of pizza dough in each bowl, then added 10 drops of blue food coloring to one side of the dough and 10 drops of yellow to the other. We then set the mixers to medium-low and timed how long it took them to turn the dough a uniform green. Two of the mixers made relatively quick work of this task, producing an evenly colored dough in about 6 minutes. Half of the mixers, however, failed this test because they didn't complete the task in 10 minutes. Some struggled and bucked because they weren't powerful enough for such prolonged kneading jobs.

 

THE ONE BIG THING

Our three winning mixers passed the pizza test. They all have one beater arm instead of two. So why is one beater better? One-beater mixers utilize "planetary action," meaning the beater rotates on its axis while spinning around the bowl, thus ensuring the mixing attachment interacts with the entire contents of the bowl. Dual stationary beaters, on the other hand, rely on a rotating bowl, and the attachments never touch the entire contents of the mixing bowl-they carve through a single trough. In the pizza dough tests, dual dough hooks bored holes into the dough and never kneaded it into a cohesive mass.

 

A SURPRISINGLY GOOD VALUE

Our test cooks aren't ready to trade in their $500 mixers, but the top three models tested offer good value and performance for the average home cook.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.