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November/December 2015

Personal Blenders

“Personal blenders” offer promising perks over full-size blenders, such as smaller footprints, lower price tags, and lids that allow them to transition neatly from pitchers to travel cups. So how well do they work?

How We Tested

We love our winning full-size blenders from Vita-Mix and Breville, but “personal blenders” offer promising perks, such as smaller footprints, lower price tags, and lids that allow them to transition neatly from pitchers to travel cups. Curious if these conveniences would justify the purchase of a second blender, we gathered nine models with pitchers sized 24 ounces and smaller ($16.99 to $89.00). We evaluated their performance in blending smoothies with hard frozen berries and fibrous kale, whipping up thick chocolate milkshakes, and incorporating fresh herbs into creamy Green Goddess salad dressing. Though these blenders come with as many as 16 pieces of equipment, including superfluous handles and specialty blades, we focused our attention on the pitchers; the blades designed for blending; and the travel lids (with spouts when available), which allow them to seal completely and be flipped open for easy drinking on the go. We rated each machine on its speed and ease of use and evaluated how evenly and completely all of the ingredients were blended together. Finally, we tested the comfort of the drinking lids and the tightness of their seal. Throughout testing, we compared our models to a new copy of our Best Buy blender, Breville’s The Hemisphere Control ($199.99).

While two of the models we purchased are designed like traditional blenders—the blade is permanently centered in the bottom of the pitcher, and the pitcher moves directly from the blender base to the countertop—the other seven work differently. To operate them, you screw on a cover fitted with a blade and invert the pitcher onto the blender base so that the blade engages for blending; after blending, you remove the pitcher and flip it back over to remove the cover and screw on a travel lid. None of the models offered variable speeds or settings.

Neither of these designs affected how well the blenders worked, but their performances did vary dramatically. Some consistently whirred hard-frozen and fibrous ingredients into a cohesive blend in less than a minute, while others struggled for several minutes to incorporate chopped herbs into a creamy dressing. Part of that discrepancy came down to the shape and style of the pitchers. Tall, narrow vessels trapped ingredients far from the blades, so they couldn’t incorporate into a smooth, uniform mix—and pausing to shake or stir the contents was fussy. The two U-shaped models were more effective because the pitchers flared gently toward the opening and thus provided more space for the ingredients to circulate. (The only downside to their wider shape: They don’t fit in most standard cup holders.)

Another factor was blade design—specifically the number and shape of the prongs. Models with as few as two prongs simply weren’t able to grab as much food as those with more. If the prongs were either flat or short (in some cases, there was nearly ½ inch between the prong tip and the pitcher wall), the blade was even less effective. The most effective designs were those that featured at least six prongs that curved both up and down, allowing them to slice through ingredients at several locations simultaneously, and didn’t miss any large chunks.

Even something as seemingly simple as how the blenders turned on and off affected how easy—or not—they were to use. There were three operation mechanisms: conventional on/off buttons that allowed you to walk away during blending, pulse buttons that had to be held continuously, and an automatic start triggered when the pitcher is twisted into place. Especially when using slower machines, a walk-away feature was a plus: Thirty seconds is a long time to hold down a power button, and three minutes spent pressing and releasing a pulse button felt interminable. The one exception was the ultrapowerful model by one manufacturer, which made quick work of all mixing tasks and could be pulsed by gently pushing down on the top of the pitcher.

Finally, we looked for travel lids that offered a leakproof seal and a comfortable drinking spout. Several models missed the mark: There were solid lids that had to be twisted on and off, leaky gaskets, petite pour spouts that were too narrow for thick smoothies, and hinged closures that hit testers in the forehead with each sip.

Our favorite encompassed all the best traits we wanted in a personal blender with results as smooth as those from our full-size 32-ounce Best Buy blender. It also never flagged during our 100-smoothie and 100-milkshake abuse tests. While not a necessity, this blender, with its well-designed travel lid and small footprint, might be worth shelling out for if you’re a smoothie enthusiast.

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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.