Manufacturers brag about speeds and power, but what really makes a good blender? We immersed ourselves in the facts to find out.
How We Tested
We use immersion blenders—also called stick blenders—to puree soups in their pots, eliminating the messy, dicey transfer to and from a blender or food processor. They’re also designed for small blending jobs such as making mayonnaise, salad dressing, pesto, or whipped cream.
The top part of an immersion blender, the handle, houses the controls and motor and trails the electrical cord. The business end is at the bottom, where the blending wand ends in an umbrella-like hood that covers the blade; the hood protects the user and has perforations that help circulate the food for even, efficient blending. Most models come with accessories such as blending cups and whisk attachments; some come with extras such as chopping bowls or potato mashers. A majority of the blenders from our last testing have been discontinued, so we tested 11 new models, priced from $14.99 to $129.99, alongside our old winner from KitchenAid.
One blender’s chopping wand fell off miduse—plop, right into the soup. Another model’s wand didn’t detach, also a no-go. Speaking of safety, there was another deal breaker: Cuisinart recently added a safety lock to almost all its immersion blenders, including the two we tested. It requires the user to press a button to unlock the blender before it starts. This meant that every time we took our finger off the power button to shift our grip or adjust the pot, we had to stop and use our other hand (which was busy steadying the pot) to unlock it before we could start again. “I’ve child-locked myself out of this stupid thing,” said one tester.
We noticed that manufacturers seemed to be trying to add flash to their blenders with features such as “turbo” buttons and up to 15 blending speeds. To better understand how blade speed correlates with performance, we used a tachometer to measure the blade speed (in revolutions per minute, or RPM) of each model at various settings. Unfortunately, our results showed that faster blades don’t necessarily make for better blending—a blade can move rapidly but not have a lot of power behind its rotation. As for the blending speeds, the 15-speed Breville sounded impressive, but we found that speeds 1 to 13 varied very little, and it wasn’t until speeds 14 and 15 that we started to see some action. More puzzling, speed 1 was slightly faster than speed 2, and 3 was slightly faster than 4, so these settings were superfluous and inaccurate. We concluded that two speeds were plenty: one low and one high, ranging in speed between 10,000 RPM on the low end and 14,000 RPM on the high end.
Some brands bragged about high wattage (a measure of how much electricity their motors draw), which ranged from 150 to 700 watts. Did more watts equal better blending? Not in our tests. To find out why, we spoke to Professor Igor Mezic, director of the Center for Energy Efficient Design and head of UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. He explained that more power, as measured in watts, might make things go slightly faster or give a slight edge in blending very liquid-y substances, like a big batch of thin soup. But for cutting, chopping, and pureeing more viscous foods, the design of the blade and its encircling guard is more important.
We examined the wands for common design attributes but found no pattern. Guard designs, guard vents, and distances from blade to guard varied and didn’t track with performance. When we looked at the blades themselves, we saw that some were straight and even and others were irregularly shaped, but that didn’t track with performance either. At best, we can say that sharp blades with guards designed to maximize food movement into the path of the blades were very important.
What else mattered? Comfort was key, as shorter, lighter, slimmer blenders cloaked in grippy rubber were the easiest to hold and move. We preferred buttons to dials because dials required a second hand, while buttons right on the grip let us hop back and forth between speeds with one hand and less fuss. Regarding accessories, we liked whisks (which whip cream more evenly and with more control than the blades) and blending cups, which minimize splatter; we found anything else extraneous.
In the end, the new Braun Multiquick 5 Hand Blender ($59.99) earned our top spot. It is comfortable, secure, tidy, easy to use, and has two well-calibrated speeds right on its grip.
We tested 12 blenders, priced from $14.99 to $129.99, starting with an elimination round in which we pureed potato soup. Five blenders were nixed from the lineup for egregiously poor performance: Blades fell off into the soup, wands didn’t detach, and buttons were markedly uncomfortable. We ran the remaining seven blenders through a battery of tests including grinding pesto, blending smoothies, emulsifying mayonnaise, whipping cream, and pureeing whole tomatoes. We tried them in Dutch ovens, saucepans, slow-cooker crocks, bowls, and their own blending cups (for models that had one). Testers of different sizes and dominant hands used and rated each blender, and we washed all of their attachments and blending cups in the dishwasher 10 times. Prices were paid online, scores were averaged, and the blenders appear below in order of preference.
Blending: How well the blenders puree; there should be no unincorporated food, and textures should be smooth and even.
Comfort: The comfort of the handle and buttons, as well as the working weight; the blender should be comfortable and easy to hold for the entirety of each task.
Handling: How manageable and logical the speeds are to use and set, how well the cord stays out of the way, and how easy it is to move the blender around the pot.
Splatter: How much splatter the blenders make; they shouldn’t spray food, and they should come with a blending cup to minimize splatter.
Durability: How cosmetically and functionally intact the blenders remain throughout testing; they should remain intact and fully functional.