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January/February 2018

High-End Blenders

We investigate the new crop of pricey blenders to see what you get—and whether it’s worth it—when the sky’s the limit.

How We Tested

We’re longtime fans of the Vitamix 5200 ($449.00). Given its price (more than double that of our winning midpriced blender), this commercial-turned-consumer luxury item is not for everyone. But for those who want a blender that can pulverize anything with the turn of a dial and will likely outlast its 7-year warranty, this has been our top recommended model for years.

The Vitamix 5200 is admittedly a stripped-down machine. It has three features on its control panel: a speed dial, an on/off switch, and a switch that accesses a second level of power. But recently, Vitamix and other major brands have released new models with more power and extra bells and whistles. A major difference: preset buttons that run for a fixed amount of time, so you can start your blender, walk away, and trust that it will shut itself off when the cycle is complete.

There are other purported upgrades, too. One blender has a fancy LCD touch screen and a “cavitation warning” that tells you when there’s an air pocket forming above the blades, inhibiting blending; another has an insulated “thermal control jar” designed to keep hot blends hotter. But these innovations don’t come cheap—prices go up to almost $700.00. So we tested the Vitamix 5200 against four newcomers to see if more money gets you a superior blender.

Are Fancy New Features Worth It?

Mostly, no. The LCD touch screen on one blender (particularly its speed dial) wasn’t responsive enough to be a practical upgrade. Plus, it scrolled annoying messages to us while we were blending, including ad-like notes directing us to the manufacturer’s website. We’d rather not be told “Be Healthy!” while making a batch of margaritas or “Tweet this!” first thing in the morning.

This blender was also the one that offered the cavitation warning, which we found unnecessary. When an air pocket forms above the blades during blending—typically when blending thicker foods such as hummus or almond butter—you don’t need the machine to tell you; you can hear it, as the blades start whirring faster and sound more high-pitched. A tamper, the long baton-like tool that comes with most of these high-end blenders (though not the model with the cavitation warning), is more useful. When you hear the blender getting stuck, you simply put it through the lid while the machine’s running and poke the food down into the air bubble. (Don’t worry—it’s designed to be too short to reach the blades.) This gets things moving and keeps the motor from overheating.

Are Blender Presets Useful?

All the new models we tested included preset buttons; the most common ones were for smoothies, crushed ice, cleaning, frozen desserts, hot soup, and juicing. These buttons make certain tasks more hands-off, so you can start your blender and walk away, knowing it will stop when the cycle is done. In practice, however, they weren’t especially helpful.

A smoothie takes only about 60 seconds to blend, and crushing ice takes just a few pulses, so the luxury of walking away while the blender works seemed a bit overstated to us; however, these presets did work. As for the self-cleaning features, you add soap and water and then activate the cleaning preset, which typically runs for a minute on high speed. While we did find this to be a great way to clean the blades, you don’t need a preset to do this. And with or without a dedicated button, this method doesn’t clean the lid or the top of the jar well, so you’ll still have to wash them separately.

The blenders have neither cooling nor heating elements, so the frozen dessert presets blend already-frozen foods on high for a short amount of time and the hot soup buttons blend for a longer time, allowing the friction of the blades to heat the contents. We made vanilla ice cream in each machine using manufacturer recipes, which typically required freezing ice cube trays full of milk, half-and-half, or another type of dairy hours ahead of time. The resulting desserts were very soft and icy—more like ice milk than ice cream—and tasters universally deemed them unacceptable.

As for their promised warming abilities, just one model, the Blendtec Designer 725, got soup properly hot. But its preset had a short cycle—only 3 minutes compared with the other models’ 6 minutes—so we had to run it twice to get the soup up to a piping-hot 160 degrees. The KitchenAid model with the special thermal jar didn’t keep soup any hotter than did blenders with uninsulated jars.

The juicing presets were disappointing, too. The results were different from juice from an extractor, which is usually made from only pressed fruits or vegetables, with no added water. You have to add water when making juice in a blender, or you’ll end up with a paste. But even when we did so, the results were either silty carrot juice or, when strained, watery carrot juice. Both were drinkable but not as good as juice from a proper juicer.

Overall, we were unimpressed with the new presets, especially considering that they can add $100.00 to $200.00 to a blender’s price. And we didn’t find that these new blenders were capable of replacing other appliances such as ice cream makers or electric juicers.

Is a More Powerful Blender Better?

Just as we found with the preset buttons, more wasn’t necessarily better when it came to power. Our five high-end blenders ranged from 1,380 to a whopping 2,800 watts in power (compared with 750 watts for our winning midpriced blender). The most powerful model, the Blendtec, wasn’t able to make mayonnaise because its lowest speed was too fast, so the ingredients splattered too chaotically inside the jar to emulsify.

The Vitamix 5200 had the lowest wattage, and we noticed that while its food was very finely textured, other blenders produced even finer results. For example, smoothies made in the Vitamix 5200 had a few barely visible specks of kale. Some of the other high-powered blenders made smoothies that were so completely blended, they had no visible specks at all. But we couldn’t feel the particles when we sipped the Vitamix 5200’s smoothies, and they had a better texture overall. They were velvety and creamy, while the other blenders’ smoothies tended to be slightly aerated and frothy. This played out in other liquid-y applications such as soup, too.

Jar shape, it turned out, mattered more than power. When we studied the blenders side by side, we saw differences in the shape of the Vitamix 5200’s jar and those of the other blenders. The Vitamix 5200 was taller and narrower, at 20.25 inches tall and 4 inches across; the others ranged from 16 to 18.2 inches tall and 4.5 to 5.75 inches across. As blender blades turn, they move their contents into a vortex, which looks like a small tornado. In shorter, broader jars, the vortexes were far more chaotic; contents ricocheted off the sides and smashed up against the lids as if a fire hose were loose inside. No wonder their blends were more aerated. Only the Vitamix 5200 kept its food more contained toward the bottom of the jar, where it combined readily without incorporating extra air.

There is a drawback to the height of the Vitamix 5200, though: It won’t fit on a counter beneath a standard 18-inch-tall cabinet, and its narrower jar was slightly harder to scrape food out of. If that’s a deal breaker, there are other good options. A slightly frothy smoothie can still be a delicious smoothie; we just preferred the Vitamix 5200’s creamier, silkier blends overall.

Simplicity and Functionality Win

While we ultimately can recommend three of the four new models, none of them topped our old winner. The Vitamix 5200 ($449.00) is still the best high-end blender for the money. It’s simple but produced superior results in our testing, and while it is expensive, it costs hundreds of dollars less than some of its more complex competitors. It was also the quietest blender we tested—a boon for early morning blending. If hands-off blending or under-cabinet storage is a priority, our runner-up, the Vitamix Professional Series 750, is also a good choice.

Methodology

We tested five blenders, priced from $399.95 to $679.95, rating them on their ability to blend smoothies, crush ice, puree hummus, emulsify mayonnaise, grind almond butter, and make ice cream, hot soup, and carrot juice. Throughout testing we evaluated each blender on how easy it was to operate, clean, and maneuver, as well as how loud it was. We weighed and measured each blender’s base and jar, used a tachometer to measure how fast its blades turned, and used a decibel meter to measure how loud its motor was. Prices listed were paid online. The blenders appear in order of preference.

Smoothies: We made smoothies using fresh kale, frozen pineapple, and orange juice in two ways. First, we blended the ingredients for exactly 60 seconds on high in each machine. Next, we followed the instructions each manufacturer provided for making smoothies; we used the “smoothie” button if the machine had one. The best blenders made completely smooth smoothies with minimal air incorporated into the blend.

Hummus: We made one batch of our Restaurant-Style Hummus (CIMA08) in each blender; the best blenders required minimal scraping to completely puree the ingredients into a smooth and homogeneous dip.

Crushed Ice: We crushed ice in each blender; the best models quickly turned the ice into fluffy white snow with minimal scraping.

Mayonnaise: We emulsified eggs and oil into mayonnaise using our Quick Food Processor Mayonnaise (CIJF05) recipe to evaluate the lower speeds and the opening in each lid designed for adding ingredients while the blender is running; the best models produced smooth, creamy mayonnaise.

Almond Butter: We ground almonds into Almond Butter (CISO16/DIY Book). The best models were able to produce extremely smooth almond butter with minimal scraping and without overheating.

Frozen Desserts: We made vanilla ice cream in each machine; none of the blenders was able to make acceptable ice cream.

Hot Soup: We made tomato soup in each machine, testing their ability to puree and heat ingredients; the best machine was able to get the soup up to a piping-hot 160 degrees.

Juice: We made carrot juice in each blender by combining carrots and water; all the blenders made similar, slightly pulpy juice that was drinkable but not as good as juice from a dedicated juicer.

Maneuverability: We rated each blender on how easy its jar and lid were to attach and detach and how easy it was to move around.

Ease of Use: We rated each blender on how logical and intuitive its controls were, as well as how easy it was to use and clean.

Noise: Noise is measured in decibels on a scale of zero to 140. We noted how loud the blenders were throughout testing and measured them with a decibel meter, recording a range of 96.1 to 105.7 decibels. Those that stayed under 100 decibels rated highest.

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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.