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December/January 2018

Inexpensive Blenders

Our winning midrange and high-end blenders are excellent—but pricey. Could we find a decent option for less than $100?

How We Tested

The Breville Hemisphere Control ($199.95) and the Vitamix 5200 ($449.00), our winning midrange and high-end blenders, respectively, are great. The Vitamix gets finer results, but they’re both uniquely capable and durable—and expensive. Could we find a good blender for less than $100.00 for those who can’t, or don’t want to, spend more?

To find out, we selected seven top sellers, priced from $60.68 to $99.99, and conducted a taxing series of tests looking at food quality, ease of use, and durability.

What You Sacrifice with a Cheaper Blender

Flash forward three weeks to our final gauntlet—almond butter—and its aftermath.

One blender is fully dead, smoke wafting from its buttons. Two are playing dead. A massacre. And the four survivors have taken forever to produce so-so results. We tried this hard test to see if they could do the same things as the pricier blenders. The answer? Not quite.

But grinding almonds into a paste is challenging, and not everyone wants to make nut butter, pulverize wheat berries, or crack farro. Some folks just want a darn margarita. Or a smoothie. Or some soup. For them, we found a very good blender.

How Blender Jar Design Affects Performance

But first, let’s cut to earlier, when all seven blenders were still alive and kicking. Throughout testing we noticed that some blended their contents nicely, while others left large chunks of food behind, up to ⅓ cup. We compared power; blade shape, size, and positioning; and jar shape and size across all our machines, but we found no blanket explanation for why some blended better than others. Instead, small differences in blade shape and orientation, jar design, and power allowed some blenders to create better movement inside their jars so that all the food moved down onto the blades, around, and up again.

We noticed that food inside wider jars, more than 5 inches across, was bashed about, incorporating extra air; we had to scrape them down more, too. We preferred blenders with narrower jars, as they kept their contents more contained so that their blends were dense and smooth, not frothy, and they required fewer scrape-downs.

Our winner had the narrowest jar, 4.25 inches, plus three deep vertical ribs running up its sides. At the bottom of the jar, the ribs curved into little ramps designed to direct food from the bottom of the jar up, around, and down again. And they really worked. We could see the food traveling along them and down onto the blades quickly and efficiently, and the results were notably smooth.

Small Quantities and Staining in Blenders

We often use blenders to makes sauces, dressings, and dips, which can have pungent ingredients or smaller volumes. To see if the jars would stain or retain odors, we processed chipotle peppers and garlic in each machine. We then tried to make mayonnaise to see how they fared with a small amount of ingredients. Some stained more than others, and four of seven couldn’t make mayonnaise. Mayo is especially tricky because it’s a small-volume recipe that has to be combined at a slow, even rate to emulsify properly. Two of the blenders’ blades were set too high in relation to the shape of their jars, so they couldn’t reach the ingredients underneath to combine them. And three of our blenders had low speeds that were simply too fast—between 10,000 and 20,000 rotations per minute (rpm)—which prevented the mixture from emulsifying. Blenders with slower low speeds, less than roughly 8,500 rpm, were more likely to be able to emulsify.

A Blender That’s Easy to Use

We also found major differences in how easy the blenders were to operate. We preferred control panels with easy-to-press, clearly labeled buttons; lighter plastic jars to heavier glass ones; and jars that were easy to attach, detach, and pour from.

Our top-rated model was simple to operate and blended exceptionally well. It couldn’t make almond butter, but its overheat protection system automatically stopped its motor so it wouldn’t burn out while trying to. We still think the Breville and the Vitamix are superior, as they can tackle any project, but for simple blending tasks, our winner, the Black + Decker Performance FusionBlade Blender ($80.26), is an excellent choice.

Methodology

We tested seven blenders, priced from $60.68 to $99.99, against our winning midrange blender, the Breville Hemisphere Control ($199.95). To see how well they blended, we made batches of green smoothies, strawberry margaritas, and creamy tomato soup, and we crushed ice. We also combined a potent mixture of chipotles in adobo and garlic cloves in each machine to check for staining and odor retention, and we washed the jars and their lids 10 times in the dishwasher or by hand, depending on manufacturer instructions. A mayonnaise test showed us how well the blenders worked with a small-volume recipe in which the ingredients must be combined slowly at the correct rate to emulsify. As a final abuse test, we tried to make almond butter in each blender.

Blending and Ice Crushing: We made fresh kale, frozen pineapple, and orange juice smoothies; blended strawberry margaritas; pureed tomato soup; and crushed ice in each blender. The best blenders made completely smooth drinks and soups, incorporating minimal air, and fluffy, white, fully pulverized crushed ice.

Mayonnaise: By emulsifying eggs and oil into mayonnaise, we evaluated the blenders’ lower speeds and the holes in their lids that are used to add ingredients while the blender is running; the best models produced smooth, creamy mayonnaise on the first try.

Almond Butter: We tried to make almond butter in each blender; those that were able to grind the almonds to a smooth consistency rated highest.

Cleaning and Handling: We rated each blender on how easy its jar and lid were to attach and remove, how easy the jar was to pour from, and how easy it was to clean.

Controls and Operation: We rated each blender on how logical, intuitive, and easy to operate it was.

Noise Level: 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, noting a range of roughly 80 decibels (comparable to the dial tone of a telephone) to 100 decibels (comparable to a drill). Those that stayed under 95 decibels rated highest.

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The Results

Note: Cook's Country continuously updates our equipment reviews and taste tests. The written content below is the most up-to-date information available and may not match what appears in the video segment.

Key:
Good
Fair
Poor
Winner
Recommended

Black + Decker Performance FusionBlade Blender

$80.26

Black + Decker Performance FusionBlade Blender

Our top-rated inexpensive blender made impressively silky smoothies, frozen margaritas, mayonnaise, and pureed soups that were on par with those produced by blenders costing five times as much. It was notably quiet and didn’t stain or trap odors. It failed and overheated during the almond butter test but recovered afterward thanks to its overheat protection system. Its tall, narrow jar was light and easy to attach, detach, and pour from. It was somewhat hard to tell when its lid was securely attached, so we had to fiddle with it more than we’d like, and its hollow handle sometimes trapped water while in the dishwasher, but we cleared it fairly easily.

More Details
Mayonnaise
Noise Level
Almond Butter
Cleaning and Handling
Controls and Operation
Blending and Ice Crushing
$80.26
Recommended with Reservations

Braun PureMix

$75.92

Braun PureMix

This blender made well-blended soup and margaritas and didn’t stain. But once we added tougher textures such as pineapple and kale, it took longer to get good results. It was able to make almond butter, but it took a long time and the final product was a bit stodgy. It crushed ice mostly well, occasionally leaving large chunks. Its handle trapped water and food if we ran its jar through the dishwasher, but we were able to get it out fairly easily. Its buttons weren’t perfectly responsive, so sometimes it took us two tries to engage them. And it couldn’t make mayonnaise, likely because its too-fast lowest speed, 10,928 rpm, splattered the ingredients too chaotically to emulsify properly.

More Details
Mayonnaise
Noise Level
Almond Butter
Cleaning and Handling
Controls and Operation
Blending and Ice Crushing
$75.92

Ninja Professional Blender

$64.89

Ninja Professional Blender

This blender crushed ice and pureed soup well, and it made acceptably smooth, albeit slightly frothy, smoothies, but margaritas had small strawberry chunks. It also had simple, intuitive controls and didn’t stain or trap odors. Although its almond butter was quite good, it couldn’t make mayonnaise because its blades were too high to reach the egg mixture at the bottom. Its unique, removable blade was hard to clean—we cut ourselves while washing it—and the lid and jar handle trapped water and food during dishwasher cycles, leaking it out later.

More Details
Mayonnaise
Noise Level
Almond Butter
Cleaning and Handling
Controls and Operation
Blending and Ice Crushing
$64.89

Cuisinart Velocity Ultra 7.5 1 HP Blender

$99.99

Cuisinart Velocity Ultra 7.5 1 HP Blender

This blender had an intuitive control panel and didn’t stain or retain odors. It splattered a lot, though, likely due to its wide jar. It was too chaotic inside the jar for mayonnaise ingredients to emulsify, and it sprayed a greasy raw egg mixture out of the lid while we were drizzling in the oil; correspondingly, soups and smoothies were mostly well blended but a little frothy. It was able to make slightly chunky almond butter, though we had to scrape down the jar 12 times for it to work. Lastly, it was fairly loud, and it was slightly hard to clean under its blade, which is sunk down into the base.

More Details
Mayonnaise
Noise Level
Almond Butter
Cleaning and Handling
Controls and Operation
Blending and Ice Crushing
$99.99
Not Recommended

Oster Pro 1200 PLUS Blend-n-Go Smoothie Cup & Food Processor Attachment

$88.28

Oster Pro 1200 PLUS Blend-n-Go Smoothie Cup & Food Processor Attachment

This blender had a unique blade that automatically reversed directions while running. This helped it dig in really fast and make smooth almond butter, but it still left traces of almonds uncombined, and its smoothies, margaritas, and soups had chunks in them. The blades were set too high to reach the eggs, so we couldn’t make mayonnaise. The glass jar was heavy—particularly taxing when we had to scrape out thicker mixtures—and buttons were hard to read because they were made of shiny, glinty chrome and were labeled in small, faint writing. We had to wash the jar three times to get rid of the chipotle pepper/garlic smell. At the end of testing, the blade had some dings and a metal part on the underside of the jar showed some rust, even though we had followed the care instructions.

More Details
Mayonnaise
Noise Level
Almond Butter
Cleaning and Handling
Controls and Operation
Blending and Ice Crushing
$88.28

Hamilton Beach Multiblend Blender with Built-in Travel Jar

$60.68

Hamilton Beach Multiblend Blender with Built-in Travel Jar

This was the cheapest and lightest model in our lineup. Sometimes it took us two or three tries to engage its buttons, and some testers found them hard to read and slightly confusing. For example, there were two pulse modes, one for “dicing/chopping” and another for “grinding,” and two speeds: “mix/milkshake” and “puree/smoothie.” We often weren’t sure which to use. This blender made slightly chunky smoothies, margaritas, and crushed ice, and it died for good while trying to make almond butter. We had to wash the plastic jar twice to get rid of the smell of chipotle peppers. It had an extremely fast lowest speed, so it couldn’t properly emulsify mayonnaise, and while it wasn’t the loudest blender in our lineup, the motor made a particularly grating sound. Lastly, part of the rubber grip on its handle started to peel off after only a few uses.

More Details
Mayonnaise
Noise Level
Almond Butter
Cleaning and Handling
Controls and Operation
Blending and Ice Crushing
$60.68

Omega BL330R Blender

$69.95

Omega BL330R Blender

This blender left unacceptable amounts of food unblended. Smoothies were fine, but there was up to 1/3 cup of unblended pineapple at the bottom of the jar, even if we ran the blender for twice the normal amount of time. Tasters called its margaritas “melted fruit salads,” and it couldn’t crush ice very well. We liked the supersimple interface with only two retro metal switches, but it wasn’t very responsive—it often spun for 2 to 3 seconds after we’d turned it off—and didn’t have a pulse button. Our biggest gripe, though, was how hard it was to get the jar off the base. The jar stuck so much that we had to use two hands, and when we shimmied it back and forth to free it, the bottom untwisted, spilling smoothie everywhere. It couldn’t make almond butter or mayonnaise, the latter likely due to an extremely high lowest speed of 19,665 rpm. Lastly, it was loud, and the lid retained smells even after three washes.

More Details
Mayonnaise
Noise Level
Almond Butter
Cleaning and Handling
Controls and Operation
Blending and Ice Crushing
$69.95