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July/August 2019

Small Stand Mixers

Can smaller, lighter stand mixers pull their weight in the kitchen?

How We Tested

The 34 stand mixers we have in our test kitchen are our not-so-little helpers. Our test cooks use them daily to effortlessly mix, whip, and knead, and we've even found some unexpected uses, such as shredding pulled pork and mashing potatoes. Our favorite high-end full-size stand mixer, the KitchenAid Pro Line Series 7 Quart Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer, and our favorite inexpensive stand mixer, the KitchenAid Classic Plus Series 4.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, which is slightly smaller, are powerful, but their heft makes them cumbersome to lift and store. This isn't a problem for home cooks who have big kitchens, but a full-size stand mixer can take up valuable kitchen real estate in smaller spaces. Recently we've seen mini stand mixers on the market that bill themselves as 25 percent lighter and 20 percent smaller than full-size versions but still capable of tackling most recipes. KitchenAid, the maker of our two favorites, released its Artisan Mini 3.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer, which promised to save counter space but still offer the same power as its full-size siblings. To find out if these claims were true, we tested it and two other mini stand mixers, all with bowl capacities of 3.5 quarts or less and priced from about $40 to about $250. We used each model to mix cookie dough and cake batter, make frosting, knead bread dough, whip heavy cream, and whip egg whites for meringue.

Bowl Coverage Is Key

The mini stand mixers we tested operated in two different ways. One design featured two stationary beaters that spun in place in the mixing bowl. The second design offered what industry experts refer to as “planetary action,” a term used to describe how a single beater that spins on an axis circles the mixing bowl in the opposite direction (much like the way the earth revolves around the sun). Our lineup included one stationary and two planetary-action mixers.

The two designs performed very differently. The mixer with the two stationary beaters stirred only what was directly underneath the beaters, so we had to finish mixing every food by hand. This mixer also struggled through our most basic tests; it was unable to thoroughly whip cream, beat egg whites to soft peaks, or produce a glossy half-batch of meringue. To see if the stationary movement of the beaters was to blame, we added yogurt to the mixing bowl along with some blue and yellow food dye and timed how long it took for the yogurt to turn green. Even after 5 minutes of mixing, the yogurt remained white with blue and yellow streaks—a confirmation that the stationary beaters weren't efficiently mixing the dyes into the yogurt.

This mixer also featured a rotating disk beneath the bowl as well as a lever at the base that would allow the user to shift the bowl horizontally. We guessed these features were meant to help the beaters more effectively mix ingredients, but the yogurt remained streaked even after we manually turned and shifted the bowl.

The two mixers that aced all our tests operated via planetary action. Their spinning beaters efficiently circled the bowl, ensuring that there was no unmixed flour in cake batter and that chocolate chips were evenly distributed in cookie dough. When we tried the yogurt dye test with these mixers, both turned the yogurt green within 90 seconds.

Lighter Wasn't Necessarily Better

In previous stand mixer testings, we found that if a machine was too light it would “walk” itself off the counter. Two of the mixers, whose bodies were made of plastic and weighed 8.6 and 3.65 pounds, compensated for their weight with suction cups secured to their bases. While the suction cups did keep the stand mixers in place while we used them, they proved frustrating: To lift one of these mixers from the counter, we had to wrap our arms around its entire base and yank with full force. We preferred the mixer with a little more heft and no suction cups. Our favorite mini stand mixer, which weighed about 16 pounds, was heavy enough that it didn't jump around during testing but still light enough to carry without difficulty. Though 16 pounds may seem heavy compared to the 3.65 pounds of the lightest mixer, it's still much lighter than our favorite full-size mixers, which weigh 25 pounds and 22 pounds.

Weight also played another role: It determined how loud the mixer was. While we expect a stand mixer to make some noise, testers were startled by how loud the two lighter mixers were. In comparison, the heavier mixer was relatively quiet, enough so that we could hold a conversation without shouting while the mixer was running at top speed.

Bridget Smyser, mechanical engineer and associate professor at Northeastern University, explained that as mixer attachments rotate, they vibrate. Lighter machines will rattle and vibrate more than heavier machines will, and will therefore make more noise.

Understanding Power Differences

The two stand mixers that operated via planetary action easily mixed cookie dough and cake batter; kneaded bread dough; whipped meringue to stiff, glossy peaks; and whipped cream. However, one of the mixers did so faster, more thoroughly, and with greater efficiency. To understand why, we looked at the mixers' power.

All three mixers had from 250 to 300 watts of power, but our favorite mixer, which aced all the tests, was on the low end of that spectrum, with just 250 watts. Smyser explained that the true measurement of a mixer's power comes down to torque, not wattage.

Torque is the rotational force of the mixer—how efficiently it can push the mixing attachment through the batter or dough. Take an electric handheld mixer, for example: The beaters rotate quickly, but they don't pull a lot of the batter with them because the mixer lacks torque. Consequently, a handheld mixer takes longer to mix batter, and it doesn't work with really stiff bread or pizza dough. A good stand mixer not only has attachments that rotate quickly, Smyser said, but also puts a lot of force (in the form of torque) behind each revolution.

We also consulted Duncan Freake, a senior mechanical engineer with EPAM Continuum, a global innovation design firm in Boston, Massachusetts. Both Freake and Smyser said it is difficult to measure torque. Instead, Freake suggested examining the inner workings of the stand mixers. Unsurprisingly, once we took the top off each mixer, we found that our favorite was comprised mostly of metal parts, whereas the two lower-ranking mixers were made primarily of plastic gears and also likely had cheaper motors. The lower-cost machines operate at a higher speed and are unable to maintain speed under load, while the more expensive machines can maintain power during demanding tasks. Freake explained that plastic gears are cheaper and lighter but are also less efficient, durable, and powerful than metal gears.

The Downsides of a Mini Mixer

Ultimately, we named the KitchenAid Artisan Mini 3.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer our favorite mini stand mixer. It weighed 5 pounds less than the KitchenAid Classic Plus Series 4.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer and 10 pounds less than the KitchenAid Pro Line Series 7 Quart Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer. Despite the mini mixer being just a couple of inches smaller in height and width than the other KitchenAid models, testers quickly noticed the size and weight difference, finding the 16-pound Artisan Mini much easier to lift and maneuver than its 21.25- and 26.6-pound siblings.

But can it do everything the big stand mixers can? In a final experiment, we tested the limits of the mini KitchenAid model with three stiff high-gluten, high-hydration doughs that other stand mixers have traditionally struggled with in our kitchens: stand-mixer pizza dough, sticky high-hydration pizza dough, and ultrastiff bagel dough. In each case, we compared the results to those of the KitchenAid Classic Plus Series 4.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer. In both the stand-mixer pizza dough and bagel dough tests, the mini mixer performed identically to the Classic Plus: The doughs came together within the recipe times and the mixers worked steadily without jumping around too much. However, the mini mixer struggled with the sticky, high-hydration pizza dough, and ultimately, the dough never fully came together. And while we don't often make double batches of any of these doughs, the full-size mixers can do so if needed, but the mini could not.

The Best Mini Stand Mixer: KitchenAid Artisan Mini 3.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer

If you're a serious baker who frequently relies on your stand mixer to power through tough recipes or big batches and you have the kitchen space, we recommend our two full-size favorites. Both can handle wet, sticky doughs and double batches.

But for those who find storage space and/or mixer weight to be a concern, we recommend the KitchenAid Artisan Mini 3.5 Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer. Granted, this mixer costs more than the KitchenAid Classic Plus stand mixer, but our take is that you get what you pay for. This mini mixer was as easy to use as it was powerful. It also comes in 18 fun colors (the Classic Plus comes in two and the Pro Line six). We found only one recipe where it truly struggled—the sticky, high-hydration pizza dough—but it made another pizza dough with ease. If you're a casual baker and like to have a mixer on hand for occasional projects but don't want to devote serious kitchen space to this appliance or find the larger KitchenAid stand mixers too heavy, the KitchenAid Artisan Mini is a great choice.


Methodology

We tested three mini stand mixers, all with bowl capacities of 3.5 quarts or less and priced from about $40 to about $250. We used each to whip egg whites and heavy cream and to make our recipes for meringue, Thick & Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Confetti Layer Cake, Large-Batch Vanilla Frosting, and Whole-Wheat Pita Bread. With the winning stand mixer, we made bagel dough and two types of pizza dough and compared the results to doughs made in our favorite inexpensive stand mixer. Testers also evaluated the designs of the mixers and how easy each model was to use and clean. Prices listed were paid online, and products are listed in order of preference.

Rating Criteria

Performance: Products were awarded top marks if they easily whipped small quantities of ingredients (such as 1 cup of heavy cream), creamed butter and sugar, made an entire batch of cookies, mixed cake batter, handled a large batch of frosting, and kneaded stiff bread and pizza dough.

Capacity: The best mixers easily fit and evenly mixed full batches of cookie dough, cake batter, frosting, and bread dough. We also measured the actual usable capacity of the mixers by pouring water into the bowls until it reached the tops of the mixing attachments and comparing those results with the stated capacities, which were often overstated.

Design: We evaluated the weight, shape, and controls of each mixer and its attachments, including the whisk, paddle, and dough hook (when included), and assessed how each of these affected overall performance. The best mixers had controls that were simple to understand and operate and were easy to lift and maneuver but still powerful enough to tackle most recipes.

Ease of Use: We awarded points to mixers that were intuitive to use and had bowls and attachments that were simple to put in place and remove.

Cleanup: We cleaned the mixer parts according to manufacturer instructions after each use. We preferred stand mixers with dishwasher-safe bowls to those that were hand-wash only.

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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.