Blenders are a versatile appliance that can make short work of many tasks
Blenders are no longer just for whipping up the occasional milkshake or smoothie. The top blenders can knead dough, chop nuts, make flour or nut butters, and even wrangle cold blocks of cheese into a usable size and texture. Blenders are popular at parties for their ability to whip up frozen drinks with a quick whirl. However, if all you want to do is get your daily shake or smoothie fix, there's a blender for that too.
The best blenders for general use handle most blending jobs well. However, as Ry Crist at CNET notes, "There are a lot of blenders living in that middle ground of too cheap and too expensive -- if you're looking to hit that sweet spot with an upgrade, it can be hard to tell where to turn."
Most blenders in this particular category range in price from less than $100 to about $200, but there are surprisingly few of them that get really good reviews for performance. Part of the issue is that owners seem to expect a $150 blender to perform like a $450 blender, and that simply will not happen. If you want a heavy-duty blender, you have to budget the money to buy a heavy-duty blender. With the exception of our top pick, the Breville BBL605XL Hemisphere Control blender (Est. $200), which gets ratings that put it up there with blenders costing twice as much, blenders in this class do a good job with traditional blending tasks: Making fruit smoothies and other frozen drinks, blending sauces, pureeing and whipping. However, don't expect them to create the silkiest textures, produce the most even consistencies, or power through kale and other leafy veggies.
If you only use your blender occasionally, or don't really need it for challenging tasks, like making nut butters or flour, you probably don't need to spend more than $100. There a lot of highly-rated blenders for less that are great choices for making batches or smoothies or frozen drinks like margaritas, as well as light food prep. Blenders in this class tend to do very well in tests for ice-crushing, but don't score as highly in test for consistent blending of ingredients that need a specific texture, like pestos, salsas and creams.
Heavy-duty blenders are the powerhouses of the blending world. Costing upwards of $200, and more often upwards of $400, these are the countertop blenders that you need if you want a blender that can do it all. The best blenders in this class can grind grains into flour, blend hot ingredients, heat cold ingredients, and turn out perfectly silky purees. They also do well with things like salsas, where a consistent, yet chunky, texture is important. These high-end machines can even replace your juicer because they can pulverize leafy vegetables, like kale. They'll last for years and tend to be easy to use and clean.
Single-serve blenders are popular with smoothie fans. These small blenders are just loads of fun, reviewers say. Pop your smoothie ingredients into the easy-to-use container, blend, remove the cup, and drink. Most come with travel mugs so you can take your smoothie on-the-go. Some models are individual units, while others are larger units that include one or more individual serving cups, making them both a full-sized (although not full-performance) blender and a single-serve blender. There are single-serve blenders in a variety of price ranges, although most are well under $100. We found several great budget choices that cost less than purchasing one smoothie at a snooty juice bar. And, of course, they're not just limited to smoothies. They can also make smaller milkshakes and frozen drinks as well.
Blenders aren't the only appliance that can come in handy in the kitchen. If most of your blending involves making emulsions or blending ingredients on the stove, a hand blender will be a great tool for you. This is merely a stick with a blender at the end and it's highly portable so, instead of bringing the ingredients to the blender, you bring the blender to the ingredients. If you rarely blend, but you cook or bake a lot, a food processor is almost a must have, as it makes short work of a huge variety of food preparation tasks. Are your only blending interests making a wide variety of smoothies? Then you definitely need a juicer, which has a dedicated process for grinding out every last bit of juice, nutrients and enzymes from soft and hard fruits, as well as the most challenging leafy vegetable. Each of these kitchen tools is covered in its own ConsumerSearch report.
Finding the best blenders
To make our top picks in countertop blenders, we analyzed blender reviews from nearly two-dozen sources to find the toughest, most effective choices. Experts at ConsumerReports.org and Cook's Illustrated (also known as America's Test Kitchen) thoroughly test blenders, powering through everything from ice cubes to fibrous frozen pineapple to find the sturdiest blenders with the smoothest results. We also consulted comparison-test results from Good Housekeeping, Wired, CNET, SweetHome.com and Men's Journal.
One shortcoming with professional reviews is that they typically only analyze a given product over a short period of time, and under sometimes ideal conditions. Because of that, we also consulted hundreds of owner reviews, which are a great resource for learning about real-world performance and long-term durability. The results of our research is a roundup of the best blenders for any lifestyle need.
Mid-priced, general-use blenders are a great choice for almost any kitchen
If you're looking for a blender to perform most common blending tasks, like crushing ice for smoothies or mixed drinks, swirling the ingredients for hummus, emulsifying mayo or hollandaise, or just general mixing, a general-use countertop blender is your best choice. If you want to make nut butters, mill flour or handle tough ingredients like blocks of cheese, you'll need a heavy-duty blender, because they're more versatile than blenders at this price point. And, if you just need a blender for you or for smaller batches, you'll probably be perfectly happy with a single serve blender.
For a blender that is considered mid-priced, but really does perform like a high-end appliance, look no further than the Breville BBL605XL Hemisphere Control (*Est. $200). Experts and owners say it works just as well as pricey Vitamix and Blendtec blenders. This is the top choice for those who want a heavy-duty blender, but don't want to pay upwards of $400.
It gets high scores from experts in comparison testing for a variety of tasks, from crushing ice to making nut flours and butters, and for blending consistency for pesto, soups, sauces and yogurt. It can even handle blocks of cold cheese as well as the big boys. It's super easy to use, say owners, with intuitive controls that take much of the guesswork out of deciding which setting to use for which job. It has five speeds and three presets -- including a very popular "smoothie" button that makes a perfect smoothie in less than one minute. All parts are dishwasher safe, and the hemispherical shape (which gives this blender its name) of the jar keeps food from getting stuck and makes it easy to empty.
As if top performance isn't enough, the Breville Hemisphere is one of the most attractive blenders in this report. In addition to the brushed metal finish of the BBL605XL, it is available in Black Sesame as the Breville BBL605BSXL (Est. $200) and in Cranberry Red as the Breville BBL605CBXL (Est. $200). At 16.5 inches tall, the Hemisphere Control blender might not fit under every counter, but, at 7 inches by 8 inches, it's not a space hog otherwise. The 48 ounce capacity jug is BPA free.
The only cons we saw with the Hemisphere Control blender is in its long-term durability compared to pricier blenders. However, reviews are very mixed on that attribute. One professional testing organization says that their Breville Hemispheres have not slowed down even after making 400 challenging vegetable and fruit smoothies.
At $200, the Breville Hemisphere might be more blender than you want to pay for, or even need, but, quite frankly, we found very few blenders in the $100 to $150 price range that do well in professional testing. A couple that pop up in virtually every test are the Cuisinart PowerEdge 1000 Watt Blender (Est. $120) and the Kitchen Aid 5-speed KSB560 (Est. $100). However, neither of them perform particularly well -- often ending up at the bottom of the roundups, or flat-out designated as "not recommended." Owners also give them lackluster ratings. However, if you just need a general-use blender for the occasional job, either of those could do fine.
Two blenders that are not included in any professional tests we found, but are two of the top-reviewed mid-priced blenders at Amazon.com are the Margaritaville DM0500 (Est. $175) and the Dash Digital Blender/Food Processor (Est. $147). It's no surprise that the Margaritaville blender is highly rated for making perfect margaritas every time, and owners say it's just plain fun to use. The Dash is more versatile, getting top marks from owners for its heavy-duty performance in everything from soups to nuts, as well as more traditional blending. Many say it compares well to Blendtec brand blenders.
An inexpensive countertop blender might be all you need
Although we struggled to find high-performing blenders in the $100 to $150 price range, we found a good number of blenders for less than $100 that out-perform many mid-priced general use blenders. Rising to the top is the Ninja Professional NJ600 (Est. $90). Ninja is a popular name in blenders, thanks to a regular presence in infomercials and on shopping networks, but the company really does make some good blenders.
The Ninja NJ600 gets outstanding reviews from experts and owners for its ice crushing ability, with users saying that if you want to make everything from smoothies to snow cones, this is the blender for you. That heavy-duty vibe helps it perform well at other challenging tasks as well, like chopping nuts and making nut butters. Users who primarily want to blend salsas or make smoothies that incorporate leafy greens say that it doesn't blend well enough and leaves chunks, but it does puree well; creating smooth soups, dips and sauces. Ninja makes a few other blenders in this price class that also get good reviews in general.
Another inexpensive blender that does well in expert tests and owner reviews is the Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart Blender 56206 (Est. $44), with some saying it's a steal for the price. This 700-watt powerhouse is surprisingly versatile, doing a good job not only with your standard smoothie, but also pesto and nut butters, although it takes a bit more patience to make those with this blender. The bottom line here is that this a fine choice if all you want to do is some basic blending. Don't expect high-end performance and you won't be disappointed.