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 can make you 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.
Blenders for general use handle most blending jobs well. Most blenders in this 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'll have to budget the money to buy a heavy-duty blender.
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 are a lot of highly-rated, fairly inexpensive blenders that are great choices for making batches of 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 tests 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 making items 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. The best rated models should 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 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.
Countertop 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, an immersion 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 small kitchen appliances 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 those blenders that are top performers, yet easy to use and clean. Experts at ConsumerReports.org and Cook's Illustrated 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, TheSweetHome.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.
The best blenders
For a blender that is considered mid-priced, but performs 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 in almost every task -- wrangling tough greens like kale or spinach being the chief exception. The Breville is the top choice for those who want a heavy-duty blender, but don't want to pay upwards of $450.
The Breville Hemisphere 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. The Breville Hemisphere is 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 of the jar (which gives this blender its name) keeps food from getting stuck and makes it easy to empty.
As if top performance isn't enough, the Breville Hemisphere is also reported to be an extremely attractive appliance. It's available in brushed silver, black and red. 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. A few owners say it failed in its second year, even with light use. Others say it has lasted them for years. One professional testing organization gives the Breville excellent scores for durability. At another professional test kitchen, editors say that one of their Breville Hemispheres has not slowed down even after making 400 challenging vegetable and fruit smoothies, but others had an issue with a button that acts as a secondary safety feature. It's located on the base of the Breville and is activated by pressure from a plastic rib on the inside of the jar. If the button gets clogged with food it will fail to engage. However, the editors note that it's an issue that most users will not experience, and is an easy fix for those that do.
It's only about $30 less than the Breville, but the Oster Versa (Est. $170) is generating some good buzz with reviewers. It gets slightly better feedback than the Breville Hemisphere at Amazon.com, and is the top pick in this year's round of testing at TheSweetHome.com; although it doesn't fare as well in testing at another professional review site, earning lower scores than the Breville for ice crushing and noise.
Still, Christine Cyr Clisset at TheSweetHome.com concludes that the Oster Versa "offers the best value for most people." She found it to be extremely user friendly and particularly praised the variety of presets. Users agree, saying the Versa is plenty powerful and is an amazing value for the price. Many also note how easy it is to use and clean. There are dissenters, of course, who feel it's not powerful enough and describe it as "sluggish" on tough jobs.
An inexpensive countertop blender might be all you need
Not everyone needs a pricey blender to adequately fulfill the needs of an everyday kitchen. For the average, everyday person who just wants a multi-use blender and isn't particularly interested in heavy-duty tasks, we recommend the Ninja Professional NJ600 (Est. $70). Ninja is a popular name in blenders, thanks to a regular presence in infomercials and on home 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 these tough items evenly enough and leaves chunks, but it does puree well; creating smooth soups, dips and sauces.
Another inexpensive blender that does well in expert tests and owner reviews is the KitchenAid KSB1570ER (Est. $80). It's the budget pick at TheSweetHome.com, where it's found to be a "good, all-purpose machine" However, in that test, it produces thicker textures, so may not be the best choice for emulsions or items that you'd like more finely chopped. Still, owners give it very high marks, and say it's very solid and is plenty powerful enough even for challenging jobs like crushing ice. A few don't like the plastic pitcher.