What the best mixers have
- Variable speeds. At a minimum, stand mixers and hand mixers should have low, medium and high speeds with noticeable variation between settings. However, serious cooks will need additional settings -- particularly on stand mixers -- so they can slowly stir thick batters or quickly whip meringues. Most stand mixers will have 10-12 settings, though truly heavy-duty mixers may have fewer since their motors are so powerful.
- A sturdy chassis. Stand mixers are big and heavy (typically, at least 20 pounds) for a reason. They need to be able to operate even on the highest speeds without vibrating or "walking" across the counter. Similarly, a hand mixer should be light enough that it won't cause fatigue while you're using it, yet sturdy enough that it's easy to maintain control while mixing even thick ingredients.
- Sufficient power. Although high wattage is often associated with a powerful motor, experts say the wattage only tells how much power goes into a mixer, not how much comes out. The best mixers should be able to handle bread dough or thick cookie batter without whining, straining or smoking. They should also leave ingredients well-incorporated, with no lumps or unmixed areas.
- Good ease of use. Attachments should be simple to attach and remove. A handle on the bowl of a stand mixer is a great touch, making it much easier to move than just a smooth bowl. Most accessories should be dishwasher safe, and the mixer itself should be easy to wipe down after use. Controls should be intuitive and easy to see and use. A slow-start feature that helps prevent ingredients from flying out of the bowl after starting the mixer is a nice plus.
- An array of attachments. A stand mixer should at least include a beater (or a set of beaters) and dough hooks. Many stand mixers, like those from KitchenAid, have with a vast array of other optional accessories and attachments as well, but most stand mixers have at least some options for adding attachments. A hand mixer often only includes beaters, but some also include dough hooks or whisks. Quite a few now include storage caddies to keep everything together.
Know before you go
What do you prepare -- and how often? If you make bread, pastries or cakes on a regular basis, or like to cook or bake in larger batches, you'll need a powerful stand mixer with a large-capacity bowl. If you use your mixer frequently, but not so much for bread as for other ingredients like fillings, whipping cream, or mixing batters, a smaller stand mixer will probably be a great fit. A 5-quart mixing bowl can typically hold enough dough for nine dozen cookies or four loaves of bread. Most experts say a 4½- to 5-quart mixer is the right size for most average baking and cooking needs. If you do a lot of large-batch baking for a home-based business or as a volunteer for church or school, you may want to consider a mixer with a 6- or 7-quart capacity. On the other hand, if you only need a mixer for the occasional recipe, a hand mixer might be all you need.
How much space do you have? Stand mixers are big, bulky appliances that are meant to be permanent fixtures on your countertop. However, if you have low cabinets or narrow counters, not all stand mixers may fit. Before buying a stand mixer, it's important to measure the space available beneath your cabinets (accounting for tilt-head room) to ensure that the one you have your eye on will fit in your kitchen.
Do you want to match your décor? Stand mixers are meant to be left out on the counter, so owners appreciate being able to match their mixer to their kitchen décor. Although some mixers come in a vast array of colors, even just having a choice between the basics -- black, white and stainless -- is a nice extra.