A kitchen staple for decades, blenders top the list of housewarming, wedding and graduation gifts. They're your best bet if you want a tasty smoothie or a frozen beverage. You can even use them to chop, grind and mix dry ingredients.
Blenders aren't too much of a luxury item, but start your search and you'll see that right next to the $50 models are ones that cost $500. How do you pick the right blender? We tested 10 popular models to find out which ones make blending a breeze.?
NutriBullet keeps it simple with three power levels, a pulse setting and 1,200 watts of power. It performed well in all of our tests. Smooth batters, finely crushed ice, frothy smoothies and good grated cheese (our torture test) were all easy to achieve. A reasonable $100 price tag means you won't have to break the bank to get a good blender.
More powerful than the Ninja and Oster models below, NutriBullet gets the job done quickly. The 64-ounce jar is plenty big enough for most recipes. The blender comes with a handy recipe book and a tamper to make sure all your ingredients contact the blades. It's also dishwasher safe and comes with a one-year warranty. NutriBullet easily takes the top spot in our blender battle.?
Ninja wins our best budget pick at just $10 under the NutriBullet. We tested a $35 Hamilton Beach model and a $50 Black & Decker model, but neither were quite good enough to recommend. Still, under $100 is commendable, and the Ninja performed extremely well.?
Like the NutriBullet, this Ninja blender has three speeds: low, medium and high. It also has a pulse function and 1,000 watts of power. It comes with six blades in three levels. This worked great for smoothies and batters but presented an issue when trying to fit larger items in the 64-ounce container. Overall, this blender is a great buy, especially if you catch it on sale.?
This Oster model is a good performer and includes a few extra features I really found helpful. At $190, it's on the more expensive side, but this price includes a beverage container and a set of bowls and blades for food processing. You're almost getting two appliances here. Other brands also offer kits like this, so that's not the only reason it wins the extra features title.?
What I loved about this Oster was its Reverse Blend button, something I didn't encounter on any other test model. Hold down this button, and the blades turn in the opposite direction, scooping in food toward the center. It worked really well when I was crushing ice and making nut flour. Ingredients that were pushed away came right back in for better chopping.?
The Oster has a Smoothie program, a series of blending and pulses, that served up a great drink. A Dip/Mix mode helped mix dry and wet ingredients. In addition to those special modes, you'll also get the standard low, medium and high speeds. This model is pricier, but it does come with a lot of extra accessories and that super helpful reverse blend feature.
Other models we tested
: This $250 blender is beautiful, but left something to be desired when it came to performance for that price. It has five speeds, pulse and three presets. If you have your heart set on a colorful, quality blender, KitchenAid is still a good option.?
: Variable speed and sturdy design make this $449 Vitamix a popular model for luxury blenders. At such a high price, I wasn't wowed enough to recommend it. It struggled with cheese grating and I found it to be noticeably louder than other models.?
: This $350 Vitamix model was easier to use thanks to a dedicated pulse option. Still expensive, and an average performer in my tests, I can't recommend it to anyone on a budget. It does include a great recipe book and custom tamper.?
: This popular $353 model made great smoothies and crushed ice. It failed to grate cheese and the batter mixing preset was less effective than regular blending by speed.?
: Affordability aside, this $35 blender didn't perform well enough to recommend. While it did have a nice glass bowl, the lid was infuriatingly hard to remove. It has only presets, so you'll need to decode which ones are actually low, medium or high.?
: At just $25, this blender will work if you really need something cheap in a pinch. But don't expect excellence. It wasn't able to handle large frozen strawberries or evenly mix pancake batter. Still, it could suffice for small jobs.
: Great looks and bonus points for a cute name, but that's not enough to recommend this $175 blender. Performance was average, and it struggled to mix wet and dry ingredients.
How we test
Testing blenders isn't just smoothies and ice-crushing. There are a lot of other recipes blenders work well for, and these tests highlight how capable each model is when it comes to dry, large and coarse ingredients.?
In a test of pure crushing power, we placed 2 cups of ice cubes into each blender. Counting the number of pulses it takes to get to a fine, crushed ice gives a good indication of real-world chopping power. The three blenders we recommended above performed well.
Ninja and NutriBullet took only four pulses to get to a very fine, almost shaved iced consistency. Oster was close behind with six pulses. Other models didn't fare so well. Some took up to a minute of pulsing to get crushed ice, and a few even left whole cubes after that.?
A classic blender recipe, fruit smoothies were high on my list of recipes to test. I used 2 cups of orange juice and 1 cup of frozen strawberries to make the test smoothies.
While many of these tests yielded very similar results, a few worked faster than others. Not all blenders come with presets, but the ones that do almost always include a smoothie function. When possible, this is the mode we used. If there was no smoothie function, we followed the blender's manual recommendation for smoothie making. This was usually around a minute on high.?
This is a relatively easy test and most blenders handled it well. Some were frothier and some slushier, but only the Black & Decker model left large chunks of frozen strawberry unblended.?
Nut flour and butter
Blenders aren't all about beverages. There are plenty of other uses, including grinding dry ingredients. For our dry ingredient test, we put 1 cup of almond pieces (unroasted) in each blender and pulsed until those pieces were reduced to a fine flour. A bit of a challenge for some blenders, but most were able to do this in about 10-20 pulses, with the Hamilton Beach model yielding noticeably coarser results.?
Nut butter is a different story. Most blenders aren't really designed for long running times and the level of processing needed to make a butter like almond butter. In fact, many recommend not running the blender for more than a few minutes at a time.?
Only one Vitamix model showed real signs of progress toward almond butter in our testing with the nut flour, and it still plateaued before achieving a good consistency. Most models simply whirred the dry ingredients upward and into the hard-to-wash crevices of their lids. If you're set on making nut butters, I'd recommend a model like the Oster with an included processing kit, or a separate food processor. ?
Did you know blenders can shred cheese? It's true; some blenders can. We placed an 8-ounce block of cheese in each blender and pulsed until the entire block was shredded. This brought to light a few interesting design choices among some models. The Ninja, for example, lost the cheese round because multiple levels of blades made it impossible to fit the cheese block in the blender. I had to cut it up into pieces.?
Both Vitamix models bore holes in the cheese block without actually blending it, simultaneously melting what little cheese had been shredded as the machine heated up. Meanwhile, the NutriBullet handled grating the cheese block in three pulses flat. The Oster managed to get the job done in eight.
If you've seen our, it should come as no surprise that pancake batter made an appearance in our blender testing. While I was happy to fire up the griddle and flip some cakes, mixing batter is an important test. It measures how easy or difficult it is for the blender to mix wet and dry ingredients.
Mixing is typically done on low speeds, but there are a few blenders with mixing presets, like the Breville model we tested. Still, it left dry chunks unincorporated after three minutes. The best dry/wet mixer was the NutriBullet; it yielded a smooth, lumpless batter in just 17 seconds of blending.
Blender buying tips
Like most appliances, you should think about how often you'll use it and for what tasks. Many budget blenders could handle a few smoothies every summer. It's not worth spending $200 on a blender you'll use for two occasions each year. If you're mixing batters, grinding dry ingredients and crushing ice on a regular basis, however, it might be wise to invest in a quality model. Here are a few things to keep in mind.?
With blenders, accessories can make all the difference. A blender that comes with a tamper is great for getting those last stubborn bits into the blender blades, and it's one item I would highly recommend checking for when you buy a blender. Several models I tested included one in the box. You can purchase them separately, but they're often model-specific with a ring guard at the top to keep you from plunging the tamper into the blender blades.?
If you'll be making smoothies and frozen drinks, a blender with a special set of travel containers makes getting out the door one step easier. If you're blending larger, more dense foods for recipes, consider a model that has either a food processing bowl and wheel blade option or something with high-power wattage. Ninja and NutriBullet, among other brands, also make these kits for travel containers and processors.?
Next, consider your preference for specific modes versus speeds. I found some modes to be effective and helpful, while other blenders worked better when I took over and chose a speed for my ingredients, watching for when to stop. Some models offer simply low, medium and high modes. Others, like many Vitamix models, are variable, with speeds 1-10 on a dial. There are models with task-specific modes like Smoothie, Mix, Ice Crush and Self Clean, too. More important than presets, a blender with a pulse option ensures you'll be able to get those pesky last few pieces mixed in.?
While it comes down to preference, in my opinion, you'll have more control over your result without a preset. Yes, you'll need to keep watch and be a bit more hands-on, but it's easier to be sure things don't get too blended, overheated or stop before everything is truly mixed.?
Blenders don't have to be boring. KitchenAid models come in a rainbow of colors. The Oster Versa Pro above looks pretty sporty, and the Breville model we tested had lovely finishes and a sturdy feel. Don't forget to consider aesthetics if this appliance will live on your countertop.?
If your blender will be on your kitchen counter, I'd recommend measuring the height between your countertop and your upper cabinets. A few models I tested wouldn't fit beneath my cabinets, and my personal preference is to slide sleeping appliances to the back of my counter when not in use. Unlike large appliances, small ones don't come in standard measurements, so a few minutes of measuring could save you a storage headache.?
No matter which blender suits your needs, a good one can open up a world of new recipes, simplify your culinary prep work and deliver delicious treats on hot summer days.?