Published November 1, 2005. From Cook's Illustrated.
KitchenAid has dominated the standing-mixer market for decades, but can it cream a new batch of competitors with 1,000-watt motors, cavernous bowls, and lofty price tags?
How much mixer does a home cook need? To test the field thoroughly, we bought 22 different mixers of every shape, size, and price—from a budget $100 model up to a $1,500 model. We started tests that would quickly thin the ranks, with 15 that made the final rounds. In the end, we developed clear mixer-design criteria.
First, there's mixing motion. The two most common are stationary beaters (with rotating bowl) and "planetary action," when a single beater rotates on its axis while spinning around a stationary bowl (similar to the way a planet moves around the sun). Planetary action proved far superior—the agitator simply makes it to more areas of the bowl.
Second, forget cavernous bowls. Unless you regularly make multiple loaves of bread, 5 to 6 quarts is plenty.
We also prefer slightly squat bowls, which compensate for the lost height with a more spacious bottom surface and by flaring out to a wider mouth. By distributing ingredients lower and wider, these models had less opportunity to fling the contents up the sides beyond the beater's effective range of motion. The net result? Less need to scrape.
Most mixers come with three attachments: a dough hook (for kneading), a paddle-shaped flat beater (creaming dry and wet ingredients), and a wire whisk (whipping). The minor differences from model to model aren't worth reporting, with a few exceptions. First, most flat paddles are, in fact, flat. The exceptions, which feature slightly bent-out edges, a three-dimensional touch that proved remarkably effective for creaming.
Certain models earned extra credit for an ingenious method of adjusting beater clearance. Each attachment can be lengthened or shortened by turning a washer near the top.
We did wonder whether statistics listing power meant anything. Only a few mixers list output wattage (horsepower); most list input power (wattage). Output wattage is the amount of power the motor actually produces—which flows out of the motor, moves through the mixer arm, and, ultimately, smacks the ingredients around. Input wattage is simply the power that flows from the electrical outlet into the mixer's motor. What does input wattage tell you about the power of a mixer? Absolutely nothing—it's purely a marketing gimmick.
Our results? Six mixers survived the gauntlet of tests without showing fatal flaws; four earned recommended status and two earned Highly Recommended as some modern perks made it stand out from the crowd.