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Stand Mixers (Inexpensive)

By Cook's Illustrated Published December 2007

How we tested

The $500 standing mixers in our test kitchen are powerful enough to work all day. Can the home cook who needs less muscle buy a good standing mixer for less money? To find out, we rounded up eight models priced under $250.

 

THE WORKOUT

We whipped cream, creamed butter and sugar, made chunky cookie dough (with chocolate chunks, pecans, oatmeal, and dried cherries), and kneaded pizza dough in each machine. These are tasks that larger, pricier mixers (including the winner of our prior testing of high-end mixers) can do effortlessly.

 

SIZING UP THE COMPETITION

Expensive mixers come with 5- or 6-quart bowls, big enough to knead a double batch of bread dough. Bowl size in the models we tested ranged from 3.5 to 4.6 quarts-large enough to mix and knead the dough for one large loaf of bread or three medium pizzas. Among the eight models tested, variances in bowl size and shape did not impact our results.

 

TEST DRIVING

A standing mixer should be easy to operate, and some in our lineup weren't. Both Sunbeam mixers required substantial strength to engage the head-tilt and beater-eject buttons. One mixer has two sets of controls to manage. In contrast, all testers found two other mixers intuitive and easy to operate. Most mixers handled the whipped cream and cookie dough tasks with aplomb. The pizza dough, however, was another story.

 

DO OR DYE

To measure the power and efficiency of each mixer, we mixed 35 ounces of pizza dough in each bowl, then added 10 drops of blue food coloring to one side of the dough and 10 drops of yellow to the other. We then set the mixers to medium-low and timed how long it took them to turn the dough a uniform green. Two of the mixers made relatively quick work of this task, producing an evenly colored dough in about 6 minutes. Half of the mixers, however, failed this test because they didn't complete the task in 10 minutes. Some struggled and bucked because they weren't powerful enough for such prolonged kneading jobs.

 

THE ONE BIG THING

Our three winning mixers passed the pizza test. They all have one beater arm instead of two. So why is one beater better? One-beater mixers utilize "planetary action," meaning the beater rotates on its axis while spinning around the bowl, thus ensuring the mixing attachment interacts with the entire contents of the bowl. Dual stationary beaters, on the other hand, rely on a rotating bowl, and the attachments never touch the entire contents of the mixing bowl-they carve through a single trough. In the pizza dough tests, dual dough hooks bored holes into the dough and never kneaded it into a cohesive mass.

 

A SURPRISINGLY GOOD VALUE

Our test cooks aren't ready to trade in their $500 mixers, but the top three models tested offer good value and performance for the average home cook.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*