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Immersion Blenders

By Cook's Illustrated Published February 2017

How we tested

We use immersion blenders—also called stick blenders—to puree soups in their pots, eliminating the messy, dicey transfer to and from a blender or food processor. They’re also designed for small blending jobs such as making mayonnaise, salad dressing, pesto, or whipped cream.

The top part of an immersion blender, the handle, houses the controls and motor and trails the electrical cord. The business end is at the bottom, where the blending wand ends in an umbrella-like hood that covers the blade; the hood protects the user and has perforations that help circulate the food for even, efficient blending. Most models come with accessories such as blending cups and whisk attachments; some come with extras such as chopping bowls or potato mashers. A majority of the blenders from our last testing have been discontinued, so we tested 11 new models, priced from $14.99 to $129.99, alongside our old winner from KitchenAid.

One blender’s chopping wand fell off miduse—plop, right into the soup. Another model’s wand didn’t detach, also a no-go. Speaking of safety, there was another deal breaker: Cuisinart recently added a safety lock to almost all its immersion blenders, including the two we tested. It requires the user to press a button to unlock the blender before it starts. This meant that every time we took our finger off the power button to shift our grip or adjust the pot, we had to stop and use our other hand (which was busy steadying the pot) to unlock it before we could start again. “I’ve child-locked myself out of this stupid thing,” said one tester.

We noticed that manufacturers seemed to be trying to add flash to their blenders with features such as “turbo” buttons and up to 15 blending speeds. To better understand how blade speed correlates with performance, we used a tachometer to measure the blade speed (in revolutions per minute, or RPM) of each model at various settings. Unfortunately, our results showed that faster blades don’t necessarily make for better blending—a blade can move rapidly but not have a lot of power behind its rotation. As for the blending speeds, the 15-speed Breville sounded impressive, but we found that speeds 1 to 13 varied very little, and it wasn’t until speeds 14 and 15 that we started to see some action. More puzzling, speed 1 was slightly faster than speed 2, and 3 was slightly faster than 4, so these settings were superfluous and inaccurate. We concluded that two speeds were plenty: one low and one high, ranging in speed between 10,000 RPM on the low end and 14,000 RPM on the high end.

Some brands bragged about high wattage (a measure of how much electricity their motors draw), which ranged from 150 to 700 watts. Did more watts equal better blending? Not in our tests. To find out why, we spoke to Professor Igor Mezic, director of the Center for Energy Efficient Design and head of UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. He explained that more power, as measured in watts, might make things go slightly faster or give a slight edge in blending very liquid-y substances, like a big batch of thin soup. But for cutting, chopping, and pureeing more viscous foods, the design of the blade and its encircling guard is more important.

We examined the wands for common design attributes but found no pattern. Guard designs, guard vents, and distances from blade to guard varied and didn’t track with performance. When we looked at the blades themselves, we saw that some were straight and even and others were irregularly shaped, but that didn’t track with performance either. At best, we can say that sharp blades with guards designed to maximize food movement into the path of the blades were very important.

What else mattered? Comfort was key, as shorter, lighter, slimmer blenders cloaked in grippy rubber were the easiest to hold and move. We preferred buttons to dials because dials required a second hand, while buttons right on the grip let us hop back and forth between speeds with one hand and less fuss. Regarding accessories, we liked whisks (which whip cream more evenly and with more control than the blades) and blending cups, which minimize splatter; we found anything else extraneous.

In the end, the new Braun Multiquick 5 Hand Blender ($59.99) earned our top spot. It is comfortable, secure, tidy, easy to use, and has two well-calibrated speeds right on its grip.

Methodology

We tested 12 blenders, priced from $14.99 to $129.99, starting with an elimination round in which we pureed potato soup. Five blenders were nixed from the lineup for egregiously poor performance: Blades fell off into the soup, wands didn’t detach, and buttons were markedly uncomfortable. We ran the remaining seven blenders through a battery of tests including grinding pesto, blending smoothies, emulsifying mayonnaise, whipping cream, and pureeing whole tomatoes. We tried them in Dutch ovens, saucepans, slow-cooker crocks, bowls, and their own blending cups (for models that had one). Testers of different sizes and dominant hands used and rated each blender, and we washed all of their attachments and blending cups in the dishwasher 10 times. Prices were paid online, scores were averaged, and the blenders appear below in order of preference.

Blending: How well the blenders puree; there should be no unincorporated food, and textures should be smooth and even.

Comfort: The comfort of the handle and buttons, as well as the working weight; the blender should be comfortable and easy to hold for the entirety of each task.

Handling: How manageable and logical the speeds are to use and set, how well the cord stays out of the way, and how easy it is to move the blender around the pot.

Splatter: How much splatter the blenders make; they shouldn’t spray food, and they should come with a blending cup to minimize splatter.

Durability: How cosmetically and functionally intact the blenders remain throughout testing; they should remain intact and fully functional.

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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*