Menu
Search
Menu
Close

Inexpensive Blenders

Published December 2017

How we tested

The Breville Hemisphere Control ($199.95) and the Vitamix 5200 ($449.00), our winning midrange and high-end blenders, respectively, are great. The Vitamix gets finer results, but they’re both uniquely capable and durable—and expensive. Could we find a good blender for less than $100.00 for those who can’t, or don’t want to, spend more?

To find out, we selected seven top sellers, priced from $60.68 to $99.99, and conducted a taxing series of tests looking at food quality, ease of use, and durability.

What You Sacrifice with a Cheaper Blender

Flash forward three weeks to our final gauntlet—almond butter—and its aftermath.

One blender is fully dead, smoke wafting from its buttons. Two are playing dead. A massacre. And the four survivors have taken forever to produce so-so results. We tried this hard test to see if they could do the same things as the pricier blenders. The answer? Not quite.

But grinding almonds into a paste is challenging, and not everyone wants to make nut butter, pulverize wheat berries, or crack farro. Some folks just want a darn margarita. Or a smoothie. Or some soup. For them, we found a very good blender.

How Blender Jar Design Affects Performance

But first, let’s cut to earlier, when all seven blenders were still alive and kicking. Throughout testing we noticed that some blended their contents nicely, while others left large chunks of food behind, up to ⅓ cup. We compared power; blade shape, size, and positioning; and jar shape and size across all our machines, but we found no blanket explanation for why some blended better than others. Instead, small differences in blade shape and orientation, jar design, and power allowed some blenders to create better movement inside their jars so that all the food moved down onto the blades, around, and up again.

We noticed that food inside wider jars, more than 5 inches across, was bashed about, incorporating extra air; we had to scrape them down more, too. We preferred blenders with narrower jars, as they kept their contents more contained so that their blends were dense and smooth, not frothy, and they required fewer scrape-downs.

Our winner had the narrowest jar, 4.25 inches, plus three deep vertical ribs running up its sides. At the bottom of the jar, the ribs curved into little ramps designed to direct food from the bottom of the jar up, around, and down again. And they really worked. We could see the food traveling along them and down onto the blades quickly and efficiently, and the results were notably smooth.

Small Quantities and Staining in Blenders

We often use blenders to makes sauces, dressings, and dips, which can have pungent ingredients or smaller volumes. To see if the jars would stain or retain odors, we processed chipotle peppers and garlic in each machine. We then tried to make mayonnaise to see how they fared with a small amount of ingredients. Some stained more than others, and four of seven couldn’t make mayonnaise. Mayo is especially tricky because it’s a small-volume recipe that has to be combined at a slow, even rate to emulsify properly. Two of the blenders’ blades were set too high in relation to the shape of their jars, so they couldn’t reach the ingredients underneath to combine them. And three of our blenders had low speeds that were simply too fast—between 10,000 and 20,000 rotations per minute (rpm)—which prevented the mixture from emulsifying. Blenders with slower low speeds, less than roughly 8,500 rpm, were more likely to be able to emulsify.

A Blender That’s Easy to Use

We also found major differences in how easy the blenders were to operate. We preferred control panels with easy-to-press, clearly labeled buttons; lighter plastic jars to heavier glass ones; and jars that were easy to attach, detach, and pour from.

Our top-rated model was simple to operate and blended exceptionally well. It couldn’t make almond butter, but its overheat protection system automatically stopped its motor so it wouldn’t burn out while trying to. We still think the Breville and the Vitamix are superior, as they can tackle any project, but for simple blending tasks, our winner, the Black + Decker Performance FusionBlade Blender ($80.26), is an excellent choice.

Methodology

We tested seven blenders, priced from $60.68 to $99.99, against our winning midrange blender, the Breville Hemisphere Control ($199.95). To see how well they blended, we made batches of green smoothies, strawberry margaritas, and creamy tomato soup, and we crushed ice. We also combined a potent mixture of chipotles in adobo and garlic cloves in each machine to check for staining and odor retention, and we washed the jars and their lids 10 times in the dishwasher or by hand, depending on manufacturer instructions. A mayonnaise test showed us how well the blenders worked with a small-volume recipe in which the ingredients must be combined slowly at the correct rate to emulsify. As a final abuse test, we tried to make almond butter in each blender.

Blending and Ice Crushing: We made fresh kale, frozen pineapple, and orange juice smoothies; blended strawberry margaritas; pureed tomato soup; and crushed ice in each blender. The best blenders made completely smooth drinks and soups, incorporating minimal air, and fluffy, white, fully pulverized crushed ice.

Mayonnaise: By emulsifying eggs and oil into mayonnaise, we evaluated the blenders’ lower speeds and the holes in their lids that are used to add ingredients while the blender is running; the best models produced smooth, creamy mayonnaise on the first try.

Almond Butter: We tried to make almond butter in each blender; those that were able to grind the almonds to a smooth consistency rated highest.

Cleaning and Handling: We rated each blender on how easy its jar and lid were to attach and remove, how easy the jar was to pour from, and how easy it was to clean.

Controls and Operation: We rated each blender on how logical, intuitive, and easy to operate it was.

Noise Level: Noise is measured in decibels on a scale of zero to 140. We noted how loud the blenders were throughout testing and measured them with a decibel meter, noting a range of roughly 80 decibels (comparable to the dial tone of a telephone) to 100 decibels (comparable to a drill). Those that stayed under 95 decibels rated highest.

Try CooksIllustrated.com Free for 14 Days

Included in your trial membership

  • 20+ years of Cook's Illustrated foolproof recipes
  • In-depth videos of recipes and cooking techniques
  • SAVE all your Favorites for easy access
  • Up-to-Date reviews and product buying guides

Get everything Cook's Illustrated — become the Smartest Cook you know, guaranteed.

Email is required
How we use your email address

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*