How we tested
If you have a great blender, it’s easy to whip up smoothies, milkshakes, frozen drinks, sauces, dips, and dressings, and you can even grind nut butters from scratch. You toss in the ingredients, push a button or two, and it’s done—at least in theory. While we’ve found excellent midpriced and high-end blenders, which cost about $200 or more, we wanted to find out if we could match their performance while spending less.
Setting a cap of $100, we bought seven models, all priced from about $29 to about $99. (That’s what we paid, but we’ve seen blender prices fluctuate. More on that later.) Their design and features varied, with jars made of plastic or glass, capacities ranging from 4 to 8 cups, and blades that were either permanently attached or removable for cleaning. The controls of the models ranged from simple to complex, with some including timers and programmed settings; one model even cooks. Some blenders had no accessories, while others were equipped with everything from travel cups to a chopping jar to a bag for straining nut milk.
We put all the models through a battery of tests that we’ve used to evaluate blenders many times, including pureeing raw kale and frozen fruit into smoothies, crushing ice, emulsifying mayonnaise, and grinding almonds into nut butter. We measured noise levels and stain and odor retention. We compared them with our favorite midpriced blender, the Breville Fresh & Furious (about $200), rating their performance as well as how easy they were to operate, handle, and clean.
Where Inexpensive Blenders Fall Short
The best blenders have a powerful motor, sharp blades, and a jar shape that helps ingredients keep moving. Ideally, as the blades whirl, food is drawn to the bottom of the jar, chopped, and spun upward again, moving in a vortex that circulates ingredients until they reach the precise texture you want.
Our biggest problem? These were not the best blenders. Five of our seven models simply couldn’t keep ingredients moving. They’d start with a roar, but within seconds everything would stop. The blades would be whirling away inside an air pocket.
Over and over, we had to turn off the power, remove the lid, scrape down the sides of the jar, burst the “bubble” of ingredients, and try again. Everything would move for a few seconds more and then stop as the bubble reformed. Even high-end blenders, such as our test kitchen favorite, the Vitamix 5200, sometimes form these bubbles when processing thick ingredients such as hummus or nut butter, so they include tools called tampers. While the machine is running, you stick the blunt, rod-shaped tamper through the lid opening—by design, it doesn’t quite reach the blades—and push the ingredients down. Two models in our lineup came with tampers, but ironically they were the only two that didn’t need them. Both quickly made creamy, cold, thick green smoothies with nary a struggle, while the other models left behind varying amounts of roughly chopped kale flakes, watery juice, and lumps of pineapple pulp after lots of starts and stops. Eventually, a few additional blenders made good smoothies, but only with much more investment of time and effort from us.
When we crushed ice, we saw similar patterns: Blenders that struggled with smoothies tended to repeat their performance with ice. They instantly cracked the cubes and sent pieces flying to the jar’s walls, out of reach of the blades, leaving outsize chunks no matter how long we blended unless we continually stopped, scraped, and restarted. And while we scraped, smaller pieces were melting. The two blenders that had aced smoothies made fine, uniform-size ice shards—with no scraping required. Two more did a passable job with a bit of scraping down.
Low Speed Is Key for Mayonnaise
In a test of blender finesse, we tried making mayonnaise, pouring a thin stream of oil through the hole in each lid as the blenders whipped an egg and seasonings until the mixture turned white and fluffy. The key to success when making mayonnaise in a blender is to set it on the lowest speed; otherwise, the ingredients will be flung onto the walls of the jar and won’t fully mix. Four of the seven models whipped up creamy, light mayonnaise. Two struggled a bit; their low speeds were almost too fast, but the mayo came together. And one failed—twice—because its lowest speed was not slow enough. Unfortunately, this powerhouse had been one of our front-runners.
Big Blender Challenge: Nut Butter
To push our lineup to its limits, we turned to the bane of blenders: homemade almond butter. Four cups of toasted whole almonds went into each jar. When we turned on the blenders, one model quickly broke down the nuts into a loose, sandy consistency, but most got stuck right there. Around the base of the blades we had almond butter, but the rest of the jar was full of unmoving chopped nuts that were trapped just out of reach of the blades. Once again, we set to laborious scraping and restarting. One model finally made butter, but it emitted an ominous burning smell; another model could manage it with a huge struggle, only once we’d removed three-quarters of the batch. A third eventually did well, but the motor shut down twice to prevent overheating along the way.
Again, our two front-runners made perfectly creamy nut butter with just a bit of scraping and no overheating, while the next best (the ones that performed almost as well with smoothies) came through again to make nut butter with moderate levels of intervention from us. Our blenders’ final rankings were coming into focus.
Plastic Parts Can Hold Food Odors
Performance isn’t the only factor that matters, however; easy cleaning is a must. Nobody wants a strawberry smoothie that tastes like onion. We pureed raw garlic cloves and red, smoky chipotle chiles in adobo and then washed the jars and checked for stains and odors. None stained, but in most we could still smell the food even after three rounds of vigorous hand washing. Glass jars didn’t retain odors, but their lids’ plastic parts smelled distinctly of smoky pepper and garlic. Only a few models with more odor-resistant plastic or glass and fewer interior crannies did better at resisting clinging scents. The jars, blades, and lids of all but one model were dishwasher-safe; the other model contains electronics in the jar base that can’t be submerged in water. This would have been a deal breaker if the blender itself wasn’t excellent, but we did find it slightly inconvenient.
So What’s the Secret to a Good Blender?
Why did some of our blenders blend up a storm while others choked? Blenders that can grab and move ingredients succeed when a combination of several factors work together; it’s a bit of alchemy that apparently makes blender manufacturers constantly tinker with new designs. However, some features did stand out in this lineup. First, sheer power to move food helps: Our two highest-rated blenders had higher peak wattages, of 1,300 and 1,200 watts, while the two lowest-ranked blenders had just 746 and 700 watts at their disposal. (For comparison, our favorite high-end blender, from Vitamix, has 1,491 watts, and our favorite midpriced blender, from Breville, has 1,300 watts.) In this lineup, larger-capacity jars also helped—our two highest-rated blenders held 8 and 7 cups each, while lower-rated models held just 4 or 5 cups. Bigger jars helped leafy raw kale or piles of nuts move more freely. The jars of all the blenders were lined with vertical ribs, but the ribs were bigger and more prominent in higher-ranking models, making them more effective at directing the flow of spinning food down toward the blades. Our better-performing blenders had bigger blades with wider wingspans, and there were more of them (our highest-ranked models had six to eight spiky blades), which were set at asymmetrical angles. The lowest-ranked models had smaller, shorter, and fewer blades (our two lowest-ranking models had four blades each), positioned symmetrically. These tinier, more uniform blade configurations likely gave poorer-performing blenders less ability to reach, chop, and propel food. Combined with their weaker motors and smaller, flatter jar ribs, it’s not surprising that they often stalled.
The Best Blender Less Than $100: NutriBullet Full Size Blender
Of the seven models we tested, two front-runners did well in nearly every test. But one, the NutriBullet Full Size Blender, was too fast—even on low speed—to emulsify mayonnaise. The other, which passed every test with flying colors, was the Instant Ace Plus Cooking and Beverage Blender. Solidly built, it has a glass jar and firmly locking lid with preprogrammed settings that were surprisingly useful and even let us walk away while it blended. Its manual controls were a bit complicated at first but easy to learn. We enjoyed that it could be used for hot or cold applications, and it accomplished every task we set for it. It was also the quietest model by a hair; we measured peak decibels as the blenders ground almonds, and most models were comparable to a chainsaw, with the worst at 109 decibels. The Instant Ace Plus was also loud but somewhat less so, at about 96.6 decibels. Its main downside, aside from the weight of its glass jar (at just over 5½ pounds), was that the jar base contains electronics that must not be submerged in water. That said, its simple shape made it easy to clean by running the blender with dish soap and water.
This model represents an improvement over an earlier version we tested, the Instant Pot Ace Multi-Use Cooking and Beverage Blender, which wasn’t powerful enough to make almond butter. Like that model, this blender can cook, including making both smooth and chunky soups, but it has 10 speeds instead of three and the ability to display and adjust the cooking temperature as well as remember your preferred settings of time, temperature, and speed for a variety of functions. It can delay cooking for up to 12 hours and also keep cooked food warm for up to 2 hours. These functions give it much more versatility than both its predecessor and the average blender.
However, just as we were about to crown the Instant Ace Plus our winner, we learned that the price had risen from approximately $89 to about $150—well above our price ceiling. If you can find it for the lower price, it’s a worthwhile choice.
That said, we set out to find a good blender that costs less than $100, and that left the NutriBullet, priced at about $99. Tall and lightweight, with suction-cup feet to anchor it and just four buttons (Low, Medium, High, and Pulse), this model has surprising power and easily blended everything from perfect smoothies to creamy nut butter. It was simple to clean by hand or in the dishwasher; it resisted odors; and its big, light, easy-to-lift jar has a generous 8-cup capacity. Its only flaw was that its lowest speed was too fast for emulsifying mayonnaise. But if you want a blender for smoothies, frozen drinks, milkshakes, and even nut butters, this powerhouse can handle it. We also named a Best Buy, the Black + Decker Quiet Blender with Cyclone Glass Jar, which costs about $60. It took a bit more time and effort to use than our winner, but it was solidly built, with a glass jar and intuitive controls.
But how does the NutriBullet Full Size Blender compare with our midpriced favorite, which costs about $200? The Breville Fresh & Furious offers more functions as well as a greater range of power, with a slower low speed, as we saw when we made mayonnaise. It also has a three-year warranty, compared with the one-year warranty offered by NutriBullet. (Vitamix offers a seven-year warranty on our favorite high-end blender.) This may signal the expected model lifespan.
- Test seven blenders, priced from about $25 to about $99
- Make smoothies with frozen fruit, raw kale, and orange juice using the blenders’ manual settings; repeat using the manufacturers’ instructions/presets; and examine the textures of the results
- Crush ice
- Make homemade mayonnaise to see if the blenders can emulsify small amounts of food at low speed
- Make almond butter to test the blenders’ power to chop hard nuts into a smooth paste
- Measure the peak decibels while the blenders are chopping almonds on high speed
- Puree chipotle chiles in adobo sauce and garlic to test for stain and odor retention
- Clean the blenders manually after each test
Blending and Ice Crushing: We rated the appearance, texture, and taste of foods blended and the texture of ice crushed, as well as the amount of user effort required to get acceptable results. This criterion was most heavily weighted in the rankings.
Mayonnaise: We evaluated the appearance, taste, and texture of the mayonnaise made in each blender.
Almond Butter: We evaluated the appearance and texture of the almond butter produced by each blender. Since this test often burns out weak blenders, it was also an evaluation of power and durability.
Noise Level: We measured the peak decibel level when the blenders were grinding almonds on high power.
Cleaning and Handling: We rated the blenders on how easy they were to clean, open, close, lift, and pour from.
Controls and Operation: We evaluated the controls for each model and how intuitive they were to operate.