I learned a lot during the three months I spent testing immersion blenders*—those portable blenders-on-a-stick that let you blitz everything from soups to mayonnaise directly in the cooking, serving, or storage vessel of your choice. All told, I tested a dozen of the highest-ranked and most promising brands on the market, and put each one through the full range of tasks a home cook should expect them to perform. Some discoveries I made were big, others small.
*Immersion blenders, hand blenders, stick blenders—call them what you will.
Without further ado, the best immersion blenders for your money are, in alphabetical order: the All-Clad Immersion Blender ($100 via Amazon), the OXO On Illuminating Digital Immersion Blender ($90 via Amazon), and the Vremi 12-Speed Immersion Emulsion Stick ($70, see Vremi.com for availability). Each one is a stellar option and all three turned out impressive performances in almost every test I threw their way. (You can jump straight to our wrap-up of the winning models to see each one's strengths and weaknesses.)
I'll also give a shout-out to the Cuisinart CSB-75 Smart Stick 2-Speed Immersion Hand Blender ($35 via Amazon), a surprisingly solid budget option. At under $40, this entry-level model did remarkably well in almost every trial—even besting the big guns in one of several whipped-cream tests.
Do I Really Need an Immersion Blender?
When I took this assignment, I secretly asked myself the same question. You see, I've long relegated immersion blenders to second-tier status in the kitchen-equipment world, alongside the likes of electric hand mixers, mini food processors, and bread machines—all cookware equivalents of a starter home. What I also neglected to tell my editor was that I probably hadn't used an immersion blender in a good 10 years. With a top-of-the-line stationary blender, food processor, and stand mixer sitting on my counter, each practically begging to be called into action, I'd never minded deploying them for even the smallest of tasks—especially if they'll do them best. Does a guy with a Ferrari switch to a Honda Civic because it's only a 30mph jaunt to Rite-Aid?
Of course, a funny thing happens when you spend 15 weeks with a dozen immersion blenders hanging out on your dining room table. You get a real feel for what you'd actually do, given multiple options. I found myself reaching for my favorite hand blenders increasingly often, especially when it came to jobs I'd once relegated to my food processor—blitzing marinades for grilled meats, crushing canned whole tomatoes for ragù Bolognese, whizzing up hummus or baba ganoush. If the ease of cleaning an immersion blender wand versus a Vitamix jar has always seemed like a toss-up to me, once you're in food-processor-cleaning territory (with five separate parts to tackle), there's no contest.
One evening, when I'd carelessly let a béarnaise sauce break while tending to a charcoal-flare-up emergency (look, it was a beautifully marbled ribeye, people...), a little face time with the business end of an immersion blender was just what the doctor ordered to pull it all back together.
While the logistical appeal of not having to transfer a pot of hot soup to a countertop blender is undeniable, the device's easy portability is what delighted me most. It proved a game-changer away from home—I used it to blend up whipped cream for a dessert I'd brought to a friend's dinner party and it allowed me to make a great puréed soup during a weekend getaway with friends at an ill-equipped Airbnb. Those who have found themselves roped into spearheading dinner prep on the fly at the home of a friend or relative with a kitchen that is, shall we say, "minimalist" in terms of gadgetry can appreciate the peace of mind that comes with tossing a stick blender into your suitcase as insurance.
And, as it turns out, one round of testing was all it took to convince me forevermore that there's no better—or more foolproof—tool for making homemade mayonnaise than an immersion blender. It blows a standing blender, food processor, and the old-fashioned whisk-and-bowl method out of the water.
So why do you need an immersion blender, again? You absolutely don't. But this one-time skeptic is a true convert. I'm never going back.
The Contenders: How We Picked Our Testing Models
There are dozens upon dozens of immersion blenders out there, ranging in price from $15 (the same price as a decent manual whisk) all the way up to $1,700 for a commercial-grade Robot Coupe blender the size of your leg that could probably mix concrete—or, you know, enough butternut squash bisque to feed an entire autumn wedding party—without breaking a sweat.
For my purposes, I decided to disregard blenders with a submersible length (that's a measure of how deep you can stick the blender into a pot of liquid) of more than 10 inches. An immersion blender for home use should be able to handle one or two gallons of soup, not six. In terms of price point, anything beyond $300 felt pretty solidly in the might-as-well-get-a-Vitamix territory, which left me with a preponderance of models in the $50–150 range. From there, winnowing down the list was a matter of scouring user reviews on popular retail and food lovers' sites, like Amazon, Williams-Sonoma, Chowhound, and eGullet, for signs of immersion blender nirvana. I also hit up chefs, food writers, and avid home cooks for their favorite models (at least half of whom mourned a trusty Braun hand blender that is no longer available in U.S. markets), and included all the winning models chosen by prominent cooking sites and magazines.
For good measure, I threw a cheapo ($20) model into the mix. And, as much as I'd like to chalk it up to curatorial prowess, the final contender dropped into my lap through pure luck. In early October, just as I was gearing up to start testing, OXO released its very first foray into the immersion blender market. The timing couldn't have been better. Not only did the OXO wind up in the winner's circle, but its presence in the lineup also happened to provide just the extra critical mass I needed to figure out the superiority of the shallow-flat-wide guard design, which we'll talk about in more detail momentarily.
The Winners at a Glance
Before we drill down on the testing process, here are the four winners (including the budget option) in a handy, one-stop chart.
Our Favorite Immersion Blenders: The Stats
|Approximate Price||$100 (buy it here)||$90 (buy it here)||$70 (buy it here)||$35 (buy it here)|
|Weight||2.5 pounds||2 pounds||2 pounds||1.5 pounds|
|Submersible Length||8.25 inches||6.375 inches||6.625 inches||5.75 inches|
|Blending Cup Capacity||N/A||3 cups||2 cups||2 cups|
|Noise||Moderate||Very loud at higher speeds||Loud||Moderate|
|Controls||Analog speed dial, turbo||6 speeds, dial||12 speeds, dial, turbo||2 speeds, button|
|Comfort||Gets heavy||Comfy||Comfy||Narrow and cramped for larger hands|
|Lock Style||Twist lock||Button release||Twist lock||Button release|
|Cleaning and Scraping||Easy cleaning, hard to scrape tight space under blade||Easy cleaning, hard to scrape around ridges||Easy cleaning, easy scraping||Tight, deep cup makes cleaning and scraping hard|
|Guard Diameter||2.8 inches||2.5 inches||2.6 inches||2.2 inches|
|Accessories||None||Blending cup||Blending cup, chopper with blade options, whisk||Blending cup|
|Best Features||Powerful, sturdy||Nylon wand head protects against scratching, brilliant light reminds you it's on and illuminates pot||Blue light reminds you it's on, chopping attachment well designed||Perfect match for blending cup, fits into typical drinking vessels|
|Worst Features||Heavy, twist lock, such powerful suction that up/down motion can be cumbersome||Button release got sluggish, not dishwasher-safe, high-speed loudness||Twist lock, high-speed loudness||Plastic feels less durable, slightly unstable standing up in pot, small wand head means moving around a lot in larger vessels|
|Warranty||2 years electrical, lifetime everything else||2 years||1 year||3 years|
What Matters Most: Blade Guard Shape
Before we go down the rabbit hole of winners and losers and scandalous blind-item paparazzo shots of blenders puréeing badly (guess which top model got caught leaving more than 116 grams of the uncut stuff behind in a trendy East Village sieve?), here's the most surprising takeaway from my immersion blender journey: The clearest bellwether of an immersion blender's performance level is the shape and design of its blade guard.
That's right. Not motor power, not blade size, not propeller RPM (rotations per minute). Yes, those aspects do matter, but by and large the models I tested came from manufacturers that seem to have ironed out those fundamentals. In test after test, the difference between excellent performance and good performance could be indexed, almost like clockwork, to the configuration of the blade guard: the protective cage meant to keep your fingers, and your cookware, from getting mangled or scratched by the blades.
The three top performers all sported shallow, wide blade guards, with a flat base (the surface above the blade, when held in active position) and ample side vents to facilitate circulation. The models with deep, roomy, bell-shaped guard chambers—the more common design, actually—proved less efficient at almost every task. (Spoiler: See the mayonnaise test details below.)
That a protective guard could figure so significantly into how well an immersion blender operates may seem counterintuitive, but it's actually pretty logical. Think about it this way: The same level of "protection" the guard offers to your fingertips or your saucepan surface is simultaneously offered to the chunks of food you're trying to blend. It's an equal-opportunity protector. Put another way: The less the guard gets in the way of blade edge meeting food particle, the more efficient the blending.
Other Important Factors
The blade guard design proved the most important factor, but there are a few other qualities and considerations that factored into my preferences.
- A button-release lock (between the blending wand and motor) is way more desirable than a twist lock when you're blending greasy or sticky ingredients—you know, the kind of ingredients that account for most hand-blender-related tasks.
- If your most cherished immersion blender hopes and dreams involve making smoothies directly in your drinking glass, the news isn't good. The end of each of our three favorite blenders measured 6 centimeters or more in diameter—a tight fit, unless your cupboard happens to be rocking chalices the size of a 7-Eleven Big Gulp®.
- There's a threshold of diminishing returns—a sliding scale, of sorts—between motor-power performance and obstreperous-timbre tolerability. Translation: Some snarling models were better at waking the dead than making the mayo. That said, some rowdy contenders performed well enough to forgive a few indecorous extra decibels at higher speeds.
- Every once in a blue moon, what starts out as eye-rolling disdain for a super-gimmicky design flourish (are your ears burning, OXO?) can, after 15 weeks of courtship, blossom into a deep and enduring love.
On to the testing.
The Testing: How We Determined Our Winners
Troll the interwebs enough, and you'll find that human beings will pull out an immersion blender for just about any old task, from whipping mashed potatoes (prediction: gluey) to crushing ice (observation: messy) to emulsifying organic cosmetics ("great," according to one ChemistsCorner.com user). Restaurant cooks often use hand blenders on the line to re-emulsify silky sauces and soups right before plating.
For my testing, I planned to focus on core home-cooking tasks that any hand blender worth its whirr should be able to knock out of the park: puréeing soup, emulsifying sauces (mayonnaise), whipping cream, and transforming a motley mess of liquid and solid/frozen ingredients into one homogeneous, luxurious texture (smoothies). I also threw in a white bean purée test, with the intention of evaluating how the blenders would fare with somewhat drier ingredients.
In a matter of two weeks, my dapper dozen had shown up for duty, all shiny and pressed, decked out in all manner of protective foam, cardboard, and twist ties—that ineffable new-blender smell tinged by the exhilarating bouquet of untapped promise. (It was sort of a plasticky scent.) We were off to the races.
Test 1: The Crème de la Cream
After unpacking, I started things off with the first of two whipped cream tests. How would these blenders handle processing enough heavy cream to top off the dessert course for a small dinner party of six to eight? I timed how long it took to whip one and a half cups of cold heavy cream to an appropriately billowing texture, then evaluated the final consistency for quality. For models that came with a blending cup, I used it; for the three that did not, I used a quart-size plastic deli container.
If I wasn't an immersion-blender champion before testing, the Whipped Cream–Large Format trials were hardly a mind-changer. Far from it. All but one took more than two minutes to get to the proper consistency, the majority between 2:45 and 3:00, with one of the smaller ones still wheezing about asthmatically at the 3:30 mark. The deal-breaker wasn't the time per se; my stand mixer can take about as long. It was that if you obey the guidelines given in the user manual for every one of these brands (and, as a conscientious equipment tester, I try to follow every official directive), you're supposed to blend for only 60 seconds at a time (50 seconds at a time, for two of the models), with a 60-second resting period in between rounds.*
* One optimistic user-manual scribe actually suggested that you'll want to rest three minutes between rounds. Ha, really? Even I couldn't muster that level of patience, despite my "official" capacity.
If manning these rowdy blitz-sticks for upward of three minutes a pop was tedious, it did give me plenty of time to get a feel for each blender's individual quirks. First off, it was a pain to wield any of them for that long, especially the ones (eight of the 12) weighing in at two-plus pounds. As much as I love the All-Clad, its two-and-a-half-pound heft is a factor worth keeping in mind; thank goodness it was also the speediest in this round. (Did I mention that my stand mixer can handle this task virtually unattended?)
Second, if the cheapo $20 model's unbelievable decibel level weren't enough for fatal disqualification—it sounded like the sonic offspring of a high-pitched chainsaw and a wounded lawnmower—the powerful suction created by the completely flush blade guard edge all but lifted the blending cup. (All the other blenders solved this problem by vents, or undulating troughs and crests, ensuring that the point of contact with the vessel's surface wasn't continuous.)
Finally, it was during this test that I developed a strong preference for button-release locks over twist locks. In order to scrape down the wand and blade guard in between rounds—with minimal risk to fingers or spatula—it was far easier to pop it off the motor than to twist it off with even slightly greasy hands. A strong preference, not a deal-breaker—as you can see from the winners' chart, two of our favorites triumphed despite that irritating design choice.
All in all, the larger blenders handled the task better than the smaller models. When I repeated the test with only a half cup of cream, it was a different story. This time, the smallest blender of the bunch, the Cuisinart CSB-75, finished ahead of the entire pack, propellers up at a brisk 45 seconds; the rest completed the task around the one-minute mark, give or take a few seconds. (Wondering if it was the Cuisinart's relatively small, two-cup blending cup that slowed it down in the Large Format trial, I did a do-over using a quart-size deli container instead, but the results were nearly identical.)
Test 2: Mayo Masters
Next, I made one cup of mayonnaise in each blender, and every contender nailed it. Honestly, if you've ever tried to make mayo in a countertop blender or food processor and seen it fail miserably (yolk temperature, oil-drizzling speed, natural disaster...whatever the culprit), a hand blender will change your life. Were this entire appliance category called "mayo blenders," it wouldn't be that much of an overstatement.
The reason they're so effective at this task? Mayonnaise is a delicate emulsion of egg yolk and acid (lemon or vinegar) with oil, created by very, very gradually introducing the latter as you're aerating the former. In a standing blender, oil can get introduced in one ponderous clump rather than dispersed uniformly as delicate, airy droplets. With hand blenders, by contrast, the blade guard and the wand force the oil to take a more circuitous route to the blades. It's the lumbering space hog of rotational-vortex dynamics, standing in the middle of the fast lane. That forced displacement has the benefit of self-regulating the introduction of the oil to the egg and acid—so well, in fact, that you can dump the entire cup of oil right on top and start whirring. (See our video here for a demo on how to make homemade mayo in less than two minutes.)
One more note about vortex action: It also has a dark side. That whirlpool shape can bestow some pretty significant suction powers on the extremity of the blade guard—the part that comes in contact with the surface of the vessel you're mixing in. Manufacturers have developed tricks to reduce the suction by tweaking the blade guard design—strategically placed vents and irregular contact points and so on—but to limited effect. Especially at higher speeds, you still get a little bit of suction, which makes the blender a bit harder to move around.
To try to outmaneuver the suction effect even further, a few manufacturers added ridges protruding from the interior sides of the guard, with the hopes of disrupting the vortex just enough to mitigate the suction effect. And guess what: It worked! The models with this design feature, including the recommended OXO, were notably less...attracted to the bottom of the saucepan than other contenders.
Best of all, disrupting the vortex in this manner had no discernible negative impact on the performance of any core hand-blender tasks. Except for one: making mayonnaise. The vortex's shining glory of a task. The blenders without these disrupting ridges finished the mayo in an average of 12 seconds. The three models with ridges? Half as fast. Lucky for the OXO, 25 seconds is still a perfectly acceptable time frame for making perfect mayonnaise. But if your main immersion blender objective is to compete with Hellmann's on a weekly basis, you might consider going ridgeless.
Test 3: Pulp Nonfiction
If I'd stopped the testing after the Mayo and Whipped Cream trials, not only would I have been fired (soup blending definitely qualifies as a core task), but we also might have ended up with different winners. While the All-Clad at this point was bopping right along, the consistently solid OXO and Vremi found themselves embroiled in a feverish bid for second and third place with almost half a dozen just-as-solid (so far) hopefuls.
For the soup test, I prepared 12 identical batches of our 15-Minute Creamy Tomato Soup in a medium-sized soup pot. It's a terrific and easy recipe that gets its luxuriously creamy texture not from cream (the recipe is fully vegan) but from the emulsion of bread and olive oil. Good blending is key to its texture.
During my practice runs, I found that the soup looked blended after roughly a minute and a half of blending. To make things as fair as possible, I decided to blend each soup for two minutes total. If you're following the user manual, that's two full one-minute rounds with a one-minute rest in between—which seemed reasonable for the task. It also gave blenders an extra 20 seconds or so beyond when most home cooks (including me) would have stopped blending. Because I was manually steering the wand around the pot, I tried to minimize "influence" by maintaining a strict pattern: a gentle, curved rocking motion (pendulum-style!) of left-right, forward-backward, left-right, and so on.
At the two-minute mark, I transferred the contents of the pot to a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl (not part of the original recipe), and then pushed it through until no moisture remained in the sieve. Then I weighed the pulp still left behind to get an empirical measure of how well the contents of the pot were pulverized. The differences were striking. Here, the All-Clad, OXO, and Vremi were the clear victors, leaving behind less than two ounces of pulp (the All-Clad's leavings weighed in at an impressive 1.25 ounces, with our other two eventual winners close behind at 1.75 ounces and 1.875 ounces). Pulp weights for the four worst performers, some of which had passed the mayo and cream tests with flying colors, in ounces: 3.0, 3.375, 3.625, and a whopping 4.125.
Anxious over so many opportunities for intervening variables (tomato softness, wand-steering, sieve-wielding, and so on) to affect the results, I repeated this test two additional times. Although the exact weights did vary, the tendencies held. It was also at this point in the testing that I started to divide the pack into two groups based on blade guard design: shallow, flat, and wide versus deep, bell-shaped, and narrow. The blenders with the former style did better as a group than those with the latter on this task.
Test 4: March of the Green Purées
If the tomato soup test gave me my first inkling that the shallow-flat-wide blade guard design was more effective for most non-mayonnaise tasks, the bean purée test helped bolster that theory. My original plan had been simply to make a basic bean dip, using two cans of small white beans and half a cup of oil, and then evaluate the results for consistency and speed. At this point, though, I was jonesing for results that were more quantitative than a furrowed brow–punctuated hmmmm... looks pretty darned mixed and smooth: excellent. What was going on in those blending cups? How well were the contents getting integrated? Were there "blind spots" I wasn't noticing because I'd been so focused on texture?
To find out, I designed a slight variation on that boring old bean purée test. Using the same quart-size container for every blender (I deliberately chose an amount of beans that many blending cups can't accommodate), I poured in two 14.5-ounce cans' worth of drained and rinsed small white beans and three-quarters of a cup of canola oil. I then added two drops of blue food coloring and four drops of yellow food coloring, distributing the drops evenly. Instead of calling it quits after an arbitrary two minutes, I would keep blending until the purée was a uniform green, no fleck of yellow or blue pigment in sight.
The resulting purées were pretty darned unappetizing (barring very specific St. Paddy's Day situations), but the results were fascinating. Once again, the shallow-flat-wide crew knocked the bell-shaped brigade out of the water. The latter group got to green after an average time of 2:30, with some still plowing away at the three-minute mark. The All-Clad and the Vremi both clocked in at a respectable 1:30. The winner? The OXO, at a cool 45 seconds. And once again, when I repeated the tests, the tendencies held.
Test 5: Smooth Operators
Up to this point, motor power, or wattage, seemed to be a non-issue. Most of the blenders had motors between 200 and 300 watts, the exceptions being the All-Clad (600) and the Vremi (400). For the most part, the OXO, at just 200 watts, was outperforming models boasting bigger wattages. Having tested stand mixers and food processors in the past, I wasn't that surprised by the tenuous relationship of wattage to performance. Wattage only measures peak raw power, not what actually gets delivered to the blades and, more important, to the food. Design inefficiency, difficulty of use, and other intervening variables—like the blade guard getting in the way—can all diminish the net power that comes out the other end.
That said, there are some tasks where raw power seemed to matter. When I made frozen-fruit smoothies in each blender, using one cup of frozen blueberries, one ripe banana, one cup of yogurt, two half-inch cubes of frozen mango, and a teaspoon of finely chopped ginger (to check for graininess), wattage appeared to make a difference. The Vremi was the victor here, powering through the heterogeneous mess in 45 seconds. The All-Clad finished in 60 seconds. The rest of the contenders averaged between 1:20 and 2:30. When I deliberately bottom-loaded the frozen fruit in the cup (the opposite of what most recipes recommend) and repeated the test, those two blenders were the only ones with the raw torque to plow right through.
The Winners: Testing Performance at a Glance
|Mayonnaise||Excellent||Very good||Very good||Excellent|
|Whipped Cream||For 2: very good; for 6: very good||For 2: very good; for 6: excellent||For 2: good; for 6: excellent||For 2: excellent; for 6: fair|
|Tomato Soup||Excellent||Excellent||Excellent||Very good|
|Frozen Fruit Smoothie||Excellent||Very good||Excellent||Good|
|"Green" Bean Purée||Very good||Excellent||Very good||Fair|
The Limitations of Our Testing
In a perfect world, a cookware testing lab would come equipped with a fleet of handy elves who could scurry back to the workshop and emerge in minutes bearing whatever hybrid Frankenblender I could dream up on a whim, to isolate those variables. Go, yon Calphalaan, and fashion me an OXO hand blender bearing the bowed-trapezoid blade style of a Vremi and the wattage of a Hobart...and a frosty Plymouth Martini, thrice shaken, posthaste.
Throughout the testing process, I tracked numerous design details, on the lookout for any and all discernible patterns vis à vis performance. Beyond the blade guard shape, the intensity of the vortex, and motor power, most other differences seemed to have negligible impact. But with a sample size of only 12, it's hard to be sure. Did I simply luck out and stumble my way into a 12-deep of immersion blenders without fatal flaws in, say, the girth of the wand?
About two-thirds of the way through testing—right about the time I was first kicking the tires on my loose theory of minimalist blade guards—I spent the weekend at the home of a friend, an avid cook who happens to own one of the immersion blenders I nearly included in the lineup but ended up dropping during the final pare-down. Mind if I take a look? She pulled it out of the drawer. My eyes widened. This model had the most minimalist blade guard I'd ever seen—four thin, gently curved spikes that extended from the end of the wand, around and just past the blade. That's it. Otherwise, it was nothing but exposed blade. Holy s&%t! Mind if I raid your pantry? (We're really good friends.)
A quick-hit dyed-beans test and mayo test later, I realized that, no, this wasn't the ultimate immersion blender after all. You see, I'd become so blinded by the Blade-Block Theory that I'd neglected to notice the size of the blades, which were less than half the size of any of the blender blades in my working lineup. It was a parameter that simply hadn't figured in thus far. If only I could test this blade guard design with blades the size of...hey, yon Calphalaan, could you come back over here a sec?
It was a gentle lesson in humility. Which leads me to my final point: Our winners are different from the winners declared by other sites and magazines.
File under: that awkward moment when it dawns on you that all of your competitors are recommending completely different blenders. It's enough to make even a normally confident equipment reviewer (that's me) a little nervous. By the third or fourth test, I began to notice that the immersion blenders championed by esteemed outfits like Consumer Reports, America's Test Kitchen, Good Housekeeping, and The Sweet Home were turning in middle-of-the-pack results. Yikes. Had they missed something, or had I? (Full disclosure: I spent time in the mid-2000s as an in-house equipment reviewer for America's Test Kitchen's Cook's Illustrated magazine.)
Eventually, I figured out a few likely reasons for the discrepancy: Turns out mine was the only testing that included the All-Clad, the OXO, or the Vremi—our three winners. The only one. How had I not noticed that until now? But even more interesting to me: In every one of the competitors' testings that included a model with a shallow-wide-flat blade guard, that model ended up the overall winner. My testing, by contrast, included four models of that style, not just one. It's nice to have choices. Even by accident.
Would they have come up with the same winners I did, given identical contenders? I like to think so. But I also like to remind myself that I am a serious cook who dabbles in science, not the other way around. And for the cooking tasks I tested, I like my blenders better than I like theirs for the job. Of that, at least, I am sure. My sincere hope is that next year they include all of my winners in an updated lineup, and throw in a new model (or one languishing in obscurity) that blows them all out of the water. Which is precisely how quasi-scientific inquiry of this sort should work.
That said, if I ever spot a high-wattage, big-bladed, minimal-guard, button-release hand blender with a light that illuminates the pot—perhaps hidden in a good friend's kitchen drawer—I'm gonna do my darnedest to tell the world first.
For the Power Fiend: All-Clad Stainless Steel Immersion Blender
No two ways about it: The All-Clad Immersion Blender was an elegant brute of a workhouse, swatting away tomato soup, frozen-fruit smoothies, and white-bean purée like they were annoying flies, and whipping up mayo and whipped cream like an aerating monster. Of all the models I tested, this one came the closest to straddling the taxonomic divide between the shallow-wide-flat group and the deep-narrow-bell-shaped brigade: The half-sphere shape of the blade guard and the double row of side vents—capsule-shaped perforations around the middle, alternating arches, and divoted "teeth" along the edge that comes in contact with the cooking vessel—made its wand look a lot like the tiny Cuisinart's from across the room, and gave it vortex-driven aeration advantages over its winner's-circle fellows. Pretty quiet, too. Vitamix lovers will appreciate the true-analog speed dial, even if they find little need to wield it.
Speaking of teeth, the six thumb-width metal beauties on the All-Clad are thin-waled and, thus, relatively sharp. I'd think twice about going to town on a purée in one of my glazed-enamel Le Creuset pans—or a nonstick saucepan, if I had such a thing. At two and a half pounds (half a pound heavier than the OXO), this model gets uncomfortable quickly during longer runs, an effect exacerbated by the powerful suction, especially at high or "turbo" speeds. The seven-centimeter-diameter head won't fit into many drinking vessels, the blender doesn't come with a blending cup, and I'm not a fan of its twist-lock style. But the only design factor that seemed to affect its actual performance was the tight space directly beneath the blade, a mere centimeter away from the blade guard surface, making it hard to scrape and occasionally providing safe haven for under-blended morsels (or flecks of blue dye).
Best Features: Powerful and sturdy.
Worst Features: It's heavy, it has a twist lock, and it has such powerful suction that up/down motion can be cumbersome.
Functional and Clever: OXO On Illuminating Digital Immersion Blender
I generally have little patience for gimmicky design touches, and OXO is notorious in this regard. Once during the mid-aughts, I spent a tense 20 minutes in the company's exhibition kiosk at the Cookware Manufacturers Association convention, getting taken to task by an incredulous marketing specialist about disparaging comments I'd recently made in the press about its now-famous—admittedly snazzy—angled design for its liquid measuring cups. When OXO's On Illuminating Digital Immersion Blender showed up at my door, all cheerful and proud of its own cleverness, I was immediately predisposed to hate it.
Happily, OXO consistently makes some of the best-designed kitchen products out there, and this one performed like a dream. The anti-vortex design of the blade guard kept saucepan suction at bay, yet didn't sap its efficiency to an annoying degree in aeration-driven tasks (like making mayo and whipped cream). Its performance in a soup pot, or a bean-purée container, was flawless. Its nylon would be safe for even delicate cookware surfaces.
Although I didn't keep a tally, I think I found myself reaching for this blender more than the others for tasks outside of testing, possibly because of its light weight and comfortable grip. And wouldn't you know it? After one too many close calls with other blenders—having absentmindedly forgotten they were on while scraping—I realized that the bright light (which switches on any time the blender is plugged in) was more than a flashy gimmick. It was a genuine safety feature. It wasn't until the second Tomato Soup test that I even noticed that it's not just the wand that lights up. The blender actually illuminates the interior of the soup pot like a floodlight—giving you matchless views of your progress. All right, OXO. I'll give you this one. Good stuff.
Best Features: The nylon wand head and silicone-coated wand arm protect even nonstick pots against scratching. Minimal suction. Its brilliant light reminds you that it's on and illuminates the pot.
Worst Features: The wand isn't dishwasher-safe, a surprising design move given the majority of OXO's product line. The button-release lock (yay!) seemed to get sluggish (boo!) with repeated usage, though I'd still take that style over the twist lock any day. It's also loud at high speeds.
Great Performance, Great Accessories: Vremi 3-in-1 Pro Hand Blender
This sleek, space-age-looking model almost got dropped from the lineup before the races began, and not (I swear!) because "Strawberry Cream" is one of the color options for the wand. It was simply that I knew little to nothing about this manufacturer before the testing, and I needed to cut a few. Thankfully, I kept it in the mix, on the strength of its stellar Amazon user reviews alone. Turns out that sometimes the hive mind really does come in handy. (No, Yelpers. I am not talking about you. Beat it.) So good were those user reviews, in fact, that as of this posting, the retail website is completely sold out...for the time being. (My contact at Vremi swears another boatload is on its way, but, anyway, you may run into trouble snagging it in the short term.)
The best smoothie-maker of the bunch, thanks to the powerful torque emanating from its 400-watt motor, the Vremi also churned up a cauldron's worth of tomato soup like a champ and turned large amounts of cream into dessert topping without so much as a grunt. It was also the easiest to clean of all the winners, thanks to so many flat, ridgeless surfaces. This blender also lights up like the OXO when turned on, illuminating the speed-dial console in a handsome backlit blue. (This is for the model with the Metallic wand; you'll have to check out Strawberry Cream yourself and report back.) Finally, although a few blenders I tested came with mini chopper attachments, the Vremi was the only one I might use instead of my standing food processor for smaller tasks like chopping onions or garlic. I even liked the circular blades for grating cheese or cabbage for coleslaw. If you don't have a good food processor—or ample room to have it out on the counter—the Vremi might be just what you're looking for.
The only task that gave the Vremi trouble was whipping up small amounts of whipped cream, which I blame on its deeper cup size—it was the deepest of the shallow-wide-flat models, and thus couldn't get quite as close to the bottom of the blending cup.
Best Features: Its blue LED light reminds you it's on, and the chopping attachment is well designed.
Worst Features: It has a twist lock and gets very loud at high speeds.
The Best Buy: Cuisinart CSB-75 Smart Stick 2-Speed Immersion Hand Blender
This diminutive upstart, which costs only $35, held its own at almost every task, delivering more than satisfactory, if not stellar, results across the board. (For large amounts of whipped cream, though, you should choose another tool.) The classic deep-bell-shaped wand head and perfectly matched blending cup shape produced a textbook vortex that gave this budget model an edge over the other blenders in the Mayo test—only the All-Clad performed better here—and its small wand head made it the best equipped of the entire roster for whipping small amounts of cream, and a fine fit for some drinking glasses. Interestingly, this entry-level contender performed better than Cuisinart's higher-end model: The "deluxe" wand design of the latter flared out beautifully (the 75's wand is basically a thin pipe), but that actually hindered performance by taking up more room in the blending cup than its kid brother did.
The small wand head demands more moving around the soup pot, and its tight crevices make it difficult to scrape and clean. There is also anecdotal evidence of durability issues—from both online user reviews and my own reporting. That said, it has a generous three-year warranty, and for $35 (our three big winners cost at least twice as much), it may be just the right-size bet.
Best Features: The wand head is a perfect match for the blending cup and is narrow enough to fit into typical drinking vessels. It's also cheap.
Worst Features: The plastic construction is less durable. The small wand head means it's unstable standing up in a pot and requires a lot of moving around in larger vessels.
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