Straight to the Point
In this era of small appliances and kitchen gadgets, low-tech tools like whisks often get second billing. But however useful food processors and high-speed blenders are, there are some tasks that are best left to manual whisks. Balloon whisks, in particular, are especially helpful for home cooks.
A balloon whisk excels at a variety of kitchen tasks—namely thoroughly mixing dry ingredients (like for pancakes), smoothing batters, and keeping hot liquids (like custards) moving for gentle, even cooking. (You can read more about the differences between balloon whisks and other whisk types here.)
A well-made balloon whisk will do a good job with all of the above tasks, as well as feel comfortable in your hand. It will also be sturdy and easy to clean. Well-made being the key word here and, of course, not every whisk is up to par.
To find the best models. we focused on 11 popular, highly rated balloon whisks that were 11- to 12-inch inches long—a standard, all-purpose size—and got to work.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Balloon Whisk: GIR Ultimate Whisk
The GIR Ultimate Whisk contains 12 cleverly designed wires held taut with just the right amount of tension for a variety of tasks. The comfortable handle, made from textured silicone, was greatly appreciated during tests that took longer to complete. And at about $14 (at the time of testing), it’s considerably less than some of the other, less user-friendly whisks we tried.
Also Great: OXO Good Grips 11-Inch Balloon Whisk
A solid performer in every task, this rubber-handled whisk has 10 sturdy wires and a grippy black rubber handle. The bulb-shaped end of the handle is designed to rest in the palm of your hand; a smart feature for vigorous tasks. And at around $12, it was one of the most affordable whisks we tested.
- Whipped Cream Test: With each whisk, we whipped two cups of heavy cream in a 3-quart mixing bowl to assess the whisk’s aeration efficiency, as well as how comfortable it was to hold and handle.
- Egg White Test: With each whisk we beat room temperature egg whites in a 3-quart mixing bowl to evaluate how long it took to achieve stiff peaks and how easy the whisk was to use.
- Pastry Cream Test: We used each whisk to make a batch of pastry cream in Serious Eats’ favorite saucier, to evaluate for stovetop use, as well as performance whisking a thick custard. We followed this recipe from step two (omitting the vanilla bean infusion).
- User Experience: Throughout the testing process, we evaluated each whisk on a variety of user experience qualities. We considered how easy each whisk was to hold and how well it would fit a variety of hand shapes and sizes. We also took into account wrist and arm fatigue during each task.
- Cleanup: After each test, we washed every whisk by hand to evaluate how easy (or not) it was to clean the handle and the wires. We also ran them through the dishwasher to confirm they were actually dishwasher-safe (as all claimed to be).
- Mayonnaise Test (Winners-Only): With our two favorite whisks, we made mayonnaise to assess emulsification properties, as well as efficiency and comfort over a prolonged period of use (one cup of mayo will take around 15 minutes to produce!).
What We Learned
Two factors override all else when it comes to whisking: the comfort of the handle and the wire distribution. Also important (although slightly less so) were the number of wires, how taut they were, and how big the “balloon” portion was. Although we did find slight variance in the width of the individual wires, it didn’t affect performance.
Comfort-Grip Whisk Handles Were Easier to Use
If all you ever use your whisk for is to quickly mix dry ingredients, there’s no need to invest in a model with a comfort-grip or silicone handle. But for tasks that require continual whisking or minutes-long aeration—like our egg whites, pastry cream and mayonnaise tests—you will benefit from a well-designed handle.
Three of the whisks we tested had silicone or rubber handles: the GIR Ultimate, OXO Good Grips Whisk, and Gorilla Grip. While all three were easier to hold than the metal handled models (no slipping), we noted that handle shape was crucial for a good gripping experience, too. The GIR handle narrows in the middle, creating a natural resting place for the palm and fingers. Its textured silicone also helped combat fatigue. In contrast, OXO’s handle bulbs out at the top then tapers very slightly. While not an unforgivable hindrance, it's a design that may not fit hands on the “very large” or “very small” end of the spectrum.
Of the stainless steel handles, it was clear that larger and wider was ideal. Two of the whisks’ handles were so short and slim that it was impossible to hold without also gripping onto the bottom of the wires—which affected the performance of the tool. This also proved dangerous in the pastry cream test, when our hands felt too close to the heat for comfort.
One final handle design note: Although a hook isn’t necessary, it is, of course, helpful if you store utensils and tools by hanging them. Of the whisks we tested, only three had hooks; the Rösle, Kuhn Rikon, and Dreamfarm. None of the silicone handled whisks came with a hook.
Wire Distribution Mattered More than Wire Thickness
Most of the whisks we tested had either 10 or 12 wires; a subtle difference. (One model, the Prepworks, had only seven, and lagged in some tests as a result).
What did matter was the distribution of the wires; more specifically, the distance between the bottom and top wires. The GIR whisk had the largest difference in height (1.75 inches), and the Prepworks had the smallest (.5 inches).
This mattered most in aeration and stabilization tests. As the ingredients traveled around the bowl and through the whisk, they met the wires more frequently when the steel was spaced generously. This resulted in even frothing, speedy emulsification, and easy mixing.
On models with minimal height variance, the whisks took longer to aerate ingredients. The whisks with a larger height variance not only aerated whipped cream faster (the top performer was 36 seconds quicker than the bottom), but excelled in emulsification and basic stirring tasks. In the egg white test, the top-performing whisk achieved stiff peaks an entire minute and a half sooner than the lowest performer—and was far more comfortable to hold.
Balloon Size and Shape Should Be (Relatively) Compact
Balloon whisks are named because of their shape, which is often larger than a standard whisk. However, too-large models struggled to truly function as all-purpose whisks. Whisks that measured three inches in width whipped cream well, but performed poorly on the egg white and pastry cream tests.
During the egg white test, we found that the three inch wide-whisks frothed up the whites within seconds, but took longer to stabilize the egg. The majority of time spent whisking with the large models occurred in the soft peaks-to-stiff peaks stage. Almost across the board, the smaller-width whisks were quicker and more efficient. Although a more generous width will froth and aerate quickly, it also encourages a looser overall structure.
In the pastry cream test, we noticed that the larger the whisk head, the harder it was to reach into the edges of the pan as we stirred. As a result, the 3-inch whisks left behind more stuck-on bits at the bottom of the saucier. There was no dramatic difference in cook time from model to model, but the quality of the finished pastry cream was visible. The larger-ballooned whisks consistently produced a lumpier pastry cream often with a slightly scalded flavor (due to the inability to move the cream away from the pot’s edges while cooking).
The Criteria: What to Look for in A Balloon Whisk
The best balloon whisks have 10 to 12 wires of varying height and a relatively compact wire shape (no larger than 2.75 inches wide). A comfortable handle greatly was great for longer tasks, like whipping egg whites or making mayonnaise.
Like many things, the best whisk is the one you’ll use. And generally, that’s the one that feels comfortable and doesn’t make your hand cramp up mid-task. So, we preferred whisks with ergonomic, comfortable handles.
Whisks with taut wires are more reliable and keep their shape over time and after multiple washes. Better still are whisks with taut wires of varying heights. The greater the height difference between the top and bottom wire, the better the whisk will be at all tasks.
Remember, a balloon whisk really is an all-purpose whisk, meant to do the job of a few different tools. Any model that looks like a specialty whisk will suffer in some tasks (despite the fact it may excel in some). Whisks with very large, bulbous wire designs won’t do a good job scraping the edges of pans, whereas whisks with very small or too-compact shapes will perform poorly in aeration tasks.
The Best Balloon Whisk: GIR Ultimate Whisk
What we liked: Truly an all-purpose whisk, this model excelled in every test. Its handle is extra grippy, thanks to a diamond-patterned texture and heat-resistant silicone, and with 12 wires that hold excellent tension, it's efficient at stabilization and emulsification. The wires vary in height, which is especially useful in aeration. This is a solid whisk, thoughtfully constructed and virtually indestructible. With a superior wire design and handle, it’s the whisk we would spring for.
What we didn’t like: The GIR whisk is a little fiddly to clean by hand due to the wire distribution. That said, it is dishwasher-safe. Ours looked good-as-new after four runs through a dishwasher.
- Wire count: 12
- Wire height difference: 1.75”
- Width: 2.75”
- Handle type: “Platinum cured” silicone
Also Great: OXO Good Grips 11-Inch Balloon Whisk
What we liked: The OXO Good Grips Whisk is an affordable, rubber-handled all-purpose whisk. It ranked high in all of our tests, earning important points for its grippy handle. Although there are two less wires than the GIR model, this whisk kept pace in the timed tests.
What we didn’t like: The handle, while comfortable, could do with a tweak or two; it’s three-quarters of an inch shorter than the GIR handle. Depending on how large your hand is, the heel of your hand may fall awkwardly against the bulbous end.
- Wire count: 10
- Wire height difference: 1.25”
- Width: 2.75”
- Handle type: Non-slip rubber
- Rösle Stainless Steel Balloon Egg Whisk: This is a handsome stainless steel-handled whisk complete with a hanging hook. It ranked highly in most tests, although at $35, it's pricier than many of the other models. While we prefer a silicone handle overall, if you’re set on a steel-handled whisk, this is the one to invest in.
- Gorilla Grip Stainless Steel Balloon Wire Whisk: The only other rubber-handled whisk we tested, this is a bargain buy and comes in a variety of colors. It’s a decent dupe for the OXO aesthetically speaking, but its wire tension and design leaves a lot to be desired.
- Prepworks by Progressive Balloon Whisk: With only 7 wires, the Prepworks is good for quick tasks like mixing dry ingredients. It struggled in every other tests though, due to its awkwardly short handle and primitive wire design.
- Winco Stainless Steel Piano Wire Whip: The Winco was a solid performer. A circular wire connects the 12 traditional wires, creating stability in aeration and emulsification tasks. Unfortunately, the connective wire created problems, too: it was one of the most frustrating whisks to wash by hand, and caused a fair bit of splash-back when whipping cream.
- Tovolo Whip Whisk: This was similar to the Winco, minus the circular connective wire, and with a shorter and slimmer handle that felt too small for the average-sized hand. Its 10 wires have slightly less tension than our top picks.
- Kuhn Rikon Whisk: This Kuhn Rikon’s wire shape and size is almost identical to the Winco, as is its handle. The key difference? The Kuhn Rikon has a hanging hook for storage.
- Dreamfarm Fold Flat Balloon Whisk: The Dreamform can be adjusted to accommodate three different whisk shapes: balloon, sauce, and flat. The plastic handle was slippery and bulky, but the fold-flat feature is useful in getting into the edges or pans.
- Sur La Table Stainless Steel Balloon Whisk: Another member of the “large steel handle” crew, this model has a rounded end, which was surprisingly comfortable during the longer timed tests. It’s dishwasher-safe, although after four runs, the top wire had lost a little tension.
- All-Clad Precision Stainless Steel Balloon Whisk: At $42, the All-Clad was the priciest of the group. The ergonomic handle was extra-long, and it may feel awkward in small hands.
What's a piano whisk?
A piano whisk is another name for a balloon whisk. The term “piano” is a nod to the wires, which resemble piano strings (if you squint your eyes, I suppose). “Balloon” references the hot air balloon-ish shape of the wire structure. The terms are interchangeable, but they aren’t the same as a French whisk, which is smaller and more compact, and better for stirring sauces than for aeration.
What’s the difference between a balloon whisk and a ball whisk?
A balloon whisk is a “traditionally” shaped whisk, with a large bulb-shaped wire end. It’s a good all-purpose whisk that really excels at aeration. Perhaps the only thing it has in common with a ball whisk is the “B” in its name. Ball whisks are made from straight wires, attached to the handle only on one end. On the end of the tines are tiny balls (sometimes made from silicone or silicone-coated). These whisks are fantastic at reaching corners, due to the maneuverability and flexibility of the wires. They’re not, however, a great choice for aeration or stirring thick sauces for the same reason.
Should you buy a silicone whisk?
A silicone whisk refers to the wire material, not the handle. If you regularly cook with nonstick pans or enameled cast iron, a silicone whisk is a good investment since it won’t scratch them up. Most silicone whisks are heat-proof (or at least heat-resistant), but make sure before using it in this way, just in case. Silicone whisks also quieter than wire whisks. One of our favorite balloon whisks, from OXO, comes in a silicone-coated version.