I can still remember the very first time I used a Vitamix blender in a professional restaurant kitchen. The first time I felt its raw power, the awesomeness of a fully analog control dial, the soups that flowed down my throat like the smoothest silk. If you've ever been awestruck by the texture of a purée or a soup in a fancy restaurant, odds are one of these machines was responsible. The good news is, they're now easily available for the home cook. The bad news? There are many options, and they're pricey. We're talking at least $400.
For those kind of bucks, you want to make sure that you're getting the best blender for your needs, and one that's going to last through the years. I've spent the last several weeks putting a slate of blenders through their paces to bring you my three top recommendations: the Vitamix 5200, the BlendTec Designer Series, and the Breville Boss. Each is a fantastic option. Which one you select all depends on your personal needs. Read on for details.
Why Do I Need a High-End Blender?
High-end blenders—those with a peak horsepower of two or higher—don't come cheap. The most inexpensive models will cost you around $400. So why would you pay two to four times the price of a standard blender for something that performs pretty much the same tasks? Because a high powered blender simply does them better. Smoother soups and smoothies. Faster ice crushing. Grains that you can mill to your own specs. Fresh nut butters and purées. You get the idea.
The truth is, you probably don't need one, but once you've had your first taste of a hot soup that's as smooth as silk or a truly velvety, seed- and fiber-free smoothie, you'll have a heck of a hard time going back.
If you've ever had a blender completely conk out on you in a sputter of smoke and plastic dust, there's another reason for you. It's a factor that often gets overlooked in reviews, but customer testimony and years of use can offer some insight: High-end blenders are simply more durable and reliable. All three of the blenders that made our list feature solid metal gears on both the blender base and the jar. A metal-geared blender will last virtually forever, and these blenders have the seven-year warranties to prove it. Metal ball bearings in the blade enclosure also make for a more efficient blend and longer lifespan.
There are a ton of blenders out there at various price ranges, but for this test, I focused on high-powered blenders: blenders with a peak horsepower rating of at least two. I also set a price cap at $500, which priced out a few of BlendTec's, Vitamix's, and Waring's most expensive models.
I'll get into the details of the testing, but first here's a quick glance at the three winners.
The Three Winners at a Glance
|Vitamix 5200||BlendTec Designer||Breville Boss|
|Price||$449 MSRP||$449.95 MSRP||$449.99 MSRP|
|Controls||4/4 (true anolog)||3.5/4 (simulated analog with presets)||3.5/4 (simulated analog with presets)|
|Height||18 inches||15 inches||17 inches|
|Weight||10.5 pounds||8 pounds||12.8 pounds|
|Container Size||64 ounces||88 ounces (unspecified max capacity)||68 ounces|
|Noise||Very Loud||Moderately Loud||Moderately Loud|
|Automatic Smoothie Button||N/A||2.5/4||3.5/4|
|Ice Crushing||1.5/4 (chunky)||4/4||3/4 (uneven)|
|Thick Purees and Nut Butters||4/4||2.5/4||3.5/4|
|Moist Raw Food Grinding||4/4||4/4||3/4|
|Accessories||Tamper||N/A||Tamper and scraper|
|Best Features||Largest analog control range, easiest operation, best lid||Sleek touchscreen, super-side jar, best looking, easiest to clean||Best presets, timer, tamper and scraper|
|Worst Features||Very large, hard to scrape bottom, no preset functions, loudest||Lots of splashing during blend, no tamper, lots of dripping during pours||Very heavy, lid is difficult to remove, complicated controls, difficult to scrape narrow bottom|
|Warranty||7-Year Limited (Included) or 10-Year Extended ($75)||8-Year Limted||7-Year Limited|
We all use blenders for different tasks at home. Some folks use them almost exclusively as smoothie machines. Some use them on the weekend to crush ice or make frozen drinks. People into raw foods use them to make smooth, raw-food soups and nut butters. A baker would use them to mill grains. As a former restaurant cook, my primary uses are blending hot soups and purées. Marketers will let you know that their blenders can also do things like knead dough or make batters.
To test each of these tasks, I made the following in every blender, starting with identical sets of ingredients. In cases where blenders had a preset button designed to perform a specific task, I tested them both using the preset, as well as operating them manually.
Here's what I did in each blender:
- I crushed one tray of ice.
- I puréed one quart of hot carrot soup.
- I made one cup of peanut butter from roasted peanuts.
- I made enough blackberry, strawberry, kale, and yogurt smoothies to feed four.
- I made an extra-large, extra-thick milkshake.
- I made a pint of hummus.
- I made a cup of mayonnaise.
- I made two frozen margaritas.
- I milled a cup and a half of corn four.
- I ground a half pound of raw carrots.
- I made a batch of pizza dough.
- I ground half a pound of beef.
- I whipped a half pound of heavy cream.
I very quickly learned one thing about blenders during the testing process: there is really no comparison between a high-powered blender and a standard, sub-two-horsepower blender. Where weak blenders leave seeds and fibers behind, powerful blenders form a perfectly smooth purée—soups so smooth you can pour them through a cheesecloth-lined chinois and leave nothing behind. To really show you the difference, I blended up a couple of blackberry-kale smoothies in a standard blender (the highest rated "Best Buy" blender from Cook's Illustrated's standard blender testing) and in my Vitamix 5200.
I purposely made the smoothies with a very large amount of kale in order to demonstrate the blenders' relative abilities to crush fibers and rupture plant cells to release more nutrients and produce smoother results. Here's what we get, and bear in mind that I designed this test purposely to exaggerate color release from various cells. The results are not particularly appetizing (though they were delicious):
The smoothie on the left was made in a standard blender and is colored purple from easy-to-release pigments in the blackberries. The kale gets chopped into tiny bits, but those bits stay relatively intact—very little green chlorophyll is released from inside the cells.
The smoothie on the right made with the Vitamix is brownish in color, a result of the purple pigments in the blackberries mixing with the green chlorophyll released from fully pulverized kale cells. See the difference?
Despite what the marketers say, none of these machines is a replace-everything-in-your-kitchen contraption. A food processor or stand mixer with an attachment is still far superior for making dough or grinding meat. A bowl and a whisk will make better batters. A hand blender will make faster mayonnaise and whipped cream. These machines will change your soups and smoothies, not your life.
"The sharpness of blades had no relation to how well the blenders actually performed."
I also discovered that features that may seem important at first are not necessarily factors in overall performance. Some blenders advertised razor-sharp blades, but the sharpness of blades had no relation to how well the blenders actually performed. The one thing really sharp blades do: they give you a much higher chance of cutting yourself during cleaning or ruining a rubber spatula during scraping.
Peak horsepower or wattage is only a very rough indication of performance. The Vitamix clocks in at 1380 watts and two peak horsepower, the Breville Boss at 1500 watts and two horsepower, and the Blendtec Designer at 1560 watts and three horsepower, yet all three performed their tasks similarly, which goes to show that good blade and jar design are just as important as raw power. Actual horsepower delivered to the blades can vary depending on many factors including how efficiently the motor is cooled, the amperage coming into the machine, and how efficient it is at converting energy from one form to another.
Number of blades also bore no relation to performance. One blender in particular offered a central spindle-style fixture with six blades arranged up and down it. Despite menacing appearances, the blender couldn't measure up to models with a more traditional bottom-based vortex-style blade system. Of our three winning models, the BlendTec has only two dull blades, the Vitamix four moderately sharp blades, and the Breville Boss six blades with a mix of dull edges and serrations.
The shape of a blender jar can affect the efficiency of the blend. Ridges, fins, and extra sides make for more turbulence, which in turn makes for a more even blend, but they can also make the blender much harder to clean or scrape, so finding the right balance is key. The Vitamix blender's tall, narrow, tapered jar produces the most effective vortexing action—the whirlpool that pulls down ingredients into the spinning blades below.
This is important because a good vortex not only leads to faster, more efficient blending, but it also means less splashing, which means less food wasted by getting stuck on the lid or sides of the jar. Take a look at the photo above. Even at high speed, a smoothie shows virtually no splashing: all of the liquid is getting circulated back to the blades below.
By contrast, the extra wide, square jar on the BlendTec blender leads to tons of splashing. The liquid virtually bounces up and down as it blends. While this made only a slight difference in the quality of the finished blend, it does make tasks where a strong vortex and minimal splashing is necessary—like making mayonnaise—much more difficult, if not impossible.
Jar design also comes into play when emptying the container: The Vitamix has a long pouring spout that makes for drip-free pours. The Breville's is somewhere in the middle, while the BlendTec has no spout at all, virtually guaranteeing that you're going to be dripping soups or smoothies onto your counter as you pour from the pitcher.
Blending Wet Solids
As I mentioned above, a good vortex is important when it comes to blending soups, smoothies, and other pourable liquids. What about thicker purées, dips, or nut butters? In these cases, you're going to want one of two things: A wide jar with ability to pulse easily—which bounces large chunks of food up and down so that they don't end up riding around the blade—or a blender that comes with a firm tamper in order to push chunks of food down into the blades.
The BlendTec goes with the former approach, which makes it the best at hands-off puréeing. A super-wide base and good presets quickly reduce raw vegetables and nuts to purees and butters, though if you want perfect results, you're still going to have to stop it occasionally to scrape down the sides with a spatula. Raw carrots were reduced to a baby food-like paste within 45 seconds in the BlendTec. With the Breville, on the other hand, a narrow jar meant that after 45 seconds, large chunks of carrots still remained. The Vitamix showed similar results.
Check out the BlendTec on the left and the Breville on the right here:
That said, once you factor in the included tampers for the Breville and the Vitamix, you get a different story. Pushing ingredients down into the blades of those mixers produced purées that were even smoother than the BlendTec's. To me, a few minutes of extra work are worth the superior results. The BlendTec has no tamper, which means you can't operate it this way even if you wanted to.
Blenders have slowly been falling into what I call the "Microwave Trap." Remember back when microwaves used to have two control knobs—one for power, the other for time—and that was it? Somewhere along the line manufacturers got it in their heads that a microwave must have at least 20 different presets to be functional, and that simply turning it on and making it go should require a half dozen button pushes. It's absurd and makes simple tasks far more difficult than they should be.
Blenders are not quite at that level of ridiculousness yet, but they're getting there fast. Presets can be useful if you're the type of person who likes to multi-task. Want a smoothie in the morning? Just dump the pre-measured ingredients into the jar, hit the "smoothie" button, and let the machine make your drink while you shower or get dressed (if those pre-sets actually work, that is). Don't want to bother learning that a milkshake needs to be pulsed slowly first before it can be rapidly blended for the best results? Okay, fine. Push the milkshake button. But at a certain level, more buttons end up obscuring the basic functions of the machines.
The Breville is right on the border of having too many features. With five presets, a built-in timer, a pause/go button, along with an on/off, a pulse, and an analog knob, it's not immediately obvious how to operate it. That analog dial isn't exactly analog either. It operates more like the knob on your car stereo: turning it left or right makes the motor jump from one speed to the next in small increments.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Vitamix, which has nothing but an on/off switch, a switch to take it between variable mode and high speed mode, and an analog dial that is truly analog—its speed can be adjusted up and down in a smooth continuum all the way from a very lazy stir to a blindingly fast 37,000 RPM.
The Blendtec comes in the middle with a touchscreen slider for not-quite-analog control and a few presets. That touch screen, for the record, does make the BlendTec extremely easy to clean. It's completely smooth!
Grinding and Crushing Ability
I don't often need crushed ice at home, but it's a standard test for a good blender, and in this department, there is again a clear winner: the BlendTec blows the competition out of the water. With its super-wide base, you can drop in a tray of ice cubes and turn it into snow-like crushed ice in eight seconds flat. The Breville will crush ice in about 30 seconds, but leaves large, hail-like grainy chunks, while the Vitamix fails pretty hard due to its tapered shape. If an ice-crusher is what you're looking for, then there's no question the BlendTec is the machine for you.
Best for the Control Freak: The Vitamix 5200 Series Blender
This is the blender that I keep on my kitchen counter. It's a true no-frills tank of a machine that'll make the smoothest soups and purées you've ever tasted. It's a serious tool that hands-on type cooks will really appreciate. Sure, it takes a little while to figure out the best way to make a smoothie or a milkshake without presets to guide you, but with a little practice, you'll be better equipped to deal with a wider variety of blending needs than anyone who relies on those presets.
The Vitamix also has the lowest low speed, which makes blending hot soups quite simple. The biggest issue you face when blending hot soups is creating too much turbulence too fast. Blenders that have a very high lowest speed will cause hot soups to suddenly release steam, which can result in a lid that blows off, spraying scorching hot soup all over your kitchen and face. The Vitamix's slow start prevents that from happening.
Fully analog control also helps you to find the "sweet spot" of a particular food you're pureeing. That is, the speed at which it forms a perfect vortex, drawing food continuously into the blades. Blenders with more granular controls have trouble doing this. At one speed, the liquid on top may not get sucked down, while at the next, the blade may spin so fast that the ingredients near the base end up riding on top of the blades instead of falling into them.
Vitamix also has an auto-shutoff feature for those rare occasions when the motor is working too hard. In the entire time I've worked with Vitamixes, the auto-shutoff and cool down has only been tripped twice (both times when making extra-thick hummus). It gives me good peace of mind to know my blender will turn itself and stop for a short rest rather than burn itself out.
Best for Crushing it in a Smaller Kitchen: BlendTec Designer Series WildSide Blender
The BlendTec is significantly smaller and lighter than either of its competitors, which can be a big deal for smaller kitchens. My Vitamix, for instance, wouldn't sit underneath the cabinets in my old apartment. The BlendTec had no problem. It's also the best crusher out there, if turning ice into snow is your game, and it performs on par with the Vitamix for soups and smoothies.
True, the blender jar drips when you try to pour from it and the lack of a tamper means that you have to stop it more frequently to scrape down the sides when making things like nut butter, but those are minor flaws in an otherwise superb product.
Best for Smoothie-Drinkers: The Breville Boss Superblender
While the Breville Boss didn't quite stack up to the Vitamix or BlendTec in terms of pure blending or crushing power, it came awfully close and excelled in one important area: it had the best pre-set functions. With a single touch of a button, the blender produced silky-smooth smoothies and shakes even with the toughest ingredients like kale or raspberry seeds. It also has the most solid feel to it, with a great brushed aluminum look that fits in well with other appliances of that style.