If you’re a fan of puréed soups and smoothies or like making small batches of things like mayonnaise, pesto, baby food and even the occasional slushy cocktail, you should invest in the Breville Control Grip Immersion Blender ($100). Not only did it purée better than everything else we looked at, it was able to do tasks that none of the others were even capable of doing like crushing ice and making peanut butter.
If $100 is too much to spend or you only plan on using this on rare occasions (say once a month or so) we recommend spending $35 on the Cuisinart Smart Stick Hand Blender CSB-75, which had similar performance to more expensive models from Cuisinart and KitchenAid at a fraction of the price.
So what is this, anyway, and why should I buy one?
Immersion blenders—also known as hand-held or stick blenders—do many of the same things that a standing blender would, but they are much easier to clean, take up a lot less space, and they’re better for mixing small batches. The handle houses the motor, which connects to a narrow wand with a rotary blade at the end. Like the name suggests, you simply immerse the blade and wand into whatever you’re blending.
Immersion blenders do have limitations, and sometimes it’s better to use a more powerful appliance. For example, if you’re looking to fully blend kale for a perfect green smoothie, say, or crush large batches of ice, you’ll need a great standing blender such as The Sweethome’s top pick, the Vitamix 5200. While some immersion blenders chop ingredients such as nuts, a food processor, with its various blades and disks, is what you need for most chopping, dicing or shredding tasks. (We like the Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor Food Processor; see my review here.)
In both professional and home kitchens, immersion blenders are most popular for puréeing soup directly in the stockpot (thereby avoiding the mess and pain of transferring hot liquid). “If you’re puréeing a soup, you could use a blender or a food processor, but an immersion blender just makes it one pot cookery,” says Rudy Speckamp, who’s logged countless hours using immersion blenders as a current instructor at the Culinary Institute of America and a former restaurateur.
An immersion blender is also an awesome tool for tackling smaller jobs, such as emulsifying vinaigrette or mayonnaise, or even blending gravies and pan sauces directly in their cooking vessels. Speckamp put it succinctly: “Escoffier, the chef of the century, would have been very happy if an immersion blender had been around in his day.”
Of course, these blenders also do lowbrow tasks. A good one will make a mean morning smoothie, and in some cases even crush ice for a perfect blended margarita. (Just add tequila and mixers!)
It’s worth investing in an immersion blender if you make a lot of puréed soups or small-batch recipes where you don’t want or need the capacity of a big blender jar or food processor bowl. As a new mom, I especially like that you can use an immersion blender to quickly grind up baby food. And because it’s compact and versatile, this appliance is great for a kitchen where storage space is limited.
What to look for
The litmus test for any blender (upright or immersion) is that it produces a silky smooth purée. It’s no good if it leaves stringy or chunky bits in soup or a smoothie. In the case of a hand-held blender, the motor needs to have enough torque to create a vigorous vortex so that the food will circulate in the mixing vessel, thereby passing through the rotary blade multiple times. “If there’s a lot of movement, that’s good,” says Volker Frick, who worked with immersion blenders for 20 years as the executive chef at the soup manufacturer Kettle Cuisine. “How deep does [the vortex] go? And how quickly does it spit it back up?”
Because these machines are designed to be used one-handed (you’ll likely hold a pot or mixing cup with your other hand) the best ones are comfortable to hold. That means the buttons should be easy to press, the handle should feel good, and the machine should feel light enough to hold comfortably for up to a minute. (Most consumer-grade immersion blenders shouldn’t be used for longer than a minute at a time or they’ll overheat.)
The nicer consumer immersion blenders have removable blending wands. This allows you to put the wand in the dishwasher for easy cleanup and connect different attachments (such as a food chopper or whisk). Higher-end models (such as those made by Bamix) and those made for commercial use tend to have wands that don’t come off. In part, the fixed wand may be why these pro-grade blenders tend to be more durable than consumer ones; there are simply less pieces that can break. (I couldn’t find an official appliance engineer to confirm this, but my brother-in-law, a process engineer, agreed with this assessment.) However, in our testing, we found fixed wands cumbersome to wash, and greatly preferred models with detachable wands.
Another important feature to look for is a stainless steel wand and cage housing the blade. Plastic can melt in a batch of hot soup. I read several Amazon reviews complaining about just this problem with some cheaper, all-plastic models.
Although many higher-end immersion blenders come with multiple speeds (even “turbo” speed, whatever that means), we found that you really only need two of them—low and high. America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s also found this to be true in their review.
As for attachments, many models come with a food chopper and whisk attachments. These can be useful, but they’re not essential. The main task is to blend, after all, so I think these attachments are gravy. Both Volker Frick and Rudy Speckamp agreed with me on this point. However, it is nice if a model comes with a blending cup. America’s Test Kitchen tends to like a tall, tapered cup, yet our favorite immersion blender actually comes with a larger, straight-edged cup with a handle that made for very easy blending.
Some brands make models with taller wands, advertising these as better for blending in deep pots. Rudy Speckamp agrees. “It’s important, especially for quantity cooking, because you want it to go to the bottom of the pot for puréeing. If the shaft only goes to the middle of the pot, I don’t think it’s as successful,” he said. Our top pick happens to have the tallest blending wand of the models we tested.
A couple of other nice features to look for: a guard for the rotary blade and a wall-mounted holder for the blender. Both of these features will help keep your immersion blender from dangerously lurking in a drawer, waiting to slice you.
You’ll also find a variety of cordless immersion blenders on the market. Yet, like many cordless tools, these tend not to be as powerful as their corded counterparts. I didn’t find any that topped editorial or user reviews.
As I mentioned, many Amazon reviewers complain about immersion blenders breaking. That’s why it’s important that you buy a model that has at least a year’s warranty and a track record of good customer service.
How we picked
There are literally hundreds of immersion blenders you can choose from, ranging from cheapo $15 plastic models that will likely break after a few uses to industrial-grade models built like tanks (and with the slow speed to match) that will set you back $150 or more. In my research, I read many Amazon user reviews about consumer-grade immersion blenders—ranging from $15 to $100—breaking easily. This lead me to investigate sturdier professional-grade models that might better stand the test of time. What I found is that you can buy super durable, pro-grade machines for between $80 and $150, but you’re generally going to sacrifice speed and convenience. Most home cooks will probably be happier with a consumer-grade machine that comes with features like a removable wand, a blending cup and a few attachments.
After reading every review I could find, scouring Amazon reviews to look for data on reliability, and holding some immersion blenders at Williams-Sonoma, I concluded that there are many models on the market, but not much consensus on which one is best.
America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s, Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping didn’t test the same models, and I didn’t find any agreement in the smaller reviews I read, so it was difficult to compare their results. Because of this, I looked at Amazon reviews more closely than I might usually do.
Over $100, and I found pro-grade blenders made with fewer plastic parts that seemed more durable. Yet I wondered: would most people would want to cough up more than $100 when a $30 or $60 model might ultimately get the job done?
In the end, I narrowed the competition to 7 models for testing. From least to most expensive, we ended up with the Cuisinart Smart Stick 2-Speed CSB-75 ($35), Cuisinart Smart Stick 2-Speed CSB-77 ($58), KitchenAid 3-Speed Hand Blender ($60), Waring Quik Stik ($80), KitchenAid 5-Speed Hand Blender ($100), Breville Control Grip ($100), and the Bamix Mono Hand Blender ($149).
How we tested
To gain a second opinion, I invited fellow Sweethome writer Lesley Stockton over to help test. Lesley and I have worked on cookbooks together at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and she used to work in the test kitchens at Martha Stewart Living and Everyday Food. She’s also logged many hours in restaurant kitchens.
Like Cook’s Illustrated, we wanted to find an immersion blender that was a good overall performer. We did some of the same tests that Cook’s did and added a few twists of our own. We started by puréeing fibrous ginger-carrot-tomato soup to see which blender produced the smoothest purée. Next we blended this delicious roasted salsa roja, then smoothies packed with frozen berries and fibrous kale. We emulsified mayonnaise, whipped cream and even tried grinding whole peanuts. As a final test, we dropped each blender from a height of roughly 6 feet to see if we could break them. (None of them actually did.)
The Breville Control Grip ($100) is a little pricey compared to most of the other models, but its greater blending power and easy handling make it worth the money if you plan to use an immersion blender often (for a daily smoothie, for instance) or simply prefer a quality machine. It aced every test and made the others look weak in comparison.
First and foremost, the Breville was the best at puréeing. We started by using each model to blend carrot-tomato-ginger soup for 1 minute directly in the soup pot. Afterwards, we strained our purées through a fine mesh sieve to see how much fiber was left unblended. The Breville was the only one that left almost zero food waste in the sieve. Every other blender left significant chunks in the sieve.
As for smoothies, none of the blenders did a great job at processing the kale we added (to totally blend kale, you really need something like a Vitamix 5200, The Sweethome’s top blender pick), but the Breville and the KitchenAid 5-Speed managed to make the smallest particles.
The Breville was also the most powerful and versatile. It was the only machine we tested that could turn peanuts into peanut butter. The other machines could only make a nut meal. The Breville is also the only machine we tested that’s advertised as being able to crush ice. I tried this and it blended standard ice-tray cubes to slush in about a minute and half.
In addition to testing well, the Breville was the most comfortable to use. Its buttons were among the easiest to push (the Bamix was the only one that beat it), and it was the easiest machine to operate one-handed when making mayonnaise. With the other models, the metal cages that house the blades tended to suction to the bottom of the mixing cup, and it was irritating that the cup kept lifting as we lifted the blender. A gasket at the base of the Breville’s cage keeps it from suctioning.
The Breville’s low and high speeds were more extreme than the other models we tested. Although we found the 15 speeds mostly overkill, we did find the range helpful for particularly tough tasks, such as blending peanuts and ice.
While not a necessity, the Breville comes with selection of high-quality attachments, including a removable wand, a mini chopper, a whisk attachment and a guard for the blade. We like that the mixing cup is big enough to blend three smoothies (the other cups could only handle one) and that the mini chopper fits directly into the cup for tidy storage. The wand is also the tallest of the ones we tested (8 inches), which would come in handy for blending in deeper pots.
Overall, it just seems Breville really has the home cook in mind with this product, and Amazon reviewers agree, giving it 4.3 out of 5 stars (with 83 percent coming from 4 or 5 star reviews). The pros agree as well.
Before helping me test for this guide, Lesley swore by her 10-year-old Braun immersion blender (Braun no longer makes kitchen appliances for the US market). But after our testing, she said she might just make the switch to our winner.
Consumer Reports also agrees with us on the Breville Control Grip’s superiority. They chose it as their top pick with a score of a 91 out of 100 points.
All of that aside, the Breville isn’t perfect. One thing I really don’t like is that the blending wand has an opening at the top that can fill with water when washing. You have to be careful to dump out the water and dry the wand upside down to make sure it stays dry. The other models with removable wands are totally enclosed, which I like better. The Breville has an average warranty, only a year limited (I was hoping it would be more, considering their Sous Chef—my step up pick for a food processor—has a 25-year warranty on the motor). I’d also like it if the Breville came with a wall-mounted holder or some other storage solution.
Best for occasional users
We were surprised by how well the Smart Stick performed given its low price. It blended soup on par with the Cuisinart Smart Stick CSB-77, KitchenAid 3-Speed and KitchenAid 5-Speed, which cost almost twice as much. And it makes a great smoothie (although it can’t really tackle kale). This is the top-rated and top-selling hand blender on Amazon, and gets a whopping 90.9 percent positive reviews. Consumer Reports chose this as their fourth top-rated immersion blender, giving it 78 points out of 100. The Cuisinart’s 3-year limited warranty also beats out the 1-year warranty of both KitchenAids.
This model only comes with a mixing cup and no attachments, but the wand is removable and easy to clean.
The Smart Stick CSB-75 does feel cheap compared to the other models we tested, and we found that its plastic casing trapped food in the seams. Like many other immersion blenders, there are also multiple Amazon reviews about this model breaking.
Overall though, it’s quite adequate. If you’re only planning to use an immersion blender on rare occasions or you’re not quite ready to commit to a more expensive model, go with the Cuisinart Smart Stick CSB-75.
The KitchenAid 3-Speed Hand Blender ($60) performed second best in our tests. It was America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s top pick in 2012. They found it “sailed through pesto, smoothies, soup, hummus, whipped cream, and mayonnaise,” and “it’s also tough and durable.” In our own testing, it created an excellent vortex, and performed all the tests well. The only thing it couldn’t do that the Breville could was turn peanuts into peanut butter. It also left quite a bit of pulp in the sieve when we strained the puréed soup. Additionally I found the button a little hard to push, but Lesley liked this model. It gets 81 percent positive reviews on Amazon and comes with whisk and chopper attachments. However, there are complaints of it breaking and it only has a 1-year limited warranty. We feel that if you’re already willing to spend $60, it’s worth the extra $40 for the Breville’s super powerful motor.
The KitchenAid 5-Speed Hand Blender ($100) wasn’t reviewed in any major editorials, but is the fifth-rated immersion blender on Amazon (getting 4.4 out of 5 stars and 85% positive reviews) and actually has higher user ratings than the KitchenAid 3-Speed. It comes with a big box of attachments, including interchangeable blades, a chopper and whisk. We didn’t find that the 5-Speed performed any better than the KitchenAid 3-Speed and we didn’t think we’d use all of the attachments (the box would probably just gather dust in my kitchen).
Good Housekeeping chose the Cuisinart Smart Stick 2-Speed Hand Blender CSB-79 ($58) as one of its top picks, saying “it offers excellent performance and it’s easy to use.” Food & Wine also recommended this model in 2008, saying “the noticeably sharp blade purees beautifully, and the hood around the blade is extra-deep, which helps pull food through the blender.” In our testing, we found this model puréed on par with the KitchenAid 3-Speed, KitchenAid 5-Speed, and the Cuisinart Smart Stick CSB-75, but was nowhere near as effective as the Breville Control Grip. It receives 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon (86 percent positive), comes with whisk and chopper attachments, and has a 3-year limited warranty. However, in testing, we didn’t find that this model did any better than the Cuisinart Smart Stick CBS-75, which you can pick up for nearly half the price.
We had high hopes for the the Bamix Mono ($149). Bamix is basically the Swiss Army Knife of immersion blenders, and this Swiss company still makes their blenders in Switzerland (the rest of the contenders are all made in China). I steered toward this company not because of editorial reviews, which are actually pretty sparse, but because of user reviews. On message boards on Chowhound and eGullet (from the Society of Culinary Arts and Letters) I gathered that Bamix immersion blenders are often considered the best around. Many reviewers say the motors are built like tanks and that the machines last 20 years. The blending wands of all the Bamix models are permanently attached (although most come with interchangeable blades). I chose the Bamix Mono because it’s one of Bamix’s least expensive models and it had great reviews on Amazon. In testing, we found that it has a comfortable handle and easy-to-push buttons, but sadly the blender didn’t create a great vortex and therefore was super slow in blending soup and smoothies. Surprisingly, it was the worst in our purée test, leaving a ton of fiber in the sieve. The quality of this machine seems very high, and it very well might last decades, but we found it agonizingly slow after the speed and efficiency of the Breville Control Grip.
Like Bamix, I was intrigued by Waring immersion blenders because they seem very durable. In fact, Waring only makes professional-grade immersion blenders. Their Quik Stik ($80) is the smallest model that Waring makes, and like the Bamix it has a fixed wand and no attachments. In their review, America’s Test Kitchen said “this blender handled big chunks beautifully,” but that the “soup was grainy, and the smoothies and pesto were peppered with bits of unblended food.” I found the Waring Quik Stik actually did a better job at puréeing than the Bamix or the Cuisinarts and KitchenAids we tested, and like the Bamix Mono, it feels very sturdy. However, it doesn’t come with a blending cup and isn’t as convenient as the Breville Control Grip’s removable shaft and attachments. If you were doing major quantity cooking and actually needed a pro-level tool at a moderate price, this would be one to consider, but most people would be better served by the power and speed of the Breville.
I found that many professional cooks (including the Sweethome’s Lesley Stockton) have long preferred immersion blenders made by Braun. However, as I mentioned before, the company recently stopped making kitchen appliances for the U.S. market.
What else did we look at?
Miallegro Professional MiTutto 9090: Although this was Consumer Reports’s best buy, it didn’t receive as high ratings as the other models I chose to test.
All-Clad Immersion Blender: This didn’t get as high ratings as the other models I tested in the $100 to $140 price range.
Bamix Professional: Consumer Reports rated this poorly, only giving it 51 of 100 points.
DeLonghi Hand Blender DHB723 Immersion Blender: Fewer than 4 stars on Amazon.
L’Equip 306700 Stick Blender: Fewer than 4 stars on Amazon.
Kalorik Sunny Morning Stick Mixer: Cook’s Illustrated rated this as their top pick in 2010, but downgraded it to the bottom of their list after many readers wrote to say it didn’t hold up well.
Dualit Immersion Blender: Fewer than 4 stars on Amazon.
Oster 3-in-1 Hand Blender: Only 3 stars on Amazon.
Hamilton Beach 2-Speed Hand Blender: Few reviews and fewer than 4 stars on Amazon.
Hamilton Beach Turbo Twister 2-Speed Hand Blender: Amazon complaints about plastic cage around the blade melting.
KitchenAid 2-Speed KHB100ER: Serious Eats and Good Housekeeping liked this model, but it’s since been discontinued.
KitchenAid Pro Line Cordless Immersion Blender: Too expensive and not enough reviews to compare it with other models we decided to test.
Calphalon Electrics 3-in-1 Immersion Hand Blender: Although a top user-rated model on Amazon, there were no pro reviews of this model.
Proctor-Silex 59738 Hand Blender: Its blending wand is made of plastic and the model did not seem sturdy enough to seriously consider.
Abrax Immersion Blender: No professional reviews and no user reviews.
Breville Cordless Hand Blender: Poorly rated by America’s Test Kitchen and only 2.2 stars on Amazon.
Nesco Professional Grip ‘n’ Go Immersion Blender: Also poorly reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen and only 3 stars on Amazon.
Cuisinart Quik Prep Hand Blender: This has a plastic cage surrounding the blade and only 3 stars on Amazon.
Avoiding hand blending and breakdowns (or: safety and maintenance)
If you’re used to the multitude of safety features on food processors, you might find immersion blenders a little less, well, idiot proof. In January 2013, the New York Times published an article (“Bandages Not Included”) about how easy it is to hurt yourself with an immersion blender. The author mangled two fingers on his immersion blender, and quotes multiple others who’ve cut themselves.
Both experts I spoke with said the greater danger is actually splattering yourself with hot liquid. “The biggest thing is probably getting burnt,” Rudy Speckamp told me. To avoid this fate, Volker Frick says to always use the lower speed or pulse setting if working a smaller pot or saucepan.
Lastly, I’d like to suggest a maintenance tip. Immersion blenders tend to have short duty cycles. Most of these machines should only ever be run for a maximum of 1 minute at a time, and then given about a 1 minute break before using again. It’s important to follow these directions or you may overheat the motor and ultimately break it. The only machines I found that don’t have a time limit on how long you can use them are KitchenAid 3-Speed and 5-Speed hand blenders.
According to its manual, the Breville Control Grip should only be operated for 1 minute at a time, with a 1 minute cooling period. (When mixing super thick or heavy mixtures, the Breville manual says to only operate the machine for 15 seconds with 1 minute between each use.) The Cuisinart Smart Stick, on the other hand, should only be operated for 50 seconds at a time.
Wrapping it up
With its powerful motor and user-friendly design, the Breville Control Grip Immersion Blender ($100) would give many countertop blenders a run for their money. Although slightly pricier than much of the competition, the Control Grip’s ability to purée silky-smooth soups, crush ice and adapt with its easy-to-store attachments make it worth the extra cash.