A stand mixer is a great way to take your baking game to the next level, and for the third year running we’ve found that the 5-quart KitchenAid Artisan is the best mixer for the home baker. Not only did it cream butter and sugar for cookies and whip up a genoise cake batter more effectively than nearly every other model we tried, but it also effortlessly kneaded whole-wheat bread dough without straining or walking around on the countertop (a common issue with other mixers). For this update we looked for new models that could compete with the Artisan, but ultimately we found that it’s still the absolute best for its performance, versatility, and price.
Although we weren’t completely surprised to see a KitchenAid mixer come out on top, we did think the competition would fare a little better. But after going through more than 16 hours of research, consulting mixing experts, performing 30 hours of side-by-side testing on six stand mixers and two hand mixers, and doing two years of long-term testing, we can definitively say that the brand that rolled out the first tabletop mixer in 1919 is still the best. Sometimes you really can’t beat a classic.
If for some reason the Artisan sells out, or if you make a lot of bread dough or thick batters, consider our runner-up, the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series 6-Quart Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer. It has a bigger footprint and runs much louder than the Artisan, and it costs about $60 more at the moment, but it’s a workhorse (confirmed by the fact that it’s often found in pro kitchens).
For occasional baking, or if you have a tiny kitchen, get the Cuisinart Power Advantage Plus 9-Speed Handheld Mixer. This model won’t compete with a stand mixer in speed or strength, but it is the most effective hand mixer we’ve found, and it does a more than adequate job of blending doughs, frostings, and lofty cakes. We also like its compact storage case, which keeps all of the attachments securely housed with the machine (no groping in a drawer for that extra beater!).
I have worked with stand mixers during the course of my 18-year career in restaurants, catering kitchens, and test kitchens. Even though large Hobart mixers are common in commercial kitchens, many kitchens also use a countertop mixer for smaller jobs. Restaurants and catering kitchens commonly use a KitchenAid for grinding meat, rolling pasta, or mixing test batches of dough for recipe development. I’ve used mixers in every condition—from brand-new to on its last legs—and I’ve even had to work with one that would shock you if your hands were the least bit moist.
We also spoke with mixing experts, including Sarah Carey of Everyday Food; Jane Lear, former senior articles editor at Gourmet; and Anna Gordon, owner of The Good Batch bakery. We turned to Good Housekeeping, Consumer Reports, and Cook’s Illustrated to see what they had to say and how they tested. Using these reviews in conjunction with Amazon user reviews, we found a group of contenders that enjoyed both expert recommendations and positive buyer experiences.
A good stand mixer will make your baking (and cooking) life a lot easier. If you bake regularly and have been struggling with a low-grade stand mixer, an aging hand-me-down from a relative, or a hand mixer, you might want to consider upgrading. For the right person, a good mixer can be a total game changer in the kitchen. A well-made stand mixer can turn out loaves of rustic bread, moist cake layers, and dozens upon dozens of cookies. It can make quick work of whipping egg whites into meringue and heavy cream into an airy dessert topping. Great mixers have power hubs for extra accessories that can roll out pasta dough, grind meat, and even churn ice cream.
If you’re going to invest in one of these babies, you should be looking to use it two or three times a week, but that shouldn’t be difficult given how versatile a good mixer can be. A stand mixer also frees up time in the kitchen because you can turn it on and step away to prep for the next step in your recipe.
You can find three types of electric mixers.
You can find a glut of stand mixers on the market these days, but they mainly fall into one of two types: planetary and the type you don’t want. Planetary mixers have a single beater that spins on its axis while it rotates around the bowl. This action ensures more points of contact and thus more consistent mixing. The other type of mixers utilize two stationary beaters that spin while the bowl rotates, and this kind doesn’t get very favorable ratings because of the lack of coverage in the bowl. Since the beaters are stationary, according to Cook’s Illustrated, “the attachments never touch the entire contents of the mixing bowl-they carve through a single trough.” I immediately eliminated mixers that didn’t have planetary action for this reason.
Next, I considered what basic tasks a stand mixer needed to excel at. A great mixer should whip cream and egg whites quickly, cream butter and sugar to a pale and fluffy consistency, and knead rustic bread dough without straining, smoking, or “walking” around the counter. It should be heavy enough to stay in place but not so heavy that it’s difficult to move around. A handle on the bowl is extremely convenient when you’re pouring cake batter, cooking Swiss meringue over a bain-marie, or scooping cookie dough.
When it comes to attachments, you have a few things to consider. Are they dishwasher safe? Are they burnished metal, or do they have a nylon coating? Sarah Carey, host of Everyday Food with Sarah Carey, says that she prefers the noncoated paddle attachment for the KitchenAid mixer because the nylon coating tends to chip. Dough hooks are a hot topic, too: KitchenAid used to have dough hooks with a C-shape until people complained that this design caused the dough to ride up the hook, requiring numerous stops to push it back down. Since then, KitchenAid has redesigned its dough hook, and the new corkscrew shape eliminates that problem.
As for bowl size, we agree with the Cook’s Illustrated recommendation of 5 to 6 quarts—big enough to make about four dozen standard-size cookies. That’s plenty for the home cook. You don’t want to go much larger, since mixing smaller amounts in a large bowl is difficult because the beater makes less contact with the contents. As far as bowl shape goes, Cook’s Illustrated recommends a squat bowl with a flared lip so there’s more surface area in the bottom, keeping contents from going up the sides and thus reducing the need to scrape.
Reviewers have varying opinions on the weight of stand mixers. Some reviews complain about mixers being too heavy, which is understandable if you have to pull one out of a cabinet or down from a shelf every time you need to use it. But these things are really designed to be left on the counter. If you want something more portable, get a hand mixer, because the heft of a stand mixer is crucial to its stability during more intensive tasks. Baker Anne Gordon says that the weight of a quality mixer should be able to handle its own force, and we agree.
It might be tempting for someone shopping for their first stand mixer to go for a cheap option, but in this case, you really get what you pay for. Sarah Carey recommends getting the best machine that you can afford. You can spend around $170 on the Hamilton Beach Eclectrics All-Metal Stand Mixer, which does only that: mix. But for roughly $60 more, the KitchenAid Classic has a power hub designed to accept all of the accessories that turn a mixer into a pasta-rolling machine, meat grinder, roto slicer, and more. For a tool that takes up a decent amount of counter space (1 square foot in most cases), it might be wise to have something that’s a multitasker. Sarah Carey and Jane Lear both mentioned to us how much they like the pasta-rolling and meat-grinding attachments, and Lear added that the ice cream maker is great too. Our editor-in-chief, Jacqui Cheng, said that she uses a KitchenAid mixer for grinding meat (with the meat-grinder attachment) more than she uses it for actual mixing.
To get the full scope of what each mixer could do, we decided on four recipes that test various aspects of a mixer’s performance. We made whole wheat bread to test kneading, meringue frosting to test whipping egg whites, sponge cake to test whipping whole eggs, and Kitchen Sink Cookies to see how well a mixer would cope with lots of resistance and chunks. Finally, to see if the mixers could handle small tasks, I used them to whip only one egg white and ½ cup of cream. After examining the crumb on the loaves of bread, the volume yield of the frosting, the height of the cakes (down to 1/16 of an inch) and how thoroughly each batch of cookie dough was mixed, we found one clear winner that crushed every test.
The Artisan is the best-selling mixer from the KitchenAid line on Amazon for many good reasons. It was the only model that aced every one of our tests without a bunch of knocking around and rocking on the counter. It was among the most efficient at creaming butter and sugar, and it whipped lofty frosting and perfect cake batter. Even small quantities blend well in the Artisan’s well-sized bowl. The motor runs much quieter than those of some of the other models we tested. It also keeps mixing relatively mess-free, since the pouring shield slides on and off, even when the machine is in use, and you can simply wipe messes off the mixer’s smooth casing. The Artisan isn’t cheap, but since refurbished units are often available, we think this can be an affordable machine.
In both the cookie and bread tests, the Artisan mixed the dough without rocking or straining the motor. This particular cookie recipe involves more mix-ins than your usual drop-cookie dough, and several of the mixers in the testing lineup strained with the effort, including the Breville (the top scorer in Consumer Reports testing). While all of the mixers tested made beautiful and tasty loaves of bread, the Artisan did it a lot more gracefully. In fact, both of the KitchenAid stand mixers aced this test. The Cuisinart stand mixer rocked only slightly, but the remainder of the testing group couldn’t hang with the bread dough and rocked pretty severely.
When making cookies, the Artisan creamed butter and sugar very well, with no scraping necessary during this step. For comparison, the ironically named Breville Scraper Mixer Pro and the Kenmore Elite both needed multiple scrapings to fully incorporate ingredients. I had to scrape only once after the addition of the eggs.
The Artisan was also a whipping ace. Seven-Minute Frosting requires you to cook egg whites, corn syrup, and sugar over a water bath until it reaches 160° Fahrenheit; you then transfer it to the mixer and whip it on high until it’s thick, white, and fluffy. The stated yield of this recipe is 8 cups, but more is better because it indicates more whipping prowess. The Artisan yielded 9 cups, while the other stand mixers hovered in the still respectable range of 8¼ cups to 8½ cups. The Kenmore Elite and the KitchenAid Professional 600 actually did slightly better but fell short in other areas.
Further establishing its whipping prowess, the Artisan made perfect genoise cake batter. This classic French sponge cake—often baked in round pans for layer cake, or in jelly roll pans for things like bûche de Noël—is a great test for how much air a mixer will incorporate into batter. You need a mixer to incorporate as much air into the batter as possible because the addition of flour in the last step deflates it by about 25 percent. If you don’t have a lofty batter to begin with, you won’t end up with fluffy, tall layers. The Artisan produced an ideal cake with fine crumb and even doming. In comparison, the Hamilton Beach Eclectrics mixer produced big air bubbles (resulting in a cake with air pockets), and the cake from the Kenmore Elite sank in the middle.
Taking a cue from the latest Cook’s Illustrated test drive of mixers, I decided to see how each of my picks would do whipping a single egg white and ½ cup of cream (Cook’s Illustrated did two egg whites and 1 cup of cream, but I wanted to push the boundaries, as many stand mixers can’t mix small amounts). Again, the Artisan made quick work of both of these tasks, unlike its otherwise stellar Professional sibling, which was unable to handle such a small batch of ingredients in its larger bowl.
The Artisan was one of the quietest mixers I tested, about on a par with the Breville. The Hamilton Beach was the quietest, the KitchenAid Professional 600 was the loudest and highest pitched, and the Cuisinart SM-55 was loud in a grumbling-motorcycle kind of way.
A pouring shield—an attachment that helps guide wet and dry ingredients into the bowl—is a piece of equipment that I never really use. That said, it’s a helpful little tool for cutting down messes. The KitchenAid’s pouring shield is designed so that you can slide it on and off at any time while mixing. In comparison, the Cuisinart SM-55’s pouring shield is nonremovable during mixing. If it becomes a hindrance, as it can during tough mixing jobs, you have to stop the Cuisinart, lift the head, and remove the beating attachment before you can take the pouring shield off. Because the KitchenAid’s shield will slide off at any point during the mixing process, it’s a much more practical and useful attachment.
As far as cleaning goes, the KitchenAid Artisan’s smooth and rounded body makes it easy to wipe down. You can easily clean the few crevices that do exist on the body—the hinge, the spring where the attachments connect, and the bottom where the bowl snaps in—with a damp sponge or cloth (as long as you get at splashes while they’re still fresh—let’s be reasonable, people). Furthermore, the bowl and attachments are all dishwasher-safe except the wire whip, which makes sense; it takes delicate tools to make delicate creations.
The construction of the machine itself is classic: speed control on the left, head lock on the right, power hub for extra accessories in the front. The design is simple and user friendly. While many mixers offer an upright head-lock feature, the Artisan does not. At first I thought this would be to its detriment, but I’ve never actually had the head come crashing down on me while working, neither during these tests nor in my previous work experience with mixers. And, actually, I found the mixers that did offer a head-lock feature in both up and down positions inconvenient, as I needed to use both hands to raise and lower the head. It sounds minor, but when you have a bowl of dry ingredients in your hand and you have to put it down to put the mixer into place, it becomes annoying.
The Artisan comes with three attachments: a paddle for making cookies and certain cakes and icings, a dough hook for kneading yeasted bread doughs, and a wire whip for incorporating air into cream and eggs. I particularly like that the dough hook is designed so that the dough doesn’t climb up it. This design helps avoid making a mess in the spring where the attachment affixes to the machine. (This used to be a problem with the old C-shaped hooks, but KitchenAid has changed the design to an S-shaped or corkscrew hook to minimize climbing.) The paddle and dough hook both come with a nylon coating, which is a hot-button topic among KitchenAid users. Over time, the nylon coating can chip off, and I’ve seen it happen plenty of times. If this really bothers you, burnished-metal paddles are for sale on Amazon for around $10.
You can find no shortage of five-star reviews of the Artisan on Amazon, like this one, which praises it for its dough-making abilities. Anna Gordon of The Good Batch said she used an Artisan mixer to develop the recipes for her company for a year before she opened. While she said it eventually pooped out on her, she admits that she put it through the wringer and demanded much more from it than even an avid home baker would. She praised her Artisan for the hard work it delivered during such an important developmental time for her business.
The most common complaint we’ve seen about KitchenAid mixers is that they’re made by Whirlpool now instead of Hobart (and have been since 1986). But we’ve found no concrete evidence that this adversely affects performance, and we don’t think it’s of any major concern.1
KitchenAid also has only a limited one-year warranty on its stand mixers, which seems not to sit well with people. I believe that if you read the manual about maintenance and know the limitations of your mixer, you shouldn’t have issues with its longevity. Unless it’s defective out of the box, this is a tough machine, made by a company that is a favorite of professional bakers and restaurant chefs. The Artisan is a popular and well-loved item on Amazon, with almost 4,400 five-star reviews out of almost 4,700 reviews total. Reviewer Brian Foreman puts a lot of the angry reviews to bed with a knowledgeable and informative review about proper use of the Artisan, basically a Cliffs Notes to the user manual. Another reviewer proclaims she’s had her KitchenAid Artisan for 10 years, and it’s still going strong.
Also as mentioned previously, some people aren’t fond of the nylon coating on the attachments because it could possibly chip down the road. If you think this will cause you to lose sleep, just get a set of uncoated replacement attachments for cheap.
Finally, the mixer has no timed setting, but given that you can just set a timer on your phone and come back when it goes off, this isn’t a huge concern. Besides, the timed models we tested all had shortcomings in other respects that far outweighed the marginal benefits of a timer.
For more than two years I’ve used the Artisan more professionally for food-styling work than for personal use, and it gets the job done. I’ve made many batches of cookies and cakes, and I’ve even used it to grind meat with the KitchenAid meat-grinding attachment I already own. I’ve had zero problems with it and, really, I can’t like this mixer more. It’s a solid piece of equipment.
I will say that I don’t push it. I don’t overfill the bowl, I make things one batch at a time, and I don’t cram meat into the grinder. I think the key to longevity for a KitchenAid mixer is respecting its limits. While it can mix a double batch of super-thick cookie dough, overloading it will shorten the life of the motor. Even though this is a KitchenAid mixer, it’s still a piece of equipment meant for domestic purposes. If you respect its boundaries, it will give you many years of service. The Artisan is still the best in this price range, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants their first stand mixer.
If you’re looking for a slightly better deal on the Artisan, you have ways to get one for a little less. First, you can get a factory refurbished KitchenAid stand mixer for around $230. But the stock changes all the time, and the mixers that appear on the website don’t necessarily reflect what is actually available, so be sure to call and talk to one of the company’s very helpful and extremely kind customer service representatives for updated stock. (You’ll also sometimes see these refurbs from KitchenAid on Amazon for around the same price.)
You can also go the eBay route, which lets you sort by used items if you’re willing to take the (minimal) risk. These are built like tanks, so you’ll probably be fine, but you won’t have the assurance of a warranty should anything go wrong.
Although we think the Artisan is the best mixer for home use, the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series 6-Quart Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer is a formidable appliance, particularly if you bake hearty batches of bread. A big mixer with a big footprint, it’s significantly louder than our top pick, and it’s the kind of machine that permanently lives on the countertop.
I’ve used this mixer for more than 15 years in restaurant and test kitchens, and it’s a taskmaster designed to tackle big jobs. The bowl clips into the sides and back and lifts into the head attachment instead of twisting into the base as with the other models. The heavy-duty motor easily made quick work of almost all the test batches we put this model through, but the larger bowl proved to be a liability on our test with a single egg white and whipped cream, where the whip didn’t even make contact.
I will say the biggest fault of the Professional 600 Series is the noise. I’ve been working with this model for years, and I never realized how loud it was until I used it in the quiet serenity of my own home. Consumer Reports docked it for excessive noise, and until I used it I couldn’t understand why. It was by far and away the loudest, highest-pitched mixer in the testing lineup, so much so that my cat stood up and took notice. That being said, this machine is a beast, in a good way. If you’re making lots of bread and thick doughs, say, four or five times a week, get this thing. If not, it’s too much mixer for you.
Sarah Carey, host of Everyday Food with Sarah Carey, prefers this particular model to any other for its larger capacity and its bowl-lift design. On Amazon you’ll see some old reviews complaining about a plastic gear housing, but KitchenAid seems to have rectified this problem many years ago and changed to a housing made of metal. This reviewer has outlined all the attributes of the Professional 600 Series. Currently, the Professional 600 Series has an overall rating of 4.3 stars out of five, with 3,144 Amazon reviews.
If you think a stand mixer might be too much equipment for you, the Cuisinart Power Advantage Plus 9-Speed Handheld Mixer might be just right. It’s really powerful and capable of making lofty cake layers, and it has enough torque to turn thick cookie dough without straining. We tested it against the KitchenAid Architect side by side, and it came out as the undisputed winner.
This thing is powerful; I honestly think it could work as a makeshift outboard motor for a small boat. Both tested hand mixers adequately made bread dough (though in both cases we needed to turn the dough out and work it on a floured counter for an extra couple of minutes to get that smooth ball shape a stand mixer creates), but when it came time to make Seven-Minute Frosting, the KitchenAid Architect yielded only 4 cups of frosting, whereas the Cuisinart yielded 8 cups.
The Cuisinart also turned the cookie dough a little more easily than the KitchenAid and made a loftier cake. The Architect cake sank in the middle—so sad. That being said, the low setting on the Cuisinart isn’t as slow as the low setting on the KitchenAid—something you should keep in mind when choosing a bowl to work in. I’ve found that with hand mixers, a shallow mixing bowl doesn’t really work because the beaters push the contents up the sides, making for more scraping between additions. If you use a bowl with high sides, the contents tend to stay at the bottom, and if you’re whipping a liquid, the sides will keep it from splashing all over your countertop.
I’m not the only person who thinks the Cuisinart hand mixer outperformed the KitchenAid Architect. This Amazon reviewer received the Architect as a gift and straight-up sold it to buy the Cuisinart. Plenty of other Amazon reviewers like it, giving it 4½ stars (out of five) overall, across 476 reviews. I particularly like this reviewer’s outline of the finer points of what to expect from a hand mixer.
The Cuisinart SM-55 5½-Quart Stand Mixer held its own with the bread test and made a lofty cake and 9 cups of fluffy white frosting. What it couldn’t handle was the thick, chunky cookie dough. Once we added the mix-ins, the paddle pushed all the dough up the sides. Since the splash guard snaps in, instead of the rogue dough spinning the plastic disc around as with other models, the dough lodged itself in the hole of the pouring guide. The small handles attached to the lip of the bowl aren’t ideal either. While the placement makes for a snug fit in a double boiler (and the thin, tapered bowl makes for easy whisking), the handles are pretty much useless when you’re pouring cake batter or scooping cookie dough. A high note for this mixer, though, is that it was the only mixer in the lineup, aside from our pick, the Artisan, that whipped one egg white and ½ cup of cream. It has three power hubs for extra accessories and a built-in timer, which is nice.
We flip-flopped on including the Breville Scraper Mixer Pro in the testing lineup. It’s a Consumer Reports favorite, and I did like its sleek styling and its easy-to-read, backlit LCD screen, but the reviews on Amazon are less than flattering, saying that it’s not good for bread. My testing confirmed the Amazon assessments (it rocked back and forth as it kneaded, and the dough climbed up the hook), but that wasn’t this mixer’s greatest fault. An ineffective scraper beater left me scraping down the sides several times during mixing. What’s more, after I added the chocolate chips, walnuts, coconut, and raisins to the cookie dough, the motor started rattling, and the machine paused and sputtered. An inability to mix thick cookie dough is definitely a dealbreaker.
I really wanted the Kenmore Elite Stand Mixer to be better than it turned out to be. It looked so good on paper! It has two bowls, a 3-quart and a 5-quart, plus all of the usual attachments. It comes with a five-year warranty, and its power hub accepts KitchenAid accessories. But the automatic head-locking mechanism drove me batty because raising and lowering the head took two hands. Even worse, this model strained and rocked back and forth while kneading bread, and when it tried to turn thick cookie dough, the paddle pushed the dough up the sides, sending the splash guard spinning around the bowl.
The Hamilton Beach Eclectrics All-Metal Stand Mixer was definitely the quietest of all the models in the testing group, with a pleasant low hum. But, again, rocking and walking while kneading and serious motor strain with the cookie dough were both dealbreakers. The head-release button on this model is positioned in the back; this design is not very intuitive, and I struggled to find the button every time I had to lift and lower the head, which is also unfortunately a two-handed affair. At the time of our research, this model was $180 on Amazon, which was one of the reasons I included it in the testing group, along with favorable user reviews and the fact that Good Housekeeping called it the best bang for your buck. Now the price has gone up past $200, maybe because of the holiday baking season, so it isn’t even a good deal. With a lack of power hubs for extra accessories, this is a basic mixer that’s good only for cakes and lighter baking, which means you should pass on it.
The KitchenAid Architect Series 9-Speed Hand Mixer was in the running as our occasional-use option. It surpassed my admittedly low expectations while making bread dough, and it turned thick cookie dough fairly well. But its weak spot is whipping: The genoise cake sank in the middle, and the frosting recipe that was supposed to yield 8 cups yielded only 4.
Other models we looked at
The Ankarsrum Original mixer is a machine from Sweden and a favorite of Swedish households. Even though it fits most of our criteria and gets glowing reviews, it is very expensive and doesn’t look as user friendly as our top pick. After viewing about 10 instructional videos, we came to the conclusion that using this thing involves a pretty difficult learning curve. Also, it seems most appropriate for making bread dough, although we don’t know that from personal experience.
The inexpensive Hamilton Beach 63390 Stand Mixer came out last year. We suspect that it has the same guts as the Hamilton Beach Eclectrics All-Metal Stand Mixer we tested. With stand mixers, you get what you pay for.
KitchenAid Classic Stand Mixer: While this model got good reviews from reputable sources, we already had two KitchenAid mixers in the testing group, as well as a Kenmore mixer that accepted KitchenAid accessories. Plus, the bowl on this model is on the small side.
KitchenAid Classic Plus Stand Mixer: This model is pretty much the same machine as the Classic and equipped with the same-size bowl; it simply has a bit more wattage (which doesn’t mean much).
Bodum Bistro Electric Stand Mixer: Designed with plastic housing, this expensive little mixer doesn’t do much more than mix. It also has no power hubs for extra accessories.
Gourmet Grade GM800 10 Speed Die Cast Stand Mixer: With very limited information available about the company, I wanted to avoid this generic-sounding brand.
Hobart-era KitchenAid stand mixers: Bringing this kind of mixer in for testing was logistically infeasible, and even if it had succeeded in our testing, finding a consistent source for purchasing would have been impossible. Besides, these mixers are basically the same as the modern Artisan (though some people disagree).1 But if you’re into digging for vintage treasure, this just might be your bag.
The Oster Accentuate Six Speed Hand Mixer is an inexpensive hand mixer. It doesn’t have the attachments of our budget pick, so it’s less versatile.
Cuisinart Power Advantage 7-Speed Hand Mixer: This mixer doesn’t come with the extra dough hook attachments that the nine-speed version has.
KitchenAid 5-Speed Ultra Power Hand Mixer: No frills, no extra attachments, just beaters.
(Photos by Lesley Stockton.)
Originally published: December 11, 2015