The Best Stand Mixer
A stand mixer is a great way to take your baking game to the next level, and we believe that the KitchenAid Artisan is the best mixer for the home baker looking for an equipment upgrade. Not only did it expertly cream butter and sugar for cookies and whip up a genoise cake batter to perfection, it also effortlessly kneaded whole wheat bread dough without straining or walking around on the countertop. For the money, the KitchenAid can’t be beat in performance and versatility.
After more than 16 hours of research, including reading expert reviews, consulting experts Anne Gordon of The Good Batch and Sarah Carey of Everyday Food and looking at top-rated models on Amazon, I gathered six stand mixers and two hand mixers to test side-by-side in my kitchen. I spent more than 30 hours kneading eight loaves of bread, creaming butter and sugar for 20 pounds of cookie dough and whipping more than nine dozen eggs for eight fluffy genoise cakes and frosting. In the end, I found that all mixers are not created equal, and the brand that rolled out the first tabletop mixer in 1919 is still the best.
Why a stand mixer?
If you’re going to invest in one of these babies, you should be looking to use it two to 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.
Although bakeries use huge Hobart mixers to do all of the heavy-duty work, most restaurants have a professional-grade KitchenAid tabletop mixer for smaller batches. The popular model for these kitchens is the KitchenAid Professional Bowl-Lift stand mixer—there was one in every restaurant kitchen I worked in, and they are a favorite in the Martha Stewart test kitchen. When I asked former colleagues about their thoughts on stand mixers, every one said that they used and loved the KitchenAid stand mixer.
The tilt-head model is more popular with home cooks. It’s a slightly smaller machine with a slightly smaller countertop footprint. Unless you’re turning out loaves of crusty bread each day, this is enough mixer for an enthusiastic domestic baker. That said, it’s really up to you to decide what will meet your needs. Anne Gordon, owner of The Good Batch in Brooklyn, says that people should be honest with themselves about what they’re going to be using their stand mixer for, adding, “I use the pasta roller for the KitchenAid, and I love it.” Take a good, honest look at what your cooking/baking habits are and get a machine that suits you best.
What to look for
There’s 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 ensures more points of contact and thus more consistent mixing. The other type is mixers that utilize two stationary beaters that spin while the bowl rotates. The latter 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.
When it comes to attachments, there are 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 non-coated paddle attachement for the KitchenAid mixer because the nylon coating tends to chip. Dough hooks are a hot topic. KitchenAid used to have dough hooks that had a C-shape until people complained that this caused the dough to ride up the hook, requiring numerous stops to push it back down. Since then, KitchenAid has redesigned their dough hook and the new corkscrew shape eliminates that problem.
As for bowl size, we agree with Cook’s Illustrated’s recommendation of five to six quarts—big enough to make about four dozen standard-sized 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 doesn’t have as much contact with the contents. As far as bowl shape goes, they recommend a squat bowl with a flared lip so there’s more surface area in the bottom, keeping contents from going up the sides so there’s less need to scrape.
The mechanism by which the mixing attachment moves into place is also worth considering. The tilt-head, which is the most common design, involves the top half of the mixer on a hinge that moves up and down. A common feature with the tilt-head mixers is a head-lock button, which locks the head in the up and down positions. That means it won’t come crashing down on you while you’re trying to add ingredients to the bowl, and it won’t pop up when mixing something thick like bread dough or cookie dough with lots of mix-ins.
Another design style is the bowl-lift, with a bowl that snaps securely into a curved arm which is then lifted and lowered using a lever. This is similar to the industrial Hobart mixers found in most restaurant kitchens. Of my selection of mixers to test, the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series was the only model with this design. Sarah Carey said that she preferred the bowl-lift design to the tilt-head because it seemed more durable and powerful. I tend to side with Sarah’s preference, but my only concern is that since it’s more expensive and bigger, it may be a bit too much machine for someone buying their first stand mixer. Since most of my experience is in a professional setting, I wondered if the heavy-duty bowl-lift stand mixer would translate well to a home kitchen.
There are 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. Anne Gordon says that the weight of a quality mixer should be able to handle its own force and we agree.
How we picked
When it came time to bring in models for testing, we turned to experts who had already conducted tests, consulting Good Housekeeping, Consumer Reports and Cook’s Illustrated to see what they had to say and how they tested. Using these in conjunction with Amazon reviews, we found a group of contenders that straddled both worlds of expert recommendations and buyer experiences. In the end, we had about 15 models under serious consideration.
We decided to test six mixers that came from reputable companies, used planetary action and had metal housing and metal bowls with handles. Although power hubs for extra accessories were a serious consideration when bringing in models (if you’re going to spend that much money on something, it should be able to do more than mix), there were two mixers we chose that didn’t accommodate such accessories: the Breville Scraper Mixer Pro and the Hamilton Beach Eclectrics All-Metal Stand Mixer.
In addition to the stand mixers, we tested two hand mixers: the Cuisinart Power Advantage Plus 9 Speed and the KitchenAid Architect 9 Speed. We wanted to have an alternative for those who don’t as much baking or simply don’t have the room in their kitchens for a large countertop appliance.
How we tested
To get a 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, whipped up meringue frosting to test whipping egg whites, sponge cake for 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 frosting, the height of the cakes (down to 1/16 of an inch) and how thoroughly each batch of cookie dough was mixed, there was one clear winner that crushed every test.
There are many good reasons that the Artisan is the best-selling mixer from the KitchenAid line on Amazon. It was the only one that aced every test we threw at it without a bunch of knocking around and rocking on the counter. It even whipped one egg white and half a cup of cream perfectly. It’s not very loud, and the pouring shield is easy to place and remove. It’s not a cheap machine, but since they are often available as refurbished units, we feel it can be an affordable one.
The construction of the machine itself is classic with a simple, user-friendly design. Speed control on the left, head lock on the right, power hub for extra accessories in the front. 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 during these tests or in my previous work experience. I actually found the mixers that did offer the head lock feature in both up and down positions inconvenient, as I needed both hands to raise and lower the head. It sounds small, 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.
It 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 in cream and eggs. The first two come with a nylon coating, which is a hot-button topic with 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.
The Artisan was also a whipping ace. Seven-Minute Frosting requires egg whites, corn syrup and sugar to be cooked over a water bath until the mixture reaches 160°F and then transferred to the mixer and whipped on high until thick, white and fluffy. The stated yield of this recipe is eight cups, but more is better because it indicates greater whipping prowess. The Artisan yielded nine cups, while the other stand mixers hovered in the still respectable 8¼ to 8½-cup range. The Kenmore and Professional 600 KitchenAid actually did slightly better, but fell short in other areas.
The frosting test also revealed that the handle on KitchenAid bowls is set in such a way that the bowl sits crooked in a double boiler, but I didn’t find this to be a problem. It actually makes whisking and taking temperatures easier. Furthermore, the handle’s large rounded shape makes transporting and working out of the bowl more comfortable.
Genoise cake is a classic French sponge cake. It’s a very versatile recipe. It can be baked in round pans for a layer cake, or in a jelly roll pan for a rolled cake or a bûche de Noël. Again, this recipe starts over a double boiler, heating whole eggs and sugar just to the point where the sugar dissolves. The bowl is then transferred to the mixer, where the mixture is whipped on high speed until pale and fluffy. Flour is then folded in by hand. The Artisan made a perfect cake with fine crumb and even doming, while the Hamilton Beach Eclectrics mixer produced big air bubbles and the cake from the Kenmore Elite sank in the middle.
The whole wheat bread test was another test that really showed us which mixers could handle a tough load. Both of the KitchenAid stand mixers in the testing lineup effortlessly kneaded the bread. The dough hooks are designed so that the dough doesn’t climb up them, which helps avoid making a mess in the spring where the attachment affixes to the machine. While all of the mixers tested did make beautiful and tasty loaves, the Artisan just did it a lot more gracefully. In fact, both of the KitchenAid stand mixers aced this test, while Cuisinart stand mixer had only slight rocking. The rest in the testing group couldn’t hang with the bread dough and rocked pretty severely.
Taking a cue from Cook’s Illustrated’s latest test drive of mixers, I decided to see how each of my picks would do whipping one egg white and half a cup of cream (Cook’s did two egg whites and one cup of cream, but I wanted to push the boundaries, since many stand mixers can’t mix small amounts). Again, the Artisan made quick work of both of these tasks, unlike its otherwise stellar Professional brother, which was unable to handle such a small batch of ingredients in its larger bowl.
As far as cleaning goes, the KitchenAid Artisan’s smooth and rounded body is easy to wipe down. 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—are easily cleaned with a damp sponge or cloth as long as you get at splashes while they’re still fresh. Furthermore, the bowl and attachments are all dishwasher safe except the wire whip, which makes sense; it takes delicate tools to make delicate creations.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Although the KitchenAid Artisan aced our tests, it still isn’t perfect, because nothing is. The most common complaint we found about KitchenAid mixers was that they’re made by Whirlpool now instead of Hobart (and have been since 1986). We found no concrete evidence that this adversely affects performance and don’t think it’s of any major concern. 1
Also as mentioned previously, some people aren’t huge fans 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, there’s 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.
$350 is too much for me to pay
That’s okay, because there are plenty of other ways to get one of these for less. First, you can get a Factory Refurbished KitchenAid Stand Mixer for $250. But their 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 their very helpful and extremely kind customer representatives for updated stock. They’re also available via third-party Amazon retailers for about $260 shipped.
You can also go the eBay route, which lets you sort by used 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.
Great for occasional bakers and tiny kitchens
I tested two of the top-rated hand mixers (the other was the KitchenAid Architect 9 Speed) and found the Cuisinart to be very powerful. While Consumer Reports and Cook’s highly recommend the KitchenAid Architect, Good Housekeeping chose the Cuisinart as their top pick, and I quickly learned why. While both hand mixers came with several attachments—dough hooks, beaters and a wire whisk—the Cuisinart had considerably more power under the hood.
The Cuisinart also turned the cookie dough a little easier 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 to 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.
The KitchenAid Professional 600 6-quart Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer is a formidable opponent to the Artisan. It’s a big mixer with a big footprint—the kind of machine that permanently lives on the countertop. The bowl clips into the sides and back and lifts into the head attachment instead of twisting into the base like the other models. Its heavy-duty motor easily made quick work of almost all the tests, but the larger bowl proved to be a liability when it came to the single egg white and whipped cream test, where the whip didn’t even make contact. The biggest fault with the Pro 600 is the noise. I’ve been working with this model for years and I’ve 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 this test I couldn’t understand why. It was by far 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 multiple times a week, get this thing. If not, it’s too much mixer for you.
The Cuisinart SM-55 5 ½-quart Stand Mixer held its own with the bread test and made a lofty cake and nine cups of fluffy white frosting. What it couldn’t handle was that thick, chunky cookie dough. Once the mix-ins were added, 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 like with other models, the dough lodged itself in the hole of the pouring guide. The small handles attached to the lip of the bowl weren’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 pouring cake batter or scooping cookie dough. A high note for this mixer, though, is that it was the only other mixer in the lineup that whipped one egg white and half a 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 line-up. It’s a favorite with Consumer Reports and I did like its sleek styling and the easy-to-read, back-lit LCD display, but the reviews on Amazon are less than flattering, saying that it’s not good for bread. My testing backed 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 adding the chocolate chips, walnuts, coconut and raisins to the cookie dough, the motor started rattling and the machine paused and sputtered. Not being able 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 comes with two bowls, a three-quart and a five-quart. It has 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 it took two hands to raise and lower the head. Even worse, it strained and rocked back and forth while kneading bread, and when trying to turn thick cookie dough, the paddle pushed it 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 very pleasant low hum. But, again, rocking and walking while kneading and serious motor strain with the cookie dough were both deal-breaking problems. The head release button on this model is positioned in the back. It’s 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 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 to $216, maybe because of the holiday baking season, so it’s not even a good deal. With a lack of power hubs for extra accessories, this is a basic mixer that’s really only good for cakes and lighter baking, which means you should pass.
KitchenAid Architect 9 Speed hand mixer was in the running for our step-down option. It surpassed my admittedly low expectations while making bread dough and turned thick cookie dough fairly well. But its weak spot is whipping. The genoise cake from the Architect sunk in the middle, and the frosting recipe that was supposed to yield eight cups only yielded four.
What else did we look at?
KitchenAid Classic Stand Mixer: While this 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 is pretty much the same machine as the Classic and has the same size bowl, just with a bit more wattage (which doesn’t mean much).
Bodum Bistro Electric Stand Mixer: With plastic housing, this expensive little mixer doesn’t do much more than mix. There are also no power hubs for extra accessories.
Gourmet Grade GM800 10 Speed Die Cast Stand Mixer: With very limited information out there about the company, I wanted to avoid this generic-sounding brand.
Hobart-era KitchenAid Stand Mixers: It was logistically impossible to bring this in for testing, and even if it won, it would be impossible to find a consistent source for purchasing. Besides, they’re basically the same as the modern Artisan (though there are those that would disagree)1. But if you’re into digging for vintage treasure, this just might be your bag.
Cuisinart Power Advantage 7-Speed Hand Mixer: This mixer doesn’t come with the extra dough hook attachments that the nine-speed has.
KitchenAid Ultra 5 Speed Hand Mixer: No frills, no extra attachments, just beaters.
Wrapping it up
For the home baking enthusiast wanting to up their game, there’s nothing like having a stand mixer to do the heavy lifting. A quality piece of equipment doesn’t come cheap, and as it turns out, the company that invented the stand mixer more than 90 years ago makes our favorite, the KitchenAid Artisan 5-Quart Stand Mixer. While it is an investment, the Artisan will perfectly cream butter and sugar for cookies and cakes, effortlessly knead bread dough and whip cream and egg whites to fluffy stiff peaks, all while freeing up your hands for other tasks. With proper care, this machine will last a long time.
If you don’t see yourself baking up a storm, but you still want a little muscle to help with the occasional batch of cookies and whipped cream, we highly suggest the Cuisinart Power Plus 9 Speed hand mixer. It’s perfect for those once-in-a-while cupcakes for your kid’s class bake sale, and it comes with a smaller price tag and footprint.
The Good Batch, Interview,
Everyday Food, Interview, http://everydayfoodblog.marthastewart.com/,
Stand Mixers (Inexpensive), Cook's Illustrated (Subscription Required), December 1, 2007,
Stand Mixer Reviews, Good Housekeeping
Stand Mixers (High-End), Cook's Illustrated (Subscription Required), November 1, 2013
Originally published: December 10, 2013