Whether you put dinner on the table every night or are a holiday-only kind of cook, you could use a good blender, immersion blender, food processor, stand mixer, or hand mixer. These appliances can make food preparation faster, expand the range of recipes you can tackle, and greatly improve the quality of your cooking and baking.
But which one do you need? Here’s a rundown to help you decide which kind you’ll get the most use from. We discuss which tasks blenders, food processors, and mixers are great at, which tasks they’re not great at, and what you should definitely avoid.
Countertop blenders, immersion blenders, food processors, and mixers excel at certain types of food prep and recipes, but there’s also overlap in what they can do. This chart shows what you can make with each appliance.
|Smoothies and frozen drinks||BEST||*||Single serving|
|Mayo and dips||*||*||*||*|
|Chopped vegetables||* With attachment||BEST|
|Bread and cookie doughs||* Some recipes||BEST|
|Cake batter||* Some recipes||BEST|
*At the time of publishing, the price was $183.
Countertop or upright blenders are great for making purees, quick sauces, and emulsifications (like mayonnaise and vinaigrette), and they excel at smoothies. In fact, a blender is the only appliance that will whip berries and fibrous veggies into a silky-smooth texture. The jar is narrow and usually angled at the base, creating a vortex that helps pass ingredients through the blades more frequently than in a food processor (which does a better job at chopping). Upright blenders are better for multitasking than immersion blenders, because you can simply run the machine and walk away; in contrast, you have to hold an immersion blender.
Blenders fall into two categories: “regular” blenders meant for occasional use and powerful high-performance blenders that are more versatile, durable, and expensive. The type you should buy depends on what (and how frequently) you plan to blend.
|Get this if:||You want to puree soup and smoothies, blend frozen cocktails, or emulsify mayo. High-performance blenders will also grind nut butters.|
|Don’t use it for:||Mashing potatoes, chopping vegetables, or grinding bread crumbs.|
|Which type to get:||If you don’t mind some chunks in your purees and margaritas, get a standard blender. Buy a high-performance blender if you’re a texture freak (you want satiny-smooth purees and smoothies).|
|Space hog?||A standard blender is about 15½ inches tall, with a 7-by-8½-inch footprint; a high-performance blender runs about 18 inches tall, with an 8-by-9-inch footprint.|
Small batches of recipes like smoothies or pesto and pureed soups—these, in our experience, are the biggest reasons to buy an immersion blender. Like a countertop blender, an immersion blender will liquefy ingredients for smoothies, purees, and emulsifications (although it won’t process as quickly or as finely). Its diminutive size also makes this the best appliance for small households that don’t need the capacity of a full-size blender.
|Get this if:||You want to puree soup in the pot, make single or double smoothie servings, process small batches of baby food or pesto (with a mini chopper), or whip cream (with the attachment).|
|Don’t use it for:||Making especially smooth smoothies (or big batches of smoothies) or purees. In addition, although you can mash potatoes with an immersion blender, they come out gluey.|
|Which type to get:||If you want smoother textures and will use your appliance often, spring for a higher-end immersion blender. If you’re fine with some chunks and will use it infrequently, you’ll be fine with a budget model.|
|Space hog?||Our favorite measures 9 by 3 inches and fits in a drawer.|
Whereas blenders and immersion blenders liquefy, a food processor chops, slices, and grates. With the right attachment, it will even mix and knead dough. It’s the only small appliance that can make quick work of pie dough; just a few pulses will cut cold butter into flour for minimal melting and maximum flakiness. With a little effort, you can also puree wet ingredients (such as tomatoes for sauce), but the doughnut-shaped container doesn’t handle liquids as well as a blender’s jar does. Although most people use food processors for preparing vegetables, this appliance is also your best friend for quickly grating cheese, slicing pepperoni for pizza, or grinding fresh bread crumbs.
|Get this if:||You’d like to make rough-chopped salsas, blend hummus, grate cheese, slice veggies for coleslaw, make pie and pizza doughs, or grind bread crumbs. In a pinch it will puree soups and sauces. (But if you use it for that job, expect a mess.)|
|Don’t use it for:||Making margaritas or blending smoothies. (Mini processors also won’t make dough.)|
|Which type to get:||Go for a full-size food processor if you prep for large crowds and make a lot of pie or pizza dough. Get a mini food processor if you’ll regularly make small batches of chopped foods, dips, or vinaigrette (or if you have a smaller kitchen).|
|Space hog?||A full-size processor measures about 15½ inches tall, with a 8-by-9-inch base. A mini processor measures around 9½ inches tall, with a 7-by-5-inch base.|
*At the time of publishing, the price was $76.
If you do a lot of baking, you’ll probably want either a stand mixer or a hand mixer. Serious or regular bakers should go for a stand mixer, which will easily mix moist cake batters and big batches of cookie and bread doughs, whip egg whites for meringue, and make quick work of whipping cream. With the right attachments, a stand mixer will even roll pasta dough, grind meat, or churn ice cream.
If you’re limited on space, or if you don’t bake frequently, a hand mixer will easily whip egg whites to stiff peaks for cakes or soufflés, cream sugar and butter for cookie dough, and quickly whip cream. Some models come with attachments for mashing potatoes and blending bread doughs.
|Get this if:||You want to regularly mix batters and frostings, make pie dough, knead bread dough, whip cream and eggs, and mash potatoes.|
|Don’t use it for:||Pureeing or chopping anything.|
|Which type to get:||Heavy bakers with counter space should get a stand mixer. If you just want to make the occasional batter, cream butter and sugar, or whip eggs, go for a hand mixer.|
|Space hog?||Stand mixers are big—our pick is 14 inches tall and 14 by 8⅔ inches at the base—and weigh around 22 pounds. Most hand mixers are small—about 8½ by 4 by 9 inches—and roughly 9 pounds.|
Originally published: October 7, 2016