Should I Get a Blender, a Food Processor, or a Mixer?

Whether you put dinner on the table every night or are a holiday-only kind of chef, chances are you could use a good blender, immersion blender, food processor, stand mixer, or hand mixer. These appliances can make food prep faster, expand the range of recipes you can tackle, and greatly improve the quality of your cooking and baking.

Last Updated: August 25, 2015
We’ve updated this guide to include more information on mini-food processors.
Expand Most Recent Updates
July 8, 2015: We've checked, and this guide is up-to-date.

But which one do you need? Here’s a rundown to help you decide which 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.

Table of contents

Countertop blender

Oster Versa blender

Blenders are the best tool for liquefying ingredients (think smoothies, pureed soups, and slushy cocktails). Our favorite, the Oster Versa, is considered a high-performance blender.

Countertop or upright blenders are great for making purees, quick sauces, and emulsifications (like mayonnaise and vinaigrette), and they excel at smoothies.
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 really whip berries and fibrous veggies into a silky-smooth texture. The jar on a blender 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; you actually 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 really depends on what (and how frequently) you plan to blend.

Standard blender ($100-$200)

Great at: Emulsifying mayo, pureeing soup, making smoothies and blended frozen cocktails.
Not that good at: Making absolutely silky smoothies, blending fibrous greens, whipping foods.
Don’t use it for: Kneading dough, mashing potatoes, grinding nut butters, chopping vegetables, grinding bread crumbs.
Space hog? These are shorter and smaller than high-performance blenders, about 15½ inches tall, with a 7-by-8½-inch footprint.
Best if: You only plan to make the occasional smoothie, pureed soup, dip, or batch of margaritas—say, a few times a week—and you don’t mind slightly chunkier textures.

High-performance blender ($200-$700)

Great at: Emulsifying mayo, pureeing soup, making smoothies and blended cocktails, whipping cream, grinding nut butters.
Not that good at: Chopping vegetables or grinding bread crumbs.
Don’t use it for: Kneading dough, mashing potatoes.
Space hog? It’s tall (about 18 inches or more) but the counter footprint isn’t that big, roughly 8 by 9 inches.
Best if: You’re committing to a healthier diet (like daily superfood smoothies), you want to achieve satiny smooth purees, or you need a really durable machine that will handle years of regular use.

For the models we recommend and current prices, read our guide to The Best Blender.

Immersion blender

Blender group

An immersion blender can do some of the same tasks as a full-size blender or food processor and is much smaller, lighter, and easier to store (even with attachments).

Small batches of recipes like smoothies or pesto and pureed soups—these, in our experience, are the two biggest reasons to buy an immersion blender.
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. Immersion blenders are the perfect tool for making a single or double smoothie serving, mixing small quantities of things like mayo and pesto, and blending hot soup ingredients directly in the stock pot (no need to transfer scalding liquid to a blending jar!).

Because you immerse the blade of this type of blender directly into a mixing bowl, stock pot, or mixing cup, it also makes for much easier cleanup than an upright blender. A quick rinse under the faucet is usually enough to clean the blending wand. And because the wand and handle (which houses the motor) are detachable, you can always run the blade end through the dishwasher.

Immersion blenders also come with attachments, such as a mini chopper and egg whipper. We’ve found the mini chopper in particular to be really helpful for processing things like herbs, nuts, and baby food. We also think an immersion blender is a great tool to use in other people’s kitchens, since you can easily bring it to an under-equipped vacation cabin or holiday gathering.

If you’re accident-prone, this may not be your appliance. Many cooks have mangled fingers on the unprotected blades in a split second of carelessness. It can also be easy to splatter yourself with hot liquid if you’re not careful. On that note, avoid splattering mixtures over countertops (and yourself) by using the blender’s tall cup when making smoothies, vinaigrettes, and other liquid recipes.

Immersion blender ($35-$180)

Great at: Emulsifying mayo, pureeing soup in the pot, processing small batches of baby food or herbs with a mini-chopper, whipping cream if you have an attachment.
Not that good at: Making silky purees, crushing ice, or processing small amounts of wet foods and things in short containers (because ingredients can splatter!).
Don’t use it for: Kneading dough, mashing potatoes, big smoothie batches, roughly chopping onions (in chopper attachment).
Space hog? It’s small enough to fit in a kitchen drawer, especially when the handle and blending wand are detached; each measures roughly 9 inches long and 3 inches across at their widest points. Attachments will easily fit in a cupboard or drawer.
Best if: You make a lot of pureed soups and hate transferring hot liquid to a blending jar, you want to make single-serving smoothies and other small-batch recipes, you have a one- or two-person household, or you don’t have room for a larger appliance.

For the models we recommend and current prices, read our guide to The Best Immersion Blender.

Food processor

Cuisinart Custom food processor

Food processors excel at chopping, grating, and shredding. Our favorite, the Cuisinart Custom, will even knead double batches of pizza dough. Marshall Troy

Where blenders and immersion blenders liquefy, a food processor chops, slices, and grates.
Where blenders and immersion blenders liquefy, a food processor chops, slices, and grates. With the right attachment, it will even mix and knead dough. Food processors come with a variety of blades and disks for processing different ingredients. Although most people use them for preparing vegetables, a food processor is your best friend for quickly grating cheese, slicing pepperoni for pizza, or grinding fresh bread crumbs.

These features create a wider, slower vortex perfectly suited for chopping.
With a little effort you can also puree wet ingredients (like tomatoes for sauce), but the doughnut-shaped container doesn’t handle liquids as well as a blender does. The horizontal S-shape blade in a food processor is larger than the angled blades in a blender and the processing bowl is also wider and flatter at the bottom. Combined, these features create a wider, slower vortex perfectly suited for chopping. You’ll find that it’s easier to get a uniform rough chop for things like pico de gallo or salmon burgers with a food processor than you can get with either a stick or upright blender (which will turn these types of dishes into mush). You’ll also find that a food processor can do a great job making dips like hummus or even pesto.

Cuisinart food processors

A full-size food processor can tackle a range of shredding and blending tasks, but also takes up a large footprint and good ones are heavy. If you only need to mince the occasional onion or make a quick batch of vinaigrette, consider a mini chopper instead.

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.

Like in a blender, you can make ice cream in a food processor if you’re working with frozen base ingredients. Likewise, you can grind frozen meats for burgers. These machines can even replace a stand mixer for blending baking recipes, but you need to use recipes specifically developed for a food processor or you risk over-mixing doughs and batters, which can result in tough breads and cakes.

Unlike a blender or immersion blender, you’re not going to find a good, budget, and full-size food processor. A quality machine needs to have a heavy motor base to keep it solidly grounded. Cheap ones usually have such lightweight bases that the machine will skitter across the countertop when the motor hits the slightest resistance (and forget about blending dough in one!).

Food processors come in a variety of sizes. We found that an 11- to 14-cup processor is most useful for most people. For smaller tasks, such as mincing an onion or making single batches of mayonnaise or vinaigrette, a mini chopper (usually around 3-cup capacity) works well. (In our tests, we also found mini choppers produce more consistent results than the chopper attachment on an immersion blender.) If you only want to thinly slice vegetables and don’t have space for a large food processor, consider picking up a mandoline instead.

Full-size food processor ($150-$400)

Great at: Making rough-chopped salsas, blending hummus, grating cheese, slicing veggies for coleslaw, making pie and pizza doughs, grinding bread crumbs.
Not that good at: Pureeing soups, mixing cake or bread recipes (unless using one developed specifically for a food processor). Chopping delicate herbs, such as basil, which bruise easily.
Don’t use it for: Making margaritas for a party, blending smoothies, or small batches of things like mayonnaise and vinaigrette.
Space hog? At 15½ inches tall, it’s short enough to fit under most cupboards, but the 8-by-9½-inch base takes up a lot of counter space.
Best if: You regularly chop vegetables for things like salsa or mirepoix, you like making shredded salads, you want to slice potato or beet chips without using a mandoline, you plan to shred mass quantities of cheese, you make a lot of pizza or pie dough.

Mini food processor ($35-$60)

Great at: Finely chopping one onion; making small batches of mayonnaise, vinaigrette, or pesto; grinding small batches of bread crumbs and nuts.
Not that good at: Chopping, mincing, or blending more than a few cups of ingredients at once. Chopping delicate herbs.
Don’t use it for: Pureeing soup, mixing bread dough, making smoothies, crushing ice.
Space hog? At 9½ inches tall, with a 7-by-5-inch base, it should fit in even short or shallow cupboards.
Best if: You regularly process small batches of bread crumbs, nuts, or onions. You like to make small batches of mayonnaise (our top pick excels at this), sauces, or dressings. You don’t have room for a full-size food processor.

For the models we recommend and current prices, read our guide to The Best Food Processor.

Stand mixer

KitchenAid stand mixer

Stand mixers make quick work of baking tasks like whipping eggs, creaming butter and sugar, and mixing batters and doughs.

A good one will easily mix moist cake batters and big batches of cookie and bread doughs.
If you do a lot of baking, you’ll probably want a stand mixer. A good one will easily mix moist cake batters and big batches of cookie and bread doughs. With the right attachment, a stand mixer will whip egg whites for meringue and make quick work of whipping cream. You can also get accessories for rolling out pasta dough, grinding meat, and churning ice cream.

Quality stand mixers tend to be big and heavy; like food processors, the bases need some heft to keep them from “walking” across the counter when the motor strains. Because these machines aren’t easy to move (and they are expensive), it’s best to invest in a stand mixer only if you’ll use it often (two to three times a week). Otherwise, get a hand mixer to occasionally cream butter and sugar for cookies or to whip cream.

Stand mixer ($200-$700)

Great at: Mixing batters and frostings, making pie dough, kneading bread dough, whipping cream and eggs, mashing potatoes (as long as you don’t overmix), and (with the right attachments) grinding meat, rolling pasta, and churning ice cream.
Not that good at: Blending small batches.
Don’t use it for: Pureeing or chopping anything.
Space hog? Stand mixers are pretty big—14 by 8⅔ inches at the base and 14 inches tall—and weigh in at around 22 pounds.
Best if: You bake a lot (two or three times weekly), you like homemade pasta, you make sausages.

For the models we recommend and current prices, read our guide to The Best Stand Mixer.

Hand mixer

Stand and hand mixers

Though not as powerful, a hand mixer takes up significantly less space than a stand mixer and does a fine job whipping egg whites, mixing batters, and blending the occasional bread dough.

If you want a mixer for baking but don’t need the blending power of a full stand mixer, a hand mixer is what you want. This compact, economical, hand-held device easily whips egg whites to stiff peaks for cakes or soufflés, will cream sugar and butter for cookie dough, and will quickly whip cream. Some come with attachments for mashing potatoes and blending bread doughs.

…a hand mixer can be a very useful tool—and a better alternative than a whisk for things like beating eggs and mixing batters.
Hand mixers are not as powerful as stand mixers. For example, even with dough attachments, you’ll probably have to knead dough by hand, while a stand mixer will blend and knead all at once. You also have to hold the hand mixer, whereas you can simply turn on the stand mixer and walk away. But for occasional use, a hand mixer can be a very useful tool—and a better alternative than a whisk for things like beating eggs and mixing batters.

Hand mixer and immersion blender

The whisk attachment on a hand mixer (top) measures about 6 inches, while a similar whisk on an immersion blender (bottom) tends to be about 5 inches.

For the occasional batch of whipped cream or beating eggs, you could also use an immersion blender with a whisk attachment, but it’s a little less convenient. You can simply turn on a hand mixer, while you need to hold down the pulse button on an immersion blender. The whisk attachment on a hand mixer is also a little bigger. Otherwise, both machines are about on par in terms of performance. Hand mixers are also small enough to fit in a drawer or cupboard, a big plus if you have a small kitchen.

Hand mixer ($40-$80)

Great at: Beating egg whites, whipping cream, blending cookie dough, mixing frosting, mashing potatoes (as long as you don’t overmix).
Not that good at: Mixing dense bread doughs.
Don’t use it for: Pureeing or chopping, mixing in a short container (because ingredients will splatter).
Space hog? Most hand mixers are small—8.5 by 4 by 9 inches—and roughly 9 pounds.
Best if: You occasionally need to beat egg whites or whip cream, you like to make cookies or cakes a few times a year, you want an easy way to mash potatoes, you don’t have space for a stand mixer.

For the model we recommend and current prices, read our guide to hand mixers.

To send this guide via email, fill out the fields below:
Message Sent!
Oops! Please try again
Send

Originally published: August 25, 2015