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, or stand mixer. Each of these appliances make food prep faster, expand the range of recipes you can tackle, and can greatly improve the quality of your cooking and baking in the process. Although there’s some overlap in what these machines can do, they excel at different tasks.
It can get confusing when trying to decide which one fits your specific needs, so here’s a rundown to help you decide which you’ll get the most use from. We discuss which tasks each item is great at, what each is not great at, and what you should definitely not use each for.
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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 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 ($250-450)
|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) but the counter footprint isn’t that big, roughly 8 x 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.|
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 peoples’ kitchens, since you can easily bring it to an underequipped 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 rooster-tailing mixtures over countertops (and yourself) by using the blender’s tall cup when making smoothies, vinaigrettes, and other liquid recipes.
|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.|
|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 at their widest points.|
|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.|
With a little effort you can also puree wet ingredients (like tomatoes for sauce) in a food processor, but the donut-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 blenders (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.
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 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 overmixing doughs and batters, which can result in tough breads and cakes.
If you only want to thinly slice vegetables and don’t have space for a food processor, consider picking up a mandoline instead.
Unlike a blender or immersion blender, you’re not going to find a good budget 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 a 11- to 14-cup processor is most useful for most people.
|Great at:||Making rough chopped salsas, blending hummus, grating cheese, slicing veggies for coleslaw, making pie and pizza doughs.|
Not that good at:
|Pureeing soups, mixing cake or bread recipes (unless using one developed specifically for a food processor).|
|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.|
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 occasional cream butter and sugar for cookies or to whip cream.
|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.|
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.
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.
|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 x 4 x 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.|