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I'm thinking of purchasing a new immersion blender as a gift for somebody that has a very old one which is quite literally being held together with duct tape.

I own a Sunbeam model which I believe is rather cheap (it was actually a gift to me several years ago) and although I use it infrequently, I haven't had any major problems with it.

My internet research on immersion blenders hasn't uncovered much other than a few unverified statements that molecular cooks prefer the Braun models for foams. No explanation of why, and I haven't even seen a Braun in any store here, but regardless, the intended recipient of this doesn't make foams, she primarily uses it (often) to make creamy soups and maybe a few other purée-based dishes.

I seem to be seeing the same Cuisinart model everywhere and am starting to wonder if I should just get that one and not bother looking for anything more... premium.

Are there actually any characteristics or features that make some immersion blenders better than others, either in general or for a specific purpose? If so, what are they?

Also, I'm not necessarily looking for a recommendation, but a few times in the past I've been told to look for features which were apparently unobtainable, so if there are any unique/premium features I should be on the lookout for, it would help to have at least one example of a model that has them.

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Anyone know if Cooks Illustrated or Consumer Reports has done any tests? –  Joe Dec 27 '10 at 17:46
    
@Joe: I think my CR subscription just expired last week. Hobodave has one though. –  Aaronut Dec 27 '10 at 17:51
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5 Answers

America's Test Kitchen published a review of eight models in the April 2010 issue of Cook's Country.

Their test covered several common tasks for an immersion blender:

  • Mayonnaise emulsification
  • Making soup
  • Whipping cream
  • Making smoothies with frozen ingredients
  • Making pesto

They evaluated the blenders on three criteria: performance, usability, and ease of cleaning. The only blender to perform at the highest level across all three, and the only to win their top honors of "highly recommended" is the Kalorik Sunny Morning Stick Mixer.

The model that I use is the KitchenAid Hand Blender. I have never had a problem with it, and it was the only other model reviewed to be recommended. It was dinged a few points in the soup & whipped cream tests.

The remaining models were either recommended "with reservations", or outright not recommended. The reasons for these included:

  • No cup included. The cup is important for ensuring optimal mixing.
  • Battery powered
  • Having to hold two buttons to use
  • Ridiculously loud
  • Excessive vibrations
  • General discomfort & fatigue
  • Poor performance with one or more of the food tasks. This was typically attributed to either a weak motor, or a poor blade cage design. A poorly designed cage can restrict the circulation of food resulting in portions being over blended.

None of the models reviewed included a Sunbeam or Braun. However, the Cuisinart model was, and received the lowest marks of all.

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Great! Soup is especially important in this case so thanks for mentioning that part about the KitchenAid. Surprising that the highest-recommended also appears to be the cheapest. –  Aaronut Dec 27 '10 at 18:34
    
The Amazon reviews of the one recommended by Cooks Illustrated are, shall we say, less than glowing. Anyone have a Consumer Reports subscription? –  Marti Dec 27 '10 at 18:56
    
@Marti: I have a CR sub, but they do not seem to have any immersion blender ratings. RE: Amazon, the review sample size (19) is way too low to draw a conclusion imo. You have to account for user idiocy, standard manufacturing defect allowances, and the unsatisfied vocal minority effect. I'm not defending the Kalorik, having never used it, but I've never had a problem with ATK's reviews. –  hobodave Dec 27 '10 at 19:36
    
+1 for the great summary of Amazon reviews. –  Mrs. Garden Dec 29 '10 at 16:22
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Satanicpuppy's answer encouraged me to do a little more research on food service models, which I didn't even really know existed for immersion blenders - in fact, most of the manufacturers in the food services industry don't even call them "immersion blenders" or any kind of blender; instead they call them power mixers.

The information in hobodave's answer is very helpful, but I was seriously skeptical of Cook's Illustrated (ATK's) recommendation (the Kalorik) for several reasons:

  1. It's one of the cheapest models on the market. While price alone does not guarantee quality, it's difficult for me to believe that other consumer products are being sold at over a 500% profit margin. To sell anything so cheaply, they must be using cheap parts.

  2. It comes with (and requires you to use) a cup. This isn't supposed to be a requirement for a good immersion blender, and the fact that Cook's Illustrated apparently actually considered it to be a feature made me skeptical of their entire review process.

  3. Cook's Illustrated never tests for durability of these products - which is understandable given their timing - but durability is actually one of my chief concerns here, and several of the Amazon reviews seem to indicate that this particular model is less than stellar in that department. The fact that the entire housing seems to be cheap plastic is not a good sign.

So for better or for worse, I decided not to put too much stock in a review of consumer models that (a) did not even include several of the better consumer brands (i.e. Braun), and (b) came to a conclusion that I honestly felt was simply absurd. Instead, I started looking toward the professional brands, specifically:

  1. Bamix is supposedly the "original inventor" of the immersion blender. They are the "prosumer" brand and seem to have quite a good offering and get good reviews. I love the fact that they specialize exclusively in immersion blenders and offer a 10-year warranty. However, a few things bothered me about them:

    • None of their models appear to have detachable shafts. This isn't a hard requirement, but it is far easier to clean that way.

    • They offer 2-speed variability at best. This is probably OK for soups but a bit problematic for emulsions where you really need to work it up gradually.

    • Their prices seem to be just a little higher than what I would consider reasonable. I know that you pay for quality, but given their relatively underwhelming set of features, I would have expected more for that price.

    • Despite their 10-year warranty, I found this little gem on the USA site:

      [The warranty is offered provided...] 4. That the machine has not been subject to damage, misuse, or commercial use.

      Even though this isn't going to be used commercially, that last phrase sticks out like a sore thumb to me. If it can really handle anything you throw at it then why would it matter if it's used commercially?

  2. Waring Commercial makes the "Big Stik" and "Quik Stik" line of products. They appear to be the entry-level food-service brand, but offer some nice features in their Big Stik line; they even offer variable-speed models in the $250 range. But the Big Stik models are huge and really not appropriate for a home kitchen, and the Quik Stik models are rather lame (fixed shaft, two-speed) and are still monstrously heavy, weighing in at over 10 pounds.

    After careful examination of their product line, I came away feeling that they had the opposite problem of Bamix; that is, they are too inexpensive for a food-service model. They put big beefy motors in there but don't seem to pay as much attention to features or overall construction, and the weight is a huge turnoff.

  3. Dynamic, who seem to really love the colour orange, was one brand that I didn't even know existed until I started searching the inventories of various food service equipment stores. They use the "power mixer" terminology and are moderately priced for a food-service brand. They divide their mixers into 4 product lines, the lowest being the "Minis", and these were the ones I had my eye on. They're not as high-powered as the Waring models, but they claim that the Minis can handle up to 1 gallon / 4 litres. In particular I had my eye on the MiniPro, which offers a detachable shaft, multiple blades, variable speed, and weighs in at just 2.2 pounds, and widely available for $179 (although the actual list price appears to be $250).

    They offer only a 1-year warranty; however, since it's a food-service product, the warranty does not have weird conditions like Bamix. And given that this same company makes mixers for up to 50 gallons, they probably know what they're doing.

  4. Finally, there's Robot Coupe, who also sport the "power mixer" terminology. Just one look at both the price and features of one of these and it's obvious that they are the "premium" brand. Everything is removable on these - not just the shaft but also the bell, and you can apparently even get a whisk attachment (Dynamic makes you buy the whisk and blender products separately in the Mini range, although the Junior range has "combi" units). Their MMP 160 VV is comparable to the MiniPro feature-wise; 220 W, 12.5k RPM, and not too heavy (shipping weight is 5 lbs, not sure what the mixer itself weighs). It even seems easy to get spare parts and they publish diagrams for DIY-ers.

    The biggest disadvantage with Robot Coupe, of course, is price. The list price of the 160 VV is $287 although it can generally be had for $243. Compared to the Waring and Dynamic models, that's a pretty steep increase, although if money were no object, it definitely appears to pack the biggest punch.

Of the above four brands, I think a lot comes down to personal choice, as there are trade-offs between power, features (variable speed / detachable shaft), warranty, warranty conditions, and price.

I did end up going with the Dynamic MiniPro and can safely say that it is built like a tank - but I don't want this to come across as a recommendation, seeing as how the product is a gift and I haven't actually used it myself. I'm only including that for completeness. Really the parts of this answer that I want to call the most attention to are the sections above describing the different brands and their offerings. If anyone here ever feels like upgrading from some junky Cuisinart or Kitchen-Aid model, then hopefully this will serve as a useful guide.

As always, prospective buyers should do their own research, and some of the information here in terms of specific models may be localized - although I'm fairly confident that the brands themselves don't change that often, since all of these guys have been in business for 30-50 years.

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I know nothing about the relative merits of different blades / motor power / grip styles / etc, but I'm guessing that it might affect how well they deal with different things (eg, crushing ice vs. whipping cream or egg whites, etc.)

But I do know that some have a seperate motor housing and blades that can attach on, while others are all one piece.

If you're someone with a dishwasher, it's kinda nice to be able to remove the blade assembly and run it through the wash, rather than having to do it all by hand. (although for me, 'by hand' means running it in a container of hot soapy water, and then spraying it off). Some of them with removable blades also have other attachments (eg, whisk).

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Good points. My cheap one has a removable blade assembly, I had thought they were all like that - but hers might actually be a one-piece blender. –  Aaronut Dec 27 '10 at 17:38
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Well, it's like everything else: there is your consumer grade version, which is good enough for grandma, but will bog down on any heavy duty task, and then there is the bad ass professional grade model which will chew a hole in a wall if you should need it to.

I've got a kitchen aid that works pretty well, and was pretty cheap.

But if you're looking for the real deal, you'll probably want something like a Waring "Big Stick" or a Robot Coupe MP 800. Those are professional grade, 20-gallons-of-soup-at-a-time, blenders. Should last for a good while, and come with an actual warranty (something which blenders of all kinds often lack).

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So the main difference is the motor and warranty? As I understand your answer, basically most of the consumer versions are the same? –  Aaronut Dec 27 '10 at 17:37
    
@Aaronut : if it's like most other kitchen appliances with motors, there's a thermal shut-off, so using it for too long / making it do too much work might cause it to shut down with little warning, confusing you into thinking it's broken, etc, but then it works again 30 min later. –  Joe Dec 27 '10 at 17:45
    
@Joe: Actually, mine warns about not operating it for too long at a time; maybe there is a thermal shut-off but it would appear that you can at least wear it down if you're not careful. –  Aaronut Dec 27 '10 at 17:50
    
@aaronut: Motor speed/power still differs on consumer versions: the one I linked has a reasonably powerful motor. But the commercial versions are more than twice as powerful, and they absolutely have nice 1-year warranties. I've broken more than a few consumer grade blenders, they just don't last as long. Still, the pro versions are past my price range AND my need, so you need to balance how much you want to pay vs how much you're going to use it. –  Satanicpuppy Dec 27 '10 at 18:06
    
Well, as I said, the person who will be receiving this has used theirs so much that it's being held together with duct tape, so it's probably worth the extra cost! Although $400 is a little steep; it'd be nice to find one in the $100-$200 range, the one that's $229 looks like the least expensive one they make that still has the high-power, variable-speed motor. –  Aaronut Dec 27 '10 at 18:09
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I'm on my second emersion blender. I went with the Wolfgang Puck model because the last one I had was the Cusinert 'Smart Stick' and I wore it out in 2 years. Thus far I'm very happy with the new one I have.

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