Abby Hocking

F&W tested 11 popular blenders to find the very best.

Sarah Karnasiewicz
April 12, 2017

Welcome to F&W Gear Guides. Each week on Wednesday, we publish a buyer’s guide to an essential piece of kitchen gear based on real-world testing. Missed an installment? Find them all here.

Will it blend? Yes, every time, if you’ve got the right blender in your kitchen. After putting 11 models to the test, we found three we loved: an overachieving mid-priced model, a finely-tuned performance machine, and an option for those who want a reasonably compact, robust, basic blender.

The Search for the Best Blender

Welcome to the golden age of the blender. Smoothie bowls, frosé, 1-ingredient banana "ice-cream"—the greatest hits of your Instagram feed wouldn't exist without an army of small appliances behind them, motors buzzing and blades whirring. Driven by the passion and spending power of food-savvy, "wellness"-conscious millennials (research from the 2016 International Home and Housewares Show revealed that one in three millennials planned to buy a blender last year, twice the number of boomers or gen-xers), a device once used primarily by nutritionists, baby-food DIY-ers, and milkshake slingers has moved out of the shadows and into the spotlight.

In the process, the consumer blender landscape has been transformed. Once upon a time, most blenders cost less than $50; these days, in one of the fastest growing categories—high performance blenders like Vitamix, Blendtec, and Ninja—models routinely run upwards of $400. Shoppers can choose from handheld immersion blenders, personal blenders with grab-and-go attachments, blenders that cook soups, blenders that churn ice cream, blenders that mill grains. Which one is for you? Needless to say, when you're considering plunking down some serious change for a small appliance with the approximate horsepower of a vintage Volkswagon, it can be daunting to know where to begin.

With that dilemma in mind, over the past few weeks, I put a dozen new and popular blenders through their paces. To assemble the list of contenders—in both the high performance and conventional categories—I weighed reviews on Amazon and culinary and consumer websites like Consumer Reports, The Sweethome, Cooks Illustrated, Real Simple and Serious Eats. For a professional perspective, I consulted Tess Masters, proprietress of The Blender Girl blog and author of The Blender Girl cookbook and The Perfect Blend. Masters works with more than 50 testers around the world to stay continually abreast of the blender marketplace and estimates that at this point she's tested every single blender in the field.

The Tests

While evaluating conventional blenders, I used two recipes—a thick frozen fruit smoothie, to assess liquefying and pulverizing power, and a hollandaise sauce, to test emulsifying capabilities. With high-performance blenders—generally speaking, any model with a horsepower of two or more—I repeated the smoothie and sauce tests and added an additional one: making peanut butter from scratch.

I admired a lot of things about a lot of the machines, but none passed every test with flying colors, and even the top models required a tradeoff in some area—design, performance, versatility or price. In other words, the dream—an $80 blender that performs with the nuance, versatility, and power of a $450+ blender—just doesn't exist. That said, there's no denying that as the competition between manufacturers heats up and the field keeps expanding, it's a buyer's market—and, if you're willing to settle for slightly less than perfection, you can find a blender to get excited about at every price point.

In the end, I zeroed in on three models—a high-performance option from a legacy brand that's an incredible value for its price; a industry-leading powerhouse that offers pro-level culinary performance; and a conventional blender with a build that's as powerful as it is attractive. Plunk any one of them on your countertop, and you'll be ready to blend with the best.

The Physics of Blending

How does a blender actually blend? Though marketing taglines might lead you to believe that a machine's strength lies simply in the sharpness of its blade or power of its motor, that's an oversimplification that doesn't take into consideration the complex physics that whirr into work every time you press go. As the machine's motor begins turning, first the blades slice the ingredients, and then, as centrifugal force increases and particles of food are thrown up and against the side of the canister with increasing speed and force, pockets of air bubbles form and burst, blitzing and pulverizing the contents further. (If you want to really impress your food geek pals, the technical term for this process is "cavitization.") In other words: blender blades do not need to do the work of knives, and really the only thing extra sharpness increases is the likeliness of accidentally injuring yourself during cleanup.

According to Tess Masters, it is actually a trinity of factors, working in concert, that make a blender function well: the power of the motor, the construction of the blade, and the size and shape of the container. The power of the motor can be described in terms of horsepower or in watts; most high performance blenders boast approximately two-horsepower motors, though that is a peak measurement, and the bulk of the time they will run slightly below it. When considering blade construction, it is size and design, not sharpness, that makes the difference. If a blade is too small, and leaves too much of a gap between its cutting edge and the side of the canister, particles can get trapped in the corners, where they can’t be touched by the blades. As a result, the blender will fail to create an effective vortex—the powerful whirlpooling force that continuously pushes the contents out against the sides of the jar and back down around the blade. A canister that's fluted and ridged can increase pulverizing power by adding surface area for the contents to ricochet off, but it also presents more of a cleaning challenge. (I learned this the hard way while I was making all that peanut butter.) Tall, narrow canisters are generally better at tasks where a powerful vortex is key—like generating super-smooth smoothies and silky soups—while a wider, squatter jar has the advantage when working with thicker projects, like nut butter, hummus, and milling grains. From a practical standpoint, shorter canisters also have the advantage of fitting easily under most kitchen cabinets, meaning you can leave your blender assembled on the counter and reach for it whenever the impulse strikes. (This, according to Masters, is the best invitation to keep blending, and the surest way to make sure the machine earns its keep.)

What Makes a Great Blender?

As I worked my way through the tests and began to pick favorites, a few things became clear. For starters: While not everyone needs a blender designed to cook hot soups and churn butter, at a minimum, a good machine should be capable of processing tough, fibrous, and icy materials—like leafy greens, frozen fruit and ice cubes—into a smooth puree. It should also have strength and stamina, with a build quality that doesn't crack or leak under repeated use and a motor powerful enough that it won't smoke or sputter out at the first challenge.

Bells and whistles—like preset programs for making slushie drinks, smoothies, soups, and more—can be enticing, especially for chronic multitaskers who like the idea of loading up a canister with fixings, pressing a button and walking away. But over a few weeks of daily use, I rarely found myself reaching for presets and ultimately preferred the greater control of a simple on/off/pulse switch and variable-speed dial. When I consulted Tess Masters, she agreed, calling the current craze for pre-programmed settings "something of a gimmick"—while acknowledging that might be a minority opinion. "I'm a professional cook and a control freak," she explained. "But, also, it's impossible for an engineer to predict every ingredient that might be going into your blender, so those settings are always going to be approximations."

One add-on that did prove to be essential was a tamper: a club-like plastic baton that can be inserted into a blender to burst the air pockets that form around the blade when working at high speeds or blending thick or gooey materials. (Remember cavitization?) About half the high-performance blenders I considered came with tampers—the others claimed to not need them. But I found tampers critical to performance when making nut butters, and generally appreciated the increased control they allowed me with any task. For that reason, early on, I decided to disqualify any tamper-less high-performance blender as a finalist.

If you're determined to eliminate plastics from your home, finding a blender may be problematic. BPA-free canisters were the norm on the models I tested, with Tritan copolyester—an especially strong and resilient plastic—standard on many higher-end machines including the Vitamix, the Breville Boss and Hemisphere, and the Oster Versa. Only one of the blenders I considered—the Waring Pro—offers an optional stainless steel canister, and adding it to the kit dramatically increases the price, from $372 to $647. Masters says this is an area of design to watch with interest—and to expect consumer demand to drive engineers towards big changes in the immediate future. "Europeans don't want to touch plastic," she explained. "Glass containers are heavy, which makes shipping them expensive. And they can be dangerous to use at high speeds. So, stainless steel may be the answer. The problem is that with stainless, you can't see what's in the blender. So that is going to require a shift in consumer expectation and experience."

A blender may perform like a dream, but if flaws like an overcomplicated base or a canister with hard-to-clean crevices make it difficult to clean, using it will feel like a chore—and eventually lead to icky stains and odors. Many of the models I tested claimed to be dishwasher safe—though, as a general rule, Masters said subjecting any plastic canisters to the high heat of a dishwasher will spell trouble in the long run, causing cracks in the polycarbonate or warping lids so that they won't fit snugly. That sort of breakdown over time is also why it's important to pay attention to warranties. Most of the high-performance blenders I tested were fully guaranteed for between 6 to 10 years—but, needless to say, if you are going to plunk down hundreds of dollars for one of these gizmos, you should take advantage of all the protections you can.

The Best Blenders

Best Value Blender: Oster Versa Pro Performance Blender ($177 on Amazon)

Abby Hocking

An $80 blender that performs like a $400 one may be a pipe dream, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that if you're willing to spend just a bit more—say, around $175—you can get a machine that will, if not match the spendy luxury brands, sure give them a run for their money. Easy to use, with intuitive manual controls and a generous roster of presets, the Oster Versa Pro outperformed similarly priced competitors in almost every test, whizzing smoothies into silky purees and pulverizing a pile of nuts into butter while barely breaking a sweat. It comes with a helpful (if bizarrely-shaped) tamper and the low-profile body and canister are short enough to tuck under most kitchen upper cabinets.

Though the Versa lacks some of the nuance and control of the Vitamix and KitchenAid Pro Lines, and its low speeds aren't particularly low (which caused messy splashing and spitting during the hollandaise process), it accomplished the task satisfactorily in the end. The machine is backed by a seven-year warranty, which is basically in line with Vitamix and Blendtec, and it comes with a informative pair of cookbooks, packed with tips and recipes for soups, sauces, smoothies, mains and more. Any way you slice it, this blender is a great value—and I'm not the only one who thinks so: It also placed first in The Sweethome's tests, and comes recommended by Bon Appetit and hundreds of positive real-life Amazon reviews. If you do a lot of blending (like: daily) or are a die-hard cook or food geek, you might find justification for upgrading to a more elaborate model. But if a mid-range workhorse is what you're after, you won't do better than this.

The Best High-Performance Blender: Vitamix Ascent 3300 Blender ($450 on Amazon)

Abby Hocking

First, some context: in most consumers’ minds, the name Vitamix is synonymous with high-performance blending the way Kleenex is synonymous with bath tissue, and for good reason—the venerable American company, which has been operating out of Ohio for the last 95 years, more or less invented the concept. Until about a decade ago, Vitamix machines were mostly an industry secret, the whirring workhorses inside four-star prep kitchens and countless Starbucks and Jamba Juices. Expensive (the base model begins around $400) and almost absurdly powerful, they might seem like overkill for the average home cook—but, as their incredible popularity evidences (Vitamix sales increased 52 percent in 2012 alone), after you experience their strength and versatility, it's hard to go back to a two-speed jalopy. The reason companies like Oster and Waring and KitchenAid have all roused their engineers and come barreling head first into the high-performance blender marketplace? Yup, that's Vitamix.

When I spoke to colleagues and researched reviews to assemble the lineup for these tests, Vitamix blenders were on everyone's lips. In the end, I decided to test 2 models—the 5200 and the A3300 from the Ascent series (I also happened to have the Pro 750 model in my home kitchen, so I factored in my anecdotal experience with that, too).

The 5200 is Vitamix's basic model and is distinguished by a tall blender jar and simple variable speed dial, which runs from truly calm, quiet, low settings to rip-roaring high speeds with remarkable subtlety. The A3300 has similar controls, though they're accessed through a flat-front digital interface rather than a physical dial—an upgrade which the luddite in me didn't like at first, but which I warmed to after realizing how easy it was to wipe clean. The A3300 also had the advantage of a shorter blender jar—a small design tweak which I've nonetheless come to see as essential, given that a taller jar makes countertop storage awkward if not impossible.

Though both machines lack preset settings, in day-to-day use I didn't miss them, and overall both were a joy to use—blending smoothies to fine, silky sippability, pulverizing nut butters without strain and quietly emulsifying velvety sauces. They were also among the only models designed to mill grains—an option which wasn't part of my tests, but would certainly be an appealing feature for adventurous bakers or anyone dealing with gluten restrictions. The A3300 also comes with a drop-dead gorgeous cookbook, filled with Instagram-worthy recipes, helpful tips and inspiration.

Though the price is significantly more than that of the Oster, if you're a serious cook or are committed to using your machine frequently—by which I mean multiple times a week—the precision and versatility offered by a Vitamix may justify the expense. From a performance standpoint, the 5200 and the A3300 are well matched, but ultimately the A3200 edged ahead in my rankings thanks to a few canny design tweaks, like the shorter canister, the easy-to-clean digital interface and the removeable cap on the top of the lid that also doubles as a two-ounce jigger/liquid measure. But the A3300 is also slightly more expensive—and if that $50 is a dealbreaker for you, I'd have no qualms recommending the 5200, too.

Best Basic Blender: Breville Hemisphere Control Blender ($190 on Amazon)

Abby Hocking

Tess Masters calls this sleek, well-constructed machine a "bloody good mid-range blender" and, after putting it through the smoothie and hollandaise tests as well as two weeks of anecdotal use in my home kitchen (that's a whole bunch of smoothies, batters, and frozen drinks), I wholeheartedly agree. (Bonus points: This model has also been a longtime favorite in the Food & Wine test kitchen and was picked as a best value by Cooks Illustrated during their most recent trials.) The die-cast base is compact but sturdy, with a clean, well-designed five-speed interface and an impressive build quality. The BPA-free Tritan copolyester plastic canister feels stable on the base, sits comfortable in the hand, has a defined, clean-pouring spout, and washes up easily. Inside, an innovative, wide blade design makes handling all the basic blender tasks—crushing ice, blending drinks, emulsifying sauces—a cinch, and is also powerful enough to take on some more ambitious jobs, like grinding oats and chopping salsas. (While I didn't subject the Hemisphere to the peanut butter test, reviewers on Amazon have reported making nut butter with favorable results. My guess is that doing so may require occasional pausing to keep the motor from getting over-taxed and scraping down the sides to discourage air pockets from forming, and the results might not be as silky smooth as those you'd get from a high-performance Vitamix-type blender—but would likely still satisfy most occasional users.) When assembled, the blender has a modern, sophisticated look and fits easily and unobtrusively underneath most kitchen cabinets.

My one qualm in choosing it was the price: Depending on where you buy the Hemisphere, and the discounts available, it may end up costing the same, if not a bit more, than our overall best-value pick, the Oster Versa—even though the Versa offers more of the high performance functions of a Vitamix. (If budget is a big deciding factor, the KitchenAid 5 Speed Classic Blender, another mid-range model I liked, though not quite as much, may be a better fit.) But, ultimately, if you want a reliable, attractive blender that will stand up ably to occasional use, but don't want to surrender too much kitchen real estate to the device, the Hemisphere won't disappoint.

Also tested:

KitchenAid Pro Line Blender ($541 on Amazon)

KitchenAid's foray into the high performance blender space is one seriously sexy beast. The well-proportioned, double-walled "thermal control jar" sits in an indented pad for added stability and was shockingly easy to clean after even the messiest tasks. And the massive, matte gunmetal gray die-cast base felt like it would last a lifetime (though, admittedly, moving it from one end of the counter also felt akin to doing a CrossFit workout). If you are the kind of person who cares about these sorts of things, this machine would look very nice indeed parked next to a KitchenAid stand mixer on your island, and you'd probably use it constantly. But all that bling comes at a big price. With a suggested retail price of $600, the KitchenAid Pro was the most expensive blender I tested, and while it performed very well (and sure was pretty), I don't think the differences between it and the Vitamix are enough to justify the splurge for the average user.

Cleanblend 3HP Commercial Blender ($180 on Amazon)

At first glance, this machine is a close cousin to the Vitamix 5200, with a similar variable speed dial and pulse and power switches, and it performed ably on my tests. But, unsurprisingly given the lower price point, its build quality felt flimsier—particularly the plastic canister, which made me concerned about potential leaks or cracks over long-term use. Also, as with the Vitamix 5200, the height of the canister was an annoyance and made it hard to stash under my kitchen cabinets. For the same money, the Versa is a more user-friendly option.

Breville Boss ($400 on Amazon)

There's a ton to love about this machine. It feels great right out of the box, with a sturdy, attractive silver base and a well-proportioned, easy-to clean Tritan plastic canister. Its interface looks luxe, with a manual dial and a host of presets—including a smoothie setting that does all the work for you, alternating between speeds and pulses to create silky smooth results every time. But ultimately, the Boss's performance was not significantly better than the Oster Versa Pro to be able to recommend it at twice the price.

Waring Commercial Xtreme ($320 on Amazon)

If you're committed to eliminating plastics from your kitchen, this might be the blender for you. It was the only model I tested that was available with an optional stainless steel canister—though the addition brings a sharp markup in price. The orange lettering on the base is a little cheesy. And also, while the machine is very powerful and yields silky smoothies and fine-grained frozen drinks, it does not come with a tamper that would give greater control over heartier tasks like hummus and nut butters.

Blentec Total Blender ($400 on Amazon)

Let's cut to the chase: The answer to the question "will it blend?" is yes. With a peak 3 horsepower motor, this machine has a lot of oomph behind it—and reviews on Amazon that attest to hundreds of satisfied customers. But its versatility is greatly hindered by the lack of a tamper, and for that reason I eliminated it early in my testing.

Ninja Professional Blender ($80 on Amazon)

For making smoothies and frozen drinks, this is a capable, competitively priced blender with thousands of glowing Amazon reviews that reflect many happy users. But the build quality feels chintzy and the lack of a tamper greatly limits the range of what it can do.

KitchenAid 5-Speed Blender ($99 on Amazon)

An attractive conventional blender that's easy to use and powerful enough to produce silky smoothies, batters, and frozen drinks, this was a close runner up to the Breville Hemisphere Control. If your budget is limited, it's a great buy for around $100.

Oster Quality Blend 400 Beehive Blender ($60 on Bed Bath & Beyond)

This inexpensive blender has no bells and whistles—just an on and an off. But it's mightily powerful for the price and is a classic for a reason. Though it won't mill grain or make soup, Tess Masters says "if you don't want to spend more than $60, no one else can touch it."