A good blender is an essential part of any kitchen, whether you're making smoothies and margaritas or pureeing summer tomatoes from the garden for homemade marinara. Despite the popularity of food processors and hand/immersion mixers, blenders are still the best choice for crushing ice, whipping up a smoothie or other frozen drink and pureeing soups. Use this blender buying guide to help you find the best blender for all of your culinary tasks.
When you're researching blenders, pay special attention to what materials the base and gear assembly are made of. Blenders with these components made of plastic and tend to get lower marks for durability. Stainless steel and other metal-based blenders hold up better over time.
What kind of jar the blender comes with (plastic, glass, polycarbonate or metal) also contributes to how long your blender will be of good service. Above all, pay attention to the warranty that comes with your blender just as you would with a more expensive purchase. Some manufacturers may offer only six months, while others offer up to six years of protection. Lastly, while many blenders are advertised as dishwasher-safe, delicate parts, like rubber gaskets, tend to break down more quickly. We recommend washing by hand as much as possible.
Not all blenders are created equal and the way manufacturers advertise this is with wattage claims. Countertop blender wattage can range from 300 to 1,500 watts, but this isn't as important as they'd have you think. While it's true that the more wattage a blender has, the better it can work with hard substances like ice or large quantities of nuts, if you won't be using your blender for those things, you don't need to pay for the extra power.
For regular daily use, a blender with 300 to 600 watts should be fine. Similarly, blender speed options run the gamut from 2 to 16, but before you go spending the extra $50 for a fancy model with as many gears as Lance Armstrong's bike, some experts say that any more than three speeds is overkill. Regardless of how many speeds you think you want to have, you'll probably want your blender to come with a pulse button. The short bursts of speed and power it delivers aren't just for ice crushing anymore. Pulsing gives you more control over the ingredients you're working with and ensures you don't over-process.
Blender jars are usually made of one of four different materials: plastic, glass, polycarbonate and metal. Plastic jars are the least-expensive option and their lightweight design makes them easy to handle when full. However, they're prone to scratches over time and may retain food odors. A good choice if all you're going to use the blender for is pesto, but if you'll be using the blender for a variety of recipes you'll want to consider other materials.
Glass jars are the heaviest and thus the most stable blender jars, a big advantage when it comes to evaluating durability over time. The only caveat is if you drop it and it breaks, you're out a blender jar. Glass jars are more scratch-resistant than plastic and won't retain odors or strong flavors.
The newest blender jars are made from polycarbonate, and manufacturers claim they're shatterproof. That's an advantage over glass blender jars, especially in a busy kitchen, but polycarbonate jars are so new that there's little information as to how well they hold up over time. We're not convinced that new means better, but if you want to try the latest and greatest in blender technology, you may be interested in blenders with polycarbonate jars.
Lastly, stainless steel and other metal jars offer the benefits of being lighter weight and more durable than glass or plastic. You'll pay extra for these benefits, so if sleek, shiny blender jars are catching your eye (or match your other appliances), keep in mind that you can't see through metal when you're blending, which makes checking for uneven mixing a challenge.
Regardless of which blender jar type you choose, you'll want to make sure it's also the right size and shape for what you'll be doing. If you're making anything in large batches, the more capacity the blender jar offers, the better. Jars that are tapered (tall and deep) are designed to funnel ingredients toward the blender blades for more even blending. Consider what you'll use the blender for most often and make your decision accordingly.
No question-blenders are noisy. Typically, the more power a blender has, the louder it's going to be when running (another reason not to choose a blender for wattage alone). If you think you've found the perfect blender and you're hovering over the "buy now" button, take a few minutes to read user reviews to see what they say about noise and keep in mind that noise a relative thing-if only 1 out of 10 users says it sounds like it's breaking the sound barrier, you're probably okay. Blender noise may seem like a minor point, but it could make a difference in how often you'll actually use your blender.
Ease of cleaning
How easy it is to clean your blender will definitely affect how you feel about and actually use your blender.
Entry-level blenders come with switch or dial controls that contribute to ease of use but not necessarily ease of cleaning-spills and grime may collect around the buttons or even in the switches. Touchpad controls are easy to clean but are usually only available on higher-end models, and some users find them more difficult to control than traditional buttons or switches, but we think the ease of cleaning makes it a wash. Removable blades also make for easy cleaning, but blenders that feature these may be more prone to leaks than their non-removable counterparts. Is there a clear winner here? It's a matter of preference more than anything else.