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Hand Blenders

The best models outshine countertop blenders in both speed and convenience

Fine Cooking Issue 66
Photos: Scott Phillips
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I never thought of a hand blender as a kitchen staple, but after testing sixteen of them for this review, I’ve changed my mind. A goodquality hand blender (a.k.a. an immersion or stick blender) is now my first choice tool for puréeing soups, emulsifying vinaigrettes and mayonnaise, making applesauce and pesto, and blending smoothies.

These tasks can all be handled by a regular blender or a food processor, but a hand blender can be used on the spot—right in the pot, glass, or measuring cup—and it’s much easier to clean.

A hand blender is a fairly simple appliance. A motor on top rotates a metal shaft that’s attached to a blade on the bottom. The blade is protected by a shield with holes or scallops that let liquid pass through. To operate, you immerse the shaft in a container, depress and hold the power button on top, and move the blender up, down, and around to purée. Although hand blenders have roughly half the horsepower of the average countertop blender, the good ones are just as effective, able to roil a pot of food like a tornado. And if you’ve ever had to jiggle your countertop blender to get it to purée evenly, you’ll appreciate the maneuverability of the hand blender, which makes it easy to chase down rogue chunks of food.

What a hand blender can do for you

Sauces: Make lump-free gravy quickly, and purée fresh or canned tomatoes into sauce in seconds. Emulsified sauces like mayonnaise and vinaigrettes are a snap with a hand blender.

Puréed soups: Any vegetable or bean soup is a prime candidate for a hand blender since you can use it right in the pot (beware—a few blenders aren’t intended for hot liquids).

Gazpacho: Puréeing raw vegetables can be a challenge, but good hand blenders can handle it.

Drinks: Smoothies, milkshakes, mixed drinks, frothed milk for cappuccino or hot chocolate—they’re all easy with a hand blender.

Applesauce: For ultrasmooth applesauce, the hand blender beats the food mill. The top models can even pulverize apple skin.

Pesto: Blend half the herbs with all the other ingredients except the cheese, and then blend in the other half. Stir in the cheese by hand.

Puréed berries: For a simple coulis, purée perfectly ripe raspberries with fresh lemon juice and sugar and then strain out the seeds.

How we tested

We tested sixteen hand blenders with an average retail price under $60, evaluating their ability to purée potato-leek soup, blend smoothies, and emulsify mayonnaise. Almost every blender performed these tasks well, though some reached their goal more quickly than others. We also made gazpacho, vinaigrettes, applesauce, gravy, and baby food. To narrow the ­final con­­tend­ers, we blended fresh parsley in water to evaluate splashing, blade sharpness, and overall strength. In addition to rating their performance, we evaluated power, comfort, control, weight, ease of cleaning, noise level, and extra features.

At the conclusion of the tests, we had three clear favorites, highlighted below. The other blenders we tested were: ­Cuisinart Cordless Re­chargeable (CSB-44); Cuisinart Quick Prep (CSB-33); Cuisinart Smart Stick (CSB-55); Farberware Stick Blender (FSSB­ 100A); General Electric (106757); Girmi (MX 46US); Hamilton Beach Turbo-Twister Mixing Stick (59770); Oster (2612); Philips (HR1358); Sanyo (NHP-PK20); Sunbeam (HB100); T-Fal (8543000); Toastmaster (1740).

Strong and splashproof

Braun Multiquick Professional
(MR 5550 CA)
Average price: $59
www.braun.com

This supersmooth model is powerful and comfortable. It’s strong and steady, yet still slim and easy to handle. Among its assets are a continuous range of five speeds, easy-to-reach power buttons on the upper handle, and a scallopedged “anti-splash” blade shield that really does prevent splashing, making it a soup-making star. This model tied for first place with the KitchenAid for making the fastest, smoothest puréed soup and gazpacho, and it makes incredibly smooth smoothies. For being so powerful, it has a pretty mellow operating sound, lower in tone and quieter than many. The shaft detaches from the motor and is dishwasher-safe. This model comes with a 20-ounce beaker, a handy bracket for wall mounting, a chopper, and a whisk.

Caveats: The blade guard is wider than most and doesn’t fit in narrower containers. The speed dial on our model was a little stiff to turn.

Speedy and versatile

KitchenAid Immersion Blender
(KHB100ER)
Average price: $50
www.kitchenaid.com

This model offers classic good looks combined with impressive performance. At 16 inches, it’s the tallest of the hand blenders we tested, so it can reach deep into a stockpot to purée soup. It’s slim and comfortable, with the on button on the upper side of the handle and an easy-to-turn speed dial on top. It won the smoothie contest hands down, both in speed and smoothness. Mayonnaise was a breeze, as were tougher tasks like gazpacho. It has a smaller blade shield that makes it ideal for small jobs as well as big ones. The stainless-steel shaft is detachable and dishwashersafe but cleans up easily by hand, too. This model comes with a 24-ounce beaker (a whisk and a chopper are also available) and is sold in white, blue, red, or black.

Caveats: It’s a bit louder than the Braun 5550 and and can be prone to splashing.

Best value

Braun Multiquick Handblender
(MR 430 HC)
Average price: $30
www.braun.com

If price is a factor, then this blender beats all, as it’s almost as effective as the other top models at nearly half the cost. It offers big power in a smaller size: It’s 13-1/2 inches tall, making it less of a storage challenge. It’s light and comfortable, with a power button that’s easy to turn on and keep on. It’s great at small jobs like making vinaigrettes, pestos, and smoothies because its small blade guard easily fits into narrower vessels. The space between the blade and the guard is deep enough to keep food from getting stuck but not so deep that food escapes the blade (this wasn’t a problem in the other top performers either). The shaft detaches and is dishwasher-safe. It comes with a 16-ounce beaker, a chopper, and a whisk.

Caveats: It has only one speed (but it’s fast). It’s so light that it moves at lightning speed, so you must keep a steady hand on the blending container. It can create major suction and can splash a bit.

How to use a hand blender safely and wisely

Prevent splashing. Immerse the blender into the food as far as possible before turning it on, and keep it fully immersed while the blade is spinning. This is the key to avoiding major splatters.

To minimize suction, which can pull the blender to the bottom of the container, tilt the shaft slightly while blending and use low speed whenever practical. Always keep one hand on the container of food, unless you’re blending in a heavy soup pot.

If food gets stuck between the blade and the guard, unplug the blender before attempting to clear it. A chopstick or a wooden skewer is handy for dislodging food safely.

Stability is deceptive. A hand blender is top-heavy by nature, so don’t leave it standing up in its beaker or any container, even if it looks stable. If you need to pause mid-task, set the blender down on its side or detach the motor and leave the shaft standing.

Blend in almost any container. Stockpots, glass measuring cups, bowls, and pitchers are good for large jobs. Most models come with plastic beakers for smaller quantities, but you can use any tall, reasonably wide glass. We like a tall French jelly glass (found at Crate & Barrel; they’re $1.95 apiece.). The main considerations in choosing a vessel should be weight and strength, as a hand blender can cause a ruckus in a flimsy container.

Don’t try using a hand blender to make mashed potatoes, whipped cream, cookie or cake batters, herb butter, ground meat, or ground nuts. We found that it’s not worth it, despite some manufacturers’ claims.

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