After researching dozens of blenders, talking with five experts, and testing 20 models over the course of four years, we’re confident that the Oster Versa Performance Blender with Low Profile Jar offers the best value for most people. At roughly $200, it performs as well as blenders that cost twice as much, and it blows cheaper blenders out of the water. It has one of the most user-friendly and versatile control panels we’ve seen,with both variable speed and presets for things like soup and smoothies .
At 17½ inches tall, it’ll also fit better under a counter than most other high-performance models. Compared with equally priced blenders, the Oster Versa’s speeds are more nuanced, its 1,400-watt motor runs more quietly, and it’s one of the only models that comes with a tamper for bursting air pockets in thick mixtures.We don’t think the Versa is the absolute best model out there, but its serious blending skills, solid seven-year warranty, and ease of use make this a great choice if you don’t want to plunk down half a grand.
When we first reviewed blenders, in 2012, we didn’t find one for less than $450 that really impressed us. When Fred Waring introduced the Waring Blender in 1937, it retailed for $29.75—or roughly $485 in today’s dollars. That price may seem obscene, but quality blenders have historically been expensive. Since we first published this guide (this is our third full update), we’ve found that companies, gunning to compete with the likes of Vitamix and Blendtec, have introduced relatively modest-priced blenders with really big motors that are surprisingly efficient at liquefying food. We think the Oster Versa is the best of this new breed of high-powered but budget-friendly options. After almost two years of long-term testing, we’d say it’s about 85 percent as good as our former pick, the Vitamix 5200, but at roughly 40 percent the price.
If the Oster Versa sells out, we’d go for Cleanblend’s 3-horsepower, 1,800-watt blender, which makes creamier smoothies and piña coladas than our main pick. But we find its jar really flimsy and the overall design clunkier compared with that of the Versa. The controls are also more confusing to use, and there are no presets. Its powerful 3-horsepower motor helps decimate berry seeds and ice, but there isn’t much variance between low and high speeds.
For the fourth year running, a Vitamix blender performed best, overall, in our testing. The classic 5200 was our top pick in 2014 (the Pro 300 the year before), and once again it was the only one in our tests that could make creamy peanut butter and puree soup without spewing molten liquid up the sides of the jar, and it has the best range of speeds (far better than the equally priced Blendtec Designer).
It doesn’t have any preset speeds, which, after long-term testing, we found we wished it had. And there have also been user complaints about black flecks—pieces of PTFE, a chemical found in nonstick coatings—breaking off the gasket around the base of the blade. Though we haven’t experienced this problem in our own usage, we also weren’t totally satisfied with Vitamix’s response to the issue. For the price, the 5200 is only worth it if you plan to blend a couple of times or more per week. Otherwise, we think the Oster Versa will satisfy most people’s needs for less than half the price.
Not everyone wants to spend $200, let alone $450, on a blender. If you rarely use a blender, but want one for the occasional sauce or smoothie, the $100 KitchenAid 5-Speed Blender is the best less-expensive model we have found. It produces much thicker, more rustic textures than any of our other picks, and its motor isn’t nearly as powerful (and more likely to burn out if overtaxed). But it’s a good, all-purpose machine that’s small enough to fit on the counter under most kitchen cabinets.
Why you should trust us
For professional advice, we turned to two blender experts: Julie Morris, author of Superfood Smoothies and Superfood Soups, as well as the executive chef at Navitas Naturals; and Tess Masters, author of The Blender Girl cookbook and The Blender Girl blog. Combined, these women have tested nearly every blender on the market.
For a scientific perspective on the pervasive black-fleck issue reported with the Vitamix and other high-performance blenders, we spoke with Neal Langerman, chief scientist and owner of Advanced Chemical Safety, a consulting firm. We also reached out to Jonathan Cochran, a former blender salesman who now runs the site Blender Dude, for his take on the best Vitamix and Blendtec models to test. For our original guide, authored by The Sweethome’s Seamus Bellamy, we consulted with Lisa McManus, an executive editor in charge of equipment testing at Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country.
Christine Cyr Clisset has written specifically about kitchen gadgets that whirl, cut, and chop for The Sweethome for more than three years. That includes guides to food processors and immersion blenders, and prior reviews of blenders. Lesley Stockton has tested blenders for The Sweethome for three years running, and also covers pressure cookers, cookware, and knives for the site.
Who should get this
If your current blender makes really thick or rough-textured purees and smoothies, and you want a more velvety consistency, we’d upgrade to a high-performance blender, which our guide’s pick, runner-up, and upgrade all are.
If your blender has only a variable speed dial, and you wish you could turn the blender on and check your email while your smoothie finishes up, then you might want a model with preset speeds.
If you’re really concerned about chemicals leaching from a plastic blender jar, you may want to go with a blender with a glass or metal jar.
How we picked and tested
A great blender should be able to smoothly process tough things like fibrous kale, frozen berries, and ice without burning out the motor. How efficiently a blender does this depends on a combination of blade length and position, the shape of the mixing jar, and motor strength. All three of these elements combine to create an efficient vortex that will bring food down around the blade.A great blender should be able to smoothly process tough things like fibrous kale, frozen berries, and ice without burning out the motor. How efficiently a blender does this depends on a combination of blade length and position, the shape of the mixing jar, and motor strength. All three of these elements combine to create an efficient vortex that will bring food down around the blade.
According to America’s Test Kitchen, a good vortex is formed when the blender’s blades have a “wingspan” that comes close to the sides of the blending jar. If there’s a big gap between the tips of the blades and the jar, chunks of food will end up missing the blades. America’s Test Kitchen also found that blenders with a curved bottom, rather than a flat 90-degree bottom, created a better vortex. And, of course, a more powerful motor created a better vortex.
What separates high- and low-end blenders is that the former are more powerful and process much smoother textures, and they’ll generally last a lot longer than the lower-end, less powerful ones. Higher-end blenders—often called high-performance blenders—will also tackle things that you’d never want to try in a cheap blender, such as making peanut butter or milling grains. As Julie Morris told us, “Lower-end models market themselves to be able to do all the things that a higher-end one can, but they rarely can … or at least not for very long before breaking. High-end blenders are more of a machine than an appliance … [they’re] a workhorse (and actually measured in horsepower).”
As Lisa McManus, executive editor in charge of equipment testing at Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country, told Seamus Bellamy in our 2012 review, “Blenders have a really hard job to do in that little space. The motor is only so big. The blades have to be able to move the food through the jar and create a vortex, so that the food is sucked down through the blades and back up again. There’s a lot going on in a blender. It’s kind of a challenge, engineering-wise. If you make it do something difficult every day, a lot of them burn out. If it’s being put in the dishwasher every day, the jars can crack, things loosen up, they leak. It’s a lot of stress to put on a little machine. They’re either not durable enough or they can’t handle it in the first place.”As Lisa McManus, executive editor in charge of equipment testing at Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country, told Seamus Bellamy in our 2012 review, “Blenders have a really hard job to do in that little space. The motor is only so big. The blades have to be able to move the food through the jar and create a vortex, so that the food is sucked down through the blades and back up again. There’s a lot going on in a blender. It’s kind of a challenge, engineering-wise. If you make it do something difficult every day, a lot of them burn out. If it’s being put in the dishwasher every day, the jars can crack, things loosen up, they leak. It’s a lot of stress to put on a little machine. They’re either not durable enough or they can’t handle it in the first place.”
That said, there’s nothing wrong with a cheap blender as long as you understand its limitations. Julie Morris told us that she used a Cuisinart blender daily in college and liked it so much that when it burned out after a year, she just bought another one—it was still cheaper than buying a Vitamix. Judging from user reviews, though, the holy grail for many home cooks seems to be a $50 or $100 blender that performs like a $500 Vitamix or Blendtec. That isn’t realistic.
The biggest complaint we’ve found about cheap blenders is that their motors burn out easily and their jars crack or start leaking. Vitamix, Blendtec, Oster Versa, and Cleanblend models all come with warranties of five to eight years, and—at least for Vitamix machines—we’ve read plenty of user reviews about them lasting 20 years. You can’t really expect that level of performance from dirt-cheap models, which is probably why most of them come with only one-year limited warranties.
Preset speeds for making smoothies, soups, or crushing ice can be great if you want to blend while tackling errands around the house. But we’ve found that models that only have presets and no variable speed are pretty limited in what they can do. That’s why a combination of a variable speed dial and presets is ideal. Presets can significantly jack up the price of a blender. For example, the Vitamix 5200 retails for around $450, while the Vitamix Professional Series 500—the same machine, but with three preset speeds—retails for $100 to $200 more. This is partially why we think our main pick, which has three presets, is such a great value.
In our four years of testing, we’ve found that a tamper—a small plastic bat—separates the good from the great. It’s no coincidence that our top three picks have tampers. When a blender is really cranking, air pockets tend to form around the blade, and a tamper allows you to burst these without having to stop the machine. This jibes with what Tess Masters told us: “Vitamix is set apart for me because of the tamper. I actually think it’s the genius of the machine, and it’s why other companies are coming out with tampers. It allows you to use the tamper to burst air pockets.” Blenders that come with tampers have a removable opening in the lid to slide the bat through, so you don’t have to take the lid off. This is a safety feature and also helps reduce splatters.
In our four years of testing, we’ve found that a tamper—a small plastic bat—separates the good from the great.A poorly designed blender can create some serious cleaning problems. Food trapped around gaskets or in the base of the jar will rot and cause a very unsavory odor. Some companies, like Breville and KitchenAid, have designed their blending jars so they are virtually seamless at the bottom, with just a bolt to connect the blade. We found these easy to clean.
Most of the blenders we tested come with BPA-free plastic jars. The Oster Versa, Vitamix 5200, and Breville Boss jars are made of Tritan plastic, which is very durable and has some flexibility. Many of the lower-end blenders, and the high-end KitchenAid Pro Line, don’t advertise what material their jars are made of, beyond being “BPA-free.” (For the record, BPA isn’t as much of a health risk as it’s been made out to be). But the majority of these are probably made of polycarbonate, which is more rigid than Tritan but also very strong. Both materials will crack if heated too high, which is why these jars should not be washed on very hot settings in the dishwasher.
In each blender, we made a green smoothie packed with frozen bananas and berries, kale, and coconut water. We made mayonnaise to test how each did with emulsification, and peanut butter to see how well they turned thick, gooey purees.In 2014, we tested primarily budget blenders and were mostly unimpressed by all of them (our top picks were high-performance models). In 2015, we wanted to see how the really good, high-performance blenders stacked up. We pitted our picks—the Vitamix 5200 and Oster Versa—against five top-rated models: the Blendtec Designer, Waring Commercial Xtreme, Breville Boss, Ninja Ultima, and the Cleanblend. This year, we brought in the Braun JB7130 PureMix, Cuisinart CBT-1500 Hurricane, Cuisinart CBT-2000 Hurricane Pro, and KitchenAid Pro Line with an insulated jar.
In each blender, we made a green smoothie packed with frozen bananas and berries, kale, and coconut water. We made mayonnaise to test how each did with emulsification, and mixed raw peanuts into peanut butter to see how well they processed gooey purees. With our finalists, we made rounds of piña coladas to see how well they blended ice into slush.
In 2015, we also processed water for two minutes in each blender to see if any of the jars produced the dreaded black flecks that have fired up the blend-o-sphere the past few years. Additionally, we noted how easy or difficult each machine was to clean, how noisy they were, if any of them produced a burning smell while running the motors, if the jars were difficult to attach to the bases, and how easy the interfaces were to use.