Crush Ice Without Burnout

My greatest blender tragedy involved far less expensive ingredients than Will It Blend?’s iPhone, but it was much less amusing. (The aforementioned site, presented by Blendtec, features funny videos in which Tom the Tester sticks various things into a Blendtec Total Blender to answer the question “Will it blend?”) I’d spent hours shopping, cooking, and then finally blending to create a beautiful, warm orange-carrot-cardamom purée. As I lifted the pitcher to pour the ethereally light potage into individual handmade Japanese bowls, the pitcher’s bottom dropped out, spilling my entire first course across the counter and onto the floor.

Minor disasters followed with replacement blenders in seemingly never-ending whirring sessions that still left hidden, stringy veggie chunks or ended with motors giving off that telltale metallic burning smell just before dying out.

A great blender should be able to handle jobs ranging from crushing ice to making supersmooth purées. It needs a powerful and durable motor that ideally lasts through a second round of margaritas, and should have an easy-to-handle yet sturdy pitcher. The entire unit should also be low maintenance.

Fortunately great blenders do exist. In fact the field is so close now that there are two blenders I didn’t include in my recommendations but still merit mention. When I last shopped for a home blender, after the purée calamity, manufacturers hadn’t yet caught up to the market’s expectations, born of daily Frappuccinos and fruit smoothies.

Will It Blend?’s Blendtec Total Blender is a solid machine, but I find its square pitcher less maneuverable than a round one when scraping with a spatula. The square sides are great for holding more volume, which is why Starbucks and Jamba Juice use Blendtecs, but are not necessary for most home purposes. For $400, I’m going to be picky about every detail.

Also, one of the most mysterious blenders in the world to the uninitiated is the Thermomix. It’s the $1,000 machine used by Ferran Adrià, and can only be seen by civilians after a prearranged in-home meeting with a “sales partner”—think Tupperware “consultant.” As if those obstacles weren’t enough, Vorwerk, the German manufacturer, stopped selling Thermomixes in the United States in 2003, says Aline Martin of Vorwerk USA. She says she doesn’t know why. I’ve used the company’s blenders nearly daily for years, including during my time at El Bulli. Yes, the Thermomix is a powerful, efficient blender with a built-in timer, and some models also weigh and heat the contents. But it’s a machine that deserves discussion beyond the context of blenders. Stay tuned for a future column—when I go behind the Thermomix curtain.

All of the recommended models below have measurements marked on their pitchers, lids with an opening that allows you to add ingredients while blending, and dishwasher-safe parts, except for the motors, of course.

PowerMax
By Braun, $46.30

Braun’s PowerMax is a good and relatively powerful blender, but its most notable feature is its price. At under $50, it costs less than a tenth of the most expensive model recommended.

It blends with removable, heavy-duty, stainless steel blades that fit into the bottom of the pitcher, like most classic blenders. The glass pitcher holds 58 ounces, a good-size average.

A simple five-speed dial features a pulse setting—the stop-and-start motion tosses solid chunks like ice cubes within the pitcher to give the blades better contact with whole pieces. While a pulse function seems standard these days, many blenders in this price range don’t have one.

This model is currently available only in white with gray accents.

I found the heavy glass pitcher and removable blades a bit of a nuisance, but for the performance and price, it’s a great-value home machine.

Polycarbonate 5-Speed Blender
By KitchenAid, $99.99

The KitchenAid 5-Speed Blender features a lightweight polycarbonate pitcher with the blades built right into the bottom. The 56-ounce pitcher is scratch, stain, and shatter resistant, and its handle has a soft inner grip. The blades are patented and set on four different planes for more thorough blending and crushing. The .9-horsepower motor is housed in a heavy, die-cast metal base, cushioned with four nonslip, nonmarring rubber feet. The smooth, seamless control pad features an Automatic Crush Ice button, which pulses the ice cubes at regular intervals for you. You can also pulse at any of the five speeds.

The machine crushes ice and blends consistently well, but KitchenAid advises against pressing or jiggling the pitcher while it’s running and suggests waiting until the blender has completely stopped before taking the pitcher off, to keep from stripping the gears.

This model is currently available in seven KitchenAid colors, ranging from Empire Red to Metallic Chrome.

The manufacturer offers a one-year “Hassle-Free Replacement Warranty.”

Vita-Prep 3
By Vita-Mix, $549

The Vita-Prep has long been the staple blender in restaurant kitchens. Numerous chefs, including Thomas Keller, endorse it.

The new Vita-Prep 3 has a three-horsepower motor that spins the stainless steel blades at 37,000 rpm. In addition to standards like ice and vegetables, you can fill the polycarbonate pitcher with peanuts to make smooth peanut butter (chunky if you prefer) or with rice to make rice flour. No liquid is necessary. While these feats can also be done in the other recommended blenders, the Vita-Prep 3’s combination of pitcher shape, blade angle, and power produces a far more consistent product.

The speed dial turns smoothly, never clicking into a preset speed, allowing you to make minute adjustments. There’s also a high-speed switch that sends the blender straight into turbocharge mode.

The motor is thermally protected, so in the unlikely event that it overheats it will automatically shut down before burning out.

The Vita-Prep is a proven, durable workhorse in pro kitchens: The pitcher withstands spoon and ladle smacks and drops into stainless steel sinks. The gears work despite inadvisable jiggling and jamming. And the blending power produces flawlessly smooth results.