If you watch cooking shows, read cooking magazines, or are otherwise at all aware of the goings-on of the culinary world, you’ve probably heard of an immersion blender before. Also known as hand blenders or stick blenders, these compact tools are favorites of renowned chefs the world over, and are great for soups, smoothies, whipping cream, or even frothing milk for your coffee. But is one right for you? I know all too well how easy it is to fill up a kitchen with appliances you never – or hardly ever – use. So is an immersion blender worth adding to your small appliance repertoire, or will it be just another gadget gathering dust somewhere in the back of a cabinet or drawer?
Really, it depends a lot on what kind of cook you are, and how happy you are with your current setup. If you often find yourself pouring hot soup into a blender – or especially if you’ve ever poured hot soup into a blender and come out on the other end with more burns and mess than soup – drop everything and buy yourself an immersion blender stat. Soup is where stick blenders like this Dualit 88860 really shine – just stick the wand into a full pot of soup, press the on button, and wait anywhere from 60 seconds to two minutes, and voila – instant smooth puree. I especially love this for butternut squash or tomato bisques.
Now, if you’ve made it this far but aren’t much of a soup connoisseur, keep reading! Hand blenders also happen to be excellent for people with very small kitchens and not a lot of appliance space. If you’re a big smoothie drinker but already happily have a great blender, skip the stick. If you’d like to be a big smoothie drinker but don’t have room for a full sized blender, a hand blender is an excellent alternative. They don’t have quite the same crushing capacity of traditional upright versions, but they’re also small enough to fit easily in a drawer so you won’t have to sacrifice half a shelf just for your morning drink. If you do want to use one primarily for smoothies, look for one like this Miallegro MiTutto that’s well reviewed for crushing ice and comes with a tall beaker-like cup to make it a little easier to blend your fruit and ice.
An immersion blender with the right attachments can actually also make a passable substitute for a food processor, provided that you’re in a tiny kitchen and only cooking for a few people (or making baby food). Many hand blenders, like this Cuisinart CSB-77 (the one in my own kitchen drawer!) come with small chopping attachments. They typically have no more than a 2-or-so cup capacity, which somewhat limits their usefulness, but they attach to the wand of the blender and make quick work out of vegetables, cheese, and garlic, and are excellent for crushing stale bread or crackers in to crumbs.
If you’re a big coffee drinker, chances are you already have your own espresso machine, which likely has its own milk frothing wand, so while even a many basic stick blenders could make a pretty decent cappucino, I wouldn’t recommend buying one just for that. Sure, if you like the occasional latte and don’t have an espresso machine, this is a great way to save on expensive equipment, but only if you’d use it for other things as well. The potential exception here would be the Nesco Grip ‘n Go, which actually includes a frothing wand designed specifically for this purpose.
Finally, immersion blenders can be a huge boon to cooks suffering from arthritis. This may seem odd, but the large body of the blender is easy to grip, and ones with an on/off switch (rather than a button you have to hold) can make many otherwise difficult kitchen tasks easy. If you need one primarily for whisking eggs or cream, a hand blender like this Hamilton Beach 2-Speed that has a whisk attachment will do the trick. It’s lighter than a hand mixer, more compact than a stand mixer, and doesn’t require any manual input; just be sure you’re able to comfortably hold the weight in one hand before you buy.
So, now that you’ve decided you want one, what should you look for? The funny thing about immersion blenders is that the standards you might judge other appliances by – price, brand name, wattage, number of blades, or even the name (like “Pro”) – don’t really apply. That said, there are a few things to keep an eye out for. First, most immersion blenders will come with at least a few accessories. What you’ll need depends on what you want to use it for. For whipping, you’ll want a whisk attachment; for chopping, a small closed chopping canister; for smoothies, at least one large, tapered beaker. Some come with even more accessories, like multiple blades or various sized carafes for the food processor style attachment. You can easily get an immersion blender without any accessories at all… or you could get one like this Dualit 88880 that has, more or less, all of them.
Once you’ve got your accessories picked out, something you want to look for in any and every stick blender is a detachable wand. This makes cleanup significantly easier, as you can simply pop off the business end of the blender and stick it in the dishwasher. Single unit immersion blenders have to be carefully hand-cleaned, and can be a little more cumbersome to store, so you always always want to make sure you get one that disassembles, like this Cuisinart CSB-76.
Immersion blenders with a solid metal constructionwill hold up better against high heat than ones with plastic bodies, but if you’re worried about scratching metal pans, look for a blender that has a sturdy plastic guard around the blade instead of a metal one. Most immersion blenders have to be plugged in, but some, like this Cordless Cuisinart, have rechargeable batteries instead – just be aware that they might not be quite as powerful or last as long. Finally, if you have the opportunity, actually pick up several stick blenders before you buy. Look for one that’s weighty but not so heavy you’d be uncomfortable holding it for a few minutes, and make sure the button is located somewhere you can press and hold easily.
What do you plan to do with your new stick blender? Does it seem like an appliance you’ll get a lot of use out of, or is it something that would gather dust?