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Best blenders of 2020: Ninja, NutriBullet and more

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A kitchen staple for decades, blenders top the lists for housewarming, wedding and graduation gifts. They’re your best bet if you want a tasty smoothie or a frozen beverage. You can even use them to chop, grind and mix dry ingredients.

Blenders aren’t necessarily a luxury item, but start your search and you’ll see that right next to the $50 models are ones that cost $500. How do you pick the right blender? When does it really pay off to splurge? We tested 10 popular models to find out which ones make blending a breeze. 

Molly Price/CNET

NutriBullet keeps it simple with three power levels, a pulse setting and 1,200 watts of power. It performed well in all of our tests. Smooth batters, finely crushed ice, frothy smoothies and good grated cheese (our torture test) were all easy to achieve. A reasonable $100 price tag means you won’t have to break the bank to get a good blender.

More powerful than the Ninja and Oster models below, NutriBullet gets the job done quickly. The 64-ounce jar is plenty big enough for most recipes. The blender comes with a handy recipe book and a tamper to make sure all your ingredients contact the blades. It’s also dishwasher safe and comes with a one-year warranty. NutriBullet easily takes the top spot in our blender battle. 

Molly Price/CNET

Ninja wins our best budget pick at just $10 under the NutriBullet. We tested a $35 Hamilton Beach model and a $50 Black & Decker model, but neither were quite good enough to recommend. Still, under $100 is commendable, and the Ninja performed extremely well. 

Like the NutriBullet, this Ninja blender has three speeds: low, medium and high. It also has a pulse function and 1,000 watts of power. It comes with six blades in three levels. This worked great for smoothies and batters but presented an issue when trying to fit larger items in the 64-ounce container. Overall, this blender is a great buy, especially if you catch it on sale. 

Molly Price/CNET

This Oster model is a good performer and includes a few extra features I really found helpful. At $190, it’s on the more expensive side, but this price includes a beverage container and a set of bowls and blades for food processing. You’re almost getting two appliances here. Other brands also offer kits like this, so that’s not the only reason it wins the extra features title. 

What I loved about this Oster was its Reverse Blend button, something I didn’t encounter on any other test model. Hold down this button, and the blades turn in the opposite direction, scooping in food toward the center. It worked really well when I was crushing ice and making nut flour. Ingredients that were pushed away came right back in for better chopping. 

The Oster has a Smoothie program, a series of blending and pulses, that served up a great drink. A Dip/Mix mode helped mix dry and wet ingredients. In addition to those special modes, you’ll also get the standard low, medium and high speeds. This model is pricier, but it does come with a lot of extra accessories and that super helpful reverse blend feature.

Other models we tested

<a website data-component=»leadsTracker» data-leads-tracker-options='»numNodes»:1,»trackingData»:»asid»:»»,»assetguid»:»fa84b257-0084-4985-a987-b691afaec1f0″,»contype»:»review»,»destUrl»:»https:\/\/homedepot.sjv.website section=»commerce-link» data-shortcode=»best-blenders-of-2020-ninja-nutribullet-vitamix-smoothie» rel=»noopener noreferrer nofollow» target=»_blank»>KitchenAid K400: This $250 blender is beautiful, but left something to be desired when it came to performance for that price. It has five speeds, pulse and three presets. If you have your heart set on a colorful, quality blender, KitchenAid is still a good option. 

<a website data-component=»leadsTracker» data-leads-tracker-options='»numNodes»:1,»trackingData»:»asid»:»»,»assetguid»:»fa84b257-0084-4985-a987-b691afaec1f0″,»contype»:»review»,»destUrl»:»https:\/\/assoc-redirect.amazon.website section=»commerce-link» data-shortcode=»best-blenders-of-2020-ninja-nutribullet-vitamix-smoothie» rel=»noopener noreferrer nofollow» target=»_blank»>Vitamix 5200: Variable speed and sturdy design make this $449 Vitamix a popular model for luxury blenders. At such a high price, I wasn’t wowed enough to recommend it. It struggled with cheese grating and I found it to be noticeably louder than other models. 

<a website data-component=»leadsTracker» data-leads-tracker-options='»numNodes»:1,»trackingData»:»asid»:»»,»assetguid»:»fa84b257-0084-4985-a987-b691afaec1f0″,»contype»:»review»,»destUrl»:»https:\/\/assoc-redirect.amazon.website section=»commerce-link» data-shortcode=»best-blenders-of-2020-ninja-nutribullet-vitamix-smoothie» rel=»noopener noreferrer nofollow» target=»_blank»>Vitamix Explorian E310: This $350 Vitamix model was easier to use thanks to a dedicated pulse option. Still expensive, and an average performer in my tests, I can’t recommend it to anyone on a budget. It does include a great recipe book and custom tamper. 

<a website data-component=»leadsTracker» data-leads-tracker-options='»numNodes»:1,»trackingData»:»asid»:»»,»assetguid»:»fa84b257-0084-4985-a987-b691afaec1f0″,»contype»:»review»,»destUrl»:»https:\/\/assoc-redirect.amazon.website section=»commerce-link» data-shortcode=»best-blenders-of-2020-ninja-nutribullet-vitamix-smoothie» rel=»noopener noreferrer nofollow» target=»_blank»>Blendtec Total Classic: This popular $353 model made great smoothies and crushed ice. It failed to grate cheese and the batter mixing preset was less effective than regular blending by speed. 

<a website data-component=»leadsTracker» data-leads-tracker-options='»numNodes»:1,»trackingData»:»asid»:»»,»assetguid»:»fa84b257-0084-4985-a987-b691afaec1f0″,»contype»:»review»,»destUrl»:»https:\/\/goto.walmart.website section=»commerce-link» data-shortcode=»best-blenders-of-2020-ninja-nutribullet-vitamix-smoothie» rel=»noopener noreferrer nofollow» target=»_blank»>Hamilton Beach Power Elite: Affordability aside, this $35 blender didn’t perform well enough to recommend. While it did have a nice glass bowl, the lid was infuriatingly hard to remove. It has only presets, so you’ll need to decode which ones are actually low, medium or high. 

<a website data-component=»leadsTracker» data-leads-tracker-options='»numNodes»:1,»trackingData»:»asid»:»»,»assetguid»:»fa84b257-0084-4985-a987-b691afaec1f0″,»contype»:»review»,»destUrl»:»https:\/\/goto.walmart.website section=»commerce-link» data-shortcode=»best-blenders-of-2020-ninja-nutribullet-vitamix-smoothie» rel=»noopener noreferrer nofollow» target=»_blank»>Black & Decker Crush Master: At just $25, this blender will work if you really need something cheap in a pinch. But don’t expect excellence. It wasn’t able to handle large frozen strawberries or evenly mix pancake batter. Still, it could suffice for small jobs.

How we test

Testing blenders isn’t just smoothies and ice-crushing. There are a lot of other recipes blenders work well for, and these tests highlight how capable each model is when it comes to dry, large and coarse ingredients. 

Ice 

In a test of pure crushing power, we placed 2 cups of ice cubes into each blender. Counting the number of pulses it takes to get to a fine, crushed ice gives a good indication of real-world chopping power. The three blenders we recommended above performed well.

Ninja and NutriBullet took only four pulses to get to a very fine, almost shaved iced consistency. Oster was close behind with six pulses. Other models didn’t fare so well. Some took up to a minute of pulsing to get crushed ice, and a few even left whole cubes after that. 

Smoothie

A classic blender recipe, fruit smoothies were high on my list of recipes to test. I used 2 cups of orange juice and 1 cup of frozen strawberries to make the test smoothies.

While many of these tests yielded very similar results, a few worked faster than others. Not all blenders come with presets, but the ones that do almost always include a smoothie function. When possible, this is the mode we used. If there was no smoothie function, we followed the blender’s manual recommendation for smoothie making. This was usually around a minute on high. 

smoothie
Smoothie testing starts with whole, frozen strawberries and orange juice. 

Molly Price/CNET

This is a relatively easy test and most blenders handled it well. Some were frothier and some slushier, but only the Black & Decker model left large chunks of frozen strawberry unblended. 

Nut flour and butter

Blenders aren’t all about beverages. There are plenty of other uses, including grinding dry ingredients. For our dry ingredient test, we put 1 cup of almond pieces (unroasted) in each blender and pulsed until those pieces were reduced to a fine flour. A bit of a challenge for some blenders, but most were able to do this in about 10-20 pulses, with the Hamilton Beach model yielding noticeably coarser results. 

Nut butter is a different story. Most blenders aren’t really designed for long running times and the level of processing needed to make a butter like almond butter. In fact, many recommend not running the blender for more than a few minutes at a time. 

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This nut flour is a bit coarse. 

Molly Price/CNET

Only one Vitamix model showed real signs of progress toward almond butter in our testing with the nut flour, and it still plateaued before achieving a good consistency. Most models simply whirred the dry ingredients upward and into the hard-to-wash crevices of their lids. If you’re set on making nut butters, I’d recommend a model like the Oster with an included processing kit, or a separate food processor.  

Cheese

Did you know blenders can shred cheese? It’s true; some blenders can. We placed an 8-ounce block of cheese in each blender and pulsed until the entire block was shredded. This brought to light a few interesting design choices among some models. The Ninja, for example, lost the cheese round because multiple levels of blades made it impossible to fit the cheese block in the blender. I had to cut it up into pieces. 

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Blenders can shred cheese, and this NutriBullet did so in record time; just four pulses.

Molly Price/CNET

Both Vitamix models bore holes in the cheese block without actually blending it, simultaneously melting what little cheese had been shredded as the machine heated up. Meanwhile, the NutriBullet handled grating the cheese block in three pulses flat. The Oster managed to get the job done in eight.

Pancake batter

If you’ve seen our list of the best waffle makers, it should come as no surprise that pancake batter made an appearance in our blender testing. While I was happy to fire up the griddle and flip some cakes, mixing batter is an important test. It measures how easy or difficult it is for the blender to mix wet and dry ingredients.

Mixing is typically done on low speeds, but there are a few blenders with mixing presets, like the Breville model we tested. Still, it left dry chunks unincorporated after three minutes. The best dry/wet mixer was the NutriBullet; it yielded a smooth, lumpless batter in just 17 seconds of blending.

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New 'fresh' vending machines will be regulated like restaurants in NYC

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New York City‘s health department is scrambling to regulate a new breed of vending machines that sell fresh prepared foods. 

Officials war that selling prepared fresh snacks in refrigerated machines raises risks of foodborne illnesses. 

Representatives from the Department of Health specifically called out Farmer’s Fridge, a Chicago-based startup that sells ‘fresh’ prepared meals in its vending machines. 

The company had to shut down almost 60 machines across New York City earlier this month after inspectors expressed worry over them.

In light of the recent scare, city officials are creating new rules to regulate the machines much in the same way they do restaurants: checking the ingredients they use and the temperatures at which they stores their pre-made snacks, salads, yogurt and bowls. 

Farmer's Fridge had to shut down its 55 New York City vending machines after health officials noticed them and worried the pose a food poisoning risk. Now, they'll be graded and inspected

Farmer’s Fridge had to shut down its 55 New York City vending machines after health officials noticed them and worried the pose a food poisoning risk. Now, they’ll be graded and inspected

‘Selling certain prepared foods from a vending machine can create a risk of food-borne illness,’ a Health Department spokesperson told DailyMail.com in an emailed statement.  

In particular, what makes vending machines like Farmer’s Fridge ‘better’ – the use of fresh ingredients and less preservatives that are in a bag of chips – may also be what makes them more dangerous. 

Packaged in mason jars, Farmer’s Fridge boasts that its meals contain nutritious fresh vegetables, fruits, yogurt, nuts and healthy grains like quinoa in them. 

Chips, candy, granola and preservative-loaded pastries don’t need to be kept at consistent cool temperatures. 

But fresh produce does, in order to keep bacteria and mold from growing on it. 

A health inspector encountered one of the machines awhile doing site visits in New York City, and it instantly set off warning bells for her, according to the

She reported the Farmer’s Fridge machines to the department.  

The Chicago-based startup was immediately forced to shut down its 55 vending machines in New York City, which were scattered throughout offices and hospitals. 

Vended fresh foods fall between cracks in the regulatory code. 

While they spit out pre-made products, those products are more similar to ‘prepared’ foods you’d find at a fast food eatery, like McDonald’s (whose ex-CEO backs Farmer’s Fridge) or Pret a Manger. 

The health department noted that its current regulations ‘do not take into account all of the vulnerabilities of a prepared food vending machine company such as Farmer’s Fridge.’ 

Prepared meals have to use ingredients from pre-approved sources, be labeled in a certain way and cold foods must be kept at or below 41 degrees F, according to the regulators’ rules. 

According to the New York Times, Farmer’s Fridge and the health department agreed that the vending machines should be treated like dining establishments, and get a letter-grade and regular inspections. 

‘Companies like Farmer’s Fridge signal new changes to the NYC food space and we’re working to create the best enforcement structure to protect the health and safety of New Yorkers,’ a health department spokesperson said. 

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15 unexpected uses for your bread machine

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alternative-uses-for-bread-machine-chowhound
Chocolate pudding is just one of many things you can make in your bread machine besides bread.

Chowhound

Could your bread machine give your Instant Pot a run for its money? Maybe not, but there are several surprising ways to use your bread maker for things that aren’t bread (or jam).

Specialty appliances have no room in my kitchen, where I’ve tossed out quesadilla makers, strawberry hullers and even a garlic press in order to whittle down my appliances to only the essentials. But one appliance you won’t find me parting with anytime soon? My bread maker.

Don’t let the name fool you, this seemingly single-use appliance can do so much more than merely bake bread. Bread machines come with a built-in mixing paddle and are able to cook at fairly low temperatures, which means you’ve basically got a slow cooker, instant stirrer and mini oven all in one machine that won’t heat up your kitchen.

My Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Plus can make everything from gluten free bread to pizza dough, but it can also whip up a few less expected recipes as well. From scrambled eggs to slow roasted chicken and dumplings, check out these alternative uses for your bread machine.

Read more: Top bread machines for home bakers

Beef stew

slow-cooker-beef-stew-recipe-chowhound

Chowhound

No need to heat up your kitchen for hours simmering your favorite beef stew recipe. Your bread maker will heat and stir your stew for you on the Jam cycle and can even bake some dollops of biscuit dough right in the mix… if that’s how you roll with your stew.

Artichoke dip

baked-artichoke-spinach-dip-recipe-chowhound

Chowhound

Leave room in your oven for important party snacks by using the bread maker’s Jam cycle to heat up and stir your favorite artichoke dip recipe.

Scrambled eggs

bread-machine-scrambled-eggs

Chowhound

As you can make scrambled eggs in a Crock Pot, so too can you make them in a bread machine! Although it may take longer to make scrambled eggs in the bread maker than on the stovetop, you’ll have fluffy eggs in roughly 15 minutes without so much as lifting a spatula. Drizzle in a bit of oil before pouring your egg mixture into the bread pan and setting the machine on the Jam cycle, but you’ll want to wait to add cheese until the eggs are on the plate to lessen the mess.

Risotto

healthy-herb-risotto-recipe-chowhound

Chowhound

Stirring risotto can be a tedious task, but with the bread maker’s automatic stirring paddles, you’ll have a delightfully creamy risotto by only having to press the Jam button once.

Mochi

mochi-recipe

Chowhound

This Japanese treat is made with sweet rice flour, and typically involves multiple steps and countless hours to make, but your bread machine specializes in flour and can whip up a batch of mochi (like this butter coconut mochi recipe from Zojirushi) in a few hours.

Meatloaf

turkey-chipotle-meatloaf-recipe-chowhound

Chowhound

The loaf that comes out of your bread maker doesn’t need to be doughy. Your machine can actually make a meatloaf that would make your grandma proud. Check out Zojirushi’s meatloaf recipe, or, better yet, call your grandma and use her recipe. (If she was a terrible cook, see Chowhound’s meatloaf recipes.)

Cranberry sauce

cranberry-sauce-recipe

Chowhound

The bread maker’s Jam cycle was designed to heat and stir for anywhere from one to two hours, making it easy to whip up a quick fruit preserve (pectin optional), but toss in some walnuts, sugar, cranberries and cinnamon and you’ll have a delicious cranberry sauce for a holiday gathering.

Chicken and dumplings

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Chowhound

Just place all your wet ingredients in first before adding in the veggies and meat for your favorite chicken and dumplings recipe, then let the machine simmer and stir your soup for an hour (longer if you’re using raw chicken) before adding in cut up homemade or premade chunks of buttermilk biscuit dough. The dough will bake right into the soup, and you’ll have a creamy and satisfying comfort dish without heating up your kitchen.  

Chocolate pudding

alternative-uses-for-bread-machine-chowhound

Chowhound

Using a bread maker can give you a homemade «instant» pudding that doesn’t come from a box. Add (in this order) 2 cups heavy cream, 1 ½ cups whole milk, 4 large egg yolks, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¾ cup of sugar, 8 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate, 3 tablespoons cornstarch and ¼ cup dark cocoa powder to the bread pan, set it on Jam, and get ready for some warm, fudgy pudding.

Spaghetti and meatballs

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Chowhound

The only thing your bread maker can’t do for this recipe is boil the noodles to al dente, but pour in some crushed tomatoes, salt, fresh herbs and homemade meatballs and let the mixture simmer for a few hours before pouring over some fresh pasta (which you can also make in some bread machines).

Cheesecake

eggnog-cheesecake-recipe-chowhound

Chowhound

A beautifully rich, creamy cheesecake with a crisp graham cracker crust is child’s play with your bread maker. You’ll add the graham cracker crust last, after an hour of baking on the Cake cycle with this strawberry cheesecake recipe from Zojirushi.

Yogurt

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Chowhound

Not all bread makers come with a yogurt function, in which case you’ll need to preheat the milk to 113 degrees Fahrenheit on the stovetop before adding natural live yogurt (look for «live active cultures» on the label) and transferring the mixture to mason jars. Remove the bread pan and place the mason jars directly in the bread maker. Set the machine on its lowest setting (around 105 degrees Fahrenheit) to allow the yogurt to ferment for anywhere from 3-8 hours. Top your fresh yogurt with some jam or homemade granola.

Udon noodles

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Chowhound

Udon noodles are perfect for soups and stir-frys, or even just served cold as is, but homemade udon noodles have a distinctly chewy and thick texture that takes any recipe up a level. Use this udon recipe from Zojirushi to make a fool-proof dough with your bread maker. (If you have a Panasonic, try this recipe.)

Rice and rice pudding

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Chowhound

Feel free to toss your rice cooker out, since your bread maker can double as a rice cooker by using the Bake setting and letting a mixture of rice and water cook for an hour. It can also make a super fragrant rice pudding on the Jam setting.

Peach cobbler

easy-peach-cobbler-recipe-chowhound

Chowhound

Whether you use fresh or frozen fruit, the bread maker will transform a few ingredients into a simple dessert with little effort on your part. Remove the paddles before pouring in the ingredients, especially if you’re using this bread machine peach cobbler recipe from King Arthur Flour.

This story was written by Kristy Alpert for Chowhound.

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