Vitamix Envy, or From zero to vitamix in 400 dollars
June 12, 2011 8:27 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a Vitamix? If so: used, new, or reconditioned, and what model? (cheapskate anxiety inside!)

Recently, I decided I wanted to try making ginger beer, but found that I would need some way to grind up the ginger effectively. A few recipes I read recommended a juicer. Thus commenced the googling.

The more I researched juicers, the more I saw vitamix mentioned as an alternative that does many more things than a juicer would and does them awesomely. I'm trying to keep down clutter in my life and I love having a small number of very multitaskable appliances (okay, okay, the rice cooker was forced on me, i swear!) I also really like that the vitamix is super sturdy, not a puzzle of pieces to put together and take apart whenever I'd want to clean it (My current apartment has no dishwasher), and that (I think?) it wouldn't be a super-behemoth on my counter like most of the juicers i've looked at.

When I was looking at juicers (new and used) it seemed like I could've gotten away with a nice model for $150, while vitamixes go for oh so much more hundo than that. They also seem pretty damn hard to find cheap and used (I've been checking ebay and craigslist).

So while I can afford ~$400 on a blender, I'm trying to figure out if I really should drop that kind of skrilla on A KITCHEN APPLIANCE. The voice of reason is saying ARE YOU KIDDING? The only things I can recall spending that much on pretty much ever are my nice television and my laptop. Basically, I'm a cheapskate.

Also, I can be the kind of person that gets really excited about a thing for a month or two and then drops it, and my boyfriend reminded me of this when I gave him a hypothetical "so suppose I spent $400 on a blender, would you run the hell away immediately, or have me make you a smoothie first?" (Kidding, but his reaction was negative. he also thinks we'd need way too much fruit and veg to make anything good that it wouldn't be worth it) I went through another "YES VITAMIX WANT" phase a few months ago and ended up undecided (or, "no"). The trigger this time is grinding up ginger, and the fact that this summer I'm joining my first farm share program and will be getting a weekly box of incredible veggies for blending. I don't eat raw or anything, I just think it might be a decent way to get myself to eat more veg in drinkable form. plus, margaritas!

I have a lousy 80's osterizer blender right now, which I bought on ebay for $20 last year thinking i'd make smoothies for breakfast and eat better. The darn thing can't even grind up ice and frozen bananas. Plus I'm always the first one awake in the morning for work and don't want to wake up my boyfriend with raging ice grinding noises. It's also a huge pain to clean and I can't easily make pesto with it. So it lives in the back cabinet and is never used.

So. You can tell that I want one, but my worries are
a) cost,
b) will I not use it because it's loud,
c) will i not use it because it's a lot of effort and I'll stop caring, and
d) cost.

I was thinking I'd just go nuts and buy a used 5200 model straight away, but the used ones aren't much cheaper than the new ones. Should I buy one new? is it like new cars where the value goes down as soon as you drive it off the lot? so maybe used? or a reconditioned one on the vitamix site? those are actually under $400 which I feel much better about paying. Is there another model that will hold its value better in case I end up giving up on it and reselling it? Does it even make sense that my first "real" blender be an intense expensive commercial one? Is the hype worth it? Are there any alternatives I should think about as a blending novice?

Please help, metafilter! talk me into or out of a vitamix!
posted by ghostbikes to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
none of the many professional chefs i know have vitamixes at home, because they're just too expensive for a device that you're going to use once or twice a day. if you were opening a juice bar, using a blender multiple times a day, i'd tell you to get one, but since you're not: buy a kitchenaid or cuisinart blender and use your money you've saved on stuff to blend in it.
posted by lia at 8:32 PM on June 12, 2011

It seems to me that Vitamixes are an answer to a problem that nobody actually has.

I watched one being demo-ed for some time at a foodie convention, and was initially impressed, but later realised that I'd never want or need to use that extra power.

"You can make hot soup from raw vegetables just by the sheer power of the friction generated by the blades!!!1!!" - yeah, but how many recipes really work by just heating a bunch of stuff from cold?

"You can make your own flour from raw materials like nuts!!!1!" Uh, yeah, coz I'm always wondering where I can buy hazelnut flour. Besides, if it's any good for cooking I'd be able to buy it off the shelf anyway. Making your own flour is such a niche, maybe only of interest to professional pastry chefs, and they'd have something better for the job anyway.

"Over 90% of the vitamin B in strawberries is in the seeds! And you can't get to it unless you pulverise them in our Vitamix!1!!" Sure, and potatoes contain more vitamin C than apples. C'mon, you can get your nutrients in all kinds of ways.

Short story: it doesn't do anything a regular blender can't do, except for things you don't want or need to do anyway.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:48 PM on June 12, 2011

(ps - you can grind (actually rub) ginger into a smooth paste really easily with a small board made of perspex-like material, with a dozen or so raised 1mm ridges...ask at your nearest decent kitchen store...not sure what it's called exactly (ginger grater?) but it might set you back around $5)
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:54 PM on June 12, 2011

You don't mention if you actually like smoothies and stuff...?

Why are you putting ice in your failed smoothies? Put in an unfrozen banana, put in frozen strawberries, add a lot of liquid, blend; even a cheap blender should be able to handle that. See if you like it, see if you actually are going to bother with blending on a very frequent basis.

I have a disappointing Osterizer and the smoothie thing takes a little fussing -- you can't turn solids into liquid, no, but with enough liquid... Blend up a liquidy thing, then slowly add more of your frozen chunks. Yes? Okay. Do you actually like what comes out? How often do you want that?

Anything even a little mainstream that sells for a biggish price and is hard to find used is a pretty safe bet for resale value; stuff like that, where there're more people who want a used one than there are used ones, are eBay gold.

You want a food processor for pesto (though I can't speak for better VitaMix-level blenders for it, but usually stuff of that consistency is food processor material, not blender). A mortar and pestle will do nice work on small quantities (and that'd fix your ginger issue).

Have you looked into immersion blenders? Mine is kind of meh and just does soups, but my mother does smoothies with hers easily. Very very easy to stash out of the way, very very easy to clean. Bamix is supposed to be good.
posted by kmennie at 8:58 PM on June 12, 2011

I vote for a stick/immersion blender. I have one that comes with a small food processing beaker/blade and it's perfect for pureeing veggies. Very cheap, maybe $70 or so. And extremely easy to clean because the blade is right there, not at the base of the blender. The Vitamix is alarmiingly, uncomfortably, your-boyfriend-might-break-up-with-you loud.
posted by acidic at 9:07 PM on June 12, 2011

I used a vitamix almost daily as a prep chef in a Korean restaurant. If I were super-rich, I might get one, but at the end of the day, it's just a blender. At home I have a Cuisinart blender/food processor 2-in-1 thingee, two mortar and pestles of different sizes, and a spice grinder. These tools can do everything the vitamix can. Total cost: $160.
Your worries:
a) Cost- not worth it
b) It is really, really loud
c) Effort: it does cut down on having to scrape the sides to make sure everything is getting blended, and not just the stuff in the middle. Cleaning it is just as hard, if not harder, than a normal blender.

I get your preference for only wanting one tool instead of four or five, but be sure that the freed-up counter/storage space is worth hundreds of dollars before making this decision.
posted by 2ghouls at 9:12 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

the cost question is relative - if you can't imagine it being worth it to have a $400 blender, and/or can't afford it, it won't be worth it to you.

i've had one for around 4 years and i love it. i always found that blenders didn't do what i wanted them to do. i love being able to throw some frozen fruit in with a bit of liquid and make a sorbet. sometimes i make green smoothies, and i make my own salad dressings with whole nuts and my own tofu sour cream. sometimes i use it every day, sometimes i go a month without using it, and that's fine with me.

it's noisy and you can't expect to use it without waking others in your home. it might also be bigger than you're expecting.

it's usually easy to clean if you do it right away - rinse it out then put warm water and a bit of soap in and run it for a bit. but since the blades don't come out, if something's stuck it's awkward to get it out.
posted by pluma moos at 9:15 PM on June 12, 2011

none of the many professional chefs i know have vitamixes at home,

Most professional chefs don't cook much at home, because they're too busy working ALL THE GODDAMN TIME.

As a former culinary professional, I really miss the amount to which vitamixes can pulverize things in ways that my stick blender and quisinart just can't. It makes sauces and salad dressings made with nuts, seeds, or dried chille peppers come out so smooth. So if you're into doing really fancy stuff, and you really groove on texture, then there's really nothing like a vitamix.

Otherwise, get a stick blender. It's probably the greatest culinary invention of the last 100 years. You can make mayonnaise with it in like 10 seconds. You can make stews really smooth. You can make pesto and cream of [anything] soup and salsa verde and so much stuff.

For your ginger beer application, just roughly chop the ginger, put it in the bottom of a plastic take-out container, and hit it with the stick blender. Then just press out the juice, or pour the resulting slurry into some cheesecloth and squeeze.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:18 PM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Actually, this might be worth a membership at a Costco (or possibly a similar store) if you don't already have one -- they regularly sell these and/or Blendtecs (another blender in pretty much the same range), and as long as you're a member, you can take it back with for most any reason (I doubt they'd bat an eye at "it's too loud" as a reason) for a full refund.
posted by nonliteral at 9:41 PM on June 12, 2011

Slow down. You've just gone from a single ingredient for ginger beer to buying an appliance worth hundreds of dollars. This is maximising. This is the road to sorrow.

Any cheap-arsed juicer will make short work of ginger. Ditto for a blender, or even a stick blender, if you chop the ginger roughly then add a little water. Buy one secondhand. You shouldn't be paying even half of $150.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:53 PM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Most professional chefs don't cook much at home, because they're too busy working ALL THE GODDAMN TIME.

true dat. i actually live with one right now—a sous at fancy nyc restaurants—who sometimes uses a magic bullet blender (GASP) to mix up a slimfast shake (GASP) for breakfast because there's just no time/energy to cook for one's self.
posted by lia at 10:20 PM on June 12, 2011

Response by poster: thanks for the great advice so far everyone! i have some thinking to do!

I also forgot to mention that I LOVE carrot juice although it's expensive to buy. the ginger thing was just what reminded me of the fact that I really want a juicer or some other fruit-and-veg blending device. I really want a constant supply of carrot juice, and that's what I'm mostly concerned about a standard blender or cuisinart not being able to do easily. because if I had the means I'd drink carrot apple juice every day of my life.
posted by ghostbikes at 10:31 PM on June 12, 2011

Okay, full disclosure here, folks. I AM A BLENDER SALESMAN. My job is to get people like you to buy a fancy-schmancy blender. There are two high-end blender companies, Vita-Mix and Blendtec--I work for Blendtec.

You've done me the courtesy of putting your objections out in the open... I'll go through them one by one.

The average American family wastes $1200 in food each year, and if you're doing the CSA thing, it might be easy to get behind on using up all that wonderful produce. If you get a high-end blender, not only can you make soups, juices, smoothies, ice cream etc., but you also have the luxury of being able to freeze whatever's looking ratty before it goes too far, and use it later.

Blenders are noisy. If you want something that won't wake the BF, go for the stick blender. If you want something with more oomph, though... you're going to have to deal with the noise. There are 3rd party soundproof enclosures available for more money, I've never used them myself.

Ease of use will depend upon what model and brand you buy. I'm going to be VERY impartial here and just lightly hint that if ease of use is a concern, you might want to comparison shop before you decide on which fancy blender to purchase. Go check out some demonstrations at your local big-box store (Costco or Sam's Club). Both machines come with a 7 year warranty, from top to bottom. Having a schmancy blender comes out to about $0.18/day, amortized over 7 years. The high-end blenders generally keep their value, but if you're worried that you might hate hate HATE your new blender, your best option is to buy at one of the big-box stores, where they have a super-duper friendly exchange/return policy.

Bottom line: if you have some extra cash and you want a super-cool (albeit loud) toy/tool, get a fancy blender. You'll have it for years, and if you use it, it will pay for itself. If you're not sure, well... you can try it for 30 days, then take it back if you think it stinks.
posted by LimePi at 10:54 PM on June 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

The average American family wastes $1200 in food each year

Yeah, but that's basically caused by overshopping and/or neglect, not a lack of fancy equipment. There are plenty of ways of using past-prime food that don't require high-end blenders. But if you're in the habit of wilfully ignoring that week-old bag of brussel sprouts at the back of the vegie drawer, you're going to ignore it regardless of whether it could potentially be blended or popped into a casserole.

I really want a juicer or some other fruit-and-veg blending device

Now, that's a better argument for a high-end blender: juicers are annoying to clean, with at least half a dozen parts to wash, and tend to be bulky. I doubt there's anybody alive with a juicer who uses it more than about once a fortnight at most, but you might be the exception! You can usually pick them up at garage sales for a song, because people get sick of storing these white elephants of the gadget world. You could always trial a juicer on the cheap that way, and if it doesn't do it for you, consider upgrading to a high-end blender...?
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:37 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dad has a Vitamix that I used to use every morning before heading off to college. It IS a really nice blender, and made super amazing smoothies (my breakfast of choice). HOWEVER...I bought what I thought was a cheap blender (like, $40), and it works just as well for what I like. So, unless you're going to use it A LOT, and have recipes that would require a super deluxe blender, don't waste your money on the expensive (although nice) blender.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 11:42 PM on June 12, 2011

Not answering your question exactly, but since you mentioned having a rice cooker - google rice cooker recipes. You can make tons of stuff and it's great because like a slow cooker you can throw everything in and it will be ready and waiting when you get home from work.
posted by cilantro at 2:10 AM on June 13, 2011

I really want a constant supply of carrot juice, and that's what I'm mostly concerned about a standard blender or cuisinart not being able to do easily.

Have you ever had carrot juice from a vitamix? It's a bit different than commercial carrot juice or carrot juice from a centrifugal juicer. I agree with you that the vitamix is more up to the task than a standard blender, but you will still feel tiny carrot chunks in your mouth if you don't strain through cheesecloth, and even then, I think the centrifugal juicer produces a sweeter, more consistent carrot juice. Same thing with apple or carrot-apple. I agree with the above comments that if you still want a vitamix, you should find a store with an excellent return policy.
posted by 2ghouls at 4:26 AM on June 13, 2011

you also have the luxury of being able to freeze whatever's looking ratty before it goes too far, and use it later

You have this luxury if you have a freezer, not if you have a super-fancy blender.

I have a thrift store stick blender, a thrift store spice grinder and a thrift store food processor. Total cost around $20 and I can do all the stuff mentioned above with them except juicing, for which I use my kenwood chef attachment. The second hand kenwood chef plus attachment cost around $50 or so on ebay and it can also knead bread, make butter, etc.
posted by hazyjane at 4:30 AM on June 13, 2011

This is a great blender that will obliterate ice for you:

For ginger, I freeze it and grate it with a microplane. Very easy and very fine.

Having said that, I was very seriously tempted to get a VitaMix. At least you know that you'd easily be able to sell it should you realize that you don't use it very much.
posted by oohisay at 5:11 AM on June 13, 2011

they're just too expensive for a device that you're going to use once or twice a day.

This statement seems ludicrous to me. $400 is a perfectly reasonable amount to spend on something you're going to use even once every single day.

Here's the situation: from your question it seems you want a Vitamix for two things:

- Carrot Juice
- Grinding up ginger

A Vitamix is pretty much useless for both of these tasks. I know, because I used to have one (their top home model--5000 or something like that). Yes, it is an above average blender, but no, it does not liquify everything put into it. Both of the above items will have chunks left after a blend.

Further, Vitamix has a tamper to push food down to the blades. This is because it needs a tamper to push food down into the blades. Believe me when I tell you this is a royal pain in the ass when you have anything with a thickness to it. Making a chocolate spread? Need the tamper. Pain in the ass. Making something with maple syrup in it? Need the tamper. Pain in the ass. Didn't put the ingredients into the jug in the right order? Need the tamper. Pain in the ass.

AND Vitamix motors have a tendency to just... stop. Dead. They stop dead when they're overworked (which can happen, literally, in 4 minutes). How big of a tendency? It's right in the manual (they consider it a feature so the blender doesn't overheat). You're supposed to put the blender INTO THE FREEZER to cool it down (takes longer than 4 minutes). You ever tried to put a behemoth blender into a well-stocked freezer?

I say I used to have a Vitamix. I now have a Blendtec. It is a far superior product. No tamper. No overheating. No need to worry which order the ingredients are being added. No comparison. HOWEVER, I have a commercial model with a sound enclosure. ($500 on eBay). So, perhaps my comparison isn't exactly fair. BUT, my advice to you is if your choice is between a Vitamix and a blender with an ICE button, and all you're going to do is make smoothies (because making carrot juice in a blender is not a good option), go for the Ice button blender.

If you have the budget and want a kickass blender--the best blender money can buy, get a Blendtec. I still wouldn't use it for carrot juice but it'll do just about anything else. You absolutely would not have a problem with ice or frozen bananas. I have used it to successfully liquify just about everything except carrots--apples, collard greens and other greens, peppers, and yes, ginger (when it's in there with other stuff)--though my preference is to microplane it with a $20 fine model. It has also never cacked out on me with even the thickest of ingredients in it. I have blended carrots with other things just fine--I just think carrots by themselves to make juice is a bad idea (for that, I use a Champion blender--it's a messy pain in the ass).
posted by dobbs at 7:38 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems like some posters aren't quite understanding the import of being able to use a frozen fruit or vegetable straight out of the freezer. One of the coolest things about the high-end blenders is the ability to make ice cream (or whatever, for that matter) from frozen stuff. Every extra step you have in preparation (e.g., thawing) is just another barrier to entry. If you want to stand in front of your counter and hit a canister of frozen broccoli or whatever with a $20 stick blender until it's a raw food soup, go ahead and shine on, you crazy star. A 2-3 horsepower blender can do it faster and better, though. It's easier to be thrifty with an "exit strategy" in place (and a desire to get back the cost of your machine).
posted by LimePi at 9:00 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

In case your comment was directed at me, LimePi (I kind of think it was), all I said was:

you also have the luxury of being able to freeze whatever's looking ratty before it goes too far, and use it later

You have this luxury if you have a freezer, not if you have a super-fancy blender.

I defrost my broccoli in boiling water. I can also defrost stuff in the microwave and my old cuisinart food processor can easily turn frozen berries and cream/tofu into ice cream without the need to defrost and I'm sure it could handle frozen bananas as well. It's around 30 years old and nothing has killed it off yet and I doubt that would, either. If I were into raw food soups from frozen veg (a bit of a niche foodstuff I'd think) I suppose I'd consider a fancy blender but I'm not and the OP never indicated she was, either. In fact she says "I don't eat raw or anything" in her question.

It's easier to be thrifty with an "exit strategy" in place

My exit strategy involves paying off a 25 year mortgage in 8 years, not blowing money on stuff I don't need. Salesmen - sheesh.
posted by hazyjane at 9:48 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am not a blender salesman. I do not own a VitaMix or a BlendTec, and I have no plans to buy one.

BUT. My sister-in-law's family has a vitamix -- they're on their second. Their first one lasted them for about fifteen years. About five years in, they started putting money into an account to replace it when it inevitably broke, because they were that attached to it. My SIL says she'd give up her dishwasher and her microwave before she'd give up her vitamix. She's very busy; she has three kids and works a 70-hour a week job, and she estimated that she paid for the thing in the first year being able to make breakfast smoothies with real food in them rather than buying meal-replacement shakes.

So, there you go. Like I said, I don't have one -- I have a food processor, a stick blender, and a microplane grater (which definitely does a great job on ginger). But they frickin LOVE theirs.
posted by KathrynT at 10:23 AM on June 13, 2011

Vitamix owner here. I have had mine for several years and have mainly used it for making smoothies -- both fruit and vegetable. It is superb for that, and will take frozen solid stuff and blend it right up. You can put frozen bananas in and you will get something the consistency of soft serve.. wonderful stuff.

I have made soup in it before; I started with hot liquid though. I see no point in waiting on friction to heat things up. The great thing about the soup, you can put a lot of vegetables that people don't like and they just get blended up into the thick soup. Very nice if you have kids.

Yes it is expensive. is it worth it? depends on how much you use it really. I am willing to spend the $$$ on something that gets a lot of use.

I also spent about 2400 total on espresso machine+grinder+roaster-- That sounds expensive but I can make a triple latte for 50 cents vs $4 at starbucks (counting electricity, milk, green coffee, etc). I have had it for almost three years and I have broken even now -- I make a latte for myself and my wife every morning. Not that I would have been buying lattes every single day at starbucks, but you get the picture.
posted by jockc at 12:39 PM on June 13, 2011

I have a BlendTec (which I picked over the Vitamix mostly because it's a lot shorter and will actually fit in my kitchen cabinets for storage). Yes, it's a high-end device, but I am also confident that it is going to last. I would rather buy one powerful blender in ten or twenty years than keep replacing the $85 ones every couple of years (I'd already burned through two of those when I got my BlendTec). I use it a few times a week and it is amazing. It's also so much easier to clean than the cheap blenders - and this makes me use it even more. One of my main concerns when I got it was that it would be unbearably loud, but that hasn't been a problem at all. If you can truly afford the Vitamix, I'd say you should go for it.
posted by katie at 6:49 PM on June 13, 2011

Blendtec owner here. Love it. Easier to clean, lower height vs. Vitamix.

Advice: When looking for serious blender goodness take a look at the material used where the base intersects with the jar/blades (or whatever). On cheaper blenders this interface is made of plastic (i.e. it WILL break when under any sort of stress -- in my case thicker smoothies or hummous).

After having many cheaper interfaces explode into a million plasticky bits I bought the Blendtec (the interface on the Blendtec is made of metal and is "splined" for extra grippy-goodness). I figured, why pay $100/year buying crappy blenders when 1 should do the trick for many years?
posted by rumbles at 4:31 PM on June 14, 2011

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