Mindblowing blenders without budget-blending prices
January 5, 2012 9:40 AM   Subscribe

A blender for smoothies, nut butters, milkshakes and ice crushing: do we have to go up to the Vitamix/Blendtec range, or is there a lower-end blender that you'd recommend for our needs?

Threads like this one have me 50% of the way to going with a Blendtec or Vitamix, but the price tag -- especially here in Canada -- is a scary, scary thing.

Blenders in the $50 range have always died quickly in our house, though, usually as a result of trying to crush ice or create nut butters.

So while the idea of spending $600 on a blender doesn't enthuse me, the idea of spending $50-$100 continually for an endless series of them doesn't thrill me either.

We have a Cuisinart food processor, which we love, but a blender for more convenient food prep is definitely the next thing on our kitchen-acquisition list.


1. Is there a lower-end blender that delivers reliable nut-buttering, ice-crushing power over the long term while costing less than $500?

2. Is there a recommended Canadian retailer for such a blender?

3. If a Blendtec/Vitamix really is the best answer for my needs, which model would you recommend? Vitamix in particular seems to have a lot of 'em.
posted by Shepherd to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Why don't you make nut butters in your food processor?
posted by coraline at 9:44 AM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: I'd actually recommend hitting up your local thrift stores. Lots of old appliances like blenders wind up at these places, and such things built in the 60s-80s tend to be absolute tanks compared to the stuff you see in big box stores today. I'm using a blender that's probably older than I am, and the thing's a beast. Loud as all get out, weighs about as much as a stack of bricks, but blends like a champ. Same goes for my stand mixer.

You also might check local retirement communities. Not nursing homes, mind you, retirement communities, i.e. places where retired people go to live when they get sick of maintaining their houses but expect to live for quite some time yet. A lot of these places have monthly/bi-monthly rummage sales where oldsters in the process of getting rid of a lifetime of stuff they don't need anymore can do so and get a few bucks for it. Same deal as the thrift stores: lots of heavy-duty appliances from back in the day when they made 'em to last.

If you're willing to be patient and spend some time at this, you can probably come up with a blender that costs you about $5-20 and will last longer than you will.
posted by valkyryn at 9:47 AM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: Ninja Blender.......It's....crazy cool.
posted by pearlybob at 9:49 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

What we do is use an immersion blender (cheap, reliable, very easy to clean) for smoothing out lumps in liquidy stuff like smoothies, soups, or milkshakes, and pull out the food processor for stickier or harder jobs where a huge motor is going to be required like ice crushing or nut butters. Depending on how often you make nut butters and other stuff requiring a huge and strong engine, a simple immersion blender might be perfect for handling the smaller, simpler stuff that you dread hauling out the big guns for.
posted by iminurmefi at 9:56 AM on January 5, 2012

I have a fairly mediocre Oster blender that I got at Target, and it's been blending ice and making almond flour (I don't make nut butters, but I assume that if I can grind almonds to flour I could make nut butters if I wanted to) just fine for several years. It's not that I wouldn't love a fancy, expensive blender, but I think there's some awfully rarefied assumptions sometimes in the cooking-review world about just what "acceptable" is.
posted by Frowner at 9:56 AM on January 5, 2012

Seconding PearlyBob, but I'd go with the Ninja Professional. I had some issues with the entry level model's motor, but I upgraded and love this. The link has some options on where to buy it. Amazon also has it - not sure about Canadian retail locations though.
posted by TravellingCari at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you investigated buying an actual ice-crusher and a separate nut-butter maker?
posted by Ardiril at 11:10 AM on January 5, 2012

Another vote for the Ninja. We've had ours about two years and use it frequently for lots of things and it's still going like a champ. We use the big pitcher most, but get a fair amount of use from the little container, too. I haven't made nut butter with it, but I have put nuts in it just to make pieces. I do still use my immersion blender for soups and sauces, and I pull out my big food processor for some big jobs, but the Ninja sits out on the counter because we use it so much. I got it on sale at Target for about $25, fearing it wouldn't last, but so far so good.
posted by upatree at 11:24 AM on January 5, 2012

Kitteh here (Shepherd's wife) --

To answer a few questions: Making nut butters is something we've recently become interested in (given the sometimes extortionate prices of nut butters up here) and while I've no qualms about using my precious food processor to do it, we've been wanting a good blender for a while now. I would like one strong enough to crush ice for cocktails and mocktails, making smoothies, etc.

I've seen the Ninja brand at Canadian Tire and thanks to smartphones pulled up reviews on them. They were less than stellar so unless they make them better in the US, looking at the model on display and reading the reviews didn't particularly sway me.

Also, we have an immersion blender I use for soups. Buying separate pieces of kit is no-win situation for smallish kitchen.

Carry on! I love reading your responses!
posted by Kitteh at 11:40 AM on January 5, 2012

I've seen the Ninja brand at Canadian Tire and thanks to smartphones pulled up reviews on them. They were less than stellar so unless they make them better in the US, looking at the model on display and reading the reviews didn't particularly sway me.

I'd suggest checking the dates on the reviews. The early model Ninja wasn't very good but, at least here in the US, there's a newer one that's much sturdier.
posted by TravellingCari at 12:30 PM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: I just got a Kitchenaid Blender for Christmas. Previously I had the Cuisinart Smart Power Duet, which was a bit underpowered for smoothies and ice crushing. I have only used the Kitchenaid twice, but I'm seriously impressed by its blending abilities. And it's a bit cheaper than those really high-end ones you're talking about.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 1:58 PM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: The Oster Beehive is the deal. You may want to get the blender kit with it which has a smaller container that makes chopping ice and grinding seeds or coffee some faster. I've had both for a couple of years and just sent one to my daughter. I like that it only has two speeds, looks groovy, has a 500 watt motor -- plenty of power -- and a price that can't be beat.
posted by partner at 2:46 PM on January 5, 2012

OK, this is the actual Oster model that I have.
posted by partner at 3:08 PM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: You want an Oster blender. My mom has had one for YEARS. I've had one for quite a while as well. I make a smoothie a day, usually with frozen fruit, ice, frozen bananas, etc. It's the "Oster 4093 Classic Beehive Blender, Silver" which amazon currently has for $60:

Oster Blender

Because the blade assembly is entirely removable & dishwasherable, if you happen to bend or break a blade (unlikely, but you never know) you can replace it. In fact, you can also buy a milkshake blade (!!!!!) that makes super frothy milkshake goodness. Why yes, I do love a chocolate milkshake every so often in the summer, why do you ask? ;)

I've broken pretty much every other brand of blender I've ever purchased, but the oster is pretty rock solid. Highly recommended.

posted by lyra4 at 4:19 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Whoops, I got so excited about those milkshakes that I forgot to unbold myself.
posted by lyra4 at 4:21 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: FWIW, we bought the $40 Oster blender that Consumer Reports rated second-best the last time they rated blenders (the first-rated was a Vitamix).

We destroyed it in less than a year of making green smoothies. Literally destroyed, as in metal parts shearing off rendering the blender useless.

We returned it and got a KitchenAid that cost three times as much. After three weeks of picking kale fibers out of my teeth we returned that one too and finally ponied up for a Vitamix.

I do not foresee ever needing to return the Vitamix. Needing to decide who to leave it to in my will, maybe, but not needing to return it.
posted by Lexica at 4:52 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I found a Vitamix at a thrift store, and I think it's from the 80s. We haven't thrown anything particularly demanding in it, but we do affectionately refer to it as Super Blender. They seem to show up on ebay.
posted by sepviva at 4:59 PM on January 5, 2012

I bought a Vitamix recently, while it's a bit better than my Old Oster Classic, I'd go for the Oster classic. The bottom is fixed on the Vitamix and cleaning nut butter would be a pain.
posted by jade east at 6:13 PM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: I absolutely love my VitaMix. They have it on QVC once a year as a daily special value (lasts through a weekend I think?). I got it extra cheap with my mom's employee discount, plus it came in installment payments. I can do anything with it. Just last night I used it to chop the veggies for jambalaya and it took all of 5 minutes to chop them AND clean it.

It is dishwasher safe so if you're making something like nut butter, you won't need to try to clean it by hand.

I really want to say its worth the investment. I am a college student and I decided it was worth the cost because of the money I would save by buying less meals out because of it.

Do you have Costcos where you live? Cuz VitaMix does shows there and they have the best price. Under $400 US. But definitely check eBay... They last forever, so if a seller says its in good shape, it probably works just fine.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:16 AM on January 6, 2012

We use our Oster 6629-BK for heavy grinding, though I have not specifically tried for ice crushing or nut buttering. I have used it many a times for makings smoothies and it works like charm. From our other uses at home, I am sure it can take a good load, got for $10 from JCP during thanksgiving of 2010 and still working as it was on day 1. Honestly, I am impressed by the power it delivers for the cost.

Only one disadvantage, the jar is made of plastic, which though durable, I prefer metal jar (I can't expect it for the price though)
posted by zaxour at 6:30 AM on January 6, 2012

Response by poster: I think there's been a household sea change where we're going to stick to nut butters in the food processor; thanks for all the input so far!
posted by Shepherd at 7:42 AM on January 6, 2012

Back to Basics combination blender/food processor/smoothie maker is awesome. Used to be sold in Kmart.

I burnt out the motor on the first one, but since I ignored the overheating smells (and really was pushing it unreasonably), I immediately bought another. About 5 yrs later, I still love it.

An over-temperature resettable fuze would be a design improvement, obviously. Which Vitamix has, incidentally.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:25 AM on January 6, 2012

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