Home: Mix Masters

Every good scientist needs an unwavering control variable. As I stand before the spread in front of me, I decide that mine shall be ice. Because whole cubes are rock-hard and nasty on the blades, crushing ice is the true test of a blender’s strength and durability. Bulk-size bags of it, along with tubs of vanilla yogurt, orange juice, berries and wheat germ await the seven blenders before me. It’s smoothie time.

Blending the perfect smoothie is not as easy as it sounds. To do it right requires not only ice-crushing but also liquefying fruit and evenly distributing wheat germ. Pairing my sharp culinary instincts with a little help from the back of the Dannon nonfat vanilla yogurt tub, I set out with a testing recipe to determine which of these blenders deserve that coveted place behind the bar.

Viking Professional Blender

Mixing technology has certainly come a long way since the whisk. Cyclonic Blending Action fuels the Viking Pro — a high-torque, commercial-grade motor rapidly circulating fluid within the blender vessel for more effective mixing. Or in other words, it blends stuff. There are only two numbered speeds — one for batters and milkshakes; another for soups and dips. I hazard a guess and start with Speed 2 for the ice. After 25 seconds, it was crushed, although two large chunks managed to survive the Cyclonic blending. I add the rest of the ingredients and switch to Speed 1. After 15 seconds, I have a nicely blended smoothie with some largish fruit chunks, which is certainly not the end of the drinking world. But it did take longer than usual to get there. ★★★

KitchenAid 5-Speed Ultra Power Blender

This blender uses the Step Start system, beginning at a lower speed (to prevent splattering) and gradually ramping up to maximum power with each button you press. Also, the instruction booklet includes a speed control guide to explain which setting should be used with different food items, and a vast array of recipes, from vinaigrettes to pumpkin waffles. Up to 14 cubes of ice can be crushed on any of the five speeds, with or without liquid. Though the glass pitcher is heavy and scratch- and stain-resistant, I am nearly sweating by the time I pry the lid off (it is supposed to get more flexible with time). Using “chop” for 10-12 seconds crushed the lone ice very nicely into fine, equal-sized pieces, but not 100 percent of it. Fifteen seconds with all the ingredients on “mix” did not completely take care of the fruit chunks, but 10 more on “liquefy” did make it smoother. Maybe it is the Step Start system; all I know is that I’ve just downed another smoothie. ★★★

Jenn-Air Attrezzi Blender

This blender is by far the prettiest of the bunch. Its 72-ounce, bulb-shaped pitcher is lovely enough to stay on your table, and comes in several different colors and designs like Amber Tortoise and Etched Coffee. Six settings range from “stir” to “ice crush,” and a “pulse” button can be pressed during any of these speeds to add an extra oompf of power. “Crush” works in bursts, and in a quick five of them, my ice turns into snow. Adding the rest of the ingredients and pressing “liquefy” for another 10 seconds does just that, and I am left with a perfectly blended smoothie. If you like your smoothies thick and milkshake-y, you might want to choose another setting or add a different ratio of ingredients, but either way, this blender gets the job done. (Scientist’s note: If this model strikes you as the blender of your dreams, it’d be best to buy now — the Attrezzi is only available while supplies last.) ★★★★

Oster Blue Chill Freezer Jar

Earlier this morning, I placed the Oster blender jar upright in my freezer. As promised, it froze after about three hours. Using the frosty pitcher is supposed to keep drinks cold (not frozen) for up to six hours. It’s designed to fit on any Oster blender base, and I am using the Classic Beehive base, which has just two speeds, high and low (some Oster bases have up to 14). After about 10 seconds, the result is mixed: I open the lid to find completely powdered ice, plus three full cubes. Another 10 seconds, and those chunks were still there. I give up and add the rest of the ingredients, continue to blend on “high,” and 10 seconds later have a core of nicely blended smoothie, surrounded by unmixed ingredients — yogurt, juice, wheat germ and berry chunks. When I poured it in a glass, it was thick, like a milkshake, but had a strange watery layer on top. It did earn some brownie points, though: six hours later, I stuck my finger into the jar to find a still-chilly concoction. Promise kept. ★★★

Waring Pro Tailgater Blender

Had I known about the Waring Pro Tailgater blender during my college years, my pre-football parties would have been an entirely different scene. This 48-ounce (good for crowds) plastic-and-rubber (good for travel) blender has a 15-foot cord and a plug that fits into any 12-volt cigarette lighter in cars, SUVs and boats. Careful to open the garage door and avoid asphyxiating myself, I plug the ingredient-filled Waring into my car and prepare to mix up some drinks tailgate-style. I turn it on — this is one of only two settings; off is the other — and stop in 20 seconds to find the pitcher still full of ice and berry chunks. Twenty more seconds made a difference, though I still had to do some chewing before I could do any swallowing. But for making margaritas at pre-game festivities? It’s definitely worth the trunk space. ★★★

Westinghouse Intelliblend

The Westinghouse Intelliblend claims to be “The blender with a brain,” and it actually may be smarter than me. With more than 400 pre-programmed stored recipes for cocktails, food and soup, this blender threatens to replace mothers and grandmothers everywhere — not to mention bartenders. Ten seconds on “ice crush” is all it takes for everything inside the 48-ounce, scratch- and stain-resistant glass pitcher to be pulverized and blended evenly — save one renegade swipe of vanilla yogurt along the side. But I’m willing to overlook that; I’m already hooked. ★★★★