A stand mixer may be the home cook’s best friend. Whether you bake for pleasure, or feel like you need a team of elves to keep up with the endless school bake sales and holiday madness, a stand mixer’s appeal is simple: It does most of the work for you, and does it much faster than you could by hand, or even with a portable mixer. Stand mixers can finish off time-consuming steps like beating egg whites or whipping cream in a flash, or put a family-size batch of mashed potatoes on the dinner table in mere minutes. Also, unlike portable mixers, powerful stand mixers can take on heavy-duty chores like blending flour into stiff cookie dough and kneading bread. Pronto’s Stand Mixer Buying Guide will help you choose the best stand mixer for your needs and budget, whether you’re a novice cupcake-baker or a serious home chef (see also Hand Mixer Buying Guide, Blender Buying Guide, Food Processor Buying Guide).
Two-way “planetary action,” in which a single beater spins on its axis while rotating around a stationary bowl, delivers the best and fastest results, especially on heavier doughs, like cookies and breads. The traditional pair of interlocking stationary beaters found on inexpensive stand mixers (usually with a rotating bowl) will do for light-duty tasks, but not serious baking.
Don’t get caught up in a numbers game – manufacturers like to tout high wattage and lots of speeds, but tests and reviews show these have little to do with stand mixer performance. The number of cups of flour a stand mixer can handle is a better indicator of effective power, and more than 6 speeds is a bonus that probably won’t noticeably affect results.
Look for a stand mixer with a flat beater for stirring, a wire whisk for whipping, and a C-shaped dough hook for bread kneading. Models that come only with a pair of stationary beaters will be less effective. Some mid-to-high end models offer optional accessories like juicers, meat grinders, or pasta makers that can turn a stand mixer into an all-in-one kitchen machine for a dedicated cook.
Stand mixers often weigh 20 pounds or more. Heavier mixers are more powerful, durable, and stable, but are challenging to move from countertop to cabinet for storage. A good solution is to store your stand mixer on a counter under a cabinet, but measure carefully to make sure it will fit. Mixer bowl capacity ranges from 1 to 7 quarts, with 4 to 6 quarts as the ideal range for most cooks.
Stand mixers often stay in full view on countertops. Once you’ve settled on the features and performance you need, consider which model will coordinate best with your kitchen décor. Stand mixers are available in dozens of colors, and a range of styles that will compliment classic, retro, and modern kitchens. You may find you love the way your stand mixer looks almost as much as you love how hard it works.
A C-shaped attachment specifically designed for kneading bread doughs. Dough hooks are usually standard equipment on better-quality stand mixers that use planetary action. Some mixers that use stationary beaters come with a pair of corkscrew-shaped dough hooks, but these aren’t as effective.
Stand mixers using planetary action have a single beater which both spins on its own axis and orbits around a bowl that’s locked in place – a lot like the way planets move around the sun. Planetary action makes the quickest work of blending and creaming tasks, and since the beater makes close contact with the bowl’s surface, you won’t waste time scraping down your ingredients.
The traditional pair of spinning, interlocking beaters seen on hand mixers, usually paired on budget stand mixers with a rotating bowl. Stationary beaters can manage simple tasks, but heavy bread or cookie doughs may clog them up or stop the bowl from rotating. Since the beaters can’t reach the entire bowl, you’ll need to scrape down often.
A measure of the power of a stand mixer’s motor, with models offering anywhere from 200 to over 1000 watts. An important caveat – most tests have shown no link between wattage and performance, finding overall design the key to good results.
A cage-shaped attachment made of strands of flexible wire, designed to whip air into cream, egg whites, or light batters. Whisks usually come standard with better-quality stand mixers.
Most stand mixers share the same basic setup - a mixer head mounted on a base that holds the mixing bowl. The head tilts up or lifts with a lever so you can attach or remove the beater(s). But all beaters are not created equal.
Budget stand mixers often use the familiar pair of stationary, interlocking beaters seen on hand mixers, with a rotating bowl. If you’re an occasional baker, this type of stand mixer can get light tasks done at a bargain price, but be warned – it will likely struggle with stiff cookie or bread dough. The beaters can get too clogged to spin, and the bowl may stop turning. Also, since the beaters can’t reach the bowl’s edges, you’ll be scraping down the sides frequently.
The best choice for most buyers is a stand mixer with “planetary mixing action.” In this design a single flat beater (or other attachment) moves the way a planet orbits the sun – simultaneously spinning on its own axis and traveling a circular path around the bowl. This motion creates more contact between beater and ingredients, acing tasks like creaming butter or blending flour into dough in record time. Another time saver - the beater makes it to every part of the bowl, so you seldom need to scrape it down.
Are you going to use your stand mixer frequently for tough jobs like bread kneading? If so, you’ll want a powerful model, but determining power can be confusing. Stand mixer motors are rated in watts. Different mixers offer anywhere from 200 to over 1000 watts of power. But don’t be too impressed by a high wattage rating – it’s mainly a marketing gimmick. Stand mixer tests and reviews consistently show little correlation between wattage and performance. One helpful measure of a stand mixer’s true power is the number of cups of flour it can handle. KitchenAid has a “Flour Power” rating in their stand mixer descriptions, ranging from 8 to14 cups depending on the model. A bread enthusiast should choose a stand mixer that can tame 10 or more cups.
Speeds are another case where you shouldn’t get hung up on numbers. Stand mixers offer anywhere from 3 to 15 speeds, which are adjusted with dials, slide levers, push buttons, or digital touch pads. Slow speeds incorporate dry ingredients without flinging them out of the bowl; the fastest speeds are used to whip cream or egg whites. You’ll want to choose a stand mixer with at least 5 or 6 variations for the best control, but more, while they certainly won’t hurt, won’t affect performance much.
Budget stand mixers may come with a pair of standard chrome or stainless stationary beaters, and not much else. They’ll do the trick on simple batters, but if breads, cookies, and meringues are part of your baking routine, you’ll get better results if you have the right tools for the job. That’s where attachments come in. Opt for a planetary action stand mixer that comes outfitted with a flat beater for efficient stirring/blending, a wire whisk for whipping tasks, and a dough hook tailored for kneading bread. Some stand mixers also come with a splash guard, a pouring chute for adding ingredients, or a very handy second mixing bowl.
Serious cooks should check out mid-to-high-end stand mixers that can accept a myriad of optional attachments. Accessories like juicers, meat grinders, grain mills, pasta makers, sausage stuffers, can openers and shredders can convert a stand mixer into a multi-purpose kitchen workhorse. Of course these extras will boost cost, so carefully consider which ones you’ll actually use.
Stand mixers are hefty items, many weighing well over 20 pounds. A heavier all-metal mixer will be more durable than a lightweight, partially plastic model, and also more stable – less likely to “walk” across your counter during mixing. A lighter model may need a hand to steady it occasionally – not ideal if “hands-free” mixing is your goal. However, if you’re planning to stow your stand mixer in a cabinet between uses, lighter can have advantages. Be realistic about how many pounds you can comfortably lift and maneuver.
Many cooks skip the lifting and make their stand mixer a permanent fixture on their countertop. If that’s your plan, consider height as well. If the mixer will live under a cabinet, make sure you have sufficient clearance, including enough extra room to tilt the head up.
The other size issue to consider is capacity. Stand mixer bowls hold anywhere from 1 ½ to 7 quarts. 4 to 6 quarts should be plenty for most cooks. If you need to feed a dozen hungry people or make double batches of bread, you can choose a super size 7-quart bowl, but these can be very tall and hard to scrape down, and may be too big when you just need to beat a couple eggs. Some stand mixers come with two bowls of different sizes, letting you pick the best size for the task at hand.
There’s a good chance your stand mixer is going to stay on your countertop, where you’ll see it every day. Luckily, these machines are often as decorative as they are functional. Performance is crucial, but once you’ve identified the features that are right for you, don’t be shy about considering looks too. Long gone are the days when a plain white stand mixer was your only choice. KitchenAid offers classic styling in a rainbow of over 20 hues like Almond Cream, Green Apple, and Bing Cherry. Other stand mixer manufacturers have followed suit, so even in the budget range, you’ll find a selection of colors.
If classic isn’t quite you, Hamilton Beach and Sunbeam offer stand mixers with retro appeal, and DeLonghi’s design has a sleek modern edge. Great styling that coordinates with your kitchen will give you one more reason to love your stand mixer.