Folks often save up a fund for vehicles, vacations, and home remodels.
Real foodies are crazy enough to have funds saved up for kitchen tools: Dehydrators, grain mills, and high-powered blenders seem to top the list of what I like to refer to as “small appliances that cost as much as large appliances.”
I have a dehydrator.
A few years back I started pining for a high-powered blender, so I wrote to Vitamix and Blendtec with a cool multi-blogger idea for a big comparison review. No one wanted to work with the team I’d pulled together.
Phooey badooey on that!
The high-powered blender remained just in the on-deck circle of my gift wish list. I wasn’t even adding it because (a) they’re so expensive and (b) I really wasn’t sure which one I wanted.
Which High Powered Blender is Best? Blendtec or Vitamix?
It sounded like the Vitamix and Blendtec, the two frontrunners in the field, were very similar in performance from the few reviews and notes I read, just as I came across them from bloggers.
The biggest drawback many listed was that the Vitamix would be too tall to fit under a standard cupboard, and that was a HUGE deterrent for me! I didn’t know where I’d store it if not on the counter – or if I’d avoid it if I had to stash it somewhere out of the way.
So every time I smelled burning when making smoothies with lots of frozen fruit in the blender I bought for $7 at a garage sale, I felt the yen.
Last spring, I pondered on Facebook “Vitamix or Blendtec?” and got 74 comments worth of advice. A few other machines got some votes, too, including:
- Waring Pro (although now I’m not sure if the commenter meant that one for over $300 or the Food and Beverage Blender for around $100)
- The Ninja, with mixed reviews, which runs around $160 right now
- The Healthmaster, which runs around $200
- Some gave props to “normal” blenders like KitchenAid, Farberware, and Hamilton Beach.
Needless to say, when I got a two-line email from Blendtec in August asking if I’d like to review one of their blenders, I rubbed my eyes pretty hard, squinted at the screen, and wondered if someone was playing a joke on me.
When I checked on the retail value of the Blendtec – over $450 for the base plus another $120 for the special “Twister” jar – I really wondered what I would be getting myself into!
But of course, I had to say yes to the offer.
In spite of my excitement, it still took me at least three weeks to find time to open the box and read the instructions. Life is just so busy, and I actually get a bit intimidated by any new appliance.
Blendtec’s First Day
On the Blendtec’s first day out of the box in the Kimball house, I was able to wash it in 30 seconds (cool!) and used it FOUR TIMES:
- Bread crumbs with buckwheaties for zucchini crisps – no easier or faster than my mini chopper though, maybe slower because it is too big for a small job.
- Soup from package insert – pretty darn cool to watch it go, even a whole carrot and red pepper slice were blended right up – but there was something (serious) about the soup that no one in the family liked. Maybe just that it was raw was too weird for us. DH said it was too “frothy” in texture, and that is true. I did add a few leaves of bok choy, so hopefully that wasn’t the downfall. Everyone ignored the leftovers, which separated in the jar. I finally heated them up but couldn’t enjoy a bowl.
- “Ice cream” with bananas, milk, ice, vanilla, honey, another recipe from the Blendtec book – Holy cow yummy. But. It took two times on ice cream cycle to really get the little ice balls out of there. How come?
- Butternut spice bars from my own Healthy Snacks to Go – whizzed them up and poured them out. Nice and easy (but nothing a blender couldn’t do).
The wash instructions, by the way, are to put about a cup of hot water plus a drop of dishsoap in and run a cycle. It “washes itself” that way, and you just rinse it out. (In theory at least.)
What About Smoothies?
In blender conversation, it seems many people would like to have a high-powered blender for smoothie-making capabilities. I like to cram mine full of frozen fruit for green smoothies, and that has been a problem for my basic blender. (Now truly, if I would just add more liquid, it would probably be fine. I can blend the greens up completely by just running it for at least a minute with just the liquid and the greens, before adding anything else.)
When we got the Blendtec, I couldn’t wait. I was going to do a whole week of smoothies from Nourishing Meals for breakfast…and in reality, I managed a few new recipes during a week’s time. I took notes about the Blendtec’s smoothie performance, which went something like this:
In making smoothies, the Blendtec hasn’t blended perfectly on the first cycle. There’s some chunkiness. I made a really bad-tasting one and added 6 dates to the liquid after the fact, and it didn’t chop them up even after I used the arrows [to manually make the power level increase for an amount of time I thought might be sufficient] and then for a whole “smoothie” cycle. The dates were still in huge pieces.
With a lot of frozen fruit, even though there’s liquid in there, sometimes it seems as though the blades are working on the food on the bottom only, so they’re simply not touching enough food and missing some of the chunks that are on the top. I guess I didn’t expect to ever have to open the lid and scrape food down and around in a machine this powerful expensive.
And another day:
It is amazing how well the blender does on smoothies . They’re totally blended without question, much thinner than a regular blender when finished. I almost miss that ice cream consistency, but not the 5 times I’d have to stop the blender and push things down…
How Does a Blendtec Work?
I always wondered what would make these high-powered blenders better than the under-$100 “normal” blender competition.
First, the Blendtec has a super high-powered motor, so it simply moves faster. It’s got 1560 watts of power, which is double and more that of some other “powerful” blenders and slightly more than the Ninja, which rings in at 1100 watts.
Second, the Blendtec has a very wide, square jar and one sturdy 4-inch blade, which is supposed to move food around a bit better, more like a food processor in some ways.
Which leads me to my first and greatest disappointment with the Blendtec. I had always assumed that a high-powered blender, based on what I felt others were saying about them, would be able to replace both my blender and my food processor.
I quickly realized that there was no way for the Blendtec to shred or slice, two functions I adore in my food processor.
Besides that, I didn’t think the Blendtec was as efficient for some favorite food processor recipes, like black bean dip and homemade Larabar style bars.
Functionally, the Blendtec is much like the blender we got for our wedding which we loved, but it died after about 5 years. It was a $70 Oster, and it had cool function buttons for grinding nuts, baby food, smoothies, etc. The Blendtec is similar. Its “blend cycle” buttons include:
- ice cream, frozen yogurt
- whole juice
- soups, syrups, fondues
- sauces, dips, dressings, batters
- ice crush, milkshake
I can’t say I’ve used all of them, but I think they’re a good idea, because the blender will vary its speed nicely to really get everything incorporated into the mixture as it blends.
The extra “Twister Jar” (for $120) is designed for less-liquid applications like hummus, baby food, frozen foods without liquid, nut butters. It has a special lid with scrapers that go down the sides of the jar and move the food toward the blade while you’re blending. You’re supposed to manually rotate the whole lid counterclockwise when the machine is on. The jar is quite a bit smaller than the other jar.
On my version, which is the more basic model (the designer series has a lit touchpad), I have buttons for each of those blend cycles, plus an arrow UP and DOWN to manually choose from speeds 1-10.
Let me tell you, 10 is something serious. It’s SO loud and fast, it makes the baby (who used to like big noise machines before we got this one) cry, and the 4yo go running. The adults cringe. I feel like it’s going to take flight and perhaps levitate off the counter, causing a grand mess.
The last button is the “pulse” button, which does what you expect.
Did you notice what’s missing? There’s no stop button.
I’m sorry, but I can’t even sugarcoat that.
You push “pulse” to stop the blender.
A blender that looks like it might take flight.
And there’s no obvious, red, marked button for STOP.
It’s not only not intuitive to use “pulse” for “stop,” it’s counter-intuitive. And dumb. And maybe dangerous.
General Likes and Dislikes on the Blendtec
What I liked…
- Has an on/off switch so it can be plugged in and not on, although I don’t use that functionality.
- Makes a hands-off smoothie for the most part, so that definitely saves a few minutes in the a.m. versus my old blender which needed lots of stirring and attention.
- The fake-o “ice cream” made of just bananas is wonderful. I do think my regular blender and food processor would have trouble with that – a side-by-side race has been on my list for many weeks now, but I haven’t found/made the time. And now I’m out of frozen bananas because I did make the time to pit the Blendtec vs. a Vitamix at my friend’s house the other day…
What I didn’t like…
- NO stop button! Seriously?! [EDIT: You can actually push any button to make it stop, but it’s still counterintuitive for those who are rule-followers and not just button-jabbers. The new keypad may have a stop?]
- Very, very loud.
- You can’t take it apart to wash it. The blade is permanently attached to the housing, so the only way to get little chunks out that might be glued to the bottom, if it doesn’t come out when you whiz some soapy water around, is to dig it out with a spatula or your hands. Difficult. Annoying. Time-consuming.
- Not recommended for the dishwasher.
- Made of plastic! My husband saw the container(s) and immediately said, “That thing is $500 and it’s made of plastic? How much did you spend on our glass blender?” (A: $7.) Sure, it’s BPA-free, but for longevity and overall safety, I always prefer glass. Plus, I like to be able to soak things right in the blender overnight, and the Blendtec says not to. I don’t love soaking in plastic, anyway.
- Takes a long time to get up to speed 7, which is often used for nut butters or flour grinding. You really have to push the keypad buttons quite hard, and you can’t go in rapid succession like I’d like to when trying to get up to speed. [EDIT: not sure what the new keypad does.]
- The Blendtec does have a tendency to throw food high up the sides and then it doesn’t come back down, so there’s often a need to scrape.
- When I air dry it, it always looks dirty. Always.
- No pour spout. It’s messy, and considering it’s a blender, made for liquids, I thought that was odd. Ironically, the Twister Jar, which is made for more solid things, does have a pour spout, which actually allows liquids to splash out while it’s running.
- It can’t actually replace my food processor. I look at the Ninja, and it has 4 or 5 different jars for under $200, including a food processor and slicing/shredding attachments.
One thing that swings both ways…
- Easy to wash with liquids– except for what doesn’t come out with the whizzing wash as described earlier in the post, which is anything on the edges of the lid and the very top of the jar, plus thick stuff like hummus, nut butters, and date/nut blends.
What Else Did you Make?
Believe me, we’ve run the Blendtec through quite a bit. I’d say about half the stuff I made could easily be made in my regular blender or food processor, another fourth do fine in the normal machines but were justifiably easier in the high-powered dealie, and the last fourth really need the powerful model.
This is the fake-o pudding with an avocado, cocoa powder, and honey. It’s easy to make in a food processor and went awesome in the twister jar.
2. raw applesauce
I used the twister jar – at first I was trying to do it myself with the speeds, up to 4 and 5, then down lower, then back up. It took a while and wasn’t perfect.
I finally tried the “sauces” button, and it does pretty well. Sometimes it needs to run twice though. Twisting has to be a bit more back and forth than just counterclockwise. The Twister Jar only holds two large apples, quartered. Disappointing there. Sometimes sauce squirts out the pour spout while twisting. It’s weird that it’s made more for thick stuff and NOT liquids and yet there’s a pour spout.
3. black bean spread
This is from Real Food…Real Easy! and is much like hummus in preparation. I used the regular WildSide Blendtec jar, because 4 cups beans is too much for the Twister, and I think the big Blendtec should be able to do stuff like this without a $120 add-on! Here’s why I’d rather have a food processor:
- I think the food processor does it more smoothly and with equal or less tamping down with a spatula to make sure all the beans get incorporated.
- It’s far easier to get things out of the food processor since you can tip the blade right out.
A number of folks on the Blendtec giveaway are saying they’d like to make hummus with it. Seriously, just get a food processor – any inexpensive one will probably do!
4. almond flour crackers
I tried these, which I have made in the food processor before, in the wild side jar. It did grind flax okay, but the coffee grinder is faster and more even. There are some pieces that get missed, get thrown too high and can’t fall back down, etc.
It made dough acceptably, but nothing better than my food processor. It’s actually kind of hard to get dough out, unlike a food processor when you can just take the blade out. I don’t like scraping way down in there.
Our Bottom Line so Far…
My husband says, for as expensive as it is – that’s a small house payment right there, or the price of an entire dishwasher or washing machine – it should be perfection. I should never be disgruntled with its performance or uneven chopping.
Perhaps you can guess how I feel about the Blendtec so far?
I’m left with some questions:
- What needs might someone have that would require a high-powered blender?
- Is it worth the high price?
- Is the Blendtec the best choice, or are there other brands that either perform better, are more versatile, or are less expensive?
In part two of the review, I’ll share about our little visit and race with the Vitamix, and part three covers trying the Blendtec for wheat flour, nut butters, and the question of who might “need” a high-powered blender.
UPDATE 2016: We are still using our Blendtec, and quite often, and most of the time I’m happy I have it. I was super excited to hear in this comment (which also has some great review points) that the price is down more like $200 now! That makes a LOT of difference in my expectations. It probably doesn’t have to be “perfection” anymore. It makes smoothies much, much faster than a normal blender (but still leaves some chunks of frozen things, which my son calls “hidden treasures” and loves). I was pretty hard on the Blendtec in these reviews…and I still wish for a tamper sometimes…but since the price has come down so much I might tell more people to go out and buy one!
Do you have experience with high-powered blenders? What do you think?