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Picking the Right Stand Mixer

Tuesday November 12, 2019
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Are you thinking about buying a stand mixer to stir a little yeast into a flat kitchen experience? If so, you've probably noticed that there are a lot of products out there under the stand mixer heading, yet they perform in different ways and vary significantly in price. Take a deep breath and imagine the smell of fresh cinnamon rolls. Ummm. The following is a straightforward buyer's guide produced by professionals who have used all of the leading models in a variety of applications. Having read this article, picking out the right mixer will be a piece of cake.

Stand mixers won't make the cake for you  but they will make it easier.
Stand mixers won't make the cake for you, but they will make it easier.

Step 1: Do You Really Need a Stand Mixer?


Far be it from us to tell you what you do and don't need in your kitchen. However, the following are some practical considerations that you'll want to take into account before investing in a stand mixer. After all, they are expensive, bulky machines that will be a bother — rather than a boon — if unused.

You'll often hear that frequency of use is the crucial factor in establishing a need for a stand mixer. Some go so far as to say that if you're not using your mixer at least once a week then you don't need one. We disagree. Certainly, if you buy one of these machines you'll want to put it to use. However, frequency isn't the only way to look at the question of need. We would encourage you to take volume into account as well. So, if you host an annual holiday cookie baking extravaganza or something along those lines, we think that infrequent, high-volume use warrants having one of these workhorses in the house.

Standing mixers are great for production baking.
Standing mixers are great for production baking.

While volume and frequency are primary considerations, the technical difficulty of producing the foods that interest you is part of the equation as well. Baking, in particular, can be quite challenging as it requires specialized knowledge, skills, and tools that are less common in home kitchens. If you're interested in baking and you're looking at stand mixers, you've likely made a few cakes or some bread, and you recognize the benefit that a mixer can provide. Technical challenges aside, baking is both time consuming and physically demanding; two problems that are mitigated by a stand mixer.

Another way to look at whether you're current (or future) activities warrant the use of a mixer is multi-tasking. If you host regular dinner parties and you're trying to do several tasks at once, a mixer is a fantastic assistant as it never complains, never gets tired, and always shows up on time. So, whether you're mixing dough for tortillas, whipping up dressing for your coleslaw, or making mousse for dessert, a mixer will free you up to do something else while it does the manual labor.

Mixing raw ingredients into dough is easy with the mechanical advantage provided by a mixer.
Mixing raw ingredients into dough is easy with the mechanical advantage provided by a mixer.

Step 2: How Much is a Stand Mixer Worth to You?


At some point, most folks have to ask themselves is this product worth the money? This isn't a question of whether the products are of good quality and are priced appropriately. Rather, this is a question of whether the problems solved and the satisfaction derived by using the product outweigh the dent in one's pocketbook. Stand mixers run the gamut in prices from less than fifty to more than six-hundred and fifty bucks. With few exceptions, the more you want to do with your stand mixer, the more you'll have to pay. In general, as the volume of the bowl increases, so too does the price. As you consider how much a stand mixer is worth to you, think about the scenarios posed in Step 1. In the following section, the styles and sizes of mixers available are discussed. With that understanding, the associated cost and what you're getting for your money will become more clear.

Step 3: Know Your Options - Types and Sizes of Stand Mixers


If you've been cruising the internet reading about stand mixers, you might have gotten the impression that these machines are primarily for bakers. This is not the case. However, for reasons that we'll go into shortly, people often talk about baking because of the demands dough puts on these machines. That said, mixers offer benefits that range from whipping dips and salad dressings, to mixing meatloaf, to mashing potatoes, to name just a few. So, if baking isn't at the top of your list, that's fine. In fact, it may save you some money.

As has been said, mixing and kneading dough is the most demanding task that these machines can tackle. The density of dough puts a great deal of strain on the motor, gears, and componentry driving the dough hook or paddle. As such, the motor has to be more powerful, and the gears and components more durable; especially so with larger bowl sizes. That is why the mixers that can handle kneading dough regularly are the most expensive. With this understanding, let's look at the different types or styles of stand mixers.

Stand mixer types and their anatomy
Stand mixer types and their anatomy

Most mixers come with a dough hook, a wire whip (or two), and a flat beater. However, the way in which these machines use these attachments can differ significantly. There are three main methods to accomplish this end. The first, and most common, is planetary mixing wherein the mixer attachment spins on its axis in one direction while revolving around the bowl in the opposite. It's very effective.

The next is the triple whip. This method is used by the open-top mixers that have a central drive shaft. When the central shaft is mounted with twin wire whips that spin on their axes while rotating around the bowl, the mixing action is triplicated. This is an effective mixing method for some tasks but is much more limited than the planetary method.

Finally, there is the beater mixing method. You may recall the handheld mixers that utilize twin, four-wire beaters mounted on shafts that spin in opposition to one another. Licking batter from these was a childhood treat for many. As Bart Simpson found out the hard way, you'll want to detach the beaters from the machine before indulging. Anyway, beater mixers are a stand-mounted version of the classic handheld kitchen tool.

Tilt-head


Regardless of how the mixing occurs, the tilt-head is by far the most common body design. As the name implies, the "head" of the machine housing the motor tilts back on the "neck", lifting the mixer attachment(s) from the bowl. We have heard some complaints that when you want to add ingredients to the bowl you have to stop the mixing and tilt the head back to gain access. While there is some truth to this when adding large quantities of dry ingredients, we have found that slowing the machine down does much to mitigate this problem.

The aptly named tilt-head design.
The aptly named tilt-head design.

Bowl-lift


The bowl-lift is the gold standard for mixers. These machines are modeled on the professional, high-volume mixers found in many restaurant kitchens. Instead of dropping the mixer head down into the bowl as with the tilt-head, the bowl is raised into contact with the mixer attachment with a crank. Like the tilt-head, the motor is housed in the head of the machine, and as a result, bowl-lift mixers also obstruct access to the bowl when it is in operation. If you see a mixer is a bowl-lift, you can bet it means business. This style offers a great deal of adjustability, and thus manipulation of the mixing process. For example, one can heat or cool the bowl from below while mixing. The prior option is great for candy and the later for puff pastries.

One-handed operation is a critical aspect of the ease of use assessment. This bowl-lift machine can be wholly operated with a single hand  a nice touch for busy kitchens.
One-handed operation is a critical aspect of the ease of use assessment. This bowl-lift machine can be wholly operated with a single hand, a nice touch for busy kitchens.

Open-Top


The open-top machines stand apart from the rest of the stand mixers on the market. Not only do they look different, their operation is unique as well. These machines house the motor in the base of the machine, and, in one case, a secondary motor is siloed on the side of the base for aftermarket attachments. Some have fixed bowls in which the mixing is done, while others rotate the mixing bowl and have a fixed roller arm. Regardless of the mixing method, these mixers have an open-top that seemingly solves the problem of adding ingredients while the mixer is running. However, we found that both the central driveshaft and roller arm models partially obstruct the bowl. This issue is increased if a splash guard is in place. That said, the open-top mixers certainly provide the best line of sight, if not physical access, to the bowl while actively mixing. In general, the open-top mixers are among the largest volume and, by necessity, the most powerful mixers.

The open-top design make adding ingredients a cinch.
The open-top design make adding ingredients a cinch.

Step 4: Attachments, Accessories and Color Options


Up to this point we have discussed the practical reasons to buy a stand mixer, what a stand mixer's benefits are worth, and, given the cost, what types of stand mixers fulfill these needs. If you've read this far, then you've probably decided that there is a stand mixer in your future. If you're like the author, having decided on volume and general design, it all comes down to the details of aftermarket attachments, accessories, and color.

Let's talk attachments first. With few exceptions, these machines have accessory hubs that allow the user to connect an attachment — such as a pasta roller or blender — to the motor. This feature makes an already versatile machine almost unlimited in its capabilities. We do not advise buying a mixer for its attachments alone. However, if the mixer fits your needs and budget as well as having attachments you'd like to invest in, then it is an awesome bonus. That said, the models that have the motor in the head of the unit (opposed to the base) are more simplistic and straightforward to use as they require no reconfiguration of the machine and less additional parts.

Dough hook (L) and flat beater (R) are standard attachments on the majority of mixer models.
Dough hook (L) and flat beater (R) are standard attachments on the majority of mixer models.

Aside from the plethora of attachments, the other accessories are primarily limited to a variety of bowl options and additional mixing attachments. Depending on the manufacturer, these bowls can be plastic, metal, glass, or ceramic. Additionally, they can be pitcher style or designed to be better suited to whisking.

At the bottom of the list are the color options. As with accessories and attachments, color options should be a low rank deciding factor. However, if everything else is lining up, consider the color of the machine. Generally speaking, one should be able to match a mixer to any kitchen decor. However, as the higher-end mixers should be considered a lifetime purchase, it might be prudent to think in terms of classic colors.


Conclusion


We've covered a lot of ground in the course of this buying advice article. To recap, think about how a stand mixer will be used in your kitchen. Will it be used frequently to ease your workload or for production bouts like holiday cookie bake-offs? Are you trying to up your game on some complicated recipes, or do you just need a helping hand when preparing for dinner parties? Next, think about how much the conveniences you seek are worth. Stand mixers are expensive, but when put to work, worth the money. Finally, know your options. There are many mixer styles and sizes, and they all have a preferred function. The last concern when shopping for stand mixers should be the accessories and the color. Given this advice, we hope that you have found this article useful and informative. For information on specific models, please check out our comprehensive Stand Mixer review.


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