Alongside a top-of-the-line blender, a stand mixer might be one of the most important countertop appliances you can buy. But as an investment that should last years (if not decades) and with price tags into the hundreds of dollars, you’ll want to be absolutely certain you’re making the right choice. Today we’ll talk about a number of considerations you’ll want to make before taking the plunge on a new stand mixer. Read on below, or if you’re all ready to pick out the newest addition to your kitchen, check out our article full of stand mixer options that are perfect for you!
Choosing a Top Stand Mixer
Reading a spec sheet on each of your preferred options is a great start, but the unfortunate truth is that the devil is in the details, and far too often a mixer that seems like it should do a great job at an unbeatable price ends up being a total letdown. Let’s investigate what you need to look at, and how to interpret the information.
Not just for hot rod enthusiasts anymore, more power is pretty much always a good thing when it comes to mixing, especially if you’re planning on working with tough, sticky dough that takes a lot of force to work through. The natural instinct might be to look at the wattage of the stand mixer in question and decide, more power is better, so more watts must be better, right? While such thinking makes intuitive sense, it’s sadly not quite right, and the reason is that wattage tells you how much power the motor draws, but not how much it actually delivers.
For some mixers (typically the higher end and/or commercial-grade machines), power is rated in horsepower. Measured at the business end of the machine (i.e., actually telling you how much power is delivered to mix the dough), this is a much more useful measurement, but not always available. For consumer-grade mixers without this information, the best you can do is opt for higher wattage while maintaining a healthy skepticism. Reputable brands are likely to have better efficiency (thus delivering the power they draw), while unknown brands are more likely to have cut corners (thereby explaining their cheaper prices).
Planetary action refers to the way the mixing head moves around the bowl. By having the beaters spin in one direction while the head itself spins the other way, the beaters remain in contact with the edges of the bowl throughout the cycle. This means less stopping, scraping, and restarting for you, and a quicker, more even mix. If the mixer you’re considering doesn’t have planetary action, just move on. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.
Ever hear the phrase, “they just don’t make ’em like they used to”? Well, the truth is they don’t. These days, many stand mixers are built with nylon or plastic-coated gears that really cut down on noise, but are softer and far more likely to fail than their all-metal counterparts. Maybe if you live in a small apartment with thin walls, the relatively quieter gearing found with cheaper mixers could be appealing, but otherwise insist on metal gears that will last longer and more effectively deliver power to the beaters without slippage.
There’s one way in which not making ’em like they used to is actually a good thing, though. Back in the day, metal gearing could (in rare cases) lead to catastrophic failures in the event of an overload (the gears were so sturdy that the motor itself would break). Nowadays, these mixers are fitted with electronic sensors that detect the risk of an overload and shut the whole thing down before any major damage can occur.
Tilt-Head vs Bowl-Lift
A tilt-head mixer utilizes a hinge-like action to tilt up the beaters, allowing the bowl to be removed and replaced. This is convenient for many users as it is quick and easy to do. On the other hand, a bowl-lift design keeps the head in a static position and instead has the bowl “hook” onto a set of arms that then raise it up to the appropriate level. While less convenient for everyday purposes, this allows for some creative applications, like putting boiling water or ice under the bowl to create novel treats.
Though there are some pros and cons in the tilt-head vs bowl-lift argument, when it comes to buying your own stand mixer, it’s largely a moot point. The reason is that higher-end mixers with heavier motors are almost universally made in a bowl-lift design. The reason is that a tilt-head introduces an extra potential point of failure given the stresses of having a large weight on a hinge. Assuming you’re looking for a powerful mixer, the decision has already been made for you.
While you might think a lighter mixer is move convenient and therefore better, for most people the opposite will actually be true. While a lightweight mixer can be easily stored away when not in use, a heavy and stable base is extremely important when trying to mix tough doughs. The last thing you’d want is for a big ball of dough to stay in place while the mixer itself starts rattling around on your countertop. Furthermore, high quality motors and gearing are all heavy. That’s why commercial grade mixers can be upwards of fifty pounds!
From speed settings to color options to variable attachments, there are a number of miscellaneous features manufacturers offer to help distinguish themselves from the competition. If there’s a particular item you want to make with your new mixer, be sure to look out for the appropriate feature set in whatever stand mixer you’re considering. The last thing you’d want is to spend a significant sum on your new appliance only to be unable to use it for your desired purpose.
Speaking of spending a significant sum, it would be a terrible shame if your investment only lasted a couple of years. Be sure to purchase your stand mixer from a reputable brand and an authorized seller to guarantee a long warranty that’ll protect you in the even of a mechanical failure. Those these issues are few and far between, it is always better to be safe than sorry in these cases.