Given the daunting pace of life these days, it is no small wonder that the market for kitchen gadgets is flooded with various implements for making things a little easier for the home cook. One of the items that you may or may not own is the handheld, or immersion, blender. If you aren’t familiar with them, picture this: a handheld mixer and a standard counter-top blender have a very fit, streamlined baby, and that’s pretty much what you end up with.

So first of all let’s be real; do you actually need one of these things in your life? Well like almost everything else, it kind of depends. If you have a standard blender in which you invested heavily, and you use it on a regular basis, and you love it like one of your own, then you probably don’t need a stick (as they are sometimes called.) But if you are a little more like me, and own a less-expensive model that stays in a cabinet most of the time and is kind of cumbersome, then you may want to consider purchasing on of these hand-held beauties. And immersion blenders have their pros and cons, their primary one being mobility. With a standard model, you need to transfer whatever items need to be mixed into the blender, and if you happen to have a rather large amount, this can mean mixing or blending in batches, which takes more time and ultimately more dirty pots, pans and dishes. And being a bit of a clean freak makes that unacceptable to me. With an immersion blender, you can take the blender right into whatever pan or other vessel your ingredients might be and do your mixing right there. And they are a lot more lightweight and generally easier to clean than a counter-top model.

There are really only a couple of cons with handhelds, one being the amount of power available to you. That can largely depend on how much you are wanting – or willing – to invest. There are models in the $20-$25 range that can puree tomatoes and help you make guacamole, but they probably won’t have as much torque as some of the pricier models that can handle chopping up tougher root vegetables or even crushing ice. Those can get up in the $60-$100 neighborhood, and restaurant-grade models can run into the thousands. Although I doubt the average home cook would be needing one of those.  Another downside could be ease of use. While immersion blenders are lighter weight, they do require constant attention and obviously, use of hands. If you happen to have any kind of condition (such as arthritis) that limits the use of your hands for extended periods, or simply don’t have the time to stand there holding a blender, then you may want to consider sticking with your good old “set it and forget it” standard blender.

So let’s say you’re ready to go out and buy one; what should you be looking for? A few years ago the gang over at Bon Appetit  did a comparison of three different models, and their testing points (which you can read about here) were good. You’ll probably be interested in the wattage of the motor – I’ve seen home models between 200 and 600 watts – to determine how much power you’ll be getting. If noise is an issue for you, you may want to consider that too; sometimes (though not always), more power can mean a little more noise. You also want to make sure the blades are sharp enough, which was a great point that the BA article brought up that hadn’t necessarily crossed my mind. And as previously mentioned, you will want a model that is stable yet not too heavy, and comfortable to hold. Buttons that aren’t too difficult to press are a good selling point; rubber or silicone-covered ones would be ideal. Something else to consider would be the amount of storage space available to you – while most handhelds are compact, many come with extra attachment pieces, including vessels for mixing small amounts of product.  And your outlets for shopping are pretty much limitless: immersions blenders are available at most major retailers like Target, Best Buy, and if you’re wanting to really invest, companies such as Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table have models as well.

Now you may already own one of these beauties, know all the finer points, and may or may not use it on a regular basis. But if you don’t happen to have one, and are in the market, hopefully this gave you a few things to consider. Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know what your immersion blender does best for you!