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Prep Equipment

FER FOCUS: Mixer Might

Countertop mixers aren’t just for small bakeries and pastry shops or elite home cooks. These powerful, multipurpose machines, ranging in size from 5-10 qt., have earned counter space in kitchens across all segments, from chain and independent restaurants to noncommercial settings and catering operations.

Using one of a handful of interchangeable attachments, countertop mixers prepare countless small-batch recipes. Rely on a wire whisk for whipping egg whites, whipped cream or meringues; a flat beater for mixing mashed potatoes or batter for cakes or waffles; or a dough hook for kneading dough for pizza, bread, rolls or bagels. Use these machines to prepare housemade icings, sauces, condiments or fresh-herb vinaigrettes and other dressings. 

Along with versatility, these mixers provide product consistency and save labor compared with hand mixing. They are lightweight enough and ergonomically designed to sit on a countertop; the speed controls are easy to reach, and the bowl contents are visible at counter height. Commercial units often are ETL or UL listed or NSF certified.

Choose the right model by first determining what mixing-bowl capacity you need, what drive system best fits your application and what stir speeds make sense for your operation. Study the attachments, accessories and overall machine construction as well. 

Capacity Choices

Countertop mixers typically are identified by their mixing-bowl capacity. When choosing a size, figure out what recipes you want to prepare, how much and how often. Many makers offer capacity charts to guide you through this process. 

Keep in mind that the bowl capacity doesn’t equal the amount of product it will hold. Once you add ingredients to the bowl, the attachment incorporates air, and the contents will rise in volume. “Many people think if it’s a 10-qt. mixer, they can fill the bowl with 10 qt. of product,” one maker says. “But once they use it, they end up dividing the batches to make the mixer work correctly, and their productivity takes a nosedive.”

Check one maker’s capacity chart, and you’ll note that the 7-qt. mixer processes 4 lb. of mashed potatoes while the 10-qt. mixer handles 5 lb., for example. Or the 7-qt. machine whips 1.8 qt. of whipped cream while the 10-qt. machine whips 2 qt. 

If you plan to mix dough, be sure to check your recipe’s absorption ratio (AR) by dividing the amount of water by the amount of flour, then multiplying by 100 to get a percentage. The higher the AR, the more dough the mixer can process at one time. For example, one maker’s 7-qt. mixer prepares 4 lb. of bread dough with a 60% AR but only 2 lb. of heavy bread dough with a 55% AR. If you’re using high-gluten flour, reduce the dough batch size by 10%. Water temperature matters, too. Makers usually base their capacity measurements on 70°F water temperature. If you’re using ice water, reduce the batch size by 10%.

Think about your kitchen’s workflow when deciding how much and how often you’ll use the mixer to make recipes. Do you want to prepare small batches of fresh mashed potatoes five or so times a day? Opt for a smaller capacity. Or are you going to mix a large batch of meat in the evening, let the flavors meld overnight, then use the mixture to serve meatballs throughout the next day? A large-capacity model will work well. 

Other questions to answer include: How much countertop space are you willing to dedicate to the machine, and does the footprint of the model you’re researching fit those measurements? Are you expecting your volume requirements to grow in the future? If so, choosing a larger capacity size will pay off.

Power Up 

How much horsepower, what type of drive system and how many stir speeds you need at what levels depend on your application.

Countertop mixers use power to rotate attachments—such as wire whisks, beaters or dough hooks—in a mixing action called planetary. The attachment rotates as it swirls around the center of a stationary bowl, like a planet orbiting the sun. Planetary mixers boast optimal bowl coverage and are more versatile than spiral mixers, which are mainly floor models focused on bulk dough production. 

You'll find a variety of horsepower ratings on the motors of these mixers. What is really important in a mixer is how much power/force you are getting into the mix.

Mixers typically come in two versions: gear-driven or electronic speed control. Gear-driven mixers often run on an AC single-phase motor and have a set number of speeds; three is typical. They require that you stop and start the mixer to switch speeds and are especially suited to heavier dough mixing. Mixers with electronic speed control can accelerate or slow down on the fly via a dial that has anywhere from three to 12 speed settings. 

While gear-driven mixers typically will have motors in the range of 1/4-1/3 hp, electronic-speed-control mixers often come with a little more hp to keep the same level of torque when the rpm are lowered. For electronic-speed-control mixers, a motor between 1-1.5 hp is typical but not universal. The takeaway is this: If you are comparing horsepower, make sure you're comparing apples to apples—gear-driven models to gear-driven models and electronic-speed-control models to electronic-speed-control models.

Additionally, several models sport thermal overload protection to prevent motor damage should it overheat. Once the motor cools down after the protection mode triggers, reset the mixer by turning it off, then restarting it. “Overloading the bowl with stiff dough is a common error that can bog down the motor and keep the mixer from working properly,” one maker notes. “Operators achieve the best results by using their mixer according to the instructions in their user manual.” 

At least one maker uses an electronic control on its models to prevent any damage to the motor if you overload the bowl with ingredients. The electronic control senses the heavy load and cuts out before the unit overheats from trying to mix it, eliminating the chance of any damage.

When choosing stir speeds, think about how many and what range you need to prepare all of your recipes. As mentioned previously, countertop mixers have anywhere from three speeds—low, intermediate and high—to as many as 12 speeds, all adjustable by a knob or lever, although some models now offer digital displays. Again, electronic-speed-control units let you shift speeds on the fly, while gear-driven models require that you stop the machine before changing speeds. 

Note the range of the attachment mixing speed (listed in rpm). Does the range accommodate your recipes? If you’re making cake batter, for example, find a slow speed (30 rpm or so) because mixing dry and wet ingredients any faster may send a cloud of flour out of the bowl. If you’re whip ping meringue ingredients, choose a fast speed (200 rpm or more) to incorporate air and achieve a light, fluffy product. 

What Else Do You Need?

Once you’ve narrowed capacity, power type and mixing speeds, there are a few other features, including attachments, accessories and overall construction to note while you’re researching.

Many but not all models come standard with a wire whisk, beater, dough hook and mixing bowl. Check to see what comes with your purchase. Generally, these attachments are stainless and dishwasher safe. 

Some models sport attachment hubs, accepting standard #10 attachments, which are sold separately. The attachments perform various back-of-house tasks, from chopping or grinding meats to slicing vegetables, which turns your mixer into a multitasker.

Other accessories—again some standard and some not—include bowl splash guards, ingredient chutes, bowl scrapers, paddles, spatulas and rubber footpads for the mixer stand. 

Several makers offer a bowl guard, usually a metal cage that fits over the bowl, to keep objects from entering the mixing area during operation. A safety-interlock feature prevents the machine from running when the guard is out of place.

Choose from low-end dial timers, costing about $30 to replace if ever broken, to high-end digital timers with last-batch memory recall, which speeds the process of preparing multiple batches of the same product. 

Finally, take note of the mixer’s construction. Look for units made of heavy-duty materials, such as cast iron or die-cast aluminum, with stable bases. You’ll need to regularly wipe the mixer down with a sudsy, warm cloth, so check for a smooth stand with fewer seams, crevices or grooves. You don’t want to have a lot of areas where ingredients can build up. Remove attachments after every use, and clean them in the pot sink or dishmachine.

How long your mixer lasts depends on how heavily it’s used and how well it’s maintained. Aside from regular, thorough cleanings, most machines require little to no maintenance; the motor and bearings are permanently lubricated at the factory. But follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. Units come with one- to two-year warranties, and some makers sell extended warranties at an extra cost.

Do a little homework and you’ll find the right countertop mixer, one that will let you quickly prepare fresh, consistent small-batch recipes.

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