I taste-tested over 20 vegan ice cream brands to find the best ones – these 6 topped my list

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Wildgood vegan ice cream sitting in bowls with spoons
  • Ice cream is the perfect summer treat, and vegan options are more abundant than ever.
  • Sure, you may have heard of Oatly and So Delicious, but the world of artisan vegan ice cream is vast.
  • Here are 6 vegan ice cream brands you probably haven’t heard of but need to try this summer.
  • My picks include an olive oil ice cream, macadamia nut milk ice cream, and coconut meat ice cream.

I am a full-time food journalist and eat more ice cream than anyone I know. Over the years, I’ve published stories about the best ice cream parlors in the United States, gourmet soft serve, ice cream sandwiches and artisan ice cream makers that began shipping their ice cream nationally during the pandemic. I’ve even been invited to judge gelato festivals and weighed in on new flavors by cult favorite ice cream makers at company headquarters. Last summer, I received 60 pints of ice cream from nearly a dozen different brands delivered on the same day and all the liquid nitrogen fog permeated my entire house.

Recently, I’ve discovered more and more great plant-based ice creams popping up. I’ve tasted through flavors from more than 20 different vegan ice cream brands and have learned that vegan ice cream can be just as delightful and delicious as dairy ice cream. Even if you’re not vegan, trying plant-based ice creams offer unique flavor combinations you won’t find in dairy ice cream.

Sure, I’ve tried the usual vegan ice cream suspects you find in grocery stores, but I’ve been truly delighted by the small-batch artisanal brands, many of which are charting new territory in the world of plant-based ice cream. Below you’ll find six bespoke vegan ice cream brands that I love; many you probably haven’t heard of before.

Here are 6 vegan ice cream brands worth trying this summer:

The first and only macadamia milk ice cream

four pints of Mauna Loa macadamia milk ice cream on a blue background

Mauna Loa Macadamia Milk Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert, $9.99 per pint, available on Instacart and Mauna Loa

Most vegan ice creams are made with coconut, cashew, soy or almond milk bases, but Hawaii’s most famous producer of macadamia nuts, Mauna Loa, has upped the ante, debuting the first and only macadamia milk-based frozen dessert this summer. 

Higher in monounsaturated fat and lower in carbs than other popular nuts, macadamia makes for an ultra creamy base that’s also keto-diet friendly. Flavors like Kona coffee, vanilla orchid and mango liliko’i showcase more of Hawaii’s natural bounty and there’s even the cheeky Rocky Road to Hana, named for the famous winding drive on Maui. This is the most decadent flavor of all — a fudgy chocolate base studded with soft marshmallows and crunchy macadamias instead of almonds. 

While you can purchase pints online, they’re also available at Sprouts in 23 states and Albertsons and Safeway locations in California, Texas, New Mexico, Hawaii and Seattle.

A small batch oat milk ice cream with inventive mix-ins

chocolate vegan ice cream from Whipped Urban Dessert Lab

Whipped Urban Dessert Lab Ice Crème, $16.50 per half pint, available on Goldbelly

Oat milk is the plant-based milk alternative of choice among baristas for its thick, creamy texture in lattes and cappuccinos, so it’s no surprise that it also makes a rich ice cream base. Sisters Courtney Blagrove and Zan B.R. make their own oat milk for their new line of oat milk “ice crème” at Whipped Urban Dessert Lab. This stuff is better than Oatly and chock full of mix-ins like strawberry shortcake crumbles, chocolate cookie chunks, and cinnamon apple crisp.

This is the first ice cream brand that I’ve seen where the pint packaging is labeled upside down too. Apparently, storing ice cream (or ice crème!) upside down in the freezer helps prevent freezer burn because any partially melted bits will collect on the lid, which keeps ice crystals from forming. 

Next time I’m in New York, my first stop will be Whipped Urban Dessert Lab’s Lower East Side storefront to try a swirl of sweet creme and chocolate twist at the world’s first oat milk soft serve shop.

A modern Mediterranean plant-based gelato

Pints of Wildgood vegan ice cream sit partially open with scoops removed

Wildgood Plant-Based Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert, $9 per pint, available on Instacart and Wildgood

Olive oil has been a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet for millennia, but could it also be the secret to rich, creamy vegan ice cream that’s low in saturated fat? Rather than using nut milk, Wildgood relies on a blend of extra virgin olive oil, pea protein and chicory root fiber, sweetened with fructose, to achieve a soft and creamy consistency straight out of the freezer. All of the olive oil comes from Greek ice cream maker Sotiris Tsichlopoulos’ family’s ancient groves in Corfu.

For an ice cream so low in saturated fat and calories, Wildgood is surprisingly rich and you can really taste the olive oil in each flavor, adding a sophisticated savory undertone. Chocolate hazelnut is a favorite, reminiscent of the best gianduja chocolate spread I’ve ever tried in Piedmont. 

With such a short ingredient list, the quality of each ingredient is paramount. Simple flavors without many mix-ins allow ingredients like Alphonso mango, California pistachios and Oregon hazelnuts to shine. 

Wildgood is available in eight flavors so far, and you can find it on Instacart or order online to ship anywhere in the continental United States.

A boozy vegan ice cream

A pint of smores vegan ice cream from Scoops on Tap sits in front of a fireplace

Scoops On Tap, $22.25 per pint, available on Goldbelly

Scoops on Tap was created by two friends who love craft beer and ice cream and wanted to blend them together for a line of beer- and spirit-infused ice creams. Up until recently, their product was only available at farmers market and specialty retailers in Southern California, but now they’re shipping pints nationally with Goldbelly.

After Hours vanilla bourbon is a year-round favorite that I most enjoy with a shot of espresso poured over top and sprinkled liberally with toasted cacao nibs. The sumptuously smooth texture is a combination of a coconut cream and oat milk and don’t worry — it’s less than 5% ABV. 

Seasonally, many more plant-based boozy ice creams are available, like Cocosaurus Rex, a toasted coconut ice cream with a fair trade dark chocolate fudge swirl infused with a coconut stout, and Madeline, a lemon and grape sorbet steeped on toasted oak chips infused with a grape sour ale. The latter is perfect as a refreshing float with prosecco if you wish to add more booze to the equation.

A plant-based option with superfood boosts

Containers of Sacred Serve vegan ice cream against a light blue background

Sacred Serve Plant-Based Gelato, $10 per carton, available Sacred Serve

Hand harvested certified organic and fair-trade young coconut meat, plus coconut sugar and raw coconut oil forms the holy coconut trinity that is the base of all Sacred Serve gelato flavors. Superfoods like matcha green tea, Afghan saffron, chaga mushrooms and raw cacao are blended in for an ingredient list that’s so nutritious you’re almost suspicious that these could possibly taste good — until you take the first bite. This gelato is subtly sweet with a super creamy texture. 

Sacred Serve’s newest flavor is a reinvention of childhood favorite cookies and cream with tigernut cookies instead of typical Oreos. The cookie crumble is darkened with activated charcoal and made with prebiotic-rich tigernut flour and adaptogenic mucuna. 

The gelato is rock hard when you first pull it from the freezer, so you need to let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so to melt to a creamy consistency. You can find Sacred Serve in more than 150 stores across the country including Whole Foods, Foxtrot, Plum Market and Erewhon.

Really good vegan ice cream sandwiches

Vegan ice cream sandwiches from Green Girl Bakeshop

Green Girl Bakeshop Dairy Free Gluten Free Cookie Sandwiches, $96 for a pack of 12 ice cream sandwiches, available at Green Girl Bakeshop

Lisa Stoy’s plant-based gelatos all have four ingredients or less, starting with a coconut milk base sweetened with maple syrup, plus fresh mint, vanilla beans, cardamom, turmeric or cacao depending on the flavor. The ice cream sandwiches at Green Girl Bakeshop have just the right ratio of cookie to ice cream, keeping the focus squarely on the ice cream with the cookies playing a supporting role.

Depending on the flavor, the ice cream is sandwiched between gluten-free chocolate chip, dark chocolate, or ginger cookies, made with cassava flour and applesauce. It almost sounds too healthy to be a cookie, but they freeze nicely, remaining soft enough to bite into without the ice cream squishing out the sides. The golden turmeric ice cream with ginger cookies and the classic vanilla bean ice cream sandwich with chocolate chip cookies are the best of the bunch.

Our testing methodology

I’m a food journalist with a predilection for ice cream and I’ve been known to regularly finish a pint in one sitting. Recently, I have been eating a predominantly plant-based diet and made it my mission to find the best plant-based ice creams that are just as satisfying as the dairy ice cream I’ve known and loved.

Flavor: Favorite flavors vary widely among ice cream lovers, so I included ice creams that recreated classic flavors impeccably as well as innovating new flavors. Most of all, I should be able to easily discern the flavor in a blind taste test and the ice cream shouldn’t taste muddied or cloyingly sweet. You should be able to eat a full scoop without feeling like you’ve developed a cavity.  

Texture: A great plant-based ice cream should mimic the decadently smooth and satisfying mouthfeel of premium dairy ice cream. I chose ice creams that didn’t taste watery or gummy and didn’t develop too many ice crystals.

Ingredients: The best plant-based ice creams use high-quality ingredients, and I looked for shorter ingredient lists made with real foods rather than ice creams filled with emulsifiers and sweetened with corn syrup or glucose syrup. For example, Oatly’s frozen dessert, which includes dextrose, dried glucose syrup and rapeseed oil, did not make the cut.

Check out our other vegan and vegetarian food guides

Best vegan and vegetarian BBQ foods roundup 4x3

 

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The 5 best magnetic stove shelves of 2021 for easy extra storage

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • For anyone with a small kitchen, a magnetic stove shelf is an easy way to add additional storage.
  • Good magnetic shelves require no installation and have strong magnets to keep them firmly in place.
  • We found magnetic stove shelf options for large stoves, heavy items, and more.

In the kitchen, every bit of extra storage counts. A magnetic stove shelf is an easy way to keep seasonings, sauces, and other cooking essentials on hand without having to do any major installations, which makes it an especially attractive option both for smaller spaces and for rentals. All you have to do is stick it against any metal surface and you’re all set.

When shopping for a magnetic stove shelf, you’ll want to ensure that the shelf matches your oven’s measurements and can hold the weight of the items you’re looking to store, especially because many stove shelves aren’t built to hold super bulky or heavy items and can start to slide. We found options ranging from multi-purpose shelves that have hooks and paper towel racks for easy organization to magnetic shelves to fit oversized ovens.

Here are the best magnetic stove shelves

The best magnetic stove shelf overall

best overall stove shelf
Choose from four color options to match your decor.

The Branway Store Magnetic Spice Rack two-pack comes in multiple colors and offers easy storage for your oven or any other magnetic appliances in your home.

What we like: Available in multiple colors, made of thick metal, comes with attachable hooks

This simple set includes two shelves that can be used throughout your kitchen. Choose from black, blue, red, or white color options to best compliment your decor. The shelves can hold up to five pounds, making them a great option for storing small items such as spices, sauces, or napkins. Complete with two hooks, you can also hang oven mitts and cooking utensils on each shelf.

If they won’t quite work on your stove, you can also easily attach them to any metal surface, including a fridge or microwave.

The best magnetic stove shelf for large stoves

magnetic stove shelf
Just place this magnetic shelf on top of your stove and you’re ready to go.

The magnets on the StoveShelf Magnetic Shelf for Kitchen Stove can be positioned for a custom fit and it comes in options up to 30″ long to fit bigger stoves.

What we like: Available in multiple finishes and three lengths, made with materials that are easy to clean, customizable magnet placement

Whether you have a stove with a curved or flat top, this shelf is equipped with magnets that can be repositioned for a better, more custom fit. Available in four finishes, no matter which one you opt for your shelf will be rust-, corrosion-, and stain-resistant. The shelf is also available in three long lengths ranging from 20 inches to 30 inches, making it a great option for those with longer stovetops.

The shelf is hand-wash only but can be easily cleaned with warm water and dish soap. Because it’s designed to sit directly on top of your stovetop, it can also hold heavier items.

The best magnetic stove shelf on a budget

best budget rectangle stove shelf
This shelf includes a non-slip rubber mat to prevent items from shifting.

If you only have a few extra items to store, the Kenvone Fridge Spice Rack Organizer is a low-cost and simple option.

What we like: Sleek simple design, made of sturdy steel

This steel shelf can hold up to six pounds and is a great option for storing various seasonings and spices, or even a couple of mugs. In addition to a non-slip rubber mat, the shelf also has a raised edge to stop items from falling and moving around. While it’s only available in matte black, it’s simple yet chic enough to match most kitchen decor. For those who just need a place for a few pesky items, this is a solid low-cost option.

The best multi-purpose stove shelf

FOLNG Magnetic Shelf horizontal
A rust-proof powder coating ensures this rack will hold up over time.

The FOLNG Magnetic-Shelf-Organizer can hold everything from oven mitts and spices to paper towels and can be used on magnetic and non-magnetic surfaces alike.

What we like: Foldable rod, waterproof, long-lasting, can be used on magnetic or non-magnetic surfaces

This waterproof rack can be used to help you organize various kitchen items thanks to its smart design that features a shelf, two removable hooks, and a wooden paper towel or drying cloth rod. When not in use, the rod can be folded up for a sleeker design. The rack has a heightened guardrail, which helps it hold up larger items such as jars or bottles without them slipping and sliding.

As an added bonus, you can also use this stove shelf on non-magnetic surfaces since, in addition to magnets, it also comes with screws and adhesives for those who prefer it to install it on a wall.

The best magnetic stove shelf for heavy items

X-Chef Mag Shelf
Each tier can store up to 12 small spice bottles.

The heavy-duty X-Chef Magnetic Spice Rack shelf can hold triple the weight of most shelves.

What we like: Has removable hooks and paper towel holders, foldable, holds up to 30 pounds

While many magnetic stove shelves hold just six to seven pounds, this shelf is equipped with three strong magnets that can support up to a whopping 30 pounds. The rack is available in black and white finishes and can be folded for easy storage when not in use. The two-tiered rack features five removable hooks, two paper towel holders, and two shelves that are far enough apart to allow plenty of space for taller items.

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It’s Grill Week at Insider! Here are exclusive deals for our readers, plus your ultimate guide to the best grills and tools we’ve tested

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Spring Grilling Gear Hub 4x3
  • If you love good food and warm weather, grill season may be the highlight of your year.
  • We rounded up our favorite grilling guides to help you set up and start cooking.
  • We’ve also arranged for some exclusive deals on grills, meat, and grill accessories just for Insider Reviews readers.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

In honor of grill season, we’ve gathered all of our grill resources in one place. Along with our guides to the best grills and gear, we have a running list of sales and exclusive discounts on our favorite grilling products.

We’ve assembled and tested dozens upon dozens of grills from age-old charcoal kettle grills to state-of-the-art Bluetooth-controlled pellet grills and smokers. Through all of that, along with just as many interviews with experts, we’ve learned a few things:

1. You – yes, you! – can grill just about anything you’d eat, so don’t think grilling has to be a meat-centric, testosterone-driven affair: Cauliflower and courgettes are worth lighting up the grill every bit as much as sirloins and sausages.

2. Grilling doesn’t have to take forever: With the right equipment, it can be hardly more of a time investment than preheating an oven or priming a cast-iron skillet on the stove.

3. A good thermometer is everything: Whether you’re a novice or you fancy yourself an amateur expert, grilling doesn’t have to be guesswork, and there’s no substitute for a temperature probe.

Grilling is what you make of it. There’s a lot of false mysticism around how to grill meat specifically, and no shortage of sorcery and folklore about measuring doneness – another reason people shy away from the task. Fortunately, with the right gear, grilling can be fun and easy. We’ve got you covered with all our favorite grill equipment and accessories.

Here are our favorite resources to help you get grilling this spring:

Insider exclusive Grill Week deals

We’ve arranged for some exclusive discounts for Insider readers on our favorite grill brands and meat purveyors. Act fast, though, these deals are only valid during Grill Week, which runs May 10 through May 16. 

Grill deals

Deals on grilling meat and grilling accessories

  • Casa M Spice: Use code INSIDERGRILL25 for 25% off all orders.
  • Chicago Steak Company: Save 17% with code INSIDER17.
  • Cooks Venture: Use code INSIDER for 20% off your order.
  • Crowd Cow: Save $15 on your first order from Crowd Cow with code GRILLWEEK15.
  • Omaha Steaks: Get four free top sirloins on orders $159+ when you shop through our link.
  • Pursuit Farms: Use code BUSINESS10 for 10% off your order.
  • Porter Road: Save $20 off a first order of $100 or more with code INSIDER20.
  • Rastelli’s: Save $20 off your first purchase with code INSIDER.
  • Sizzlefish: Save 10% off your first purchase with code INSIDER.
  • SloFoodGroup: Save 15% off sitewide with coupon code INSIDER.
  • Thrive Market: Get 25% OFF your first order and a free gift when you join Thrive Market (1 year and 1 month memberships available).

 

Other great grilling deals and discounts happening now

camp chef hero
  • The Home Depot: Savings of up to 40% on select grills.
  • Lowe’s: Save up to $150 on select grills.
  • Walmart: Select grills and grilling accessories on sale. 
  • Target: Save on select grills and accessories.
  • Bed Bath & Beyond: Select savings for Beyond+ members or take 20% off select grilling products with coupon.
  • Traeger: Free grill cover and pellets with select grill purchases.
  • ThermoWorks: 25% any one item, including the Thermapen Mk4, our top-rated meat thermometer. 
  • Wayfair: Save hundreds of dollars on grills, smokers, and outdoor cooking appliances. 
  • Overstock: Save up to 20% on select grills and outdoor cooking accessories.

The best charcoal grills

weber smokey joe

The 4 best charcoal grills

The best charcoal for grilling

Review: The IG Charcoal Grill, a weatherproof workhorse

Charcoal grilling is about as elemental as it gets, save for maybe an open hardwood fire, and to many of us, there’s little else in this world that elicits the smell of summer.

A good charcoal grill doesn’t have to be fancy. In the end, it’s one of those things that’s best made with robust parts, and not too many frills. We tried out a lot of charcoal grills, and and have picks for solid, well-built models in every size and price range.

Here are some of our favorite charcoal grills:

Charcoal BBQ (small)Original Kettle 22-Inch Charcoal Grill (small)10020 Smokey Joe 14-Inch Portable Grill (small)Double Play 3 Burner Gas and Charcoal Grill (small)
The best gas grills

pat16

The 5 best gas grills in 2021

There’s a reason legendary butcher Pat LaFrieda endorsed this at-home overhead grill

Gas grills, be they propane or natural gas, are among the more convenient options out there, and while a basic one is often the best choice for many people, it’s worth considering different designs that incorporate flat-tops, smokers, and one of our favorites, the overhead broiler.

Here are some of our favorite gas grills:

Spirit II E-310 LP Gas Grill (small)3-Burner Open Cart Propane Gas Grill (small)
The best BBQ smokers

Nexgrill smoker

The 5 best BBQ smokers in 2021

Smokers come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. The best for you depends on how much time and space you want to dedicate to the task, and whether you see it as a hobby or a chore. You’ll also want to consider flavor: While electric smokers are considerably easier and lower-maintenance, hardwood, charcoal, and pellet smokers tend to offer considerably more smokey flavor.

A great smoker, though, should be built to last at least a couple of years on the more budget-friendly end of the spectrum, and the better part of a decade on the higher end (if not longer, provided you take excellent care of it).

Here are some of our favorite barbecue smokers:

Wide Body Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker (small)29-inch Barrel Charcoal Grill with Smoker (small)30 Inch Digital Electric Meat Smoker (small)
The best pizza ovens

Ooni pizza oven

The 5 best pizza ovens

A pizza oven is a fantastic investment if you have a knack for dough, or have limited access to quality, wood-fired pizza. Grilling pizza requires just a few ingredients and a quick flash in the pizza oven. The results are untold dollars saved for real pizza devotees that would otherwise be ordering it clad in cardboard several times a week.

Hardwood, wood pellets, charcoal, and propane (among other methods) are all feasible means of making pizza, and we have plenty of recommendations.

Here are some of our favorite pizza ovens:

Roccbox Pizza Oven (small)Pizzazz Plus Rotating Oven (small)Basic Oven Kit (small)
The best meat and seafood for grilling

rastellis meat and fish delivery 4

Meat was in short supply during periods of the pandemic. Thankfully, most purveyors have replenished their stock by now, so your grill won’t stand empty. If you want to skip the butcher, we created a list of the best places to buy meat online.

When we spoke with Chef Pat LaFrieda about how to cook the perfect medium rare steak, he told us what we’ve heard from many other chefs: a quality steak is so delicious that it doesn’t need much in terms of preparation. The best way to start a grilling experience is with the best meat. 

Seafood is another great option for outdoor cooking, but it can be intimidating to order online. You want to make sure the retailer handles seafood properly, so that fresh or frozen, it tastes delicious. We spent eight months testing seafood and found the best places to buy seafood online.

Farmers Market Subscription (small)
The best grill gloves and brushes

Best grill brush

The best BBQ gloves

The 5 best grill brushes and cleaning tools in 2021

Grilling can be a messy endeavor, but keeping yourself and your grill relatively clean pays off. Regularly cleaning your grill improves its longevity and prevents the harmful build-up of bacteria and rust. Similarly, wearing quality grill gloves will keep your hands safe and clean while handling raw meat and hot cookware.

Here are some of our favorite grilling gloves and tools:

Extra Long Suede Grill Gloves (small)360° Clean Grill Brush (small)
Other great grilling products to enjoy this spring

traeger grill

Once you have the basics, it’s time to think about grilling extras that will take your experience and meals up a notch. Everyone’s favorite meat expert Pat LaFrieda told Insider Reviews about his must have grill accessories. There’s no substitute for the benefits of a quality meat thermometer or grill spatula. 

LaFrieda told Insider Reviews that a meat thermometer is the real key to a great grilling experience. “This whole thing about ‘if you touch it, and it feels like your cheek,’ … I never got that. Stick a thermometer in the center where it’s toughest and where the bone is,” he said.

Meat: Everything You Need to Know (small)Thermapen Mk4 (small)Grilling Spatula (small)Togiharu Inox Steel Gyuto (small)
How to grill

gasgrill

Okay, so you’ve got a grill. We all have a basic idea of how to operate a grill, but how do you choose what to grill, and how do you know how to set and adjust the temperature? And what about cleaning it? Here are our guides to using and caring for your grill(s).

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The best blenders we tested in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • A blender is an essential tool for most kitchens, whether for the occasional smoothie or daily use.
  • We tested 11, and the user-friendly, high-powered Vitamix 5200 is our favorite.
  • It blends everything from smoothies to nut butter faster and more consistently than the rest.

Whether you’re a daily smoothie drinker or you tend to use your blender for everything from soups and purees to nut flours and butters, the right blender makes the process of blending, preparing, and cleaning remarkably more seamless.

Your main considerations with a blender are power, functions, and size. Most blenders can handle making a basic smoothie well (and quickly) enough, but when it comes to pureeing, or preparing any number of ingredients for baking, or making nut butter, a little guidance in the way of programming can be an immense help. That’s not to say that you can’t make just about anything in a reasonably well-built and powerful blender – all of the blenders we tested did everything we asked them to with enough coaxing – but the right one for your needs will make it all the easier.

During our tests, we made everything from frozen berry smoothies and kale smoothies to nut flour and butter, and also timed how long it took for each blender to grind up eight ounces of ice cubes into a uniform shave-ice-like consistency.

We also consulted multiple experts, who told us not to overlook how easy a blender is to clean – a factor worth considering when it comes to any expensive, hard-to-wash kitchen appliance. You can read more about our methodology below.

Here are the best blenders in 2021

Our testing methodology

The best blenders our methodology

We consulted Erika Wong, PureFish’s in-house registered dietitian and nutritionist, who also worked as a counselor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her biggest concerns when choosing a blender are power (her favorite blender carries 1,380 watts), speed (at least a handful of speed settings beyond “high” and “low”), and simplicity. Too many buttons or settings corresponding to specific foods can become confusing, especially when you vary ingredient amounts. “Simplicity is key, and the control panel needs to be easy to use.”

With all of that in mind, here’s how I evaluated each of the 11 blenders I tested: 

Ice: The blenders we ended up recommending were all able to evenly reduce ice cubes into shaved ice in under 10 seconds. Along with the almond flour and almond butter tests (more on those below), the ice test really set the fast, powerful machines apart from their slower, slightly rougher competitors.

Frozen strawberries: We put six ounces of frozen strawberries in each blender and set them to high in order to see how fast they turned the fruit into mush. The more powerful blenders achieved the task within about 10 seconds. The weaker ones, as well as those with a wider jar design, struggled to finish the job, leaving stray larger pieces to the side or in many cases lacerating but not separating the frozen berries.

Strawberry-banana smoothies: We made strawberry-banana smoothies using frozen strawberries and fresh bananas because of the difference in texture (and also this particular flavor combo’s popularity). Across the board, we ran into almost no issues with all of the blenders we tested. The only real difference was the time it took, which corresponded almost perfectly with increments of price. Still, it came down to about 10 to 15 seconds.

Kale smoothies: Because kale is relatively light and airy (we used curly kale), it did prove a little trickier for blenders that didn’t make a narrow vortex like the Vitamix 5200 and the Cleanblend 3HP, and the blenders with wider pitchers almost invariably required the use of a tamper. This wasn’t a big deal, but it might be a consideration for some.

Almond flour: While our budget and smoothie-only recommendations didn’t quite manage an even flour (there were chunks of almond still left behind while the flour at the bottom was beginning to turn into butter), our top recommendation performed the task flawlessly.

Almond butter: Almond butter was by far the most demanding test of them all. While we’re confident that with practice and more intimate acquaintance with each blender we could pull it off with any of them, it was a real chore with most, and several didn’t make it past the flour stage on the way to almond butter. Again, the wider jars performed the most poorly, as did the lower-powered blenders. In every case save for the Vitamix 5200, we still had whole or nearly whole almonds lingering amongst the flour while at the bottom, the flour was turning to butter. 

Settings: While we tried to work with presets on those machines that had them available, they’re only useful if the set portions make sense for your needs — most of us don’t really want to make 32 ounces of nut butter at once, for example.

Wattage: We found that at the lowest end of the blenders we tested, 600 watts was still plenty of power to achieve a uniform smoothie. Similarly, while our budget pick packs 1800 watts, our overall pick carries only 1,500 watts, but runs much more smoothly and processes much more quickly. Wattage doesn’t always dictate how a blender will perform.

Cleanup: We stated this above as well, but again: Don’t underestimate the value of an easy cleanup. Some blenders had a lot of hard-to-reach spots that even a dishwasher might not always effectively hit. Others were downright perilous to clean, and we have the scars to prove it. All of our recommendations above took these considerations into account.

The best blender overall

vitamix 5200

The Vitamix 5200 is an easy-to-use, easy-to-clean blender with the power and speed variation to handle any task.

Pros: Simple but sufficient controls, powerful enough for any task, the best pitcher shape of any blender we tried

Cons: Tall, doesn’t easily fit in or under many cabinets

The Vitamix 5200 is possibly Vitamix’s most popular blender, and we think it’s the best blender out there, period. It has the power to tackle any task within reason, it accelerates and decelerates as smoothly as a finely-tuned sports car, and the design of the jar minimizes splatter.

Out of all of the blenders we tested, none performed so quickly or consistently. Through every test we ran, the 5200 came out shining, and it was the only blender to produce both almond flour and butter without any assistance (we didn’t even need to use the included tamper). 

Rather than getting stuck in the corners and sides of the blending jar — as we found to be the case with other blenders, — the pile of almonds automatically and neatly folded back onto itself as it was ground first into flour and eventually butter. While there are plenty of blenders out there with a dizzying list of presets, we found this simplistic design — with nothing more than a power dial, on/off switch, and a high-power switch (which functions like the 5200‘s overdrive mode) — the easiest to operate and adjust.

Cleaning this blender was relatively easy. There are no tough-to-reach grooves or gasket channels and the blade is simple enough to work around (though it’s best to remove it for proper cleaning).

As a further vote of confidence, we went around Brooklyn noting which blenders smoothie stands were using, and this one was by far the most popular. 

Now, there’s no way of getting around that this blender costs half a grand, but it will likely last you well over a decade. If spending this kind of money on a blender is out of the question, we have perfectly capable recommendations below for less than half the price.

Best mid-priced blender

Cleanblend 3HP Commercial Blender

The Cleanblend 3HP Commercial Blender can handle most any task nearly as well as some blenders more than twice its price.

Pros: Powerful, easy-to-use design

Cons: Not as smooth as others, bottom can’t be unscrewed for cleaning (voids warranty)

The Cleanblend 3HP Commercial Blender is a surprisingly powerful machine for its size and price. It can take on any basic task with absolute ease, and while making nut butter and almond flour is a bit of chore, it will get the job done.

We found that we needed more than the included tamping tool to scrape the butter-in-the-making off the sides multiple times before we got anywhere near the final product, and ended up having to turn the machine off and use a spatula to do so.

I’ve been testing this blender for two years and while it doesn’t operate as smoothly as some pricier options, it has no trouble reducing ice cubes to uniform shave ice in almost as little time as the Vitamix 5200, and I’ve easily made 100 smoothies and blended drinks without any issues. 

Cleaning, as with the Vitamix 5200, is about as easy as it gets for a blender. The shape of the jar and the positioning of the blades doesn’t leave much in the way of hard-to-reach spaces, there are no strangely-placed gaskets, and the lid and lid cap are easy enough to take apart and clean. 

The only downside is that you can’t unscrew the bottom to give that region a thorough wash. Still, in two years of testing, we haven’t noticed any alarming signs (such as mold) that would suggest anything is getting trapped in the bottom.

If you want something close to the Vitamix 5200 but just can’t reason spending so much on a blender, the Cleanblend is a great alternative and almost identical in design. Nut butter and almond flour aside, it works and cleans almost every bit as well for less than half the price.

Best budget blender

KitchenAid K150 blender

If all you’re making is the odd smoothie, the Kitchenaid K150‘s timeless design will more than suffice.

Pros: Simple single dial, easy to clean and operate

Cons: Not very good for making almond flour or nut butter, relatively low power

If you’re the type of person who only makes smoothies or frozen cocktails from time to time, you probably don’t need a state-of-the-art blender. But you still want something that will last. We should note up top that the Kitchenaid K150 is half the price of our budget pick, but that’s because we didn’t find it particularly effective if you need something that can perform a wide array of tasks outside of smoothies, soups, and purees.

When it came to making nut butters and flour, we were unable to produce either. But that’s okay; if you’re not getting too ambitious with what you blend, the Kitchenaid K150 is all you need. It has a no-fuss design with one control knob and three settings, plus a pulse setting for crushing ice.

Speaking of ice, when we were comparing blenders, one of the most telling tests was how quickly and evenly they could reduce eight ounces of ice cubes into shaved ice. This one wasn’t the fastest, but we still got the results we were looking for within about 10 seconds. We then followed with strawberry-banana and kale smoothies using ice as well. Again, it wasn’t the fastest, but within 30 seconds every time, we had perfectly thick smoothies with no inconsistencies, chunks of fruit, stalks, or leaves. Frankly, we couldn’t differentiate smoothies that came from this blender from what came from our top pick (more than four times the price).

We also like that the K150 is extremely lightweight, easy to store, and doesn’t take up much counter space. And, if you’re after the classic Kitchenaid aesthetic but want a slightly beefed-up blender, look at the larger K400, which packs 1,200 watts, five dial settings, and four presets.

What else we tested

What else we recommend and why:

Breville Super Q: Despite being a large, heavy blender with lots of buttons, this is a truly powerful appliance that runs every bit as smoothly as our top pick, but it wasn’t as convenient to clean or store (or move). If you have your eyes set on stainless steel appliances, this is a great one.

Kitchenaid K400: This model worked only marginally better than the K150, and while it holds its aesthetic, we think spending just a bit more to get the Cleanblend 3HP, our budget pick, is the wiser move. That said, if you like the looks of it (it’s our favorite blender to look at) and only ever make smoothies or frozen drinks, it won’t do you wrong.

Ninja Chef: This is Ninja’s older model, which we like better than the Foodi. As far as electronics go, this one is highly intuitive, with a dial and recommended settings that light up. As was the problem with any of the more advanced blenders we tested, the recipe settings are calibrated to produce certain amounts, which may not fit with your needs.

Vitamix 750 Professional Series: This is similar to the Vitamix 5200 in almost every way, except it’s slightly less powerful, and the jar is shorter and wider. We found the jar shape of the 5200 to be the best, and highly recommend it over any other Vitamix, unless you are preparing for larger households or parties.

What we don’t recommend and why:

Cuisinart Hurricane Pro/CBT-2000: Perfectly sufficient for making smoothies, the jar for this model was too wide for other applications, and we found bits of food tended to clump together around the edges and evade the blades.

Ninja Foodi: While this machine is affordable and offers an impressive interface, we found the basin of the jar too large for the blades, and we also found out the hard way that the blades are not affixed to the jar, so when you pour something out, the blade comes with it. We think that by and large, this needs to be addressed by the manufacturer. That aside, it obliterated ice with the best of the blenders we tested.

Vitamix A3300: This is clearly a very powerful machine, but the electronics on it were puzzling, and while we’re aware of the initial error in our ways when first loading it (not enough liquid), we received a series of error messages with no option to resolve, even after turning it on and off again. This is far too complex for most people who just want to turn a blender on and get on with their food or drink preparation.

Oster Versa: This is a heavy-duty piece of machinery, and it’s priced competitively. We just found that it didn’t blend particularly well due to the shape of the jar. If you have short storage space either in or under your cabinets, though, this one is much squatter than most other models.

What we’re testing next

Calphalon Auto-Speed Blender ($159.99): We’ve recommended this blender in the past, but haven’t tried it side by side with our new top picks. We’ll look to retest it soon, as it’s competitively priced and powerful enough to contend for our budget recommendation.

Nutribullet Full Size Blender ($99.99): This is a powerful blender for the price, and also might contend for a budget pick. We’ll plan to try it as soon as we can and report back.

Oster Blend Active Portable Blender ($29.99): We’re looking to recommend a portable, personal-sized blender as soon as we’ve tested enough available options, and will update our guide accordingly. This is currently at the top of our list, and we have already used it for smoothies, which it blended perfectly well.

FAQs

The best blenders FAQ

What’s the difference between a blender and a food processor?

Blenders and food processors have some overlap, but blenders are better for things like smoothies, thinner purees, and whipping fresh fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens into an even consistency.

Since a food processor isn’t designed to create a vortex to suck everything in toward the blades the way that a blender is, it’s better for thicker sauces and purees, like hummus. It’s also better for things that might require fine knifework, like chopping onions or grating parmesan.

In the end, if you spend a lot of time prepping in the kitchen, you may want both, but while a blender isn’t always the best option, a good one like our top recommendation can get the job done well enough, especially with a little practice.


What’s the best way to clean a blender?

If you have a dishwasher and your blender is dishwasher-safe, the best way to clean it with confidence is to disassemble the entire jar as much as possible, taking care to separate the bottom cap and blades, where a lot of bacteria can hide out. This is also true if you’re only washing by hand, although removing and cleaning those parts is a fussier process. 

The best blenders allow for easy and safe removal of the blades, some. If your blender’s blades don’t come out, your best bet is to soak it in lots of hot, soapy water, and use a coarse brush with a long handle so that you can safely and efficiently scrub at and around the blades.

Check out our other small appliance buying guides

Breville 98xl juicer

 

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23 last-minute gifts you can still get in time for Mother’s Day, including gift cards and subscriptions

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - Products in the Drunk Elephant The Littles™ 4.0 lying flat on a pink background

  • If you’re purchasing a Mother’s Day gift last minute, there’s still time to order something special.
  • We rounded up 23 options – from luxurious hair products to cookbooks – that will arrive by May 9.
  • If you’re not in a hurry, check out these 54 Mother’s Day gifts under $50.

Mother’s Day is around the corner and there are just a few days to get a gift for the moms in your life. For those living on the edge and have yet to pick up something, we have you covered with last-minute gift ideas that can be ordered, delivered, and presented, right in time for Mother’s Day. If you’re cutting it close, we also have recommendations for subscriptions and gift cards that can be purchased and gifted on the day of.

Here are 23 of the best last-minute Mother’s Day gifts that will arrive by May 9

The most stunning bouquet we ordered and reviewed

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - UrbanStems The Hema Bouquet on a living room table

Gift an UrbanStems bouquet, starting at $50

Let’s start with the Mother’s Day basic — a beautiful bouquet. UrbanStems offers a range of fresh, modern bouquets and other arrangements that are a step above the average flower mix. They were the best flower delivery service we tested, and the best part: they offer next-day delivery for 48 states and same-day delivery in New York City and Washington, DC.

A clothing subscription to switch up mom’s wardrobe

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - A Stitch Fix subscription box, including tops, bottoms, outerwear and a pair of shoes

Gift a Stitch Fix subscription, $20

Amp up the traditional blouse you get mom with a Stitch Fix subscription, which will deliver a customized wardrobe based on a style quiz and the plan you choose. There’s a $20 styling fee, and then you can personalize your picks after.

A sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner set for salon-looking hair

Last minute Mothers' Day gifts - Kristin Ess The One Signature Shampoo and Conditioner lying next to each other on a table

Gift Kristin Ess’ The One Signature Shampoo and Conditioner, $20 each

If healthy and shiny hair is important to mom, sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners, like Kristin Ess’ The One Signature line, won’t dry out hair, so it’s perfect to gift — especially with summer coming up. When ordering online from Target it will arrive by the weekend, or you can pick it up at a local store.

A clothing subscription to switch up mom’s wardrobe

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - Everlane Gift Card in an envelope

Gift an Everlane gift card, from $25

For cozy, luxe basics, Everlane is one of our favorite retailers. Simply enter the gift card amount of your choice, print out a few options to stick in a Mother’s Day card, and you’ll be all set.

A pair of designer shades to sport this summer

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - Ray Ban Clubmaster Square Sunglasses

Gift the Ray-Ban Clubmaster Square Sunglasses, $161

For a timely, practical gift for the warmer months, you can’t go wrong with a classic pair of Ray-Bans. They’re one of our favorite retailers for womens’ shades and are Amazon Prime-eligible too.

An oversized beach tote for all the necessities

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - CGear Sand Free Gray Stripe Tote

Gift the CGear Sand-Free Gray Stripe Tote, $49.99

For moms who can’t get enough purses, crossbody bags, and clutches, gift her another carrier — a spacious beach bag. The CGear Sand-Free tote has a gray- and turquoise-striped design and is Amazon Prime-eligible. You can even fill it with a reusable water bottle, high-end sunscreen, and wireless headphones for the beach.

A smart tea kettle for making tea or preparing baby formula

Last minute Mother's day gifts - Smarter Electric iKettle standing upright on a kitchen countertop

Gift the Smarter Electric iKettle, $99

For frequent tea drinkers, the Amazon Prime-eligible Smarter Electric iKettle boasts Wi-Fi and voice activation with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant — you can control the temperature from the Smarter app on your phone. The iKettle is wonderful for new moms for hassle-free nighttime feeding.

A Walmart+ subscription for the savvy shopper

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - A Walmart tote bag with what you can get with a Walmart+ Subscription inside, including groceries, Play-Doh, and a Nintendo Switch

Gift a Walmart+ subscription, $12.95 per month

Walmart is known to sell almost everything under the sun, and gifting mom a Walmart+ subscription adds the convenience of items shipped directly to your door. We tried it out and, whether shopping for groceries or video games, Walmart+ is a practical idea.

If mom is a big Amazon shopper and isn’t already an Amazon Prime member, here’s how to sign her up — a monthly subscription costs $12.99.

The comfiest pair of sneakers you’ll find

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - A woman walking on pavement wearing the gray Allbirds Wool Loungers

Gift the Allbirds Women’s Wool Loungers, $95

From grocery store runs to walks in the park, moms are frequently on the go. The Allbirds Women’s Wool Loungers are some of the comfiest shoes we’ve reviewed, and the brand appeared not once, but three times in our best white sneakers for women guide. The shoes will arrive in two business days or can be expedited in one business day.

A nostalgic and sentimental coupon book

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - A mother writing on one of the Knock Knock Vouchers for Mom

Gift the Knock Knock Vouchers for Mom, $12

If you have an all-I-want-is-a-card type of mom, the Knock Knock Vouchers for Mom is a fantastic, sentimental idea. It’s Amazon Prime-eligible and contains 20 “coupons” that you fulfill, ranging from breakfast in bed to a day without complaints (two things that mom will adore).

A wine subscription for the so-called sommelier

Last minute Mother's Day gifts  - A Winc subscription box and four bottles of wine on a doormat

Gift a Winc subscription, $39 per month

If mom is a wine fanatic, Winc is a fitting gift. The most affordable subscription starts at $39, which includes three $13 bottles of wine. You can also purchase a gift card for choosing bottles. You can read about our experience in using the Winc wine subscription service

A deluxe skincare sampler to boost hydration and self-care

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - Products in the Drunk Elephant The Littles™ 4.0 lying flat on a pink background

Gift the Drunk Elephant The Littles 4.0 Set, $90

Skincare can be an expensive gift for Mother’s Day. Drunk Elephant, one of our favorite brands, offers the 4.0 Kit, a sampler of not one but eight great skincare products that include the Protini Polypeptide Moisturizer, the Beste No. 9 Jelly Cleanser, and the C-Tango Multivitamin Eye Cream. And, these cruelty-free products are packed in a reusable case.

When ordering at Sephora, you can opt for one-day expedited shipping, or order and pick up at a local store.

A cookbook with 100 cookie recipes for the baker

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - The "100 Cookies" cookbook on a pink table surrounded by baking tools

Gift the “100 Cookies” cookbook, $23.55

If the kitchen is your mom’s most-visited spot, gifting a cookbook is thoughtful and will offer inspiration for whipping up more sweet treats. The Amazon Prime-eligible “100 Cookies” cookbook highlights — you guessed it — 100 cookies, brownies, bars, and other yummy recipes to bake over the weekend. 

If you want to splurge, you can pair it with one of our favorite KitchenAid stand mixers.

An Audible subscription for the reader

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - A woman listening to an Audible audiobook while at the gym

Gift an Audible subscription, starting at $7.95 a month

For a really last-minute gift idea, Audible is an instantaneous subscription after ordering. The platform serves as a digital audio library of popular books — play them as you would your favorite podcasts. You can pair the subscription with some bestselling audiobooks.

A beauty and grooming subscription box to switch things up

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - A Birchbox subscription box with assorted makeup and skincare items to its right

Gift a Birchbox subscription, $15 per month

Birchbox packages makeup, hair, and skincare products, which is perfect for providing mom with new products to try. It’s a perfect IOU to include in a card, so you’ll have something ordered in time for May 9.

A gel manicure kit if you can’t get to a nail salon

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - Red Carpet Manicure Gel Polish Pro Kit

Gift the Red Carpet Manicure Gel Polish Pro Kit, $79.99

Give mom a salon-like manicure without the need for an in-person appointment. Red Carpet is the best at-home gel nail kit we tested, and it will arrive from Ulta in two to three business days with premium shipping, or available for in-store pickup after ordering.

The Dyson Airwrap mom will never purchase for herself

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - A woman curling her hair with the Dyson Airwrap Styler Volume and Shape

Gift the Dyson Airwrap styler, $778.99

If you’re chipping in with your siblings or simply want to splurge on mom this year, the Dyson Airwrap styler is your best bet. We tested it alongside a celebrity hairstylist and found it to be a quality, versatile tool that produces gorgeous salon looks with its air-and-no-heat technology.

A sleek essential oil diffuser for a fresh-scented room

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - The URPower Essential Oil Diffuser in use on a carpeted bedroom floor

Gift the URPower Essential Oil Diffuser, $19.99

While we love our candles, a diffuser is a no-flame option that will make a room smell like eucalyptus, peppermint, or fresh linen — the latter perfect is for bathrooms. URPower is our favorite essential oil diffuser on a budget and when paired with an essential oil kit, it’s an all-in-one thoughtful gift for Mother’s Day — Amazon Prime-eligible.

An exercise bike and work desk duo that’s super practical

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - A woman on a call while on the Bike Desk 3.0

Gift the FitDesk Bike Desk 3.0, $299.99

Does mom want to stay active while working from home? The FitDesk Bike Desk 3.0 is a laptop desk and exercise bike hybrid that will get her feet moving while in meetings. Even better: it’s Amazon Prime-eligible and something that will boost productivity.

For an add-on, pair the bike desk with a pair of our favorite spin shoes we tested.

A Nespresso machine for cafe-style brews at home

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - Nespresso VertuoPlus Deluxe Coffee and Espresso Machine Bundle

Gift the Nespresso VertuoPlus Deluxe Coffee and Espresso Machine Bundle, $160

If your gift recipient is always running to Dunkin’ or Starbucks, the Nespresso VertuoPlus will be much appreciated. It’s Amazon Prime-eligible, and it comes with a milk frother and a coffee pod sampler to get started. 

A waffle robe for getting ready after the shower

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - A woman wearing the Bohang Summer Waffle Bathrobe in Light Purple

Gift the Bohang Summer Waffle Bathrobe, $25.99

Fluffy robes are great for winter, but a waffle robe is perfect year-round — especially to throw on after a relaxing bath or shower. It’s Amazon Prime-eligible, comes in three colors, and feels like one you’d find at a hotel.

A meal delivery service to take some stress off cooking

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - The ingredients that come in a HelloFresh meal kit box alongside the final meal

Gift a HelloFresh meal kit subscription, from $33.97

Meal delivery is all the rage these days — you get pre-selected meal options shipped to your door, with pre-portioned ingredients included. We tested HelloFresh and deemed it as one of our favorite meal delivery kit services.

For shipping, HelloFresh offers expedited delivery, depending on the plan selected.

A gold bangle that is dainty and will match any outfit

Last minute Mother's Day gifts - Kate Spade New York Idiom Bangle

Gift the Kate Spade New York Idiom Bangle, $26.60 

Designer for less than $30? The Kate Spade New York Idiom Bangle is a classic, gold-plated bracelet proven to match any outfit. It’s also Amazon Prime-eligible and makes for a simple and dainty jewelry piece.

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The 5 best microwaves we tested in 2021

  • The best microwaves cook food evenly, quickly, and feature useful preset buttons.
  • We consulted experts, researched popular and well-rated models, and tested five products to find the best microwaves you can buy.
  • The Panasonic NN-SN65KB Microwave Oven is our top pick because it’s powerful, moderately-sized, and has many helpful presets.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

When microwave ovens were first introduced in the late 1940s, they were more than 5 feet tall, weighed about 750 pounds, and cost thousands of dollars. Thankfully, microwaves have come a long way since their inception – they now fit on your countertop and many households use them every single day to reheat or cook food.

A good microwave should heat your food safely, quickly, and evenly. In addition to our research and testing, we spoke with Bob Schiffmann, a microwave heating expert and president of the International Microwave Power Institute, as well as Jared Lodico, a postdoctoral researcher in physics at UCLA, to better understand how microwaves work and what to look for when shopping for a microwave.

We shortlisted to five popular microwaves and put them through a series of tests, starting with the marshmallow test – an actual industry-standard experiment to check for hot and cold spots by heating marshmallows for a set period of time. We also used each microwave to reheat beverages and cook frozen foods and tested every model’s presets (like Popcorn and Sensor Cook). Finally, we used the microwaves for several days throughout a normal routine, evaluating how easy they were to use and how well they cooked. You can read more about our methodology here.

The best microwaves you can buy in 2021

The best microwave overall

Panasonic microwave

The Panasonic NN-SN65KB Microwave Oven packs 1,200 watts of power to cook food quickly and evenly. It’s compact, yet has a spacious interior, and comes with many helpful preset buttons for easy cooking.  

Pros: Five useful preset buttons, 1,200 watts of cooking power (more than most microwaves), includes a child-safety lock button

Cons: Fingerprint smudges are visible, the light inside isn’t bright enough to check food while it’s cooking, it’s loud, Frozen Foods feature doesn’t cook accurately, doesn’t have Express Cook buttons

At 1,200 watts, the Panasonic NN-SN65KB Microwave Oven  packs a punch and cooks food fast. The microwave heats remarkably evenly, which we saw during the marshmallow test. The marshmallows all expanded evenly, and at the end of two minutes, there was only a bit of burning in the very center of the marshmallows.

The microwave’s power levels start at P10, the highest cooking level, and go down to P0, the Keep Warm level. P10 is the default setting and the one I used regularly for heating and cooking.

If you’re using this microwave to simply reheat leftovers, the Sensor Reheat feature works well. Once cooking, it detects the humidity level of the food inside and starts counting down the cooking time. I also tried the more niche preset buttons like Popcorn and Coffee/Milk preset, and both worked better than the presets on other microwaves I tested.

That said, I was less impressed with the Frozen Food preset that categorizes food groups into numbers, much like Sensor Reheat. I used this when making frozen mac and cheese and found that the microwave grossly overestimated the amount of time needed to cook it. 

A few other minor downsides: the light inside the microwave is dim, so it’s hard to monitor the food while it’s cooking, and fingerprints are highly visible on the control panel. However, this is overall a great microwave that balances power and size with easy-to-use features. 

Best microwave on a budget

Commercial Chef microwave

The Commercial Chef Microwave is bare-bones, but dead simple to use. It’s moderately powerful, well-priced, and compact enough for small kitchens.  

Pros: Simple to use, compact, quieter than most models, heats evenly

Cons: Doesn’t have a clock, can only set cook time by the minute, not very powerful (only 600 watts), too small for large dishes or plates over 10 inches in diameter

Editor’s note: Commercial Chef has an updated model of this microwave with digital controls, at a lower price point. We’re currently looking into testing it.

At less than 18 inches long and 11 inches deep, The Commercial Chef Microwave is super compact and well-sized for small kitchens or dorm rooms. In many ways, it resembles an old-school toaster oven, and even “dings” like one when cooking is complete. Its controls consist of just two rotary knobs — one for power level and one for cook time. Unfortunately, you can’t set specific seconds if you’re zapping something quick, like warming a piece of bread, heating a mug of coffee, or melting butter. It also doesn’t have any special features or buttons.

That said, if simplicity is what you’re after, this model has it. It’s easy and intuitive to use, and heats relatively evenly. When I did the marshmallow test, I noticed a few browned pieces on the outer edges where the marshmallows expanded more, but overall no major hot or cold spots. 

At just 600 watts, it’s a little underpowered. In the absence of any preset buttons, I just used the package instructions to cook frozen mac and cheese. After the four minutes recommended on the package, it was warm throughout but not hot. You’ll likely have to add a minute or two to any package instructions when cooking in this microwave. 

If you want a no-frills microwave that reheats and cooks food in a simple, quick manner, this is a great option, especially if you don’t have much kitchen space to work with.

Best convection microwave

Toshiba microwave

If you’re looking for a microwave that does it all, the 1,000-watt Toshiba Microwave Oven with Convection, cooks, reheats, bakes, and even roasts food quickly and thoroughly. 

Pros: Quiet, many quick-touch preset cooking buttons, a multi-functional appliance that can bake and roast, includes a child-safety lock

Cons: Heavy and bulky, convection feature heats up kitchen quickly

If you’re trying to condense the number of kitchen appliances in your home, then the Toshiba Microwave Oven with Convection is a good multi-functional appliance to have. Not only does it work as a traditional microwave, but it also bakes, roasts, and toasts. It’s also the only microwave we tested that has an Express Cook feature, which allow you to quickly start the microwave by just pressing numbers one through six on the number pad.

At 1,000 watts, the Toshiba microwave oven is powerful. I definitely saw the results when I did the marshmallow test: the marshmallows in the center of the tray burned after two minutes, and there was a lot of moisture buildup on the tray underneath the parchment paper. Aside from the burning in the middle, I didn’t notice any hot or cold spots. It also cooked frozen mac and cheese thoroughly.

One of the unique features of this microwave is that it also works as a convection oven, so you don’t need to buy a separate toaster oven. To test out the convection oven, I warmed up some frozen French fries, which typically comes out soggy and flabby in a regular microwave. The heating options were confusing, so I had to refer to the cooking chart in the manual to see what level to cook the French fries. I was pleasantly surprised to see the fries turned out as crispy as they do in my air fryer (though it took twice as long and the settings were a bit more complicated).

You can also make toast with the convection setting. When I tried this, I found it toasted very unevenly and the results were paler and flabbier than a regular toaster, so I don’t recommend this microwave for that use.

Overall, this microwave heated well, the buttons are easy to use and smudge-proof, and the microwave beeps loud and clear. The only major downside is you will need plenty of countertop space to accommodate this large oven, and at nearly 50 pounds, it isn’t easy to move.

Best large capacity microwave

Panasonic microwave 2

This microwave, which can also be installed as a built-in, is large enough to fit two plates at a time and features an easy-to-use dial to heat and cook your food.

Pros: Quiet, powerful 1,250 watts, the dial is easy to use, comes with useful preset buttons, includes a child-safety lock, can be installed as a built-in microwave 

Cons: You can’t see the food well while it’s cooking, dial only goes up in 10-second increments

The Panasonic NN-SD975S Microwave Oven is large in both size and capacity; with a 16.5-inch turntable, it’s ideal if you’re cooking for a family.

One dial controls the cooking time and it only goes up or down in 10-second increments; a minor inconvenience, but otherwise operates smoothly and easily. You can also use the dial to input weight for food you’re defrosting by turning the dial clockwise to increase or decrease until you get to the proper weight. 

At 1,250 watts, it’s the most powerful microwave we tested, and it overcooked frozen mac and cheese when I cooked it according to package instructions. You’ll likely need to decrease cooking time by a minute or two from any package instructions with this microwave. However, it heated very evenly. When I did the marshmallow test, it produced the best results of any microwave I tried with no hot or cold spots, even in the center. 

Like other microwaves we tried, you can program up to three stages of cooking, and the display screen will let you know where you are in the cooking process. If you’re using the multi-stage cooking feature, you can use the Keep Warm setting as your final stage.

While it’s a powerful microwave with lots of helpful features, it’s extremely large and bulky, so best suited for large kitchens or households with many members who will take advantage of its larger capacity. This microwave can also be built into a cabinet or other static feature in your kitchen, though I left it on my countertop for easier testing.

Best smart microwave

GE Smart Microwave Oven Review 2021 lead image

GE’s Smart Microwave Oven is Alexa- and Google Assistant-enabled, so you can cook your food using voice commands or from your smartphone.

Pros: features smart technology and scan-to-cook technology at a reasonable price, heats food quickly, spacious yet compact enough to fit in a small kitchen

Cons: doesn’t cook food as evenly as other microwaves we tested, doesn’t come with a trim kit to mount over the stove or underneath cabinets, the voice commands are finicky.

The GE Smart Microwave Oven looks like any ordinary microwave on the market. It’s sleek and relatively compact, but a dinner plate still fits nicely inside. Its defining feature is its smart connectivity.

To see how well the microwave heats food, I cooked marshmallows in the microwave for two minutes on high to see how they heated. I noticed some hot spots and the outer edges and center cooked more quickly than the rest of the marshmallows. I also microwaved frozen mac and cheese according to the package instructions. At 900 watts, this microwave isn’t the most powerful, but it heats up pretty quickly. 

The best part of having a smart microwave is that you can control the settings and check the status of your food from your smartphone or by using voice commands with a virtual assistant like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. I tested the microwave with my Google Home Mini, and I was able to use voice commands to perform basic functions including start/stop, pause/resume, set the microwave for a specific amount of time, add time (but I couldn’t subtract) and ask how much time is left (I can also check this from my smartphone.)

Frankly, most people don’t need a smart microwave. However, the hands-free technology makes cooking easier when you’re multitasking, and it’s more sanitary since you are reducing the amount of times you touch the microwave. 

It also features a scan-to-cook function where you can scan the barcode on a package of food using your smartphone, and the cook time and settings automatically display. All you have to do is press or say “start.” 

Other smart microwaves on the market can be upwards of $300, so for the price and reliability, this is a great microwave. It’s a good option if you’re budget-conscious but are in the market for a smart microwave.

Read our full review of the GE Smart Microwave Oven here.

Testing methodology

Microwave Methodology

In addition to speaking with Bob Schiffmann, a microwave heating expert and president of the International Microwave Power Institute, and Jared Lodico, a postdoctoral researcher in physics at UCLA, I put all the microwaves through a standard set of tests, evaluating how well they cooked food, how easy they were to use, and any special features or extra buttons. Here’s how I tested microwaves: 

Marshmallow test: The first test I performed with every microwave was the marshmallow test, an industry-standard way to check your microwave for hot and cold spots. To conduct this test, I cut parchment paper to the size of each microwave’s glass tray and completely covered it with mini marshmallows, leaving no blank spaces. I cooked the marshmallows in the microwave for two minutes on high to see how they expanded and cooked. The marshmallows that expanded first revealed the microwave’s hot spots, while marshmallows that still appeared raw showed the cold spots. Colder spots are potentially dangerous because they can mean your food is undercooked and possibly unsafe to eat in those areas. A good microwave produces even cooking across the entire surface — no burnt or uncooked marshmallows.

Frozen meal test: I also cooked frozen mac and cheese in each microwave, using the same brand and cook time and checking for evenness, or burnt or cold spots.

Ease of use: I looked at how easy and intuitive the microwaves were to use, and how much space they occupied on my counter. I also evaluated how much noise they made during cooking and how loud and persistent their alarms and beeps were. 

Presets and additional functions: Where applicable, I used and tested each model’s preset buttons according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This included Popcorn, Reheat, Sensor Cook, and Keep Warm buttons. I evaluated how well these settings performed their intended function and how easy they were to use.

What we’re testing next

What we look forward to testing Microwave

Here are some models that we’re looking forward to testing in the future:

GE Smart Microwave with Scan-to-Cook ($67.97): An updated version of our current best budget pick, this model features digital controls, a compact footprint, and a low price point. We’re looking into testing it and will report back soon with our findings.

Whirlpool 1.9-cubic-foot Over-the-Range Microwave ($619.99): This over-the-range microwave appeared as a pick in the previous version of this guide. Unfortunately, I couldn’t test it this round because my kitchen isn’t outfitted to accommodate an over-the-range unit. However, if you’re in search of a microwave that sits over the stove, this may be a good option. This model is both a convection oven and a microwave, and according to reviews, it’s spacious, easy to use, and easy to install. We hope to test it for a future update of this guide.

How microwaves work

How microwaves work

While microwaves may seem mystifying to some, at their most basic, they’re not much different than stoves, ovens, or grills in that they use energy to cook food. “Generally speaking, the process of putting energy into something is pretty much how we heat/cook all food, it just depends on how we do it (such as on the stove, in the sun, or with a microwave),” said Lodico. 

The difference is that microwaves generate energy in the form of electrical and magnetic rays. “Microwaves generate ‘microwaves,’ which is a form of electromagnetic radiation,” Lodico said. “This electric field transfers energy to the food as the waves pass through it.” The energy transfer causes water molecules in the food to vibrate, producing heat that cooks the food practically from the inside out. Because of this, foods that are high in water content, like potatoes or other fresh vegetables, cook much faster in the microwave than they do in other appliances, like the stove.

What to look for in a microwave

What to look for in a Microwave

We consulted experts on what to look for when purchasing a microwave. Here are the major qualities you should consider:

Power: The biggest consideration when shopping for a microwave is power. How much power you’ll need depends on what you primarily use the microwave for. If your household is only using the microwave to reheat food, then you can look for a cheaper model with less wattage, said Schiffmann. “Around an 800-watt oven works [for reheating], and popular ones are between 800 to 1,000 watts,” he says. 

Today, microwaves can do a lot more than just heat up cold food; they can defrost, cook, roast, bake, and more. If you want a microwave that actually cooks your food rather than simply reheating it, expect to spend a little more for a quality oven with more than 1,000 watts of power. 

Presets and additional functions: It’s also worthwhile to consider how and when you typically use preset functions. Many consumers are fine primarily operating a microwave with the number pad or Express Cook buttons. However, if you’re someone who does a lot of cooking or defrosting, you may find preset functions helpful.

If you’re in the market for a microwave that can also replace a toaster oven, opt for a model with convection settings, but keep in mind that this functionality often comes at a higher price and the technology can be hit or miss. 

Price: Schiffmann said you should expect to spend between $100 and $150 on a good 800 to 1,000-watt microwave, and a bit more as wattage increases. You’ll also pay more for extra features, like convection settings or lots of presets. While Schiffmann says you don’t have to spend a lot to get a quality microwave, he cautions about considering microwaves under $100. “Anything cheaper will most likely break down and be unstable,” he said, so you’re better off investing in a machine that costs a little more but will last longer. 

Safety features: If you have young children, you will want to purchase a microwave with a child-safety lock feature. “Many toddlers can get injured when reaching in the microwave, but many manufacturers have a digital lock now where you put in a combination of numbers to lock and unlock the microwave,” Schiffmann says. Out of the microwaves we tested, all but the Commercial Chef microwave have the ability to lock itself. Note that this feature prevents the microwave oven from operating; it does not lock the microwave door. 

FAQs

Microwave FAQ

Does standing near a microwave put me at risk for radiation exposure?

You may have heard that standing too close to the microwave while it’s operating can expose you to radiation, but according to experts, that’s a myth. “Microwaves are very safe — as long as they aren’t damaged,” Lodico says. “The metal housing and mesh screen on the door act as a shield from the radiation that is generated inside. As the radiation approaches the wall of the microwave it induces a current and magnetic field that cancels out the incoming wave.” While there was once some concern about operating a microwave if you have a pacemaker, the FDA says this is no longer an issue with modern pacemakers, though individuals with pacemakers should always check with their doctor first. 

Why are there holes in my microwave door?

According to experts, these small holes are another safeguard against radiation, canceling out incoming electromagnetic waves just like the metal housing in the microwave does. Lodico said holes are only a concern if they’re very large, which these intentional holes are not. “In fact, the holes on the door are actually 10 times smaller than what they theoretically need to be. But, it makes sense to make them smaller in case the door is damaged in some way,” Lodico said. “Rule of thumb: If there is a hole in your microwave greater than three millimeters in diameter, it’s time to get a new microwave.”

Should you defrost meat in the microwave?

We’ve all been there: You forgot to put the frozen meat for dinner in the refrigerator to thaw out. The defrost feature on a microwave can come to the rescue. Defrosting sets your microwave’s power between 30% to 50% so it thaws your food without cooking it. Although it’s recommended to safely thaw meat in the refrigerator, you can use your microwave’s defrost button to thaw meat in a pinch as long as you cook it immediately after you thaw it. According to the FDA, microwaves may heat food unevenly which could result in harmful bacteria growth if the food isn’t cooked immediately after defrosting.

While we know from the marshmallow test that many microwaves have natural hot and cold spots, defrosting presents an additional challenge for microwaves because the waves don’t penetrate or heat frozen foods as effectively as thawed foods. “So there is a dilemma: Once the meat starts to defrost somewhere, it will continue heating there. But the frozen parts will heat up more slowly, leading to non-uniform temperatures,” said Schiffmann. “I break up the defrosted ground beef with a fork since it has usually softened, then I continue the defrost cycle for another minute or two, breaking up any softened, but completely melted parts.”

Schiffmann also said it’s important when cooking or defrosting food in the microwave to keep an eye on food temperature. “When cooking your food, measure several places with a food thermometer to avoid undercooking or underheating,” he said. According to the FDA, a safe final cooking temperature for poultry and ground beef is around 165 degrees Fahrenheit while roasts and steaks are safe around 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

What foods should I cook in my microwave oven?

“Microwave ovens are really poachers or steamers, so those foods that fit that profile do well,” says Schiffmann. “They’re great for cooking fish, vegetables, and chicken, but don’t expect dry foods to crisp or brown.” Any food with high water content does well in the microwave, like potatoes or fresh vegetables, and you can also use them as a shortcut when making boiled foods. For example, you can put dry pasta in a bowl of water and microwave for the cooking time on the pasta package. The pasta will cook perfectly and you don’t even have to wait for the water to boil. 

Check out our other small appliance buying guides

best juicers methodology
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A running list of 25+ stores that offer free online returns

If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.

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You don’t need to be an online shopping veteran to know that it’s a tricky affair – the whole process occurs without you ever seeing or trying the product. To make buying a little easier, many retailers offer helpful policies, like free online returns. Especially with holidays like Mothers’ Day around the corner, it’s good to know which stores you can easily make returns to.

We’ve rounded up a list of retailers offering free online returns, below.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Get free online returns on orders at these companies:

Style & clothing

  • ALDO: Aldo will refund unworn, unwashed, not final sale items returned within 60 days of your purchase.
  • Allbirds: The buzzy shoe brand allows returns for 30 days with no questions asked, even if you’ve already worn the shoes around. You can return or exchange any shoes for free that aren’t to your liking.
  • Bonobos: Men’s clothing and accessories store Bonobos includes a pre-paid return label with every order for hassle-free returns. If you make your return within 45 days of your purchase, you qualify for a refund using your original payment method. If you return within 90 days of your purchase date, you qualify for store credit instead.
  • Bloomingdale’s: Bloomingdale’s has one of the best return policies of any store. You can return an order for free for up to a full year. Just print a mailing label at home for your order.
  • Everlane: All purchases from the popular clothing brand Everlane can be returned for free for up to 30 days after your ship date. That even includes Choose What You Pay purchases. Plus, you can also return anything you bought at a brick-and-mortar store via mail.
  • Macy’s: Macy’s offers free and easy returns on most items by mail. Just print a pre-addressed shipping label and send your items back. They’ve also extended their return window from 30 to 90 days.
  • Neiman Marcus: Almost all merchandise can be returned to Neiman Marcus free of charge if received within 15 days of the delivery date. However, you may want to double-check their return policy as a few items aren’t eligible for free returns, including anything bought on clearance.
  • Nordstrom: The department store offers free returns in the US via a postage-paid return label. Your return is generally processed within 10-14 days.
  • Patagonia: Outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia offers free returns on all items, though they’re currently delayed due to staffing and safety requirements. Even better, they also usually offer free repairs on all Patagonia items, though this program has temporarily been suspended due to the novel coronavirus. They do, however, have free DIY repair guides online.
  • REI: If you’re not satisfied with any purchase from REI, you can return it for up to a full year for free. Return shipping labels come with all invoices. The only exception is outdoor electronics, which can be returned for free within 90 days.
  • Shopbop: Shopbop is known for designer women’s fashion apparel, which means items often come with a high price tag. Items returned within 15 days after receipt are refunded with no extra cost – though they’ll accept returns up to 30 days after with a $10 fee tacked on.
  • Sunglass Hut: With summer on the horizon, you may be eyeing new frames from Sunglass Hut, the sunglass retailer that carries brands from Ray-Ban to Gucci. Shop with confidence knowing you can return items for free for up to 90 days with a printed shipping label.
  • Urban Outfitters: Returning items to Urban Outfitters is easy. Just start a return online and print a free pre-paid shipping label. Returns made within 30 days of your delivery date qualify for a refund using your payment method; if it takes place after, you may qualify for store credit instead.
  • Zappos: Zappos has long been heralded as a gold standard for customers when it comes to returns. Return shipping is always free and you have 365 days to do so for all purchases – no exceptions.

Read all Insider’s style reviews

Home, kitchen, and pet supplies

  • Bed Bath & Beyond: Bed Bath & Beyond offers free return shipping on most items. You have a 90-day window after purchase to exchange or return.
  • Chewy: Pet owners will be pleased to learn that returns to Chewy are easy. If you’re not completely satisfied with your items, you can return them free of charge within one year. Just send a message with your order number to receive a shipping label.
  • Home Depot: While there are a few exceptions for bigger items, many orders are eligible for free online returns. Once you start a return you’ll receive a free UPS shipping label via email to print and attach to your package.
  • Target: Shoppers at Target have 90 days to return or exchange items for free. RedCard holders get 120 days.
  • Walmart: Walmart makes it simple to return items for free. Just log into your account, initiate a return or replacement, and print a free return label. Refunds or replacement items are issued as soon as the store receives the item. You have 90 days after purchase to make a return in most cases.
  • Williams Sonoma: Foodies and home chefs will like that Williams Sonoma allows for free returns by mail within 30 days for any items under 70 pounds. You can use the form attached to your invoice or quickly print a label online.

Read all Insider’s kitchen reviews & home good reviews

Tech

  • Apple: Apple gives its shoppers 14 days to return most items after receiving them.
  • Amazon: Most items bought on Amazon can be returned, free of charge, within 30 days of delivery. Plus, Amazon offers multiple ways to return products without boxes or labels.
  • Best Buy: Most items are eligible for refunds if you return them within 15 days of receipt. It’s important to note, however, that some items (like cell phones and DSLR cameras) will incur a restocking fee.
  • Dell: It can be nerve-wracking to buy pricey electronics sight unseen, but you can shop easy at Dell. Ship any items back for free within 30 days of your invoice date for a full refund.

Read all Insider’s tech reviews

Beauty

  • Sephora: Makeup and skincare junkies will love that Sephora.com purchases can easily be returned completely free of charge using a pre-paid shipping label. You have 60 days after purchase to do so.

Read all of Insider’s beauty reviews

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The 6 best wine and liquor decanters and dispensers of 2021

  • We had industry experts weigh in on the best decanters and liquor dispensers for your at-home bar.
  • We have decanter options whether you’re airing out aged wine or opening a fine whiskey.
  • For those who prefer cocktails, liquor dispensers make them easy to mix and quick to serve.

In my pre-pandemic life, nothing gave me more joy than having friends over for drinks and dinner. This past year my gatherings have gone virtual, but with the help of wine and spirit industry insiders from sommeliers to booze editors, I’ve taken inventory of my at-home bar set up and learned a lot more about how and what to use in the process.

A good wine decanter increases oxygen exposure, which in turn helps bring out the flavors and aromas within your wine for a better taste.

Meanwhile, a good liquor dispenser not only makes it easier to get a precise pour every time, but can also double as an easy way to store liquor bottles when they’re not in use.

From elegant decanters to easy-to-use drink dispensers that can whip up your favorite cocktail in no time, these products are highly rated and expert-approved.

Here are the best decanters and liquor dispensers

Best overall wine decanter

Riedel decanter

Offering serious bang for your buck, the Riedel Cabernet Decanter is beloved by sommeliers for good reason.

What we like: Practical, affordable, easy to clean, great for all wine types.

There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to wine decanters, but if you’re looking for a great decanter that is loved by the pros, you really can’t go wrong with Riedel’s Cabernet Decanter. 

“If you buy one decanter, get this one,” says sommelier Annie Shapero. “It’s medium-sized, classic in design, and will work with much more than Cabernet.”

Riedel is a renowned wineglass maker, too, and has long been an industry leader in quality glassware that’s trusted by wine-industry insiders. Shapero says they are the go-to option for all things decanting. This decanter has a chic look for your hosting table and is lightweight but sturdy. Just be aware you’ll need to hand wash it. 

Best wine decanter on a budget

Italian bistro decanter

For a great decanter option that doesn’t break the bank, this Italian-made bistro-style carafe will do the trick.

What we love: Cost-effective, authentic and old-school Italian-made design

If you’re looking for an everyday decanter that’s affordable, this bistro-style carafe by Bormioli Rocco is made in Italy and will look great at your next dinner party.

“As a certified Italian sommelier, my love for wine begins and ends in Italy,” Shapero says. “An old school carafe from historic glassware manufacturer, Bormioli is reminiscent of table wine in trattorias, but it will also get the job done on a wine that only needs a light decant. Nostalgia and function in one.”

Beyond being incredibly affordable, this decanter is extremely durable and dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning. 

Best aerator and decanter set

Ullo decanter

The Üllo + Decanter set uses a patented technology to create an optimal pour for each and every glass.

What we love: Simple design, smart technology, removes sulfites and sentiment

If you love wine but not the headaches that can come with it, investing in an aerator and decanter that removes the sulfites is a good option. Made in the US, the Üllo + Decanter set is great for both red and white wine and works to improve the taste of each glass using a patented sulfite capture technology. 

The set comes with an adjustable aerator that’s dishwasher-safe, as well as a hand-blown decanter that uses ultra-transparent, lead-free crystal that works to keep all of the flavors and aromas in your glass.

Best decanter for whiskey, scotch, and bourbon

whiskey diamond decanter

The Dragon Glassware Diamond Whiskey Decanter is dishwasher, refrigerator, and freezer safe, plus comes with extras for added value.

What we love: Stylish and unique design, comes with glasses, highly durable

This diamond-shaped drinkware by Dragon Glassware not only takes its unique shape from the multi-facets of diamonds, but it works to aerate as you go.

“The unique shape of the Dragon Glassware allows your drink to aerate as it is poured and swirled inside the decanter and accompanying glasses, which is important for distributing aromas of bourbon, scotch, and red wine,” Booze Editor Jono Elderton of men’s lifestyle website Next Luxury said.

“It’s versatile enough to use for any liquor or wine product and comes in luxury gift packaging, which makes it a top-quality choice for those looking for a first-class decanter set for themselves or to gift.”

Best rotating liquor dispenser

Final Touch 6 bottle dispenser

The Final Touch 6 Bottle Rotating Dispenser and Bar Caddy makes it easier to mix, measure, and pour a well-balanced drink.

What we like: Makes mixing drinks and dispensing shots easier and more accurate, rotates, leak-proof seals

Capable of holding up to six one-liter bottles at a time, the dispenser is made out of professional-grade aluminum, and the push and pour system allows for a more precise pour each and every time.

The simple rotating setup is great for parties, as well as keeping and storing bottles when it’s not in use. Designed to fit most standard bottles using a spring-system at the top, this dispenser will keep the drinks flowing and party going in a fun and fashionable way.

Best liquor dispenser with pods

Bartesian

Bartesian‘s on-demand cocktail machine is an intelligent cocktail maker that uses capsuled flavors for customizable, premium cocktails. 

What we love: Easy to use, self-cleaning, customizable cocktails in under a minute, works at the push of a button

This bartender-designed cocktail dispenser by Bartesian offers all of the convenience that comes with a fully stocked bar without the mess or hassle. With more than 30 capsule options to choose from, you can whip up a spicy margarita or mint julep in under 30 seconds with the push of a button. 

Containing real juices, natural extracts, and bitters, keep in mind that these capsules don’t include the alcohol needed to make a cocktail, so you’ll still need to provide the spirit of your choice. Not to worry, you’ll get a handy drink manual with recipes and ratios that will provide all of the instructions needed to get you going. Once your cocktail is ready, the machine self-cleans and is ready for the next capsule.

For a more affordable but less customizable option, Drinkworks Home Bar by Keurig is another worthy contender.

Best decanter accessory

decanter washing rest

Coupling functionality with design, Lily’s Home Wine Decanter Drying Stand does double-duty as a decanter display rack and drying stand, making it a necessity for any wine lover.

What we like: Practical, affordable, useful for long-term decanter care

When it comes to wine accessories, owning a decanter stand might not seem like a priority, but if you’re serious about keeping your decanter clean and dry, Lily’s Drying Stand can’t be beat.

Courtney Bunn, Beverage Director at JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. Live and The Ritz-Carlton, Los Angeles, considers this a must-have item for any home or professional bar. “Wine has a seemingly endless list of products to serve and store it, which can quickly fill up your home bar with gadgets and glassware,” she notes. “I’m simplistic in my approach, but I swear by my decanter drying stand to help with water stains and proper drying.” 

Made from stainless steel that’s meant to last for years to come, this also comes with a cleaning brush to keep your decanter pristine.

How and when to decant wine

The main purpose of decanting is to add oxygen into your wine, but not every wine necessarily needs to be decanted. 

“Imagine your wine being pent up in the tight bottle with virtually no air for a year, five years, fifty years. It’s ready to breath and usually the longer it’s been in the bottle, the more air it needs,” notes Den Haan.

If you uncork your wine and get a funky or stinky smell coming off it, that’s a good sign you need to decant it. 

As far as best practices for decanting, Shapero says a slow and steady approach is always best. “The process should be slow and meticulous with a very gentle pour, at the most subtle angle possible,” Shapero advises. “You don’t want the wine to gush out. Allow it to flow down the sides of the decanter.

What to look for in a decanter

“When it comes to choosing a decanter, a lot of it comes down to aesthetics, as they all have a fairly similar shape and function,” Coly Den Haan, sommelier and owner of LA-based Vinovore says. Other features like functionality and material should also be a factor when purchasing a decanter, but don’t get too caught up in the cost and fancy extras.

“Unless you are a true wine connoisseur, with different decanters and dozens of glasses intended for specific wines, you’ll probably find the right decanter between $35 to $60,” says sommelier and founder of wine consulting company DiVino, Annie Shapero.

While a budget option will work just fine and get the job done, Shapero does recommend splurging if you’re looking for something with a bit of wow-factor that you plan to display. 

“If you’re looking for something stunning that will make your wine sparkle in the light, choose crystal, which is also more durable,” she says. “Just keep in mind that crystal is porous, so you’ll likely have to hand-wash it to avoid soapy flavors in your wine.”

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The 5 best skewers of 2021 for grilling, roasting, or garnishing cocktails

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Whether at the grill or around a firepit, a quality skewer makes cooking easier.
  • Bamboo is a good option for one-time use, while stainless steel is a reusable alternative.
  • We rounded up the best skewers for grilling, roasting marshmallows, making cocktails, and more.

A set of skewers is a valuable addition to any kitchen or grill set-up. Before purchasing, consider how you intend to use the skewers to help decide between materials and lengths. Most skewers are made of bamboo or stainless steel, but lengths can vary from four to more than fourteen inches. A longer skewer is better for an open fire, and shorter ones are great for use as cocktail garnishes, sandwich picks, and grilling small items. Whatever your needs may be, here are the best skewers for grilling, making s’mores, and more.

Here are the best skewers

Best multi-use

Norpro Stainless Steel 14-inch Skewers
The wide body of the skewer helps to keep food stationary while grilling.

The Norpro Stainless Steel Skewers are versatile tools, with the length to reach a campfire and the shape to lay flat on a grill.

What we like: Good for open fires and grilling, looped handle

The Norpro skewers are the best option for multiple uses because of their length and shape. The 14-inch skewers are longer than average for kabobs, but this makes them more comfortable for roasting marshmallows. Additionally, they are flat and made of stainless steel, which is the ideal combination for grilling. The small, looped handle at the end of the skewer is easy to grasp with tongs and makes hanging storage possible. 

Best for grilling

Blue Donuts Stainless Steel Kabob Skewers
Use the small loop at the end of the skewers to hang and store them.

The Blue Donuts Kabob Skewers are made for grill masters and constructed from dishwasher-safe stainless steel.

What we like: Top rack dishwasher safe, flat length, pointed end

These flat, 12-inch long skewers are great for making kabobs, sausages, and more on the grill. Since the entire skewer is stainless steel, you don’t have to worry about taking special care of the handle. There are 24 in a pack, so you will always have some at hand even when others are in the dishwasher. Though they’re meant for grilling, these skewers can be used for fondue and close-up marshmallow roasting.

Best for s’mores

SUMPRI Marshmallow Skewers
With six different colored handles, these skewers are great for groups.

Roasting the perfect golden marshmallow is easy with the dual-pronged SUMPRI Skewers that extend up to 34 inches.

What we like: Comfortable handles, adjustable length

You can get close to a small camping fire or stay comfortably distant from a bonfire with this set of six marshmallow roasting skewers. These skewers extend from 10 to 34 inches, including the handle, and allow users to adjust the reach whenever they want. The stainless steel dual prongs do need to be hand-washed, but the convenience of having reusable roasting sticks that won’t burn your hand is worth it. The included travel pouch makes this set great for vacations. 

Best for cocktails

Top Shelf Bar Supply Stainless Steel Cocktail Picks
These cocktail sticks are also great for hors d’oeuvres and as sandwich picks.

The Top Shelf Bar Supply Stainless Steel Cocktail Picks are classic and practical cocktail skewers that easily add flair to drinks while holding garnishes in place.

What we like: Dishwasher safe, classic design

Simple and elegant, these cocktail sticks are balanced with a sharp point to pierce garnishes and a rounded top to handle. The stainless steel sticks come in sets of 12 and are available in lengths of four and eight inches. They’re dishwasher safe, so you can spruce up at-home drinks with minimal extra work.

Best bamboo

Fu Store Bamboo Skewers 8-inch
Bamboo skewers are eco-friendly and disposable.

For a cheap and disposable option, Fu Store has bulk packages of bamboo skewers in a range of sizes.

What we like: Bulk purchasing, multiple size options

If you don’t plan to use your skewers frequently, disposable bamboo skewers are an easy and cheap option. The Fu Store Bamboo Skewers are made with multiple uses in mind, offering sticks in four lengths and packs of 100 or 200. The six and eight-inch skewers can be used as long cocktail sticks, and the 10 and 12-inch skewers are ideal for grilling.

When grilling, keep in mind that these skewers are round and don’t have handles. Kabobs will need to be positioned so there is part of the skewer to grab onto. As with all bamboo skewers, soak these in water for 30 minutes before using near heat.

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The 9 best bamboo steamers in 2021 for cooking dumplings, buns, fish, and more

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Steam cooking is a healthy, fast, and gentle way to prepare a variety of foods.
  • The design and functionality of bamboo steamers, used for over 5,000 years, have stood the test of time.
  • We found a range of bamboo steamers in various sizes and constructions to best suit your needs.

Steam cooking is, in and of itself, virtuous. A method that requires no fat, minimal time, and allows the purity of the ingredients’ flavors to shine through while retaining maximal nutrients, this thousands-years-old technique works by enveloping your ingredients in a cloud of vapor and gently bringing it up to temperature in what is, essentially, a moist oven. This results in a faster cooking time without loss of tenderness. And even better, it’s a hands-off method since peeking leads to loss of steam.

Steaming food is easy enough with any pot and vented basket, but if your goal is pillowy mantou buns, juicy stuffed bao, tender dumplings in semi-translucent wrappers, flavorful whole fish, and tender-crisp vegetables in batches big enough to feed the family, a traditional Asian bamboo steamer is an affordable investment you’ll want to make.

While purists and microwave steamers prefer all-bamboo construction, there is also a case to be made for bamboo steamers reinforced with stainless steel. The standard size for bamboo steamers is 10 inches, but smaller and larger ones are available. You’ll need a large pot, deep pan, or preferably a wok to insert your bamboo steamer into unless you also buy a steamer ring. For more info on bamboo steamers, jump to the bottom of this guide.

Here are the best bamboo steamers

The best overall

Hcooker 3 Tier Kitchen Bamboo Steamer with Double Stainless Steel Banding slide
Available in four sizes and sets of up to three tiers.

Handsome double-banded construction makes the Hcooker 3-Tier Bamboo Steamer a durable set you’ll have for years.

What we like: Steel reinforcements for fragile points, handcrafted, won’t warp or split over time

If you’re looking for a solid set of steamers that merges contemporary improvements with traditional craftsmanship, this triple-decker made of local-to-producer Moso bamboo will do the trick. Not only do its stainless steel bands look sharp, but they also provide function, sealing off the fragile top and bottom rims to keep them from splitting or scorching, respectively. They also support the form of the steamers so that they hold their uniform shape and nest perfectly and retain heat.

While bamboo steamer purists prefer versions without reinforcing metal due to the potential transfer of a metallic taste to the food, it’s of note that commercial dim sum restaurants often opt for models like this without any worry about negative impact on the quality of their dishes. Additionally, the Hcooker brand has been hand-making bamboo steamers since 1097 — so it’s pretty safe to assume they know what they’re doing. Plus, rare availability in marginally different sizes (7.1, 8.3, 9.4, and 10.6 inches at 1.5- to 1.7-inch depth) make it easy to find the right fit for your existing cookware.

The best starter kit

Prime Home Direct 10 inch Bamboo Steamer Basket
Better than average depth lets beginners experiment more freely.

A great value, Prime Home Direct 10-inch Two Tier Bamboo Steamer Baskets come with everything you need to start steaming but the food itself.

What we like: Easy for beginners, includes extras like chopsticks and liners 

Novices itching to get started on their steaming adventure right away will find everything they need in this value-priced kit, which also makes this an ideal gift set for the foodies in your life. A generous 50-count of steamer liners means not having to think about placing another order before you clear 25 double-stacked meals. The set even comes with two sets of chopsticks and a sauce dish.

The versatile three-inch depth also gives you more wiggle room for things like buns and vegetables. In fact, it’s as much as twice as accommodating as other competitive models, which allows for more room for experimentation as you figure out what you’ll be cooking most in your bamboo steamer. Plus, its even, uniform slats are easy to keep clean.

Although we’re recommending this in the standard 10-inch size, this is also our top choice for the 12-inch for those who are ready to take on bigger batches.

The best eco-friendly set

Annie’s Kitchen Premium 10 Inch Handmade Bamboo Steamer Basket
All its added accessories from liners to dumpling press are also earth-conscious.

Organic bamboo is only the start of Annie’s Kitchen Premium 10-inch Handmade Bamboo Steamer Basket that comes with a dumpling maker, reusable liners, and more.

What we like: Everything in the kit sustainably made, environmentally friendly, reusable, comes with included extras

Bamboo steamers are already highly sustainable cooking tools, but this set kicks it up a notch admirably. Not only is this handmade, open-weave, two-tier basket made of ethically sourced bamboo, its bonus accessories are also earth-conscious. The four reusable cotton liners are unbleached and eco-friendly, and the dumpling press and spoon are made of wheat straw, a non-toxic plasticine material that degrades at a similar rate to paper when disposed of. Everything in the kit is BPA-free, and the steamer itself is free of glue, chemicals, and odor. Two sets of chopsticks complete the kit and get you dumpling-ready, from “make” to “ate.”

The best set with a steamer ring

Bisou du Nord 10” Bamboo Steamer Basket Cooking Set   2 Layers
This is a great value since steamer rings can cost as much as steamer baskets.

You don’t have to buy a new pot, pan, or wok for your steamer — an included steamer ring adapts what you have to accommodate the Bisou du Nord Bamboo Steamer Basket Cooking Set.

What we like: Easy to use, includes plenty of liners, anti-warp basket bodies, steamer ring adapter lets you use existing cookware

For those short on storage space or who may not have big cooking vessels, a steamer ring is a must-have. This set’s greatest value — notwithstanding the inclusion of 50 paper liners — is in the inclusion of a stainless steel adapter designed to fit seven to 10.5-inch pots. This rim handily holds your bamboo steamer tower well up above your cookware and the water bubbling merrily within, eliminating any risk of scorching the baskets and stinking up your food, as well as preventing the metal bands from scratching up any nonstick finish.

Like the Hcooker steamer above, stainless steel bands help protect these handmade steamer baskets from warping. The key difference is that the placement of them does not protect against layer separation at its vulnerable edges as the Hcooker version does. However, their exclusively external placement lowers the risk of any metallic flavor leaching in.

The best hand-tied rack

Mister Kitchenware 10 Inch Handmade Bamboo Steamer
A tight, double-woven lid retains steam better and holds its dome shape longer.

All-bamboo construction makes the Mister Kitchenware 10-Inch Handmade Bamboo Steamer a viable option for the stovetop or microwave.

What we like: Wide slats held together with bamboo thread, reinforced lid, efficient cooking

This handmade tower takes basic, traditional techniques and improves upon them from top to bottom. For the former, a tight weave and cross-dome reinforcement seals in even more of that powerful steam; for the latter, hand-tied slats in the base of each basket allow more steam to pass through than more contemporary smooth cut strips.

Best of all, because there are no metal components, you can use it in your microwave as well as on the stove. With a 2.5-inch depth, the capacity is more than generous for either use. Two pairs of chopsticks, a sauce dish, and 10 liners round out this steamer set, an accessory that’s extra important with hand-tied racks. Because they’re fastened with bamboo lashings, there’s more of an opportunity for food to get caught in them, so don’t be shy about using these liners up before switching to a (literally) greener option like cabbage or lettuce leaves.

The best stylish

Bamboo Steamer Basket 10 Inch  Two Tier
A striking, non-traditional vertical slat exterior sets this apart from the standard look.

A streamlined, contemporary exterior belies premium updates and sturdy construction in the Bamboo Steamer Basket 10-Inch Two-Tier.

What we like: Sleek design, classic elements with a modern twist, form and function 

Unique and distinctive, bamboo steamers are already often a conversation starter when brought to the table. However, this set ups the ante with its bold and modern take on the classic construction. In this design, traditional features get a premium, updated facelift, resulting in a handsome bamboo steamer that goes from kitchen stove to tabletop without missing a beat.

Its vertical slat façade is a departure from the double-tied or single strips, and sturdier, too, with less likelihood of splintering since they’re not thin and shaved down. They’re held together securely with stainless steel supports that wrap fully around the delicate top and bottom rims of the baskets. These serve double duty as reinforcement for the weakest points of bamboo steamers, increasing the longevity of your purchase. It comes with equally long-lasting, reusable silicone liners cut into a mesh design fine enough for you to even steam rice in.

The best 6-inch

Joyce Chen 3 piece Bamboo Steamer
Unlike the larger 12-inch of this brand, this smaller version does not use glue.

If you’re looking to recreate that dim sum restaurant vibe, the Joyce Chen 3-Piece Bamboo Steamer is the one to get. 

What we like: Better made than its oversized counterpart, dim sum cart-sized, ideal for smaller households

Whether your goal is to set more small steamers with a bigger variety of food merrily vaping away a la dim sum restaurant or simply to feed fewer folks, cute six-inch steamers may be the right call for you. This is surprisingly more solid than the 12-inch big-batch version by this manufacturer, as that one is held together with glue and this is kept intact more durably with bamboo twine.

The lid is also well supported since it’s woven twice and tightly. Flat, uniform bamboo slats keep the cook surface smooth and even, which is important when you don’t have a lot of interior space to work with since you don’t want your food toppling over, especially when smaller dim sum specialties are often saucy and steamed in a shallow bowl within the bamboo steamer.

The best 8-inch

REISHUNGER Bamboo Steamer
This steamer boasts an extra-tight mesh weave in the lid.

For something in between big and small, the REISHUNGER Bamboo Steamer Traditional 2-Tier Design‘s eight inches is an ideal diameter, splitting the difference between the two standard sizes.

What we like: Just right for dinner for two, 100% bamboo, handmade

Six inches can feel too small and 10 is the dimension needed to make a family meal. Those are the most common sizes, but one size clearly doesn’t fit all. The two inches you gain or lose can make a difference in terms of eyeballing an appropriate batch size, proper packing density of ingredients, and storage when all is said and done. This basic set fits perfectly in the middle, a happy medium. It’s also held together with bamboo twine, as opposed to copper wire or metal bands, making it microwave-safe.

It comes with two breathable, reusable cotton cloths to use as liners, with a weave fine enough to allow you to use one tier to cook rice without losing a grain.

The best wood steamer

Hcooker Deepen 2 Tier Kitchen Wood Steamer
A bamboo lid and traditional design keep this steamer close to its roots.

For a visual profile more luxurious than bamboo but just as carefully handcrafted, try this Chinese cedar design from Hcooker.

What we like: Remains true to its heritage with regionally specific material and construction technique, available in nine sizes

This riff off our best overall pick (also by Hcooker, whose makers boast over a thousand years of expertise in steam cooker manufacture) is a bold choice for its use of fragrant Cryptomeria fortunei, a cedar-type derivative of the cypress family. Handmade in 81 steps, same as its bamboo counterparts, this version has a lovely rich, darker color not naturally found in bamboo. Because they’re created to preserve this natural hue, you may luck out and get a two-tone batch for even more visual interest.

However the inside base is still bamboo, which is unfailingly the best platform for steam cooking, as is the lid, which is reinforced with a double-deck weave. Other practical details include a stainless-capped edge that protects the top only and helps with flush stacking; a deeper capacity than their standard model, which does not have the metal trim; and nine available diameters in up to three-tier bundles.

About bamboo steamers

What is a bamboo steamer?

If you’ve ever been to a Chinese dim sum restaurant, you’ll know exactly what we’re referring to: those straw-colored round baskets, darkened with varying levels of absorbed moisture stacked precariously one atop the other in carts filled with hot water. Most of all, you’ll need no convincing as to why this kitchen tool has enjoyed over 5,000 years of popularity without much evolution. To this day, they’re made with skinned bamboo that’s softened into pliability then shaped into a circle and held permanently in place with bamboo nails or lashings. The bases are slatted to allow steam to rise and cook the food, the containers nestling into each other until you reach the top level — however high you choose to make it — where a dome-shaped, tightly woven lid seals the vapor in.

Why you should use a bamboo steamer

Although fast-cooking metal steamers are commonly available, many Asian cooks still choose the old-fashioned models due to their ability to absorb moisture — which reduces the problem of condensation dripping down and making your dish soggy — and to avoid imparting any metallic taste or overcooking due to higher heat retention. And while rice cookers also provide a steam function, the ability to stack bamboo steamers and effortlessly batch cook also keep folks loyal to the old ways, even if these baskets don’t last as long. However, they’re environmentally friendly, highly sustainable, and inexpensive, reducing the footprint of their replacement on the earth and your wallet.

How to use a bamboo steamer

To use a bamboo steamer, you don’t need much: just something to line it with and cookware large enough to accommodate it and a couple of inches of water with enough clearance that boiling bubbles won’t touch the base. Any wide, deep pan or pot will do, but a wok is best if you have one—the curve of its bowl will hug the steamer and keep the bottom from scorching, as is more likely in a pot of pan due to the base’s prolonged direct contact with it. As for linings, you can buy specially made perforated liners cut to typical bamboo steamer sizes; parchment, wax, or baking paper; or cabbage, lettuce, lotus, banana, or pandan leaves, the latter three of which may also impart their flavors.

What to consider when buying a bamboo steamer

When purchasing, be sure to choose BPA-free high-quality bamboo and look for wider slats for better steam flow and hand-woven lids, which often boast a tighter weave for better steam entrapment. You’ll also want to veer toward models joined with bamboo wick or stainless steel strips, and not glue, which may melt, or copper, which can corrode. All of our picks fit these construction criteria.

As for size, two tiers in a 10-inch diameter is typical and will serve the needs of most households for many years with proper care. That means allowing your steamer to properly air out for at least two days before storing it, and avoiding contact with strong odors it may absorb, such as dish soap or a scorched base.

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