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Small kitchen appliances grace our countertops to make our lives easier, but some gadgets, even those that seem like no-brainers to operate, have a few best practices that should be followed for optimal results (including not seriously injuring yourself, making a gargantuan mess, and damaging your machine). This is certainly true for blenders, whether it's a top-of-the-line model or a budget buy for your first apartment. (If you're in the market for a beast of a blender that's big on horsepower, these are the best.)
If you haven't had time to read the user manual that accompanied your shiny new blender (we highly recommend doing that—and following these four other basic blender tips), this quick-and-dirty list of common blender mistakes is for you. (And while you're at it, make sure you never put any of these foods in your blender.)
1. You don't prep your produce
Your blender is a hardworking machine, but it's good to give it a leg up when it comes to tough-to-slice produce like beets and carrots, says Veronica Rouse, MAN, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian and founder of The Heart Dietitian. "Pre-cutting produce helps the blender do a better job without overworking it, and it's worth it to take out that cutting board and knife to achieve a smooth consistency." If you want to skip the dirty dishes and arm workout, Rouse suggests grabbing frozen veggies. "They are pre-cut for you and typically don't have added sugar or salt like canned options."
2. You're out of order
… with your ingredients, that is. "My biggest blender mistake is not adding liquids first," Rouse says. "Adding liquid first allows for better incorporation of ingredients. It also helps to mix harder ingredients like frozen fruit, because the liquid creates a whirlpool that brings the hard-to-blend ingredients closer to the blade." Adding powders before liquids can be especially problematic, says Anja Wolf, CEO and creative director of kitchen tips website I Love Cookware. "Powder quickly absorbs liquid to form a sticky, doughy texture, so adding it first usually leads to mounds stuck to the bottom of the blender jug." Adam Wilson, culinary manager at Vitamix, takes the liquids-first rule a step further and recommends this specific order of ingredient addition:
Seasonings and powders
Dense ingredients, like frozen fruit, to help push leafy vegetables down
3. You overfill your machine
We all want to get the most out of our machine, but more is not always better. "A common blender mistake is to overfill it," says Justine Rosado, RD, CDN, CDCES, former chef and founder of The Nutrition Queens. "Try starting with half or three-fourths capacity rather than filling up to the very top. Many models will list a maximum capacity in their instruction manual or have a max fill line on the blender. Overfilling can lead to a jammed blade, overworked motor, and inferior finished product."
4. You don't add enough liquid
"A common blender problem is the accidental jamming of the blade," Rosado says. "This is often caused by an improperly loaded blender, such as too many dry components without enough liquid to lubricate and allow the blade to spin effectively." In addition to the balance of dry to liquid ingredients, it is important to routinely scrape down the sides of the blender to ensure that all components are incorporated, she says. "If particles are left on the side of the blender walls, they will remain unblended and can therefore make the final mixture lumpy."
5. You don't secure the lid
Sometimes the most rote steps can lead to the most mayhem if missed. "One of the messiest mistakes I've seen in both professional and at-home kitchens is when someone starts a blender without securing the lid," Wilson says. "Whether it's off entirely or minorly askew, it can leave a lot of ingredients splattered all over the place if missed." Anja Wolf learned the hard way to take extra precautions with her blender lid. "Many years ago, I had an inexpensive blender, where the top would fly off at any given moment," she says. "I would be in the middle of making a smoothie, and the top would suddenly fly off, spraying ingredients everywhere. I quickly learned to hold the lid down with one hand while blending with the other. Fortunately, I no longer have to worry about that since I now have a high-quality blender that comes with a locking lid."
6. You don't do a warm-up
Your blender works best when it eases into things. This means starting the motor on a low setting and gradually increasing the speed, or pulsing if you don't have various speed options, says Rosado. "Starting the blender at the lowest setting has an additional benefit of minimizing the splatter of food and liquid all over the jar," she says. For best results, Rosado recommends blending on a low speed for the first 15-30 seconds and gradually turning the dial up as the mixture emulsifies.
7. Your cleaning methods could be better
The joy of a fresh smoothie or frozen cocktail can fade quickly when it comes time to clean the blender. To avoid this post-blender bummer, follow these cleaning tips from the pros: "Do yourself a favor and follow every use by whizzing some warm, soapy water in it before leaving it to sit," says Aysegul Sanford, recipe developer, food photographer, and founder of Foolproof Living. "This will help break down the food particles while you enjoy your meal, and lets you return to an easy cleanup after."
Another clean-up faux pas to avoid is ignoring the rubber gasket in your blender. "That little rubber ring is essential for keeping your blender seals tight," says Wolf. "But it can also be a magnet for gunk and grime. If you don't clean it regularly, that gunk can harden and become impossible to remove. So, make sure to give your rubber gasket a good scrub with soapy water every few uses."