Home Gear, Pro Gear

Some interesting discussion in the comment fields on the subject of “home” mixers versus “pro” mixers. My previous mixer was a Viking and it’s true that people tend to associate that name with professional equipment manufacturing. The company definitely started out doing exclusively that. However a general rule of thumb when it comes to determining whether this-or-that piece of equipment is “home” gear or “pro” gear is this: if you can buy it in a shop it’s home kitchen gear, if you buy it through a commercial dealer or restaurant supply house, it’s professional.

That may sound flippant but really it’s true. Some high-end home equipment manufacturers label their products “professional”, but that’s mostly just a marketing tactic. Certainly some made-for-the-home stand mixers end up in professional kitchens, but that’s because they’re cheaper than the small-volume mixers that can be had through dealers. A 5-quart professional Hobart mixer can be purchased through a dealer at a cost of about $2,200. Is it that much better than a $300 5-quart KitchenAid? Not really depending on how you use it, but the advantage is that if the Hobart breaks down the dealer will come out to the restaurant and service it. Still, many restauranteurs or bakery owners, being cheap by nature, would rather pay $300 for a KitchenAid, work it do death, throw it away and get another than pay $2,200 for mostly the same thing.

So why all the “professional” labels on home mixers then? Well, ever since the rise of the foodie movement a lot of home cooks have wanted to make their home kitchens look and feel more professional. Appliance makers have of course complied with their wishes, producing all sorts of appliances that mimic what you see in restaurants. A lot of this gear has a professional look but actually isn’t professional gear — and that’s a good thing.

Why? Because professional pieces of equipment are pretty blunt instruments, usually with nowhere near the versatility of home gear. I once made the mistake of bringing a (truly) professional mixer home. It was extremely powerful but it didn’t do small quantities of anything. Why? Because it never occurred to the engineers who designed it that anyone would ever try to beat just three egg whites in it. It also sounded like a Harrier jet in hover mode. Professional ranges have the same problem. They’re great when it comes to putting out giant amounts of heat — great for a sauté cook on the line. But what if you’re a home cook trying to make a delicate stirred custard? Then they’re not so good.

A close friend of mine learned about pro gear the hard way when he bought a commercial refrigerator to finish out his very, VERY expensive kitchen. Being a great cook he wanted a pro look and was ecstatic to discover that he could get twenty cubic feet of refrigerator space — all stainless — for less than a nice home refrigerator. Of course not a week later he was returning it because a.) it vibrated so much that it traveled across his hardwood floor even when the wheels were locked and b.) the compressor was so loud that it woke up everyone in the house when it kicked on at night. Plus it was unevenly cold if it wasn’t fully loaded up with food. His eggs froze if he didn’t keep several cases of bottled water in it.

All of which is to say that professional equipment is designed for its environment. It’s very tough, it has to be. However because people working in commercial kitchens don’t really care how loud their gear is, how much it vibrates, what it looks like, how well insulated it is or how much exhaust heat it throws off it’s not something you want in your house as a rule. Home machines are often maligned as “wimpy” when most of the time they’re far better engineered and as a result can do a lot more.

Personally I’m rather ambivalent about Viking. Their background as I mentioned is in professional kitchen gear and they have since branched off into home kitchen appliances, bringing a lot of those professional rough-and-ready attributes to their products. My personal feeling is that while I love all the power under the hood of their mixers the company has yet to learn how to make a really good one for a home environment. As such I think I’m going to go back to KitchenAid which understands the needs of home bakers better.

UPDATE: I went to the Viking website to hunt around a bit and discovered the company has very recently discontinued its stand mixer line, along with all its other countertop appliances (food processors, toasters, blenders). That’s probably for the best.

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26 Responses to Home Gear, Pro Gear

  1. LML says:

    When my mom got her (4 1/2 quart) Kitchen Aid mixer she traveled to the “big city” to a restaurant supply store. This was pre-1966.

    • joepastry says:

      I’ll bet those things were indeed restaurant gear in those days, LML! Good ol’ Hobart motors too. Nowadays they’re made by Whirlpool. The lackluster models from the 80′s and 90′s have been redesigned and reengineered so they’re a lot better than they were. Still not as good as Hobart I’m sure, but solid. Cheers,

      - Joe

  2. RuthWells says:

    I have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer which was handed down to me by my grandmother. It was used in my grandparents’ restaurant for many years and is still going strong at what must be at least 40 years of age. Can’t beat those Hobart motors!

    • joepastry says:

      That’s when they really were great, Ruth. My grandmother’s Hobart went to a cousin and I’m still jealous! ;)

      - Joe

  3. Sally says:

    Oops. My previous comment escaped before I could add that I like my Kitchen Aid mixer very much. It gets bread made or meat ground, plus all the Other Stuff, more than once a week. It’s just us two to eat it. . . .

    • joepastry says:

      I’m glad you brought the attachments up, Sally, because that’s another reason I think I’m going KitchenAid this time. The Viking had attachments but it didn’t seem as though a whole lot of thought was put into them. Plus they were extremely expensive. I’m looking forward to making use of those functions!

      Cheers,

      - Joe

      • Toby says:

        Joe,

        I have finally have all the pasta attachments for my kitchenAid including the ravioli attachement. Now to get after making a batch of Lobster ravioli with a white truffle cream sauce.

  4. Timmy! says:

    ” if you can buy it in a shop it’s home kitchen gear, if you buy it through a commercial dealer, it’s professional”

    This made me chuckle. Only because I happen to be walking down on Bowery near Canal st. (NYC) today. You can walk in to the “shops” and walk out with whatever you want. A giant-ass mixer or a 3 foot wide mixing bowl. I don’t know what you would do with them at home at least in a kitchen or who would have the space.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Timmy!

      Oh, the Lower East Side…I know right where you are! But yeah there is (or was) a similar area in Chicago on west Lake Street where there were several used restaurant gear stores. Non-restaurant owners who walked into those places were generally disappointed that there was so little to buy. But they’re fun to look through!

      Thanks for the comment!

      - Joe

  5. Susan says:

    I got my Kitchen Aid in 1982 when it was still made by Hobart..I still have the box! It’s a 250 watt tilt head model and it’s still going strong. I mix bread dough with no problem and all kinds of things where the motor runs for 15 and 20 minutes and it never gets hot…it sometimes squeals like a pig under a heavy dough, but it hasn’t given me a minute of trouble. I love everything about it except the bulky head which gets in the way of loading the bowl with ingredients and I can live with that!

    • joepastry says:

      Extra points for the Deliverance reference, Susan! Those were some very good machines. I’m glad to hear it’s still running so well. And keep up the good work!

      - Joe

  6. I’m afraid I’m a Kenwood man, myself. Wouldn’t go near a KitchenAid unless you paid me ;)

    Mostly because I’ve spoken to a number of people over here who have purchased one, used it for three months and had the gears strip out or something equally nasty – whereas my Kenwood takes everything I throw at it for the past decade :D

    Good luck!
    CfDU

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Chris!

      Yes no question there were some pretty poor KitchenAids out there not so long ago. For a while Whirlpool went over to a plastic gear housing which could flex when the machine was running hard. The flexing action caused the gears to slip out of alignment with the predictable result. That problem has since been fixed. There was a stink while back in regard to plastic gears in KitchenAids, but that was much ado about nothing. Most other stand mixer manufacturers use plastic gears and/or belts and don’t have a “all metal” assemblies. This isn’t because they’re cheap necessarily. Some plastic gears are designed to snap if the machine is under too much stress. Replacing a $10 plastic worm gear is a lot less expensive than replacing the whole motor.

      But to each their own! Kenwoods are excellent.

      - Joe

      • Kitty says:

        IT certainly is good to know the history behind that. I used to REALLY want kitchen aides, but everyone I knew back home told me to avoid them like the plague-they just weren’t as good as they used to be and died fast. Perhaps this is why?
        I got the Kenwood because it was on sale and I’d been eyeing it. Kitchen-aides are super expensive on this side of the pond, but it really is good to know that if I were to want one one day I wouldn’t likely regret the purchase

        • joepastry says:

          Hey Kitty!

          Yes that’s the short history of KitchenAid. But don’t regret the Kenwood, those are excellent machines too. Like a lot of companies with long histories, KitcheAid has had its ups and downs. It got lazy in the late 80′s through the 90′s, but these days with all the competition they’re back with very solid engineering. Should yours ever wear out they’d be worth a look I think.

          Cheers

          - Joe

          • Kitty says:

            Oh I’m not going to ditch my machine any time soon. ;)
            Thanks for the history lesson though!

  7. Michael says:

    I bought a 6-quart Kitchen Aid and have found it to be a reliable and pleasant kitchen companion. Though, now that I have started cooking a lot more again, I need to buy another paddle, and I wish their whisk attachment was easier to clean. Still, I’m fond of mine. And my mother loves hers – She’s had hers for about 20 years and she uses it almost every day without a problem.

  8. Moshe says:

    I used to have a 6qt “professional” kitchenaid but I stripped the gears on that with 5 lb dough – now i use a 7 qy commercial kitchenaid and it’s great – I make 5lb (flour) doughs 2-3 times a week with no problems

  9. Roger says:

    Okay, so clue me in. I’ve got a Kitchenaid 5 Qt ‘Artisan’ series that we got as a wedding present in the late 90′s. I’ve been concerned that it’s not going to last too much longer, because after basically not using it for years, I caught the baking bug and I’ve been running it hard for a while now.

    Also, the family is expanding, so I’ve been tempted to go up to a larger one. But from what I’m reading here, unless I decide to double capacity which hits the ‘commercial’ level of product, I should be good with one that’s just ‘bigger’ because in general the engineering has been worked out?

    And if my current mixer does die, I can take it someplace (how do I figure THAT out) and see if it’s just a gear replacement issue?

    Thanks!

    • Toby says:

      Roger,

      If your kitchenaid dies, you have basically two choices find a small appliance repair shop locally or send it back to KitchenAid. If you choose the latter you will quickly find out that one you will pay the frieght to and from them and two it cost more to repair them than just buy a new one. Sad but the true.

      The biggest KitchenAd you can get off their website is an 8 qt, which cost around $750.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Roger!

      There’s nothing wrong with a 5qt at all and in fact if the machine stays running you might be able to just get a slightly bigger bowl and take it up to a six. But should it break down there are indeed places to take it. Many appliance repair service work on KichtenAids since official service centers are rare, though you can always try your luck with their care center finder from their website: http://caservice.kitchenaid.com

      Failing all that I think you’ll do well buying a new one. The Artisans and Classics are very well engineered these days and won’t break the bank.

      - Joe

  10. Chris R says:

    Hey Joe, [heeeey Joe!] Congrats on getting a new mixer! I’ve had two since I started baking, one a 4 1/2 quart KitchenAid (Hobart) from 1960, passed down from my grandmother, and more recently, a 6 qt KA610. I agree with you on the bowl-lift vs head tilt, the tilter was much easier to add ingredients, remove the bowl, etc. I find that the bowl lift doesn’t allow for the addition of large volumes of flour very easily, and unless I’m doing things very wrong, I generally have to take the attachment off the planetary when I try to remove the bowl. I liked being able to just raise it up on the older one.

    One of the absolutely invaluable improvements of the new one, however, is the spiral dough hook. I’ve found that with the older ‘c-style’ dough hook, stiffer doughs had a tendency to climb up the hook and wrap around and inside the attachment point. It was frustrating to make a double batch of bread, only to have to stop the mixer every 3 minutes to pull the dough out and push it back into the bottom of the bowl.

    I’m not sure what direction I would go if I had to buy another. I really like the new one, and I like how easy making breads has become, but i might be convinced to look at one of the 5 quart models. If I could get something with the spiral hook, and a tilt-head, that would simply be heaven. Regardless, best of luck to you in your search for a new mixer, there are a lot of great products out there; I’m sure you’ll find one that works for you!

    Best,
    Chris

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks, Chris and great commentary. I’ll be putting up a post on the new mixer a little later today that will addressing some of this. Needless to say, I’m in complete agreement with you assessments.

      More soon,

      - Joe

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