Food Processors

Published November 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.

If a food processor is supposed to be a faster, more convenient alternative to your chef’s knife, why do so many models fail to make the cut?

Overview:

Update: January 2013

Recently, we evaluated two new food processors: the Breville Sous Chef Food Processor, 16-Cup ($399.99) and the KitchenAid 13-Cup Food Processor with ExactSlice System ($299.95)—which has been updated since we reviewed (and disliked) it previously. We compared them with our current top-rated Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor ($199). After running 12 tests (everything from making a double batch of pizza dough to slicing tomatoes), we believe the Cuisinart is still the best choice. It lacks the dazzling attachments and secondary abilities, such as variable slicing thickness, offered by the other two processors, but it performs basic chopping and slicing tasks extremely well, and you can change slicing thickness by buying extra disks.

The Breville performed solidly and efficiently, but we’re not convinced that its extra features are worth an additional $200. Also, the Breville chopped so fast that it was hard not to make a puree when we wanted diced vegetables.

As for the KitchenAid, the newest version has… read more

Update: January 2013

Recently, we evaluated two new food processors: the Breville Sous Chef Food Processor, 16-Cup ($399.99) and the KitchenAid 13-Cup Food Processor with ExactSlice System ($299.95)—which has been updated since we reviewed (and disliked) it previously. We compared them with our current top-rated Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor ($199). After running 12 tests (everything from making a double batch of pizza dough to slicing tomatoes), we believe the Cuisinart is still the best choice. It lacks the dazzling attachments and secondary abilities, such as variable slicing thickness, offered by the other two processors, but it performs basic chopping and slicing tasks extremely well, and you can change slicing thickness by buying extra disks.

The Breville performed solidly and efficiently, but we’re not convinced that its extra features are worth an additional $200. Also, the Breville chopped so fast that it was hard not to make a puree when we wanted diced vegetables.

As for the KitchenAid, the newest version has improved. The jar lid no longer sticks, the pulse button starts faster (but is still hard to engage), and the chopping is better. But in almost every task, it lagged behind the Cuisinart and the Breville.

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The invention of the food processor in 1973 may not have resulted from dire necessity, but it sure saved restaurant chefs and home cooks alike from vast amounts of tedious prep work. These days, food processors are fixtures in most well-equipped kitchens thanks to their ability to chop and slice vegetables, mix pizza dough, and emulsify eggs and oil into mayonnaise—all with the push of a button. Still, pick the wrong processor and suddenly this great convenience leaves you worse off than when you started. Flour flies around instead of mixing in; herbs get mashed into a sticky paste; and onions turn out partially liquefied, the rest of the vegetable stranded in huge, overlooked chunks.

Those stark differences have made us picky consumers, and we’ve gladly paid top dollar for our favorite food processor, a large-capacity machine that can handle a wide variety of tasks with ease. It slices and chops as evenly and cleanly as an expertly wielded knife—only much faster—and boasts a compact, intuitive design. That said, store shelves are constantly being replenished with new contenders, and we wanted to see if any could beat our champ. We returned from our shopping spree with seven models, including the test kitchen winner and a top-selling 14-cup model from its biggest rival. Two models were bargain bets that didn’t crack $100; the other two were high-end challengers, one of which topped out close to $350. And just to see what all the fuss was about, we threw in a shockingly expensive machine ($872.49), long the darling of restaurant chefs and food-service professionals

Making the Cut

With its razor-sharp blade whirling at warp speed, a food processor should buzz through core cutting tasks—shredding, chopping, slicing, and grinding—with ease. But as we put the processors to work, we discovered that the design of the feed tube can cause problems even before the food hits the blade. With a too-large tube, food falls out of position for the blade; with a too-small tube, you find yourself squashing or trimming the food extensively—and at that point, you’re better off using your chef’s knife.

Case in point: the potato-slicing test. While two processors sported simple oval chutes just wide enough for a russet potato (with a smaller round tube insert for carrots and celery), other models weren’t so straightforward. The “Wide Mouth” tube on one processor was so large that it let potatoes drop in at a slant and slice in a direction that we didn’t want. And figuring out how to insert food into one machine’s “Big Mouth”—a maze of complicated tubes and pop-up lids—was its own challenge. Then, once the food was in, its complex pipe system trapped bits in every nook and cranny. Meanwhile, one machine wouldn’t even start unless the food fit fully into its overly short feed tube. We had to trim away roughly 25 percent from an average-size russet potato, creating waste—and wasting time. (Incidentally, a poorly designed feed tube was one of the reasons this machine didn’t rank at the top of the chart in our 2004 testing.)

As for the other cutting tests—slicing tomatoes; grating carrots and blocks of cheddar; mincing parsley; chopping carrots, onions, and celery for mirepoix; and grinding bread crumbs and walnuts—all of the machines passed with relative success—except one. Its “chopped” vegetables emerged as both tiny bits and large chunks. We discovered why when we took a closer look at the shape and configuration of its blade. First, the gap between the blade and the workbowl—both at the bottom and the sides—measured a whopping ¼ inch, whereas every other model left half of that distance (or less). This meant that some of the food in the machine rarely came in contact with the blade and even got trapped underneath as the blade spun. Second, while two processors brandished sharp blades with either mini-serrations or a totally smooth edge that could effortlessly chop carrots into uniform pieces or slice soft tomatoes into perfect paper-thin rounds, other performers sported far more jagged-edged metal. These deeply serrated blades ripped at food like bad steak knives, leaving rough, uneven shards.

Breadwinners (and Losers)

Speedy knifework isn’t a good food processor’s only talent: The ideal machine should whip up batches of dough (both pastry and pizza) and creamy homemade mayonnaise, too. And when the work is done, we expect it to clean up in a jiffy.

Most of our lineup excelled at cutting butter into flour for pie pastry, but pizza dough was another story. To really test the machines’ limits, we prepared double batches in each. One processor literally purred through the heavy, elastic mass, while other processors struggled. Some shook vigorously at times but ultimately produced shiny, smooth dough; another gave out midway through the task. Even our favorite processor flinched at first, struggling with its stubby plastic “dough blade.” But when we tried again with the regular long metal chopping blade, a perfect batch of dough came together effortlessly.

As for the mayonnaise, most models easily whipped eggs and oil into a creamy emulsion. Mini bowls (when provided) came in handy, as did the small hole in the bottom of the narrow feed tube insert on some models, which dripped oil into the bowl in an ideal steady, thin stream. The pinhole even helped during cleanup, draining water through the cylinder.

That duly noted, cleaning wasn’t always as simple as we’d hoped. Washing by hand is sometimes necessary when processing multiple batches of food, but one manufacturer recommends this all the time—a deal breaker for some cooks. But at least it’s a simply built machine with few parts, which couldn’t be said of one model whose rubber gasket seal around the lid not only trapped food, but was also hard to dry.

After giving each machine its due process, we’re sticking with the test kitchen’s consumer favorite, which stood out once again for a compact, intuitive design that handily outperformed newer, flashier, pricier rivals.

Methodology:

We tested seven food processors, each with a capacity of at least 11 cups. When a manufacturer offered multiple models with an 11-cup or greater capacity, we went with their top sellers. Scores were averaged and the models are listed in order of our preference. Prices were paid online.

Grate/Slice: We grated carrots and cheese and sliced potatoes and tomatoes, rating machines highly if they cut neat, uniform pieces and produced little or no badly cut, squashed, or wasted food.

Chop: We minced fresh parsley and chopped celery, carrot, and onion for mirepoix, giving high marks for efficiency and uniformity of cuts and for dry, unclumped herbs.

Grind: We ground bread crumbs and walnuts, on the lookout for machines that quickly processed all pieces down to the same size.

Pie: We rated machines highly for quickly cutting cold butter into uniform pieces throughout flour without smearing the butter or overworking the dough.

Pizza: To test a machine’s capacity and ability to mix heavy dough, we prepared a double batch of this dense, elastic mixture.

Mayo: Processors that thoroughly emulsified egg yolks, oil, mustard, and lemon uice received high marks.

Ease of Use: We rated highly machines that were unfussy and easy to assemble and operate.

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