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Picking the Best Food Processor

By Lisa McManus Published

Our longtime favorite is powerful and easy to use, but is it still the best choice?

I didn’t grow up using a food processor, and now I wonder how I managed without one. It can make an astonishing range of recipes faster, easier, and more approachable. This tool is excellent for salsa, pesto, and other chunky sauces. It’s perfect for big-batch cooking; shredding pounds of carrots, zucchini, or potatoes to spare you the labor—and shredded fingertips—of a box grater; and slicing as fast as a professional prep cook. It rapidly cuts cold fat into flour so that you get the flakiest pie crust—and the bragging rights. It kneads pizza dough without making a mess, and it even shreds cheese and purees tomato sauce to top that pizza. It chops onions, makes bread crumbs, minces herbs, grinds beef into hamburger, and even whips up fresh mayonnaise in a minute flat. 

In the test kitchen, our longtime favorite has been the Cuisinart Custom 14 14 Cup Food Processor, which has performed well for years, but with new competitors on the market, it was time to see if it was still the best choice. We bought a fresh copy of our previous favorite and six competing food processors, priced from about $35 to about $350, with capacities from 9 to 14 cups and put them through more than a dozen tests, assessing how well they performed and how easy they were to handle, use, clean, and store. We also evaluated their capacities, noise levels, and the usefulness of their accessories.

How Food Processors Work

All the models we tested operate similarly: The bowl sits on a motorized base, and the blade is positioned in the bowl on a central stem that passes through the bowl to the motor, which spins the blade. Safety features keep the blade immobile if the lid isn't fully secured. For chopping, an S-shaped blade is positioned in the bowl, the food is added, and the lid is secured in place. For slicing and shredding, a disk-shaped blade with either raised holes for shredding or a raised cutting edge for slicing is positioned in the bowl, the lid is secured in place, and the food is placed in the lid’s vertical feed tube and steadily pressed down with a “pusher” onto the spinning disk. Surprisingly, while all our machines worked on these principles, they performed differently and took varying levels of effort to use and maintain. Only one met our highest standards.

We compared the results of chopping 2-inch chunks of carrots, celery, and onion into ¼-inch dice. Most of the models we tested left behind larger chunks of vegetables.

Level of Control Varies from Model to Model

We expect the S-shaped blade of a food processor to be able to chop, mix, or puree food to whatever consistency we need. When we tried chopping onions, carrots, and celery into ¼-inch dice for mirepoix, the foundation for many soups and braises, not all the machines made easy work of it. We watched as chunks of vegetables bounced around the bowl of the least-efficient machine, the blades bruising the bouncing vegetables for more than a minute before they started to chop them. Some models left us with carrot pieces that were too big and softer celery and onion pieces that were nearly liquefied. A few machines chopped the vegetables well but still left us with a few carrot knobs that we had to finish cutting by hand. Only one model, our previous favorite, quickly gave us completely uniform, neatly cut pieces.

Two factors mattered here: the first and most important was the responsiveness and power of the “pulse” function. Second was the position of the S-shaped chopping blade relative to the sides and bottom of the bowl. The pulse functions of weaker performers started smoothly but kept running for a few seconds after we released the button, leaving some foods overchopped and others uncut. On the best models, the blades quickly burst into action when we pressed the pulse button and quickly stopped when we released it, which gave us much better control when chopping food. We also noted that models with blades that reached closer to the bowls’ sides and sat closer to the bowls’ bottoms performed better, likely because they engaged food more efficiently. The distances between the blade tips and bowl sides of the models we tested ranged from 2.9 millimeters in a high-ranking machine to 6.1 millimeters in our lowest-ranked model—more than twice as much of a gap. The gaps between the blades and the bowl bottoms of our three highest-ranking models ranged from 2.2 to 3.5 millimeters; lower-ranked models had gaps of 3.9 to 5.4 millimeters.

Some food processors come with a large box of extra blades and attachments, but we've found that the majority of food-processing tasks can be accomplished with just three blades: those for chopping, slicing, and shredding. Our winning model conveniently stores all three inside its workbowl.

Mixing and Blending Performance Varied

In addition to chopping, a machine’s S-shaped blade should be proficient at mixing and blending. In a test designed to reveal mixing and blending efficiency, we put a cup of plain yogurt in the bowl of each model, added single drops of blue and yellow food coloring on either side of the blade, ran each machine for 30 seconds, and then examined the results. The yogurts produced by most of the processors had varying amounts of blue and yellow streaks, while the yogurts in a few—including our previous winner—were blended to a uniform, frothy green.

In a test of blending efficiency, we added yellow and blue food coloring to plain yogurt and ran the processors on high for 30 seconds. Some models sent yogurt flying around the bowl and left yogurt streaky and unmixed (left). Better models gave us evenly green, frothy yogurt that was perfectly blended (right).

Next, we made batches of mayonnaise with our recipe, which produces about ¾ cup, drizzling oil through feed tubes onto pairs of egg yolks and seasonings as we ran the machines. If models came with mini bowls and blades, as three of the seven did, we used them. Only two of the machines couldn’t make mayonnaise, and both were 14-cup models that lacked mini bowls. Sadly, one was our previous winner. Since our last testing, Cuisinart redesigned its S-shaped chopping blade to sit 3.2 millimeters higher on its stem rather than flush with the bottom of the bowl, so it passed right over the yolks. When we tried making a double batch of mayonnaise, it still worked perfectly, but we miss this machine’s ability to handle very small amounts in its single bowl.

Unexpected Uses for a Food Processor

 

  • Crush Ice Pulse up to 2 cups of ice cubes in the processor until finely ground, 8 to 10 pulses.

 

  • Whip Cream Process 1½ cups of heavy cream, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract to soft peaks, about 1 minute, for a superquick basic sweetened whipped cream.

 

  • Make Bread Crumbs Tear bread into pieces and pulse in the food processor until ground to the desired texture. 

 

  • Create Flavored Salts Process ½ cup of coarse sea salt with ½ cup of fresh rosemary or thyme leaves until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

 

  • Grind Nut Flours and Butters You can process nuts in several ways, from simply chopping them into a coarse meal to grinding them into a paste or nut butter. The difference is simply how long you process them. 

 

  • Make a Brown Sugar Substitute Pulse 1 cup of granulated white sugar with 1 tablespoon of molasses for light brown sugar or 2 tablespoons of molasses for dark brown sugar. 

 

  • Grind Your Own Superfine Sugar Superfine sugar has small granules that dissolve almost instantly, so it’s ideal for sweetening drinks or for baked applications where you want a grit-free texture. Process 1 cup plus 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar for 30 seconds. This yields about 1 cup of superfine sugar. 

 

  • Mix Up Flavored Sugars Great in coffee or tea or sprinkled onto fruit or baked goods, flavored sugars are simple to make in a food processor. For vanilla sugar, process one-quarter of a fresh vanilla bean with 1 cup of sugar for 45 seconds to 1 minute. For citrus sugar, add 2 teaspoons of grated fresh lemon, lime, or orange zest to 1 cup of sugar and pulse 20 times. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To find out how well a machine could puree food, we processed a 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes, juice and all, in each. All the machines produced a smooth puree, and none of the bowls leaked. To further test if each bowl was leakproof, we filled each bowl with water to its maximum liquid capacity, which ranged from 2 to 8 cups and was clearly marked on the bowls of five of the seven machines, and ran them for 20 seconds. None of the five bowls with clearly defined liquid capacities leaked. The recommended maximum fill capacity of the two remaining bowls was a bit harder to figure out. The bowl of one of these machines featured a generic “max fill” line near its top, but it clearly was not meant for liquids since it was too close to the rim of the bowl to prevent spillover. This model’s manual advised against filling the bowl more than ⅔ full of liquid, which required a tape measure and math to calculate. The other machine’s bowl was unmarked; its manual said we could safely puree up to 1¾ quarts of soup in its bowl, but this much water made the bowl leak profusely. We had to comb the company website and instructional videos to learn you must attach a ring-shaped collar to the bowl to prevent overflows and improve blending, a fact not mentioned in the manual. When we did this, the bowl did not leak.

As we tested the models and their shredding capabilities, we looked for uniform shreds. Some didn't make the cut, leaving bigger chunks of carrots that would not be usable in recipes such as carrot cake.

Shredding and Slicing Performance Differs

Food processors are great at slicing or shredding, but only if they don’t require a lot of wasteful pre-trimming or produce pieces that are so beat-up and misshapen that you can’t use them. Most of our processors did decent jobs of shredding cheese and carrots, though a few models left uncut pieces in the bowls or on top of the blades. The best gave us heaps of fluffy, uniform shreds. When we sliced potatoes and tomatoes, a few gave us juicier, more ragged slices, indicating duller blades, but our top picks worked so neatly and precisely that we could almost reassemble the potato or tomato afterward.

Why the difference? It comes down to the designs of the feed tubes. Most are multipart, with inserts of different widths to fit different ingredients. A snug fit that keeps the food in a stable, consistent position as it hits the blade is key. Unfortunately, the biggest feed tube of one model was so narrow (1¾ inches by 2¾ inches) that we couldn’t slip in even the skinniest plum tomato or russet potato without extensive pre-trimming. By contrast, food tended to slump in feed tubes that were very broad with too-few options for making the tube narrower, so shreds and slices came out uneven and sloppy. We preferred models whose feed tubes gave us more insert options when loading food, as well as inserts whose parts can be locked in place during processing. Without locks, inserts popped up whenever we used them to press food down the tube, and often fell out when we moved the lids.

Shopping Tips for Choosing a Food Processor

We found several general traits that we admired in our top contenders. 

 

  • Bowls that provide easy visibility of their contents so that we could monitor progress
  • A heavy anchoring base that doesn’t need suction cups to stay stable
  • A quiet motor (a few sounded like jackhammers)
  • Buttons and controls that are easy to interpret, comfortable to push, and simple to wipe clean
  • A lid that glides on and off quickly without confusion or struggle
  • A large capacity, since even smaller households sometimes want to make bigger batches. 
  • Minimal accessories (for the most part), since you’ll likely use your processor primarily for chopping, slicing, and shredding, and storing a large box of accessories you rarely need is something to consider. We find that if you have to dig out products from storage, they are less likely to be part of your regular cooking arsenal. However, if you know you’d prefer to have accessories for additional functions such as dicing, juicing citrus, or spiralizing, look for a model that includes them or for which they can be purchased as add-ons.

Kneading Power and Capacity Are Key

Good food processors make fast work of mixing and kneading pizza dough, but they need enough bowl capacity and power to do the job well. To test these factors, we made double batches of pissaladière, a rustic pizza whose dough is heavy and sticky, in each machine. Five of the seven machines quickly produced doughs that were silky and well mixed. One machine sent flour flying to the walls of the bowl and failed to mix the ingredients until we stopped and scraped down the bowl sides; this model was eventually successful, but it required unnecessary effort that the other models didn’t. The other machine, which was the sole 9-cup food processor in our lineup, could not process more than 3 cups of flour—and our double batch calls for 4 cups. We had to make two single batches, processing them sequentially, which took more than twice as long since we had to clean out the sticky remains of the first batch before we could make the second. That was cumbersome but acceptable, but we noticed that while making each batch this model’s motor stalled—a feature designed to prevent overheating and damage. This raised concerns about this model’s durability.

A Better Way to Scrape the Bottom of Your Food Processor Bowl

Here's how to swipe up ingredients trapped beneath the blade without nicking your rubber spatula at the same time.

Anatomy of a Great Food Processor

For a machine that can handle everything from slicing tomatoes and mincing herbs to kneading heavy pizza dough, it takes more than just a sharp blade and a strong motor.

  • 1. WELL-DESIGNED FEED TUBE

    The feed tube should be big enough to minimize pretrimming and waste but ­narrow enough to hold food upright. Different-size inserts are also a plus, since they let you get a custom fit for a variety of foods.

     

    2. MINIMAL GAPS BETWEEN BLADE AND BOWL

    The space between the end of the blade and the side of the bowl, as well as the space between the base of the blade and the bottom of the bowl, should be small. This ensures more efficient, thorough mixing and food that is evenly chopped.

     

    3. WEIGHTY, COMPACT BASE

    The best base saves space and keeps the machine anchored during heavy mixing.

     

    4. RESPONSIVE PULSE BUTTON

    A responsive pulse button enables a quick stop-start so that the ­ingredients are tossed around the bowl and into the cutting action. It gives you better control over the final size of the pieces, without overprocessing.

Cleanup Should Be Easy with Food Processors

Chasing bits of sticky pizza dough out of every nook and cranny of each food processor’s bowl while trying not to cut ourselves on its blade confirmed our preference for models whose bowls and lids had simpler, smoother surfaces. We also preferred S-blades that were one piece; some models had two-part versions that required placing a ring of blades over a separate stem. These multipart blades not only tended to get gummed up with food more than one-piece blades did but they were also trickier to install and remove. We’ve noted in the chart the models with dishwasher-safe parts (a nice advantage); that said, we often find ourselves using a food processor for a series of separate tasks, so waiting through a dishwasher cycle isn’t in the cards. Being able to easily hand-wash and fully dry the pieces is more important than you might think.

The Best Food Processor: Cuisinart Custom 14 14 Cup Food Processor

After all the chopping, shredding, slicing, and kneading was done, we had a winner. With its powerful, quiet motor that almost purrs; efficient, sharp blades; and easy-to-operate controls that deliver appropriately short, responsive pulsing action, our previous winner, the Cuisinart Custom 14 14 Cup Food Processor, rose to the top again. We appreciated its moderate price and its heavy, anchoring base. We also liked its streamlined design that offered a generous 14 cups of capacity in a machine that was more compact than most food processors, with simple surfaces that were easy to clean and dry. All its parts are also dishwasher-safe. We liked the unusual placement of the feed tube at the back of the lid, which gave us clear visibility into the bowl, as did the bowl’s smooth, clear sides, making it easy to monitor progress. This practical workhorse comes with just three blades for chopping, shredding, and slicing, which cover nearly all the processing tasks most home cooks need, and they can be stored entirely inside the bowl. A few additional blades are available on the manufacturer’s website. We had one quibble: Unlike other models in our lineup, this model has no mini bowl for small batches. It originally didn’t need one, but its redesigned chopping blade is no longer flush with the bowl bottom. If you don’t own a small food processor, and often want to make small batches, choose another processor. For a model that performs almost as well, and comes with many more accessories, including a mini bowl, you may want to consider our pricier runner-up, the Breville Sous Chef 12 Plus Food Processor.

Equipment Review Food Processors

Our longtime favorite is powerful and easy to use, but is it still the best choice?

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.