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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.