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Food Processors

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2016
Update: December 2016

Cuisinart has announced a recall of the older riveted S-blade of our winning food processor, which was included in models sold from 1996 through December 2015. Cuisinart will replace the blade free of charge, and the new blade will fit old machines. Anyone with this older blade should contact Cuisinart at https://recall.cuisinart.com (or call 1-877-339-2534).

Update: February 2016 Our winning food processor by Cuisinart has a new model number, DFP-14BCNY, and a newly redesigned S-shaped chopping blade. As we noted earlier, we found that the older blade sometimes cracked under heavy usage. (In the new blade, the metal arms are built into the plastic housing; the older blade was fastened on with metal bolts, where cracking began if the blade was under stress.) We have tried the new blade and still highly recommend this food processor. The manufacturer's list price has also increased to $199.

How we tested

Here in the test kitchen, we demand a food processor that can handle lots of chopping, slicing, and shredding while delivering professional quality results, and we think home cooks deserve the same. It had better be able to not only puree a dip and whip up creamy mayonnaise but also cut fat into a pie crust in seconds, grind beef into hamburger, and knead heavy pizza dough. And of course we want our food processor to be simple to use and quick to clean, or why would we ever bother hauling it out?

We bought eight full-size food processors, priced from $59.99 to $299.99, with capacities of 11 to 14 cups, a size we deemed big enough to handle most recipes. (We also tested two professional-style food processors with suggested retail prices of more than $400.00; see our review of High-End Professional-Style Food Processors) We put each model through 21 tests, measuring their performance on a range of tasks, all while comparing construction and user-friendliness. We considered everything from the feel of the pulse button and the weight and shape of the workbowl to the capacity of the feed tube and how often we’d have to handle sharp, pokey blades. In terms of blades, some models were equipped with just the basics—a chopping blade and a shredding/slicing disk—while others arrived with sizable boxes of extra attachments. We assessed which of these were actually useful and which were just window dressing.

On the Chopping Block

While food processors are designed to do a variety of jobs, we most often call upon them for chopping. So we ran several chopping tests and weighted those results heaviest in our final ratings: prepping mirepoix (a combination of diced carrot, celery, and onion used as a foundation for many sauces, soups, and stews), grinding whole almonds, mincing fresh parsley, and grinding chunks of beef and cold butter into fresh hamburger meat. We wanted to achieve uniform pieces of food at whatever size we desired, but the reality was often a disappointment. For example, while we were aiming for 1/4-inch pieces of crisply cut mirepoix, in some cases we ended up with a crushed, juiced, or pulverized mixture that was strewn with bigger chunks. One of the biggest factors in chopping performance was the length of time the machine ran once we’d pushed the pulse button—short, powerful, jerky pulsing is essential to help toss ingredients around the bowl and into the cutting action. The best models had pulses that ran for only as long as we were still pushing the button (a fraction of a second in our top models), giving us excellent control; the worst kept running for nearly 2 seconds, processing the food too much—and, at the same time, often letting bigger pieces ride the spinning blades without getting chopped. The other important factor for even chopping was the distance of the blades from the bottom and sides of the workbowl, which ranged from 3 millimeters to more than 10 millimeters. Smaller gaps were critical to making sure that chunks of food didn’t escape the blades.

Any Way You Slice It

Slicing and shredding with a food processor can be a huge timesaver, especially when you’re prepping large quantities. A well-designed machine takes seconds to produce piles of carrot shreds for a salad, mounds of shredded cheese for a soufflé or pizza, or pounds of potato slices for gratin. We shredded soft blocks of cheddar cheese and crunchy carrots, and we sliced delicate ripe tomatoes and firm potatoes, considering not just the quality of the processed food but also how much was wasted, whether trapped in the machine or pretrimmed so the food would fit inside feed tubes. The best models left almost nothing behind. The worst left jagged chunks stuck atop the cutting disk or made us trim up to a third of the food off to make it fit.

Blade quality mattered, too: As we sliced potatoes and tomatoes, dull blades bruised and hacked up the food, splattering the workbowl with juices. The top-performing machines had sharp, efficient blades that made clean, dry cuts—you could barely tell the tomato or potato had been through the processor until you fanned out the slices like a deck of cards.

A few models had special slicing features, but all were not equally successful. For instance, a slice-thickness adjustment lever on the front of KitchenAid models lacks numerical markings, so we had to use trial and error to attain slices with a specific thickness. We preferred slice adjustments like the one on the Breville, which lets you simply dial up a precise setting by millimeters.

Mixing It Up

Efficient mixing is a key feature, whether you’re making a quick pie crust, kneading a sticky dough, or emulsifying mayonnaise. We tried all three tasks with each machine, and we assessed the speed and thoroughness of the mixing action by processing a cup of plain yogurt with drops of yellow and blue food coloring, timing how long it took for the yogurt to turn green. The worst machine ran for over a minute while still leaving distinct streaks of color, while better models managed to create a smooth, even green hue in 25 seconds or less.

When it came to pushing the boundaries of the machines’ upper limits, double batches of heavy pizza dough were a real challenge for a few models. The 11-cup KitchenAid food processor shut itself down repeatedly as we processed the dough. Another few struggled: A light flashed on the Breville’s control panel, indicating distress, and the Cuisinart Elemental 11-cup model left ropy clumps of unmixed flour, which we had to finish kneading by hand. The manual of the Hamilton Beach processor said it was not meant for dough; when we gave it a try anyway, it made a lot of noise (as it did throughout testing) and jumped around the counter, but the dough actually emerged in good shape. (We wouldn’t recommend processing dough in this model routinely since it could burn out the motor over time.) Another, by Black + Decker, advised us not to process more than 3 1/2 cups of dough but did just fine with 4 cups. (Again, we wouldn’t recommend going over the upper limit for normal home use since it risks damaging the machine’s motor.) The top performers, including our front-runner, yielded silky, bouncy dough with little apparent strain.

Mayonnaise was another failure point for several machines. Our recipe yields about 1 cup, so whenever a mini bowl was included with the food processor, we used it for this small job. Still, half the models that lacked mini bowls (including our winner) were nonetheless able to emulsify the mayonnaise. Once again, the failures seem to be caused by excessive space between the blades and the bottom of the bowl, which caused the blades to spin uselessly over unmixed oil and egg.

To test how well the machines processed chunky food into a smooth puree, we blended 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes. While most handled this task acceptably well, it made us wonder how much liquid the workbowls could handle without leaking. We filled each with water to their maximum volume and ran them on high. A few erupted in overflowing waves, while a few more sent forth a steady trickle of liquid. Our favorite never spilled a drop, despite lacking a rubber gasket in the lid. These gaskets, which are designed to seal the workbowl from leaks, weren’t always effective. Instead, they mostly made lids hard to slide on or off smoothly.

Wash ’n’ Go

Cleanup was the final factor we considered. Complicated nooks and crannies inside the lid and on the pusher and feed tubes of the KitchenAid 11-cup model trapped food and were a chore to clean and dry. The same could be said for multipart shafts that held blades inside workbowls on other models. Our favorite machines had smooth, simple surfaces that were a snap to clean and dry, so they were ready for the next job. Our favorite models’ workbowls are all dishwasher-safe (blades should be hand-washed to keep them sharp).

In the end, nothing beat our old favorite, the Cuisinart Custom 14 Food Processor ($161.99). It may not be the cheapest food processor available, but it proves its worth in its sturdiness and performance, and it outshone fancier models costing up to three times as much. It comes with just three basic blades, for chopping, slicing, and shredding. After all of our testing, we decided that these are all you really need for most jobs (though it’s worth noting that Cuisinart offers a variety of additional blades for this machine on its website), and fewer blades equals less stuff to store. With a plain, heavy base; just two simple, lever-style bars to operate; a responsive pulsing action that makes chopping efficient; sharp blades set close to the base and bottom of the workbowl that don’t miss a thing; and a pared-down design that is easy to clean, handle, and store, our old winner takes the top prize again.

Methodology

We tested eight food processors with capacities of 11 to 14 cups, rating them on their ability to chop, slice, shred, mince, emulsify, puree, and mix pie crust and pizza dough, as well as perform other common tasks that call for a food processor. We also rated them on ease of use and cleanup. We purchased all models online. They appear in order of preference.

CHOPPING: Testers chopped onion, carrot, and celery into mirepoix; ground whole almonds; minced fresh parsley; and ground beef chunks and butter into hamburger. This category was weighted most highly in our ratings.

SLICING: We sliced ripe plum tomatoes and russet potatoes, giving highest marks to models that cut crisply and neatly, rendering little to no juice, which
would indicate that food was sliced, not crushed.

SHREDDING: We shredded carrots and cheddar cheese, rating models highest if pieces were crisp and uniform with little to no unprocessed, trapped food.

MIXING: We mixed pie dough and a double batch of heavy pizza dough, made mayonnaise (in small workbowls where available), and conducted a timed test using drops of blue and yellow food coloring in yogurt to show how efficiently machines made a uniformly green mixture.

PUREEING: We processed large cans of whole tomatoes in each machine until smooth; high-rated models made velvety puree.

EASE OF USE: We rated each machine throughout testing on its handling, intuitiveness of assembly and controls, shape of workbowl and lid, weight and stability, quality of construction, noise, and other factors relating to its design and ergonomics, including the convenience of any included accessory boxes or other extra features.

LEAKING: We filled each machine to its “maximum liquid fill” line and compared actual to stated capacity; we then ran machines on high for 1 minute, checking for leaks.

The Results

Winner
Highly Recommended

Cuisinart Custom 14 Food Processor

With a powerful, quiet motor; responsive pulsing action; sharp blades; and a simple, pared-down-to-basics design, our old favorite aced every test, surprising us time and again by outshining pricier, more feature-filled competitors. It was one of the few models that didn’t leak at its maximum stated liquid capacity. It’s also easy to clean and store, because it comes with just a chopping blade and two disks for shredding and slicing. Additional blade options are available à la carte.

NOTE: Cuisinart has announced a recall of the older riveted S-blade of our winning food processor, which was included in models sold from 1996 through December 2015. Cuisinart will replace the blade free of charge, and the new blade will fit old machines. Anyone with this older blade should contact Cuisinart at https://recall.cuisinart.com (or call 1-877-339-2534).

More Details
Mixing
Slicing
Chopping
Pureeing
Shredding
Ease of Use
$199.99*
Recommended

The Breville Sous Chef 12-Cup Food Processor

Quiet and quick at most tasks, with a well-designed workbowl that slides smoothly into place and pours neatly, this model excelled at chopping, slicing, and shredding, but its motor clearly struggled when mixing a double batch of pizza dough. And with blades spinning out of reach in the big bowl, mayonnaise never emulsified and dyed yogurt never turned uniformly green. Turning the shaft on the slicing blade offered eight thickness settings clearly marked in millimeters, a nice design touch.

More Details
Mixing
Slicing
Chopping
Pureeing
Shredding
Ease of Use
$299.99*

Black + Decker Performance Food Processor

This model performed surprisingly well in many areas, despite a cheap, flimsy feel to its construction. The tall, skinny accessory box shattered after taking a tumble. Suction-cup feet on its lightweight base failed to stabilize the machine when it was working, and its motor was loud. The pulse button continued running a bit long, and chopping was a bit uneven. That said, its slicing and shredding were impressive, and its dicing attachment worked very well.

More Details
Mixing
Slicing
Chopping
Pureeing
Shredding
Ease of Use
$149.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Cuisinart Elite Collection 2.0 12-Cup Food Processor

We liked this machine’s responsive pulse button and simple control panel; shredding was exemplary, and chopping was more than acceptable. But the innovative snap-on lid didn’t always latch; we often found it running ajar. The motor struggled when mixing heavy pizza dough, and flour flew up into the lid and fell out messily after making pie crust. Nooks and crannies in the workbowl lid slowed cleanup.

More Details
Mixing
Slicing
Chopping
Pureeing
Shredding
Ease of Use
$249.00*

Cuisinart Elemental 11 Food Processor

With a lid that usually went on a bit stiffly and off-kilter, this machine was some work to open and close, and its lightweight base and parts felt less solidly constructed than its Cuisinart siblings; a piece of the handle became loosened by the end of testing. The motor was very loud. Too-long, too-weak pulses made the chopping action less efficient, as did narrower blades that left gaps around the edges for food to slip through. Pizza dough was a struggle, leaving us to finish kneading the still-lumpy dough by hand.

More Details
Mixing
Slicing
Chopping
Pureeing
Shredding
Ease of Use
$149.00*
Not Recommended

Hamilton Beach Stack & Snap Food Processor

This model’s claim to fame is that the jar and lid snap on with no twisting, but the plastic flaps that snap down the lid felt like they might snap off. More critically, gaps between blades and bowl allowed food to sit on the bottom and avoid the chopping overhead. It failed to make mayonnaise, and it leaked when filled with liquid to capacity. Lightweight, inexpensive construction meant the machine wobbled on its suction-cup feet. Though we made pizza dough in this model, the manual instructs not to use it for dough.

More Details
Mixing
Slicing
Chopping
Pureeing
Shredding
Ease of Use
$59.99*

Oster Designed for Life 14-Cup Food Processor with 5-Cup Mini Chopper

While this is one of the lowest-priced products in the lineup, it also felt lightweight and flimsy, and running it required earplugs (think jackhammer crossed with dentist drill: Ree! REE!). It wobbled on its suction-cup feet, pumped a stream of air at us as it ran, and blew flour and bits of food all over the interior of the workbowl like confetti. Gaps between blade and bowl allowed some pieces to pass under the blades unchopped, while mayonnaise failed to emulsify.

More Details
Mixing
Slicing
Chopping
Pureeing
Shredding
Ease of Use
$69.00*

Kitchenaid 11-Cup Food Processor with ExactSlice System

With a remarkably stiff pulse button that was painful to push and somewhat unresponsive, comparatively weak chopping action, a draggy gasket that made the lid difficult to twist on or off, and abundant crannies that trapped food and moisture and made cleaning complicated, this machine made us work too hard. While its actual slicing was crisp and neat, the thickness-adjusting lever on the front is unmarked, so choosing a specific thickness involves trial, error, and wasted food.

More Details
Mixing
Slicing
Chopping
Pureeing
Shredding
Ease of Use

N/A

$199.95*