What is a Food Processor? What do You Use it For?
Most food processors — including all of the ones that we selected for our review — have bowls with a capacity anywhere between 8 and 16 cups and come with a variety of blades for different culinary tasks. While chopping things like onions or carrots may come to mind first, these versatile kitchen machines can be used for a whole host of tasks, ranging from making mayonnaise to pizza dough. These machines can chop, shred, slice, and mix ingredients, all depending on what blade or attachment is hooked up. While every task that a food processor does can be accomplished by the hands of a skilled cook, the biggest benefits of a food processor are it can save you copious amounts of time and can add consistency to your cooking.
Types of Food Processors
Usually only suited for a single task (chopping), mini-choppers have a much smaller bowl than standard food processors. These are great for kitchens that are on the smaller side or for those that are typically cooking smaller portions. These model are also significantly less expensive than a full-featured standard food processor, making them a great choice for someone shopping on an extra tight budget.
Step 1: Do You Even Need a Food Processor?
While these products can save you plenty of time and effort in the kitchen, there are a few caveats. For many chefs, cooks, or bakers, kitchen counter space is almost always at a premium, and permanently allotting some of that precious square footage to a food processor is impractical. This means that the food processor will be relegated to live in a cupboard or pantry, requiring it to be set up for each use. This, along with the task of cleaning the processor, means that it might not be worth the effort for small tasks that can be easily accomplished by hand, like chopping half an onion or slicing a tomato.
You may also be wondering if this is even the right kitchen appliance for you, Between food processors, blenders, immersion blenders, stand mixers, and mini-choppers, there are a whole host of kitchen gadgets that have spinning metal parts to mix or chop foods. The standard food processor is a jack-of-all-trades — a true kitchen workhorse — that can adequately serve intermediate to professional chefs. It will shred, chop, slice, and mix well, and is particularly suited to large amounts of food preparation for multiple people. Think of chopping up lots of onions and carrots for a stew or soup base, or shredding a large amount of cheese for pizza or macaroni cheese.
The mini-chopper is the watered-down version of its big brother, suitable for chopping small amounts — great for a single serving of salsa or for chopping an onion without shedding tears. This is the prime choice for chefs in small kitchens.
A blender is best suited for liquefying ingredients, rather than chopping them. If you are focused on blended drinks, smoothies, or some soups and sauces, then a blender is a much better choice for your kitchen than a food processor. If this is the case, then you may be interested in our quest to find the best blender.
An immersion blender is a blender without a container, meaning that you can use it in whatever sized container that you want. This is a great bet for making soup, as you can puree it in the pot that you cooked it in, rather than risking hot liquid in a typical blender. Never run a blender with hot liquid, like soup, in it without proper precautions, as it can be extremely dangerous and cause an explosion of hot soup in your kitchen and in your face. These are also great for making milkshakes straight out of a soda fountain.
While a food processor is adequate at mixing dough, a stand mixer excels at this task. Covered more in detail below, a stand mixer is a better bet for the dedicated baker, sacrificing overall versatility for premium dough performance.
Step 2: Cooking For One, or For a Crowd?
Now that you are sure that a food processor is your next kitchen appliance, it's time to narrow down your search, specifically by bowl size. While you initially may want to go for the biggest bowl available, bigger doesn't necessarily mean better in this case. While it is true that a larger bowl will be able to handle more food, the downside is that it may not be able to handle small amounts of food, as it won't reach the blades. This might not be a problem if you are routinely cooking for a crowd, but it can be quite frustrating to be forced to make 3 cups of mayonnaise when 1 would suffice. However, some models do have an insert that can be added to reduce the bowl size, making smaller servings possible.
We would recommend getting a model with the largest bowl sizes only if you are almost always cooking for a large group, or if it has a reducing attachment. Otherwise, a small to medium bowl will work best for most people.
Step 3: Psyched to Shred and Slice?
Obviously, if you are looking at shredding or slicing, it is necessary to get a model that includes these attachments or has them available to purchase as an upgrade. In addition, it is important to remember that using a food processor to shred or slice, particularly with slicing, is to place a greater emphasis on quantity rather than quality.
While these machines can slice large amounts of food very quickly, you do end up sacrificing some of the quality that you would get by performing the task manually. Once again, if you are routinely slicing or shredding large quantities of food, then a food processor can be worth its weight in gold to you. If you are only dealing with small amounts of food or if you have to have perfect slices, then you may be better suited by a sharp knife and a cutting board, or by a mandoline , as the loss of precision and cleanup time will prove vexing.
Step 4: Braced for Baking?
Evenly combining and mixing wet and dry ingredients can be a bane for many bakers. Luckily, a food processor can be used to make many types of dough, with many models including a blunter, plastic blade specifically used for mixing dough.
However, not all food processors are created equal when it comes to mixing dough. Almost all of the models we tested would eventually make dough, some performing the task effortlessly, while others shot flour out the top and vibrated so violently that we thought they were going to explode. Unfortunately, we found there wasn't a hard and fast rule as to which ones excelled at making dough, as we had models across the spectrum in terms of size, price, and dough specific attachments excel and flounder at our mixing test. All in all, if you are focused exclusively on mixing dough, you may be better served by a stand mixer, rather than a food processor.
While a food processor won't do everything for you (yet!), they are a fantastic tool to expedite some of the more mundane tasks in the kitchen, and once you start using one, you may find that you are relying on it more and more, to the point where you can't live without it!