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Buying Guide: The Best Food Processors For You

The authors of The New Cooks' Catalogue certainly know what to look for when choosing cooking equipment. These leading culinary experts have been evaluating cooking equipment for over 25 years. The following information is what they consider important when selecting a food processor.

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What to Look For

  • Full-size models with a work bowl capacity of at least 9 cups and a wide feed tube are the most versatile.
  • The work bowl and blades should sit directly on top of the motor, rather than to one side.
  • Additional slicing discs or a mini work bowl can expand a machine's usefulness. Some attachments sit on the motor base to function as blenders or juicers.
  • Food processors with a capacity of less than 5 cups are useful for small tasks like chopping an onion or a handful of nuts, but select a larger model if you are purchasing a food processor for the first time.

More information

Uses

Food processors slice carrots, grate cheese, purée chickpeas, make mayonnaise, and chop parsley in a fraction of the time it takes to do these tasks by hand. They are also the tool of choice to make pastry dough.

All food processors come equipped with a clear plastic bowl that locks onto the base (which houses the motor), a lid with a feed tube for adding ingredients to the workbowl while the machine is running, an S-shaped blade for chopping, and an assortment of discs for slicing and shredding.

Though a food processor will chop onions and mix pie dough in seconds, it will never purée soup to a silky texture like a blender. And though they chop quickly, the results are never as uniform as those achieved by a good knife held in a skilled hand.

Capacity

A food processor is classified according to its dry ingredient capacity. This ranges from one to twenty cups. “Dry” is the operative word here. The liquid capacity will be about half that for dry ingredients, because filling the bowl above the level of the blade housing may cause leaking while the machine is running, as anyone who has tried to purée too much tomato sauce at once has found out.

Full-size models of at least 9 cups, but preferably 11-14 cups, are the most versatile. Midsize models of 6-8 cups are sufficient for the average home cook and mini processors with a capacity of less than 5 cups are handy for small chopping jobs like a few cloves of garlic or a handful of parsley. Caterers and others who frequently cook in quantity may want to consider a professional size 20-cup model.

Power

As with the other appliances, wattage is just one determinant of how powerful a food processor is, the motor’s efficiency is another. There is really no way you can judge the power of a unit just by looking at it. More expensive food processors will be the most powerful and tackle heavy loads without a problem. A good rule of thumb is to rely on the reputation of the manufacturer.

Speeds

All full- and midsize food processors come with at least a single speed and a pulse feature. A pulse switch that quickly turns the machine on and off is necessary for certain tasks, like blending pie dough.

Cleaning

Touch-pad controls offer ease of cleaning and a base with smooth lines and no crevices will stay cleaner. Almost all food-processor parts (with the exception of the electric motor base, of course) are dishwasher safe.

Attachments

Though even a full-size food processor can chop a single clove of garlic (just throw it down the feed tube while the machine is running), some models come with a minibowl and miniblade that mount inside the larger bowl for smaller tasks. There is also a plastic blade, shorter than the metal blade, designed for mixing yeast dough. Circular slicing and shredding discs will produce slices or shreds of varying thickness. Julienne-cutting discs are available as well. The attachments for whipping cream and egg whites are good but do not work as well as the whip on a stand or handheld mixer. In addition, some have attachments that sit on the motor base and function as blenders or juicers.

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