The Best Food Processor
If you’re looking for a food processor that’ll save you hours in the kitchen, our pick for most people is the classic Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor for $179. It’s a basic-but-efficient model that excels at most tasks. However, if you will use it several times a week or place a premium on thoughtful design, spring for the much more powerful 16-cup Breville Sous Chef for $400.
Over the course of 18 hours of research, I read every review I could find, scoured Amazon reviews, considered 45 different models and chatted with two authors of best-selling food processing cookbooks before calling in five top-rated models to test. I put each through their paces, chopping and slicing vegetables, grating cheese, grinding bread crumbs, pureeing silky-smooth hummus and mixing big batches of pizza dough to ultimately pin down the best of the best.
The French connection
Food processors first showed up in the United States in the early 1970’s after Carl Sontheimer, a MIT-trained engineer traveling through France, happened upon Le Magimix, a basic processor that let Gallic homemakers chop and mix in a flash. Sontheimer immediately saw the machine’s potential for American cooks and shipped a dozen processors home to study in his garage workshop, where he eventually developed the first Cuisinart, which he unveiled in 1973.
However, the Cuisinart didn’t really catch on until a few years later, when Sontheimer demonstrated the machine for major food writers and chefs, including Julia Child, James Beard and Jacques Pépin. The rest, as they say, is l’histoire.
What is a food processor and who should get one of these?
At its most basic, a food processor is comprised of a work bowl that sits on a motorized drive shaft. The bowl’s lid has a feed tube for inserting food to be chopped, diced, sliced, ground and even kneaded (in the case of dough). Most food processors come with s-shaped blades and various disks for grating and slicing, but there are a host of other attachments—such as Julienne disks and citrus juicers—also available.
Some food processors will also liquify ingredients (tomatoes for pasta sauce, for instance), but if you’re looking to purée velvety soups or crush ice for smoothies, you’ll need a blender.
What makes a great food processor?
To suss out the features to look for I turned to two best-selling authors of food processing cookbooks: Jean Anderson, the James Beard-award winning author of Process This, and Norene Gilletz, author of The New Food Processor Bible. Both women were early adopters, purchasing their first Cuisinarts shortly after the company introduced them. Combined, they’ve logged thousands of hours on many machines.
Anderson and Gilletz agree that an 11- to 14-cup processor is most useful for most cooks. “It’s always better to go a little bigger than a little smaller,” says Gilletz. “It’s one investment that’s going to last you a lot of years. You’ll regret getting one that isn’t big enough.” I informally polled friends who cook, and a lot of them seemed happy with their 7- or 9-cup machines, but most of them also only cook for one or two people. For a family, or if you cook a lot, a bigger machine just makes more sense. Smaller processors (3 to 5 cups) are often called “food choppers” and are good for quickly grinding nuts, chopping garlic or herbs, and other tasks that are too small for a bigger processing bowl. Both Anderson and Gilletz keep mini processors for these tasks, and Gilletz swears by her Cuisinart Mini Prep ($32).
Some cheaper machines will do a passable job of chopping vegetables and even shredding hard cheeses like Parmesan. But these lower-end processors tend to struggle with more nuanced tasks. The Hamilton Beach Big Mouth Duo (~$100), for example, is one of the highest rated inexpensive models, but Good Housekeeping found it did a lousy job of slicing tomatoes and cutting Julienne strips—tasks that a higher quality machine will breeze through. These machines should chop vegetables and herbs evenly (without pulverizing them), grate veggies and cheese uniformly, and slice cleanly.
A high-quality machine also does a nice job at grinding dry ingredients. For example, you should be able to grind bread into breadcrumbs with a few pulses,and chop nuts into a fine meal texture (you can even make nut butters). The better-quality machines with heavier bases will also grind meat—such as for these mouthwatering ground-sirloin-and-butter-burgers from America’s Test Kitchen (subscription required).
In all of the reviews I read, the cheaper machines also tended to make a racket. In testing, I found the best machines purred softly, even when shredding hard veggies such as beets and mixing pizza dough.
On that note, the best machines have strong motors and heavy bases that anchor them to the counter so that they can mix sturdy yeast doughs. Lower-quality machines, which also happen to be lighter, will often skid across the counter when processing dough, or the motor might even seize up (I actually had this problem with a higher-end model I tested). Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen looked for machines that would blend “a smooth, satiny dough in less than 90 seconds.“ Similarly, the machine should be able to cut butter evenly into flour for pastry dough. The machines usually come with a dough blade, often made of plastic.
I asked Norene Gilletz if it was worth investing in a machine that has a specific dough speed. “If you’re making a lot of bread, maybe. But if you don’t have that speed, just do a little dough and pulse and you won’t need the dough speed,” she says. In testing pizza dough, I actually found that models with a specific dough button didn’t outperform ones that didn’t have this feature. Overall, Gilletz said it’s more important that the machine have a pulse speed, which gives more control than just on and off buttons.
Although many people prefer a blender or immersion blender for puréeing soups, food processors can also perform this task. “My food processors can blend and liquidize as well as a blender,” says Jean Anderson. However, Gilletz doesn’t agree. “A blender acts like a centrifuge, everything gets sucked into the center and makes a purée more silky,” she says. “A food processor has a tendency to fling food outward.”
Beyond these basic functions, newer food processors have some bells and whistles that can be helpful. Some come with nesting bowls, so you can attach a smaller bowl that essentially acts as a mini-chopper. A few, such as those in the Cuisinart Elite series, come with a gasket on the lid of the mixing bowl to prevent leaks. Personally, I found this gasket trapped food, making the lid a pain to clean. The Elite series also has a locking blade, so you can pour from the bowl without risking having the blade tumble out. Other models have adjustable disks so you can control the thickness of slices. Most of these are adjusted manually on the disk. The newest KitchenAid, however, has a lever on the outside of the machine that does this.
In my reading, I found debate over recent changes in mixing bowl design. Old-school Cuisinarts had straight sides, and many models retain this design. But the sides of newer machines by both Cuisinart and KitchenAid gently taper toward the base. Some people seem to prefer one or the other, but in my testing I didn’t find much difference between the two.
Most companies have also redesigned feed tubes, widening them to accommodate blocks of cheese, potatoes, and other big hunks of food. There are usually two food pressers: a larger one that fits in the wide feed tube, and a smaller one nested inside that will keep thin objects like carrots upright when slicing. In my own testing, I found that some of the feed tubes weren’t wide enough to accommodate a big russet potato. Even if they were wide enough, I still had to cut the potatoes in half because the food presser must be clicked into the feed tube or the machine won’t run, a safety feature which ostensibly keeps you from accidentally shoving your hand down into the whirring blade.
Beyond the main blade, dough blade and disks for shredding and slicing, you don’t really need much else. Although you can purchase everything from a juicing attachment to an egg-white-beating attachment, these extras often go unused. Both cookbook authors I spoke with essentially said they were a waste of money.
Weighing (and measuring) your options
Quality food processors tend to be heavy. Their bases house powerful motors (the Breville, for example, has a 1200 watt motor) and can weigh 15 pounds or more. Heavy bases allow these machines to sit solidly on the counter so they can handle mixing dough and other heavy recipes.
If you have to constantly schlep your processor from a cupboard across the kitchen, you might not use it often. Gilletz recommends buying a processor that will fit on the counter under your cabinets. She keeps her machines on folded dish towels so they’ll slide out more easily.
For those with limited counter space, you can always get creative, like Anderson did when she lived in New York City. “I had a pop-up, like those old typewriter pop-ups that folded down underneath the desk. My processor pop-up folded down into the base cabinet and I just swung it up whenever I used the machine.”
Narrowing the choices
I looked to reviews from America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated, Consumer Reports and Good Housekeeping to find the top-rated machines, and cross-referenced these with Amazon user reviews. As with most small kitchen appliances, there are many user reviews about these machines being lower-quality than they once were (because they’re made in China).
I chose two basic models that only come with a couple blades and disks, and three machines with extra mini-prep bowls, multiple disks and storage boxes for attachments. I was curious whether the extras would really add value or just take up space.
In 2013, Cook’s Illustrated chose the Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor ($179) as its top machine. Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports also rated it highly. This is a very basic processor, just a bowl with on and pulse buttons. It looks very similar to Carl Sontheimer’s original, boxy Cuisinart, except a sexier brushed chrome base replaces the the white plastic one. The smaller Cuisinart Prep II Plus, DLC-2011 Food Processor ($179) also came highly reviewed. Similarly, it only comes with two blades and two disks, but has a designated dough speed.
On the fancier end, the Breville Sous Chef ($400), a whopping 16-cup processor with a powerful 1200-watt motor, was Consumer Reports’s and Good Housekeeping’s top pick. I cringed at the price, as it’s almost twice as much as any of the others on my list. The Cuisinart Elite Collection 14-Cup Food Processor ($235), Cuisinart’s higher-end model, received mostly positive reviews. It’s also Norene Gilletz’s favorite machine currently.
In years past, both Cook’s and America’s Test Kitchen chose the KitchenAid 12-Cup Food Processor as their top pick. However, this model has since been discontinued and replaced with the KitchenAid 13-Cup Food Processor with ExactSlice System ($190). It hasn’t received great reviews, earning only 3.1 stars on Amazon. But because KitchenAid is such a respected brand, and both Gilletz and Anderson like their machines, I wanted to see how this newer model stacked up.
I tested each machine 10 times, chopping vegetables and parsley, slicing tomatoes and potatoes, grating soft mozzarella, grinding bread crumbs, puréeing a particularly delicious hummus and mixing big batches of pizza dough. I also cleaned the bowls, lids and food pressers of each 10 times—a test that proved more revealing than I’d expected.
At first the Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Processor seemed a little puny compared to some of the other models with nesting bowls, taller bases and big boxes full of attachments. But after two days of testing, its simplicity won me over. It was consistently at or near the top in every test, yet was easier to clean than most of the fancier models.
At the end of my testing, I found that the Custom didn’t dazzle me, but, like a good workhorse, it did everything I needed it to. The 750-watt motor was less powerful than the 1000-watt Cuisinart Elite or 1200-watt Breville, but this didn’t negatively affect its performance. Pizza dough was our most motor-intensive test and it kneaded it effortlessly—even without a specific “dough” speed. It chopped veggies, ground bread crumbs and shredded soft mozzarella just as well as the more expensive models, and it took up less counter space. The work bowl can handle a double batch of pizza dough and didn’t leak (like the Prep II) when blending tomatoes and water.
Neither the Cuisinart Elite, nor the Kitchenaid Exactslice performed noticeably better than the Custom despite their larger accessory sets and higher price tags. In fact, while the Custom mixed a satiny dough in about 40 seconds, the KitchenAid’s motor strained, seizing up after about 20 seconds of mixing. When I started the machine again, it actually shook on the counter, literally bucking like a wild bronco. That’s not just bad. It’s dangerous.
I read a few reviews that didn’t like how the Cuisinart Custom’s lid locks with the feed tube in the back, rather in the front (standard for most models). This feature tripped me up as well, but I think that’s simply because I’m accustomed to using a processor that locks in front. One quirk I really didn’t like is that it’s hard to tell when the Custom’s lid is totally locked; if it’s not locked, the lid will rattle loose while processing and the machine will stop. But this is a minimal problem, and probably boils down to user error.
Cook’s Illustrated chose the Custom as their top choice, while Good Housekeeping gave it an A-, saying “it offers impressive slicing, shredding, pureeing, and chopping, but like many other Cuisinart models was less than impressive at chopping.” Personally, I found the Custom chopped nicely by using the pulse button. It took a little longer than with the Breville or KitchenAid, but the time difference certainly wasn’t a dealbreaker. It was third in the Consumer Reports review after the Breville Sous Chef and Cuisinart Prep II with 67 out of 100 points.
Unfortunately, the Custom doesn’t come with a storage case for its attachments, but it’d be worth purchasing one for about $22. You can also buy additional slicing and other disks if you want to use this machine like a mandoline. The included slicing disk, for example, makes approximately 5-millimeter slices—fine for tomatoes to top pizza but you’d probably want the 2 mm slicing disk to make homemade potato chips. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. You may get more accessories from the get-go with the Elite and Exactslice, but if you don’t use them, it’s just a waste of storage space. This way you get only what you need, when you need it.
Ultimately, the Cuisinart Custom performed well for a very reasonable price. Its 3-year limited warranty (5-year warranty on the motor) isn’t the best of the models I tested, but it’s still pretty good. I also appreciate the slightly retro, sleek design, and at only 15 inches tall, it should fit under most cupboards.
The step up: processor on steroids
I also liked the Sous Chef’s mini-bowl better than those in the Cuisinart Elite and KitchenAid ExactSlice. Deeper than the others, the bowl’s design seemed to make it easier to uniformly mince fresh parsley. Yet it was the Sous Chef’s thoughtful design that really sold me.
I loved how the bowl fit flatly on the motor base because it enables you to put it on a scale if you’re into cooking by ratio. Instead of the standard shank that you place the work bowl on in other models, the Sous Chef has a flat attachment, with the shank attached to the inside of the work bowl. This means you can measure ingredients into the bowl with the blade attached, then seamlessly connect the bowl to the motor base. If you’ve ever struggled fitting the blade over a pile of flour in a processor bowl, you’ll appreciate this feature.
I also like how the work bowl can be removed with the lid attached; the KitchenAid EliteSlice and Cuisinart Elite also have this handy feature, but most models (including the Cuisinart Custom and Cuisinart Prep) require that you loosen the lid before removing the bowl.
The Sous Chef’s seamless food pressers also make for easy cleanup since there are no crevices to trap food. The pressers aren’t dishwasher-safe (water can get stuck inside them), but they’re easy enough to rinse off in the sink.
Breville clearly put a lot of thought into other design elements as well. The buttons are very easy to press; it’s the only model I tested with an LCD timer (which counts up and down), and it has retractable cord storage. The mini bowl is deeper than those on the KitchenAid and Cuisinart Elite (both are shallow and didn’t seem to work as well). In addition to the standard blades, the Sous Chef comes with a reversible shredding disk and an adjustable slicing disk that goes from a whisper-thin .33 millimeters to a 8 millimeters. It’s a true alternative to using a mandoline. I didn’t try the machine’s French fry disk, Julienne disk or whisk attachments, but the handy cleaning brush did a great job at getting trapped bits out of the slicing disk.
The Sous Chef was the top choice in two major reviews. Consumer Reports said it was “excellent” at slicing, chopping, grating and shredding and “very good” for puréeing and noise. Good Housekeeping said the Breville had “excellent customer service.”
Cook’s Illustrated wasn’t convinced the Sous Chef is worth the money. They found it “chopped so fast that it was hard not to make a puree when we wanted diced vegetables.” I had the same problem when chopping carrots, celery, and onions with the “on” setting. But in a second test, I used the pulse button, and the Sous Chef cut everything to a uniform size in just a few seconds.
The Sous Chef comes with a limited 1-year product warranty, and has a 25-year warranty on the motor—by far the longest of any of the models I tested.
The Cuisinart 11-Cup Prep was the next-best-rated processor in reviews after the Breville Sous Chef and Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor. It’s the same price as the Cuisinart Custom, but it only has an 11-cup mixing bowl. Good Housekeeping gave it an A- (ranking it above the Cuisinart Custom). America’s Test Kitchen says it’s the best machine to get if you make a lot of dough because of its specific dough speed. Yet I found it didn’t mix big batches of dough as well as the Cuisinart Custom due to its smaller bowl. The Prep also struggled grinding bread crumbs, leaving large chunks unprocessed while the rest was overprocessed. I also found that this model leaked around the shank at the center of the bowl. Our assistant editor Michael Zhao has had the Prep for two years now and his experiences back up these findings as well.
The Cuisinart Elite received a B+ in Good Housekeeping’s review. They said it was “very good at chopping onions, mincing parsley, grinding Parmesan cheese, cutting julienne strips, and slicing pepperoni and tomatoes,” but found it “does a poor job kneading dough” and found it “tricky to assemble discs.” The Wall Street Journal reviewed the 12-cup version, and liked that it has 6 slicing options, but said it’s a pain to use. Personally, I didn’t like the Elite’s lid. Instead of the traditional twist-on lid, the Elite’s clips on. If I didn’t perfectly hook the lid to the bowl’s pour spout, it wouldn’t attach. Worst of all, though, the gasket in its lid often trapped flour and bits of vegetables which made cleanup a royal pain.
The KitchenAid 13-Cup ExactSlice had fewer reviews than the others. In January 2013, Cook’s Illustrated tested this model against the Breville Sous Chef and Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup and found that “in almost every task, it lagged behind the Cuisinart and the Breville.” Our findings backed this up. Even worse, the food presser easily plugged up with mozzarella and sticky tahini from the hummus recipe. Finally, compared to the other models, the 1-year limited warranty isn’t all that impressive.
I also considered other models, but ultimately didn’t test them for a number of reasons.
I was intrigued by different models of Le Magimix ($350-$400)—the original French processor made by Robot-Coupe. The 14-cup version received high marks from The Wall Street Journal, but Good Housekeeping only gave the 12-cup version a B rating, noting that “it excelled at certain tasks, like chopping onions, slicing tomatoes, and kneading dough, but struggled with shredding cheese and mincing parsley.” Consumer Reports also says the 11-cup version doesn’t perform as well as other models in the same price point. Since I didn’t find overwhelming support for any one of these models, I opted not to test them.
The Braun Multiquick 3 Kitchen Machine received mostly good Amazon user reviews (4.5 stars), but I read that Braun no longer makes the machine. A call to Braun’s consumer service line confirmed that the company no longer makes household items for the U.S.
The Hamilton Beach 70579 Big Mouth Duo 14-Cup Food Processor ($94.50) intrigued me as a budget model, but Good Housekeeping said it “can’t knead dough” and was “noisy when in use.”
Oster also makes a number of budget models, but none rated all that highly. The only exception was a review by Food & Wine; they loved the Oster 10-cup processor, but that model has since been discontinued.
Additionally, I looked into blender/food processor hybrids by DeLonghi, Ninja, and Cuisinart. I liked the idea that you could get two machines in one, but according to reviews, they didn’t stack up to my top picks when it came to food-processing ability alone.
Tips and maintenance
I was surprised to find that, for many tasks, a food processor can replace an upright mixer. However, according to Jean Anderson, you usually need to use specific recipes developed for a food processor. In her book Process This, Anderson uses a variety of techniques for making quick breads, yeasted breads, cookies and cakes. In one recipe, she even allows a yeasted bread dough to rise in the work bowl and then “punches” it down by pulsing the blade.
In this Serious Eats article, J. Kenji López-Alt found that a food processor did a better job than a standing mixer at kneading pizza dough. His food processor dough came together in a fraction of the time it took in a standing mixer, and rose nearly twice as much—indicating that the food processor made dough with better gluten formation.
Even more surprising, you can make ice cream in a food processor, as shown in this Chow.com video. Given how much space an ice-cream maker can take in a cupboard (and how infrequently I actually use mine), I think this is a particularly cool feature.
As for cleaning, Norene Gilletz recommends putting water and a few drops of dish soap in the work bowl and running the machine. A bottle brush is handy for cleaning the feed tube, inside the food pressers and the sharp blades. Never submerge the base of a food processor in water; you should only ever wipe it down with a damp cloth or sponge.
After testing models with storage boxes, I found they’re handy for keeping attachments organized and worth investing in even if your model doesn’t come with one. You can also organize blades and disks in a designated tupperware container, basket or other receptacle. I read that some people store extra blades and disks inside their processor’s work bowl.
Most of the major brands have warranty information and user manuals on their websites. The Cuisinart Custom’s was easy to find, as was the Breville Sous Chef’s. These brands also sell replacement parts, which may come in handy after the limited warranty on parts expires. You’ll find replacement bowls, food pressers, blades and various other attachments for the Cuisinart Custom here, and for the Breville Sous Chef here.
Wrapping it Up
At a reasonable price, the Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor excels at most tasks and even kneads big batches of dough effortlessly. Its simple design and efficiency will satisfy novice and experienced cooks alike. However, if you need more processing power, you won’t beat the effortless handling and thoughtful design of the Breville Sous Chef.
Food Processors, Cook's Illustrated, January 2013“With its razor-sharp blade whirling at warp speed, a food processor should buzz through core cutting tasks—shredding, chopping, slicing, and grinding—with ease. But as we put the processors to work, we discovered that the design of the feed tube can cause problems even before the food hits the blade. With a too-large tube, food falls out of position for the blade; with a too-small tube, you find yourself squashing or trimming the food extensively—and at that point, you’re better off using your chef’s knife."
Food Processors, America's Test Kitchen“What should a food processor—at minimum—be able to do? For starters, it ought to chop, grate, and slice vegetables; grind dry ingredients; and cut fat into flour for pie pastry. If it can’t whiz through these tasks, it’s wasting counterspace. The cheaper models failed most of these basic tests.”
Food Processor Reviews, Good Housekeeping“Healthy cooking starts with fresh ingredients — then, often, there's loads of tedious, tiring prep work. Luckily, a good food processor (or its little sister, a mini- chopper) can save your wrists — and your diet. We tested 17 full-size units to see how well they handled tasks such as julienning potatoes, slicing tomatoes and pepperoni, shredding mozzarella, and even kneading pizza dough. We put the six mini-choppers to work on onions, parsley, and Parmesan cheese. We also rated all the machines on their ease of use. These slice-and-dicers can really reduce your time in the kitchen.”
Food processor & chopper buying guide, Consumer Reports, February 2013“Plugs by celebrity chefs have helped to make food processors the fastest-growing small kitchen appliance. But celebrity cachet doesn't guarantee a meal ticket to the top of our tests. Nor is more power or higher price a sure bet. Some fancy models we tested actually made more work than they saved.”
Equipment: Which Food Processor Should I Buy, Serious Eats, May 11, 2010,“The thing about food processors is, they ain't cheap. What could be worse than shelling out three figures for an appliance that either doesn't do its job, or is so cumbersome to use that it ends up as just another place to practice your dusting?”
Originally published: September 3, 2013