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January/February 2016

Food Processors

How much do you need to spend to get a machine that makes light work of chopping, slicing, shredding, and mixing?

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.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.