What the best food processors have
- Versatility. Any food processor with a larger capacity than about five cups should have a wide variety of discs and blades for chopping, grating, pureeing, mixing and shredding. Smaller food processors are designed just to chop, mix and puree.
- Even more versatility. An increasing number of modern food processors are actually blenders with food processor and/or food chopper attachments of various sizes. Some also include individual smoothie jars -- sometimes several to service a family. While these are not the best choice for heavy-duty processing jobs like mixing dough, they're a good choice if you don't want to invest a lot of money, but want a lot of appliances in one.
- A wide feed tube. The narrower the feed tube, the more pre-chopping you'll have to do to ensure food will fit into the machine.
- Solid construction. Look for sturdy bowls and blades that are securely seated in their plastic housing. A heavier base contributes to stability. Some problems aren't obvious on visual inspection, so make sure the machine you choose receives good ratings from users for long-term durability as well.
- Easy assembly. On virtually all food processors, the parts must be correctly aligned before it will turn on. Ideally, the lid should snap securely into place with an audible click, so you know it's properly placed. Also, be aware that some machines won't run unless the pusher is in the feed tube. This feature can be frustrating to some because it makes it harder to add more material, but it's a helpful safety feature as it prevents hurried cooks from using their fingers or another item, such as a knife or spatula, to push items into the food processor, preventing injury or damage to the person and the appliance.
- Quiet operation. A full-sized food processor should get very good or excellent ratings for quietness. Mini choppers are louder by nature, but shouldn't be deafening.
- A decent warranty. We found food processor warranties ranging from one to three years, with the motor covered for as long as 10 years. Equally important to the length of the warranty is how easy it is to get service. Some companies will send new parts free of charge, while others require you to mail the machine in for service at your own expense.
Know before you go
How will you use it? If you want a food processor mostly for small jobs like mincing garlic and herbs, you might be better off with a mini food processor or food chopper. If you plan to do a lot of cooking for a big crowd, by contrast, you may need a bigger machine that holds up to 14 cups. (For most home users, experts say a 7- to 9-cup capacity is usually sufficient.) If you need to prepare both small and large batches, then a full-sized food processor that comes with a mini bowl for smaller jobs is a good choice. You should also focus on how the food processor performs at the jobs you intend to do most often, such as puréeing baby food or kneading dough.
Is a food processor the right tool? One of the biggest complaints we see when looking at food processor reviews is that they leak. That's because most food processors are not designed to process large batches of liquid. Most food processor guidelines say you should not fill the bowl fuller than about half if you're making liquids, so if you need a machine primarily for soups, an immersion blenders or full-size blender will probably be a better choice. Alternatively, if you bake a lot, mixers will handle dough better than any food processor. We cover all of these kitchen appliances in their own reports.
Where will you store it? Larger machines tend to be heavier, making it difficult to retrieve from a cabinet; they are more suited to storing on a countertop -- and they also require more counter space. Don't forget that attachments, such as spare blades, need to be stored too. Some models include cases for this purpose, but many don't. Keeping sharp blades securely stowed is especially important for those with young children.
How will you clean it? Many food processors have dishwasher-safe parts -- bowls, blades and other attachments -- that can make cleanup much easier. If you don't have a dishwasher, however, it's more important to find a model that can easily be washed by hand. Be careful, though, the blades and the grooves on the discs are very sharp -- wearing dishwashing gloves may help protect your fingers.