For years we’ve noodled on this question: If we have a great blender and an excellent set of knives (which we do), do we really need a food processor? And if so, which ones do Cooks Illustrated, Consumer Reports, and the gang at Amazon.com suggest we make room for in our kitchen?
To get to the bottom of the question of food processor vs blender, we once again turned to our go-to source for all things kitchenly, Cooks Illustrated. I figured if Cook’s reviewed each type of machine separately, their test criteria would reveal good clues about which machine was best for what task.
I love being right.
Food Processors: Think “Prep, Pizza, Pastry, and… Pink?”
In a review updated just this month, Cook’s tested food processors for their ability to zip through three essential kitchen tasks: functions it might take you half a day to do with a knife, mixing dough, and emulsifying small quantities of liquidy stuff, and that’s a pretty good tip-off for what you should expect a food processor to do for you.
Specifically, in addition to being easy to clean, the machines were tested for:
- Grating and slicing without squished or wasted food
- Chopping celery, carrots and onions, and mincing herbs
- Grinding nuts into uniform pieces
- Cutting cold butter neatly into flour for pies (and anything else you might need to cut cold butter into, which turns out to be quite a lot)
- Mixing pizza dough
- Emulsifying the ingredients for a classic mayo
In their 2010 equipment review on food processors, Cook’s had rated the KitchenAid KFP750 as “still the one to beat” but this recent update lists it as now discontinued and thus out of their running.
Just out of curiosity, I checked on Amazon and there is still the “Cook for the Cure” Komen Foundation pink edition of the the KFP750 available.
Ummm… I just… ummm… oh, dear.
Well, as of this writing, it’s there if you want it.
Cook’s current second runner up, the Breville Sous Chef Food Processor (above) would have been their first pick, except for the price tag: it’s almost double that of their highest recommendation, the Cuisinart DFP-14BCN 14-Cup Food Processor below.
In fact, that’s the order Consumer Reports placed them in: the Breville is #1 and the Cuisinart ranked #3, separated by another Cuisinart model not mentioned at all by Cook’s, the Cuisinart DLC-2011CHB Prep 11 Plus. (Consumer Reports did not factor cost in their overall score, focusing instead on performance, noise, and convenience.)
Amazon reviewers agreed with a 4.4 star rating and over 500 reviews.
Two words sum up our feelings on the Cuisinart: LOVE IT! Long-term readers of our blog will know we make a lot of food–soups, stir-frys, pizzas–based on sliced, chopped, or diced fresh vegetables and/or grated cheese. The Cuisinart has drastically reduced our prep time for these dishes, but it still wasn’t clear to us: which was the best machine for which task?
In the past, we had tried to use our Vitamix 5200 for several of these slicing, chopping and dicing tasks, but since blenders tend to want to puree everything into something either slurpable, drinkable or dippable, we gave up and went back to knives and box graters, until we made room in the tent for our new darling.
By following the directions in the short (and delightfully kitchy) instructional DVD that came with it, we now create perfectly sliced mushrooms and tomatoes, grated cheese, diced celery, etc. in the time it used to take us to pull up a stool and pour a glass of wine to sustain us through the job of doing it all by hand.
Zip… et voila! C’est finis!
I suspect this is in part where the “blender vs food processor?” confusion comes in as they can both do the job. It’s because the food processor container isn’t designed to accommodate that much liquid, and if you push the boundaries, you can end up with one helluva splashy mess on your hands. (Note the tiny “max liquid fill” line on the container in the image above.)
Blenders: Think “Beverages”
In addition to testing for durability, speed, and noise, Cook’s tested the blenders mainly on their ability to pulverize, puree, or liquify whatever was thrown in them. And the winner in the category of best blender is…
We have owned one for years, and again, LOVE OUR VITAMIX. In addition to being an absolute work horse for making our morning smoothies and pureeing soups, it can slush up a mean margarita. But it’s not the only Cook’s approved option.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Breville The Hemisphere Control Blender..
Aside from the funky name, Cook’s give this their “best buy” rating, and at about half the cost of the Vitamix, 582 reviewers on Amazon.com agree on a 4.2 star rating. But neither the Vitamix nor the Breville win the race at either Consumer Reports or on Amazon’s best seller list in the category: that honor goes to this puppy:
The Ninja Master Prep Professional (QB1004) is ridiculously inexpensive, it performs beautifully, and unless you’re looking for a power workhorse that can make soup and/or chew gravel, almost 2000 reviewers on Amazon agree in 4.4 alignment that it’s a solid bet.
However, on occasion, we at rickandkathy DO want a blender that can make soup and/or chew gravel. Plus, we are Vitamix groupies. (What can we say?!)
The Vitamix also comes with a “dry” container that can, in theory, chop nuts, breadcrumbs, etc., but our experience is that it’s difficult to get a uniform consistency that’s fine enough without accidentally pulverizing stuff into meal. Our new Cuisinart food processor is a much better option for those tasks.
And while the Vitamix can mash together a good smooth hummus (in fact, that was one of Cook’s tests), we have found we prefer the slightly more rustic (read “chunky”) mouth feel we can get with the pulse lever on the Cuisinart.
The hummus example above is one of the crossover possibilities between food processors and blenders and is no doubt another source of the confusion between the two machines. However, for our money (literally), there is more than enough differentiation between the sweet spots of each to warrant making room on the shelf for both.
Two additional pluses to owning a food processor that we didn’t see coming : 1) no more weepy onion eyes, and 2) the ability to cut cold butter into other ingredients means that there are now recipes open to us that we simply couldn’t make any other way: see the recipe for “Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting” below from our Cook’s Baking Illustrated.
Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated “Baking Illustrated“
Makes enough for a 9X13 sheet cake with 1/4 inch frosting. Give it an hour or so to cool before using.
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- pinch table salt
- 1 tablespoon light or dark corn syrup
- 10 ounces milk chocolate
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 c. cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- Heat the cream, salt, and corn syrup in microwave-safe measuring cup on high until simmering, about 1 minute, or bring to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat.
- Place chocolate in pieces in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse until the chocolate is coarsely chopped.
- With the machine running, gradually add the hot cream mixture through the feed tube. Continue to process for one minute after the cream has been added.
- Stop the machine and add the confectioners’ sugar and process to combine, about 30 seconds.
- With the processor running, add the butter through the feed tube one piece at a time, and process until it’s all incorporated and smooth, about 20 seconds longer.
- Transfer your creamy and delicious frosting to a medium bowl and cool it at room temperature, stirring frequently until thick and spreadable, about 1 hour. Slather on to your cake, let it set, then serve with confidence: this frosting will make anything under it an outstanding success!