Celebrity endorsements and breathless testimonials to the contrary, there is no single, all-purpose food-prep appliance. Still, plugs by Martha Stewart and Wolfgang Puck - and endless infomercials - have helped make food processors the fastest-growing small appliance of its type.
Our recent ratings of these whirring kitchen wizards can help make you a more versatile chef.
Most food processors easily chop vegetables for soup or stew, slice salad fixings and shred cheese for tacos. Some also can knead bread dough (the toughest task for most models we tested) or mix ingredients for baking. A few in our lineup did a very good job of pureeing, though more were merely fair (or worse).
Among our top overall scorers were a handful that cost less than $100 each. Among the stragglers were some that may make more work than they save.
If you're shopping for a food processor, keep these important characteristics in mind:
¢ Pick the right capacity. A midsized food processor - about 7 cups - is fine for most tasks. If you're likely to use a processor when preparing crowd-friendly dishes, consider a model that can handle 11 to 14 cups. Note that capacity claims usually are based on filling processors with dry ingredients. The machines generally can hold less than half that amount - without leaking - when you're processing liquids.
¢ Measure countertop clearance. The distance between the countertop and bottom of the kitchen cabinets often is as little as 15 inches, too tight for most of the food processors we tested. Choose a model that fits your space so that you'll be able to easily remove its top or bowl without having to set the unit too near the edge of the counter.
¢ Check the feed tube. The larger the width of the feed tube, the less cutting of large foods - potatoes, cucumbers, chunks of cheese - you'll have to do prior to processing.
¢ Don't be dazzled by multispeed models. Our tests have found little benefit beyond the normal "On" and "Pulse," used in brief bursts for more precise control.
Consumer Reports' ratings:
¢ KitchenAid KFP750 ($200). Top-rated overall, and a standout for its extra features and size, the model claims a 12-cup capacity (we measured 11) and showed very good performance across the board. It has a minibowl insert and touchpad controls. ¢ Cuisinart DFP-14BCN ($200). While lacking the insert and touchpad controls, this model boasts a larger capacity (14 cups claimed, 13 measured), proved better at pureeing and was quieter overall than the KitchenAid. ¢ KitchenAid KFP710 ($80). The very good medium-capacity model (7 cups claimed and measured) is best at slicing and shredding and qualifies as a CR Best Buy. ¢ Oster 3212 ($90). It's a better chopper that claims a 10-cup capacity. (We measured 9.) ¢ Bravetti BP101H2 ($90), Euro-Pro KP81S ($60) and KitchenAid KFPM770 ($270). All three are appropriate for multitaskers, for each processor's attachments to whisk eggs and whip heavy cream. But the Bravetti and the Euro-Pro had problems whisking eggs and were only mediocre food processors.