Food processors and mixers
Match the machine to the way you prepare foods. But you may find you need more than one.
Which food-prep appliance best suits your style and the foods you prepare? Food processors are versatile machines that can chop, slice, shred, and purée many different foods. Mini-choppers are good for small jobs such as mincing garlic and chopping nuts. Hand mixers can handle light chores such as whipping cream or mixing cake batter. And powerful stand mixers are ideal for cooks who make bread and cookies from scratch.
Food processors. Several brands have introduced multifunction models designed to do the job of two or more machines—for instance, an interchangeable food-processor container and a glass blender jar and blade. Either attachment fits on the motorized base.
Another design trend is a mini-bowl insert that fits inside the main container for preparing smaller quantities of food. Newer designs tend to be sleek, with rounded corners. Dominant brands are Black & Decker, Cuisinart, Hamilton Beach, and KitchenAid. Mini-choppers such as the Magic Bullet have become popular due to infomercial advertising. Price range: $20 to $400.
Stand and hand mixers. The big push in mixers is for more power, which is useful for handling heavy dough. You’ll find everything from heavy-duty models offering the most power and the largest mixing bowls to light-service machines that are essentially detachable hand mixers resting on a stand. Models vary in power from about 200 to 800 watts. Sales of light-duty, convenient hand mixers have held their own in recent years.
KitchenAid owns over half the stand-mixer market; GE, Hamilton Beach and Sunbeam are the next best-selling brands. Price range: $60 to $500.
Black & Decker, GE, Hamilton Beach, KitchenAid, Proctor Silex, and Sunbeam are the dominant brands among hand mixers. Price range: $15 to $75.
With food processors: All have a clear plastic mixing bowl and lid, an S-shaped metal chopping blade (and sometimes a duller version for kneading dough), and a plastic food pusher to safely prod food through the feed tube. Some models have a wider tube so you don’t have to cut up vegetables—such as potatoes—to fit the opening. One speed is the norm, plus a pulse setting to control processing precisely. Bowl capacity ranges from around 3 cups to 14 cups (dry), with most models holding 6 to 11 cups. A shredding/slicing disk is standard on full-sized processors. Some come with a juicer attachment. Touchpad controls are becoming more commonplace, too.
Mini-choppers look like little food processors, with a capacity of 2 to 3 cups, but they’re for small jobs only, like chopping small quantities of nuts or half an onion.
With mixers: Stand mixers generally come with one bowl and either single or paired beaters, whisks, and dough hooks. Some mixers offer options such as splash guards to prevent flour from spewing out of the bowl, plus attachments to make pasta, grind meat, and stuff sausage. Stand mixers generally have 5 to 16 speeds; we think five or six well-differentiated settings is enough. You should be able to lock a mixer’s power head in the Up position so it won’t crash into the bowl when the beaters are weighed down with dough. Conversely, it should lock in the Down position to keep the beaters from kicking back when tackling stiff dough.
Just about any hand mixer is good for nontaxing jobs such as beating egg whites, mashing potatoes, or whipping cream. The slow-start feature on some mixers prevents ingredients from spattering when you start up, but you can achieve the same result by manually stepping through three or so speeds. An indentation on the underside of the motor housing allows the mixer to sit on the edge of a bowl without taking the beaters out of the batter.
HOW TO CHOOSE
Food processors & choppers
Consider capacity. Food-processor capacity ranges from about 3 to 14 cups. (Those are manufacturers’ figures; we’ve found that processors typically hold a cup or two more or less than claimed.) Choppers, which are designed expressly for small jobs, hold about 1 to 3 cups.
If you regularly cook for a crowd or like to whip up multiple batches of a recipe, you might appreciate the bigger, 11- to 14-cup units. However, they tend to be pricier and heavier than smaller versions and take up more counter space. A midsized model (around 7-cup) is likely fine for most tasks.
Note that even big food processors can handle small jobs such as chopping half an onion. But using a chopper makes cleanup easier.
Don’t focus on speeds. Food processors typically have two settings: On and Pulse, which allows you to run the machine in brief bursts for more precise processing control. Choppers typically have one or two Pulse settings (High and Low). Those are really all the speeds you need. Some machines have a few extra speeds (a Dough setting on some high-end processors, for example), but we haven’t found that they perform much better.
Note feed-tube size. Some processors have wider feed tubes than others, which can save you the effort of having to cut potatoes, cucumbers, and other big items.
Expect to pay more for kneading prowess and quiet operation. The models we tested that cost $55 or less strained and jumped while kneading dough. They also made quite a racket, where most of the higher-end models we tested were quiet. Choppers can be noisy but are used briefly.
Stand & hand mixers
Decide how much mixer you need. Just about any stand or hand mixer will do for all those simple mixing and whipping chores. But if you’re a dedicated baker, you’ll probably want to invest in a heavy, powerful stand mixer, because it can knead even two loaves’ worth of bread dough with ease.
Downplay wattage and number of speed settings. Manufacturers stress wattage and number of speeds, but neither figure necessarily translates into better performance. For example, some stand mixers have as many as 16 speeds; some hand mixers have 9. We think five or six well-differentiated speeds are sufficient. The slower the lowest speed, the better; slow speeds prevent spattering.
Speeds should be clearly indicated. With some of the inexpensive hand mixers we tested, the switch you use to select speeds didn’t line up well with the speed markings.
Consider size and weight. Hand mixers should feel well balanced and comfortable to hold; most that we tested did. Size and weight can be a concern with stand mixers—some weigh more than 20 pounds—but their heft gives them the stability to handle tough jobs.
Make sure that you will have enough clearance if you plan to keep the mixer on a counter below a cupboard.
Consider beater style and motion. Most of the top-performing hand mixers have wire beaters without the thick center post found on traditional-style beaters. The wire beaters performed well and were easier to clean.
Light-duty stand mixers typically have stationary beaters and a bowl that sits on a revolving turntable. The bowl sometimes needs a push to keep spinning.
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