When I was a kid, my mother owned a Farberware food processor that must’ve cost a pretty penny. The powerful motor made a soothing whirr, and it was so well-built that it’s still chopping away, still making that lovely sound.
Once I left my parents’ home though, I didn’t really use a quality food processor for 20 years. I never really thought I was missing out on anything, but that might just be because every time I encountered a food processor, it was a piece of junk. For the last several years, my wife Elisabeth and I have used her old Cuisinart PowerBlend Duet, a light, loud and underpowered thing that also doubles as an underpowered blender. Every once in a while if I push it a little too hard, it starts to smell like burning electrical equipment. Recently, however, my friend Shannon asked me about my favorite food processor. Shannon is a skilled home cook and when the one she had for years finally gave up the ghost, I was curious to help her find her next one, and started to wonder if I’d been missing out.
As the top pick for both America’s Test Kitchen and The Wirecutter, it’s generally accepted wisdom that the Cuisinart Custom 14-Cup Food Processor CQ (aka the Classic Series 14-Cup Food Processor) is the long-reigning champion. At a $200 list price, it gets stellar reviews and lasts for years. But Shannon wanted to know if she should switch to a fancier and more expensive new model—specifically one of those from Magimix, Cuisinart, or [Breville], the latter two having built-in mini processors, which, thanks to a bowl insert, helps you process smaller quantities of food.
I did a bit of research and called in both the classic 750-watt Cuisinart 14 cup, and the newer, fancier, 16-cup, 1,200-watt Breville Sous Chef ($500 list), which both have the capacity, power, and heft to keep a home cook happy for years.
Key to my testing process was the 2017 book Food Processor Perfection from America’s Test Kitchen, supplemented by a couple of Shannon’s favorite recipes. Using tested, trusted recipes allowed me to focus on what I was doing and not to worry that any defect in the finished food was due to the recipe.
Cut to the Chase
I cackled involuntarily when I ran a few stalks of celery through the Cuisinart and they just freaking disappeared into smooth, uniform slices beneath the blade. |||
The night the Cuisinart showed up, I was tired and cranky. It was also just after Thanksgiving, a meat-filled holiday that went on for about a week and I figured I would spend that night splayed out on the couch. But I went upstairs and there was this shiny new food processor on my counter, and I figured I was peckish and I’d just make some hummus. From there, I made a shaved mushroom and celery salad and that somehow spun off into making stock out of stuff in my freezer which had nothing to do with the food processor and after that, I figured why not Processor Perfection‘s mushroom Bolognese, because hey, it was only nine o’clock.
I was both cooking quickly, and starting to cook things I didn’t normally make, an effect I really enjoyed.
“Classic Joe,” my wife quipped, surveying the late-night kitchen-scape before disappearing with some hummus.
All of it except for that stock really got me into the swing of having a capable food processor. I like to think that my knife skills are solid, but holy smokes, I cackled involuntarily when I ran a few stalks of celery through the Cuisinart and they just freaking disappeared into smooth, uniform slices beneath the blade. Two pounds of mushrooms for that Bolognese screamed through the chute in no time, and that’s the kind of thing that both takes forever and makes a mess of your counter if you’re doing it by hand. Very quickly, I realized the speed component of having one of these around, and yes you’ve got to wash the bowl, but when things move this quickly you’re definitely gaining time on a larger project. That mushroom and celery salad, a dish that’s meant to serve six, ended up in a Tupperware near my cutting board, and I ate the whole thing before hitting the sack.
Even making these recipes for the first time, which always slows things down, all of them came together in a relative flash. I was both cooking quickly, and starting to cook things I didn’t normally make, an effect I really enjoyed. Clearly, I had been missing out. The question then became whether to stick with the classic model or go fancy.
A New Spin
Once the Breville arrived, I marveled at its sculpted, die-cast base and huge box of blades and discs (this may be too much Team Tiny Kitchen), and while I didn’t set out to do head-to-head testing, I realized it was the only way to quickly understand each machine and how they handled similar circumstances.
Making potato latkes, for instance, I noticed that the Breville’s chute opening allowed for larger potatoes, but it’s not always a desirable thing, as food can literally go sideways and you end up with flat bits spinning around the top of the blade. The Cuisinart made quick work of potatoes and onions, and at the end there were tiny amounts of scrap on the top of the grating disk. With practice, I learned to pay attention to the way I put food in the chutes to avoid cutting sideways—a sort of “know thy processor” thing.
I started taking to the Breville, perhaps especially since the mini bowl allowed me to riff and blitz something like a handful olives, which I added to some tasty cauliflower rice. It also helps if you don’t mind working dirty, that’s to say having a few tiny bits of cauliflower or parsley in the bowl when you clobber your olives. Then again, the Cuisinart and a separate mini chopper would take up less cabinet space than the Breville and its accessory box.
While making quiche, I found almost no difference in the dough making, each machine easily doing its job where lesser models might strain. When it came to slicing leeks, I’ve gotta say the Cuisinart did a better job with more even slices, pulling food in more consistently. In terms of finished dishes, it was becoming clear that there was very little difference between the two processors.
“This tastes professional,” Elisabeth said eating a slice of one quiche, a compliment she’s never bestowed on me.
“I think this is the best quiche I’ve ever had,” my sister said, eating a slice of the other.
Next, I made a sort of “vegetable-medley” sauerkraut, using a head of cabbage, an onion, and a couple other vegetable scraps I scrounged in the fridge. Here, both processors were supremely confident, capable machines.
I sped on, making hummus, artichoke dip, quick pickles, deviled eggs, and more of that mushroom and celery salad.
“This is a high point for celery,” Elisabeth said, holding up a slice from her salad.
Making peanut butter, both machines were confident, the Breville finishing it a bit sooner. Mostly though, it struck me that watching the peanutty phase changes in each machine—nutty, chunky, firm, smooth, then polished—somehow made me think of the peanut butter stages of grief.
Buttermilk biscuits emerged from the oven lovely, warm, and so similar that after I had one of each machine’s final product, I went back for a third biscuit and just grabbed one from the closest cooling rack.
As a final test, I made pizza dough, a blender-buster of a recipe where the gluten in the flour works to drag any machine to a halt. If any test could declare a clear victor this—perhaps followed by a potential tie-breaking double batch—would be the one.
Of course, neither machine struggled with the dry ingredients, but the addition of ice water set them off on separate paths. The slightly wider bowl of the Breville worked in its favor, mixing about as evenly as these things get. The Cuisinart was less even out of the gate, a mass of not-fully-mixed dough forming like a snowdrift on one side of the bowl, the blades digging away at it comically like a tiny, diligent rabbit. After a 10-minute rest, all that was left was to incorporate a tablespoon of oil and a bit of salt for 30 to 60 seconds until the dough formed a sticky ball.
Elegant really isn’t an option with a one-pound mass of food flopping around in a bowl, but the Cuisinart did just fine here, and I stopped both machines on the early side to make sure I didn’t overdo things. It turned out that the Cuisinart was done and I wanted to give the Breville a few more seconds, but the dough said “no.” Like the weird pink goop used to temporarily contain the Hulk onscreen back in 2003 (Eric Bana!), the dough gripped the Breville’s blade and the machine could barely push it another quarter turn around the bowl. I pulled the dough from each processor, kneaded them into balls, stuck them in containers, and tucked them into the fridge. Neither machine deserved to face the indignity of a double batch.
Where did that leave me? It was a question I planned to ponder over pizza.
First and foremost, it meant that I had two fantastic food processors on my countertop. For every recipe I cooked, both machines were an absolute pleasure to use: powerful, confident, and well designed. The Breville has more power, but the Cuisinart’s engineering kept it trading punches in every test.
I could certainly go down the tit-for-tat route for a spell. The Breville’s bowl is nicer, the Cuisinart’s paddle-style buttons easier to operate. The Breville’s slicing blade is adjustable, while everything but the Cuisinart’s base can go in the dishwasher (oddly, the Sous Chef’s pusher can’t). The Breville can sometimes get a bit rattle-y, but it chops some food a bit more uniformly. It also comes with a huge box of accessory blades, a couple of which may never see use in your home, while the Cuisinart demonstrated that three blades—chopping, slicing and grating—are probably plenty for most folks, a sage move by their Department for the Elimination of Doodads. Then again, at least the Breville comes with a blade box; inexplicably, the Cuisinart does not. Also, I’ve said it before, but Breville’s wall plug—with an easy-pull ring built into the plug head—is the cleverest in the world and every equipment manufacturer should pay them royalties and use their design forever and ever, amen.
What I did love about the Breville that’s not an option in the Cuisinart was the removable mini bowl, which made smaller tasks—and especially mayonnaise—a breeze. One night, I made a salsa because I had a little bowl of cherry tomatoes kicking around, and spooned some of the sauce atop some heavenly, pillowy breakfast tacos in the morning. The mini bowl also has the full 1,200 watts of the machine, making “grating” Parmesan chunks easy peasy. Stand-alone mini choppers tend to have less than a quarter of that power.
The Breville also costs twice as much as the Cuisinart, which is where things get complicated, or in my case, they became a little clearer.
So here’s my plan: Sometime soon, I’m going to quietly retire the PowerBlend Duet. I’m putting a Cuisinart on my birthday wish list (Elisabeth recently found one on sale for $115!) along with a $15 blade case. I’ll also keep an eye out for deals on a mini chopper for smaller jobs. But if I ended up with a Breville, I’d be just as happy. Whichever way, these are two fantastic kitchen tools.
Food writer Joe Ray (@joe_diner) is a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of The Year, a restaurant critic, and author of “Sea and Smoke” with chef Blaine Wetzel.