Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik
Before air fryers and Instant Pots hit the scene, blenders and food processors reigned supreme. (Yes, we rhymed on purpose.) The two small kitchen appliances have been instrumental in both professional and home kitchens for decades—they blend, purée, emulsify, chop, grate, and pulverize faster and often more efficiently than the ol’ “chef’s knife and elbow grease” method. But although food processors and blenders both contain sharp, rapidly turning blades at the base of a jar or bowl, they excel at very different tasks. If you don’t have either, whether you should buy a food processor or a blender depends on what you like to cook and how much you’re willing to spend, as well as which kitchen tasks you prefer to do by hand. However, we do recommend having both if you have the budget and space.
How Does a Food Processor Work?
At its most basic, a food processor consists of a base (which contains a motor), a bowl, and a removable set of sharp blades. Most models come with interchangeable discs that perform other tasks, like grating—but more on that in a moment. When the bowl and blade are fitted to the base and the motor is running, the S-shaped blade turns rapidly—chopping, slicing, or shredding ingredients. When fitted with a disc attachment (for slicing or grating, for example), the disc spins around when the food processor’s on, tackling ingredients as they’re fed through the chute (food processors usually come with a pusher, to help you move ingredients through the chute and through the disc).
When Should You Use a Food Processor?
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore
A food processor’s value lies within cooking tasks that are messy (like grating a bunch of cheese), large-scale (like plowing through a pile of potatoes for latkes), or both.
Food processors come with a variety of different attachments, so you can perform lots of tasks with them. In our review of food processors, we tested models that contained not just chopping blades, but slicers and graters; our top pick even had a unique attachment for making pizza dough. You can use a food processor for any job that would otherwise call for a box grater, mortar and pestle, or chef’s knife and cutting board (like making a large batch of mirepoix), which makes them super versatile and helpful…as long as you don’t mind lugging the heavy base out of storage and cleaning up the multiple parts.
Food processors are also regularly used for making pastry dough. This method is certainly quicker than using a handheld pastry cutter, although we’ve found it’s easy to overwork the dough, which can result in tough pie crusts, biscuits, or scones.
How Does a Blender Work?
Blenders work by creating a vortex as their blades spin rapidly at the base of a jar. This vortex creates a vacuum effect, circulating the contents throughout the container. When the food is pulled down to the bottom, it makes contact with the whirling blades, which pulverize, purée, or emulsify it. Blender blades are sharp, but smaller than food processor blades—they’re also angled upwards to help create that crucial vortex.
When Should You Use a Blender?
Serious Eats / Tamara Staples
Hands-down (knives down?) a blender is better than a food processor at handling anything liquidy, like smoothies, as well as puréeing soupy or saucy items. Blenders perform best with at least a little liquid to get things going. Blenders are also more efficient than food processors at getting food incredibly smooth. For this, look to high-speed models, like Vitamixes, which annihilate pulp, fiber, and chunky bits.
Puréed soups are an ideal match for blenders for both of those reasons, but also because a blender jar is better suited for a greater quantity of liquid than a food processor bowl. Smoothies and blended juices excel in blenders (especially with ice or frozen fruit and vegetables, which are no match for the fast, multi-pronged blades).
An often overlooked but important reason to use a blender: the pour spout. Most blender models have a spout that allows the puréed ingredients to be neatly transferred to a different container—say, your favorite smoothie glass. Pouring a liquidy soup or sauce out of the wide bowl of a food processor is challenging at best, and messy at worst.
Can You Use a Food Processor as a Blender and Vice-Versa?
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik
We’re entering “could” versus “should” territory here. Some jobs are interchangeable between blenders and food processors, but the bowl/jar shape, blade function, and design are ultimately too different to consider the tools completely equal.
Food processors can blend and purée ingredients, although they’re not ideal for that. For one, food-processed soup will never be as velvety smooth as blended soup. Another reason: most food processors’ max-fill line is very low; you’d have to purée your soup in a series of small batches, which is neither efficient nor time-saving. Instead, their wide bowls and S-shaped blades (that span nearly the entire diameter of the bowl) are better at handling thicker, drier ingredients (think blitzing chickpeas for hummus).
On the flip side, blenders can chop and grate ingredients, but they’ll never perform the task as well as food processors. Blenders sometimes struggle with tacky or gummy food, too (like peanut butter). But for anything liquidy or in need of being super smooth, reach for a blender.
Which Is More Expensive: A Food Processor or a Blender?
Serious Eats / Tamara Staples
Both tools vary widely in terms of cost, but no matter what, plan on spending at least a couple hundred dollars on a food processor or blender.
While there are plenty of blenders for under $100—including miniature or “personal size” blenders—we feel it’s worth paying for a high-speed blender, like the Vitamix 5200 (our favorite model). The cost lies in the beefy motor. Our favorite Vitamix model is by no means the most powerful on the market, nor the most high-end, and it retails for around $400.
Food processors are a little trickier to pinpoint a price. Typically, higher costs are associated with larger capacity bowls. For example, we liked two Breville models—one smaller, one larger. The 12-cup capacity costs $280, and the slightly snazzier 16-cup rings out at $550—quite the price jump.
Regardless of which appliance you buy, spending a little more for a trusted, powerful model—with a strong warranty—is money well invested.
Should You Buy a Food Processor or a Blender?
The general guideline here is that a food processor is a good investment for cutting down on prep time, whereas a blender can help you make recipes that would be hard to replicate without it (like smoothies).
If you have the space and budget and would value the time-saving quality of a food processor, go for both. If you can only choose one, we recommend starting with a high-speed blender.
What’s the best food processor?
We tested a lot of food processors to find the best one. You really can’t beat the Magimix 14-Cup Food Processor, which is powerful with well-designed chopping blades and large enough to be actually useful. It’s also the model with that nifty pizza dough attachment. However, it’s undeniably spendy; if you’re looking for a budget option that still delivers, we recommend the Cuisinart 14-Cup Processor. Breville’s 16-Cup and 12-Cup models also ranked high in our tests. Although smaller capacity models are attractively priced, they’re not great at handling large quantities of food, which cancels out one of the reasons we find them so valuable.
What’s the best blender?
If you’re going to buy a blender, it’s worth investing in a high-speed one. In an extensive review of multiple blender brands, our favorite was the Vitamix 5200 Professional Grade Blender. If you’re looking for a smaller model, we also liked the Blendtec Designer Series.