Shopping for small appliances and not sure which one to get? We run down the pros and cons of blenders and food processors (plus immersion blenders!) so you can figure out which one is best for you.
In the world of appliances with whirring blades, there seems to be a division: You’re either a food processor person or a blender person. After all, one only has so much room in the kitchen and budget for juiced-up gadgets!
I’m a food processor person. Why? My mom’s a food processor person, and I grew up using one. (Also, I don’t like smoothies.)
But full disclosure: I am now the proud owner of a blender, a food processor, and an immersion blender. I am an appliance hoarder! Also, I have destroyed multiple shoddy examples of each appliance, so my folly is your gain.
Here’s how to know if you’d benefit more from owning a food processor or a blender.
WHAT RECIPES DO YOU MAKE MOST OFTEN?
If you are mulling over small electric appliances, the kind of recipes you make most often will determine which is the best choice for you. The smoothie thing is the key! Very generally:
- Make a lot of liquid-y soups, drinks, and sauces? Get a blender.
- Like to slice vegetables fast or puree thick mixtures like hummus? Get a food processor.
SHAPE MATTERS: WORK BOWL VS. PITCHER
- Food processors have shallow work bowls with flat bottoms. They can puree liquids, but they’re clumsy to pour from. On the other hand, they can obliterate solids in a way that many blenders can’t.
- Blenders have deep tapered pitchers. When the blender blades rotate, they create a vortex that circulates the liquid in the blender, allowing everything to get nicely blitzed. If there’s not enough liquid in the pitcher, the vortex action can’t happen, and there’s no smooth puree.
DO YOU WANT TO PREP INGREDIENTS?
Food processors are great for people who want an assist with prep. They have grating and slicing disks, so they’re useful for more than just pureeing. They make quick work of grating cheese, shredding cabbage, or slicing potatoes.
With the basic metal blade, food processors can chop foods like carrots, cabbage, onions, or peppers decently, as long as precision of cuts do not matter too much (e.g. coleslaw or salsa).
Many blenders have a chop or pulse option, too. But once again, these are for when precision of cuts do not matter (e.g. cauliflower rice). For best results, don’t overload the blender when you want to chop food, because the food in the base of the pitcher will get too broken down while the food at the top barely gets touched.
- THE BOTTOM LINE: If you want an appliance that will help you do a lot of chopping and dicing prep work, go for a food processor.
DO YOU WANT TO PUREE?
Food processors are great for thick purees, like hummus, or chunky sauces, like salsa. You can puree a soup (like this cauliflower soup) in a food processor, but the watery cooking liquid is apt to leak onto the counter during the first moments of pureeing. What a drag! Also, blenders don’t always get thin purees as smooth.
In a food processor, you need to periodically stop the machine and scrape down the work bowl when pureeing. It can depend on the food processor, but sometimes I find an otherwise nearly smooth puree still has a sneaky mango chunk or almond bit lurking in it.
However, blenders rock liquid-y purees, like soups and smoothies, much better than food processors. It’s that vortex thing; pitchers do a better job of it.
- BOTTOM LINE: It depends on what you’re pureeing, but both do a decent job.
A FEW EXTRA TIPS!
- Liquid first: No matter what you are pureeing in a blender, add the liquid ingredients first, then the solid ones. Otherwise, the blades can get hung up and spin around with maddening futility.
- Making thick, stiff purees in a blender: With stiff purees, it can be tricky to scrape all the last bits from the pitcher of a blender. This means you might lose at least a few tablespoons of your finished recipe, which drives me nuts.
- PESTO! Rough pastes like pesto and chimichurri work well in both blenders and food processors.
TYPES OF FOOD PROCESSORS AND BLENDERS
- Regular blenders: Think of the classic Waring blender. Great for making milkshakes, smoothies, hollandaise, pureed soups like this Spicy Pumpkin Soup, and pancake or crepe batter. They can handle some chopping and thick purees.
- High-powered blenders: Vitamix and BlendTec are the names most closely associated with the super-amped blenders that’ll obliterate kale in green smoothies, grind nut butter, and mill certain grains. These can be too bonkers for a lot of home cooks. If you just want to make daiquiris or salad dressing, a regular blender will do.
- Immersion blenders: These are those stick blenders you plunge directly into the pot or bowl of food you’re blending. (We like this one for performance and affordability.) Immersion blenders can make a decent smoothie or excellent mayonnaise in the plastic beaker they come with—but they are terrible for making stiff purees.
- Food processors: Food processors, like the ones from KitchenAid, come with a set of blades for multiple prep tasks. You can do a lot more in food processors than you’d think, including kneading loose bread doughs, pulverizing sugar, and making a mean romesco sauce.
- Mini food processors: Oh, the sad graveyard of mini food processors I’ve killed trying to use them for things they were not made for. They can chop nuts, but not grind them; they can chop herbs, but not puree them. These are handy for prep tasks, but lack the necessary oomph required to puree firm foods.
Despite reading dozens of online reviews, you can never truly know how well something works until you use it. Keep your receipts and buy from a retailer with a good return policy.
Take note of the capacity of the food processor you buy. The 7-cup one we got as a wedding gift 14 years ago is soldiering on, but sometimes I wish it held at least 11 cups, because I have to run things in batches (especially shredded or sliced food). Conversely, if you are cooking for only one or two people, a giant food processor might be more machine than you need.
THE BEST FOODS TO MAKE IN A BLENDER
- Pureed soups
- Crushed ice
- Blended cocktails and non-alcoholic slushies
- Salad dressings
- Thin batters, like pancake or crepe
THE BEST FOODS TO MAKE IN A FOOD PROCESSOR
- Pie dough
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Sara Bir a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and the author of two cookbooks: The Fruit Forager’s Companion and Tasting Ohio. Past gigs include leading chocolate factory tours, slinging street cart sausages, and writing pop music criticism. Sara skates with her local roller derby team as Carrion the Librarian.
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