What is a food processor and how do you use it?

If you don’t own a food processor, you’re missing out. And even if you own one, it’s probably not getting the love it deserves. This appliance is among the most versatile in the kitchen when it comes to food prep. Whether you’re making pesto, breading, sauce, soup or pastries, there’s likely a way you can use your food processor to prep it.

It may take up a fair bit of counter space, but a food processor can perform such a variety of tasks that it can replace several smaller kitchen tools. (We’re looking at you, cheese grater!) Additionally, good food processors come with attachments that enable you to do even more prep than what’s listed above. Let’s dive into full culinary geek mode on food processors.

What is a food processor?

A food processor is a kitchen appliance that can chop, mix, puree, emulsify, grate, and shred ingredients. There are two main features that set this appliance apart from others in your kitchen—its settings and its blade.

Food processor settings

Most food processors come with base settings that include pulse and puree. Pulsing allows you to chop ingredients in short bursts—this is best used when adding large chunks to the processor, as it allows you to chop them down to a manageable size. Even if you’re going to eventually puree the ingredients, it’s a good idea to pulse the big pieces first so they don’t get stuck in the blade.

On the other hand, when you puree in your food processor, the blade blends ingredients continuously. This is the perfect setting for making pesto or tomato sauce. Most processors allow you to control the speed of your puree—typically with high and low settings. A high speed will emulsify your ingredients more, while a low speed will leave you with chunkier bits.

High-end models may also come with more advanced chopping options, but for the most part, these standard settings work perfectly. It’s more important to have a powerful model, which is one of the key aspects we tested in our review of the best food processors.

Food processor blades and their uses

Food processor slicing disc

The slicing disc will create uniform slices of veggies or cheese.

Food processors have a removable blade, which not only makes cleaning much easier, but allows you to use a variety of specific attachments. You’ll want to use your standard blade for pulsing and pureeing, but the following are two common attachments that are helpful for other food prep.

  • Grating Disc: A grating attachment works well for items like carrots, potatoes, and cheese. To use it, remove the standard blade and place the grating disc on the middle spoke in your processor. Reattach the lid, then remove the pusher from the feed tube—that’s the little “chimney” that allows you to drop ingredients into the processor. Hold the pulse button and add your ingredient. You should use the pusher to press your ingredient further into the processor. Do not use your fingers!

  • Slicing Disc: To slice an ingredient, follow the same steps as grating, but use the attachment that has a thin slicing line across it. You can use this attachment to shave Brussels sprouts, make potato gratin or slice up other vegetables.

How to use a food processor

How to use a food processor

There are so many ways to use your food processor!

Your food processor can do everything short of actually cooking your dish. Here are some quick tips on how to use it to its fullest potential.

  • Chop dry ingredients: Use the pulse feature to chop larger foods into small pieces. Press and release the button until you’ve reached the desired size. This can be done to anything from onions and carrots to nuts.
  • Puree wet ingredients: Use the puree setting to combine wet and dry ingredients and create an emulsified consistency. Hummus, for example, is easy to make in your processor.
  • Mix and blend ingredients: Remember when we were talking about pastries? Your processor isn’t limited to savory dishes—you can make cookie or pastry dough in your processor, as the blades can chop and blend cold butter into dry ingredients.
  • Don’t mash potatoes: Please don’t mash potatoes in your food processor. Chop, shred or grate raw spuds, but don’t use the appliance on cooked potatoes. When you use a sharp blade to mash potatoes, it breaks down the enzymes in the cooked vegetable and makes them unstable. This leads to gluey potatoes and very sad spirits.

How to clean a food processor

Parts of a food processor

There are a lot of small parts to a food processor.

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that food processors can take some work to clean. There are a lot of pieces to remove and soak, and some components have nooks and crannies that are difficult to fully clean. There are a few easy-to-clean food processors available if you’re not one for careful scrubbing.

The good news, however, is that all the pieces are removable, and many can go in the dishwasher.

Food processor safety

As with any bladed appliance, there are a few safety reminders to keep in mind when using your food processor.

  • Never stick your hand in the appliance while the blade is running.
  • Always remove the blade first when cleaning.
  • Clean the blades slowly and carefully. There are normally two attached blades, which makes cleaning clunkier, so take your time!
  • Unplug after each use.
  • Don’t leave it running unattended.

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