Commercial Food Processor Buying Guide
Food processors have become standard kitchen equipment and are virtually indispensable. But with so many styles, models and specifications, how to choose the right one for your operation?
It’s a lot like buying a car, with most of the same criteria: power, capacity, accessories and durability. And, as with buying a car, a little market research will pay dividends in making sure you spend wisely.
Types of Food Processors
Batch bowl food processors are the familiar food processors you’d see in any domestic kitchen. They are perfect for smaller amounts as their capacity is limited by the capacity of the bowl. The larger the bowl, the more food that can be processed at one time. As long as you are comfortable with the volume of food you can process in one operation, a batch bowl is likely the right choice for you.
All food processors work along the same lines: a self-contained electric motor drives a shaft to which a cutting blade or disc is attached. As you might guess from their name, continuous feed food processors differ from batch bowl models in their ability to dispense the processed food from the machine into a receptacle.
With a continuous feed, you can feed food items into the processor to your heart’s content without having to stop to empty the bowl. You only have to remove the bowl when you want to change to a different food item. Great for processing large batches of food, ideally suited to busy, high volume establishments.
Can’t decide between the bowl and continuous feed models? There’s a solution to that, namely a combination food processor, which is a hybrid of the two. Depending on the job at hand, processed food can stay contained in the bowl, or with the addition of a continuous feed attachment, the food is ejected into a receptacle as it’s processed.
The same motor base is used and the batch bowl or continuous feed units are interchanged as needed.
For most operations, the standard smooth “S” blade is all you need. This is the blade that all processors come equipped with. There are also serrated blades that handle harder items like nuts and frozen foods. A perforated blade is designed for emulsions and other smooth sauces. Making a lot of dough? There’s a blade for that, too.
Blades dull over time, so having a spare blade on hand may be a good idea.
Discs are what do all the slicing, chopping, dicing and grating. Each manufacturer and even different models from the same manufacturer may differ in what discs come with their food processor units.
Here are some of the more common types:
Slicing Discs cut items into flat, thin slices like cucumbers, carrots and eggplants.
Julienne Discs cut items into long, thin lengths, like vegetable sticks, or with a finer setting for hash browns and rösti potatoes.
Grating and Shredding Discs: as the name implies, for shredding or grating items like cabbage for coleslaw, cheese and nuts.
Dicing Discs: yes, you guessed it, cuts items into small dice. However, it takes more than one piece for a good dice and are often sold as dicing kits.
In addition, depending on your needs, there are whipping discs for whipping egg whites, cream and butter, crimping (also called ripple or crinkle-cut) slicing discs, discs specifically for cutting French fry and waffle-cut discs.
For added versatility, many discs are adjustable to vary the shape or cut thickness. But depends on the manufacturer and the model.
The amount of food you can process at one time with a batch bowl processor is entirely governed by the size of the bowl. Once it’s full you have to stop. Bowls come in many sizes, so choosing the right bowl size is crucial. If it’s too small you are going to be spending a lot of time removing, emptying out and reassembling. Size matters.
Other than the crucial question of the bowl’s capacity, bowls can differ in the materials they’re made from and locking mechanisms.
A clear, plastic - usually polycarbonate - bowl allows you to see what’s going on within. Plastic bowls are perfectly adequate in most situations, being virtually unbreakable and scratch-resistant. A metal bowl, more often found on the heavier duty models, is even more durable.
A key function of a good locking mechanism is to prevent liquids escaping.
You may want to consider buying a second, spare bowl, which you can use while the first bowl is being emptied and washed – saves time!
The more powerful the motor the faster the food gets processed. More powerful motors also tend to be quieter – they don’t have to strain as much. And they generally last longer. It all depends on what your needs are. If you are going to be processing large amounts of sweet potatoes – notoriously tough little tubers – you’ll need a powerful motor. If you’re not planning a lot of heavy use you can safely opt for less power.
Motor power is measured in horsepower (HP), sometimes in wattage. One HP is equivalent to 746 watts.
A light-duty processor has somewhere between ½ to 1 ½ HP. The term “light duty” is misleading: a 1 HP processor can handle almost all tasks you can throw at it, and a continuous-feed light-duty processor can process impressive quantities. With relatively small footprint, they save valuable kitchen space as well. Under normal circumstances only heavy and continuous use calls for more than 1 ½ HP.
A medium-duty machine has anywhere between 1 ½ to 2 ½ HP. Medium duty models are designed to handle larger batches – they often come with a hopper for bulk loading – and are particularly useful for kneading dough and emulsifying or liquifying.
A heavy-duty model ranges from 3 to 5 HP. Unless you’re running a very high-volume kitchen, say in a hospital or army barracks, this is a lot more power that you’re ever going to need.
Some processors have a simple “on/off” switch. Other models offer variable speeds, but perhaps the most useful option is a pulse mode, which gives you valuable control over how food is processed and distributed in the bowl.
Another important factor is revolutions per minute (RPM). This measures how many times the blade rotates around the shaft per minute. Higher RPM means quicker processing – especially if combined with a more powerful motor to provide the needed torque.
Feeding Tube and Pusher
The pusher enables you to apply even pressure on food items as they descend through the feeding tube. Always use it to avoid damage to the unit, or more importantly, your fingers.
If you are going to process bulkier items like cabbages or lettuce, make sure the feeder tube aperture is wide enough to accommodate them, saving the time it would take to pre-cut.
With the exception of the motor base, all parts of a food processor have to be cleaned regularly. Fortunately, parts are dishwasher-safe - unless the manufacturer specifies otherwise. Pay extra attention to cleaning discs: food bits can easily get wedged in them.
Included with the literature that comes with your new food processor there will be a set of safety instructions. Read, understand and follow them.
With safety in mind, look for models with an automatic shut-off, a magnetic safety device that stops the motor as soon as you open the cutter lid and assured that the bowl and/or continuous feed unit is properly attached.
As with all major purchases, check out the terms of the warranty. These can cover parts and labour for one, two or three years. The warranty on the motor is often for five years or more. Refer to manufacturer specifications.
A food processor designed for commercial kitchens saves valuable labour by reducing prep time whether you slice, dice, chop, whip or emulsify. Whatever size your kitchen and food processing needs, the right size and style can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to get ingredients ready to serve your guests.
Written By Charles Bruce-Thompson