What alternatives do you use if you do not have a food processor?
First things first - food processors have been coming down in price for some time. While it’s perfectly possible to spend a small fortune on a cutting-edge food processor with dozens of innovative features, basic food processors can be picked up for next to nothing.
Irrespective of how much you choose to spend (or otherwise), investing in a quality food processor is something you won’t regret doing. Once you learn how to use a food processor the right way, you’ll wonder how cooking was ever possible without one.
But at the same time, getting by without a food processor is perfectly possible. There are various things you can use in place of a food processor - even if a recipe calls specifically for such a device. The appropriate method to use as an alternative will vary from one recipe to the next, but it is nonetheless possible to chop, grind, grate, mince, crush, and generally ‘process’ food without a food processor in the conventional sense. Also, see how food processors fare against juicers in this post.
What is a Food Processor?
The basic premise behind a food processor is self-explanatory. As the name suggests, food processors are designed to process ingredients in a wide variety of ways. It is a convenience tool for the kitchen with the capacity to chop, mix, puree, emulsify, grate, and shred ingredients, as any given recipe calls for. These top food processors for dicing here, and for shredding vegetable in this review speak volumes about food processors' versatility.
Cooking with a food processor takes a little getting used to, but there’s really no going back once you’ve got the hang of it. But at the same time, it’s important to understand the limitations of a food processor, along with when and where the old-fashioned approach is required.
In most cases, for example, even the best processor cannot quite replicate the effects of a traditional potato masher. Nor are many food processors as good at shredding cheese as a traditional grater, although these top picks meant just for that are quite capable.
Theoretically, there’s nothing you can do with an electronic processor that cannot be achieved using more conventional kitchen tools. Nevertheless, all the substitutes in the world cannot make up for the convenience and simplicity of the very best food processors money can buy.
So once again, it’s an investment worth considering - and one you definitely will not regret.
Food Processors: Blades and Accessories
A typical processor will feature something of a standard set of blades in the bottom, which can be used to mince, puree, and grind the living daylights out of just about anything. This is where a food processor is similar to a blender, or electric mixer (see 'Food Processor Vs. Mixer' post), but will also come with the convenience of being able to swap out the blades for a bunch of other accessories.
For example, it will almost always be possible to place a grating disc into the bowl, which will then enable the food processor to grate things like carrots, cheese, potatoes, and so on.
Far quicker and easier than using a conventional grater by hand, often with equally consistent results.
Slicing discs are also a common feature included with a food processor, which works in a similar way to a grating disc. Rather than shredding the ingredients you place into the bowl, they’re designed to slice them into thin pieces - often with a variety of different thicknesses from one disc to the next.
Where recipes call for ingredients to be chopped, sliced, and generally prepped in some way or another before being cooked, a food processor can be an invaluable tool to speed things up.
Can I Use a Blender in Place of a Food Processor?
If you neither have a food processor nor intent to buy one, the next best thing is a blender. Blenders and food processors are not quite the same, as a blender is usually designed with one specific purpose in mind - blending (see our 'Food Processor vs Blender' review).
However, it is perfectly possible to process meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and plenty more in a good blender once you have got used to its power settings and how it works in general. They don’t work with nearly the same precision as a processor but are still compatible with various different foods and ingredients.
A stand mixer or hand mixer can also make a great substitute (see our 'stand Mixer vs Food Processor' review), though such devices are (as the name suggests) designed more to mix and whip ingredients than to blend them. A traditional hand mixer is an indispensable tool for beating eggs, making whipped cream, and generally combining ingredients to a smoother and creamy texture (like when creaming butter and sugar together for a recipe).
However, the classic hand mixer is not designed for chopping or blending ingredients in the conventional sense. They’re a great device to have on hand, but you can't use a mixer in the same way as a food processor.
How About a Coffee Grinder?
You may have heard that it is possible to substitute a food mill for a grinder when dealing with certain ingredients like nuts and herbs. To an extent, this is quite right - a classic manual grinder or electric grinder can be just the thing for grinding course ingredients like these to a finer consistency,
However, there are two issues to bear in mind when using a grinder for this purpose. First of all, you will only be able to prepare small batches at a time due to the limited capacity of the device. In addition, the nuts and herbs you grind could leave behind traces of taste and smell that could subsequently affect the flavor of the coffee beans you grind.
Not the end of the world, but something to bear in mind, if using a grinder as a food mill.
Using a Manual Food Chopper
This is another useful gadget to have around the kitchen, which is quick and easy to reach when looking to chop a few bits and pieces as quickly as possible. A hand chopper is a simple yet effective device, which can be used as a viable substitute for a processor when chopping various fruits, vegetables, and ingredients - see the more detailed 'Food Processor Vs. Chopper' post.
You simply take off the lid, throw in the food and repeatedly push down on the top. Or, in some instances, crank the handle - maybe even push the button to activate the motor. After which, the whole thing can (usually) be tossed in the dishwasher for total convenience.
Useful and practical indeed, but lacking the kind of capacity or power you get from a proper processor. These are the kinds of things that are good to have alongside a quality food processor, switching back and forth from one to the other as your cooking requirements dictate.
Rolling Pin and Plastic Bag
A firm favorite among purists in the kitchen, the classic rolling pin and plastic bag approach has been tried, tested, and trusted for generations. Basically, this is where you make your own rudimentary mortar and pestle out of a plastic bag and rolling pin.
All you need to do is take a decent quality freezer bag with a sealable zip or strip, pop your food inside and take to it a suitable cutting board with a rolling pin. You need to be careful not to completely destroy the plastic bag in the process, but pound away at it at a decent rate, and you’ll be able to replicate the effects of a good grinder.
Of course, you won’t be looking at the most uniform results when using this method, so you need to have realistic expectations where consistency is concerned. Nevertheless, it is a great idea if you find yourself in a bind without a machine to hand.
Mortar and Pestle
And just for the record on that note, a mortar and pestle can also be used to mash and crush just about anything in small quantities. Though again, the capacity of a mortar and pestle may hold you back when it comes to preparing certain ingredients for your favorite recipes.
Manual Chopping and Slicing
Last but not least, you could argue that the whole point of investing in a processor or electronic device of any kind for the kitchen is to save yourself the effort of manually chopping and slicing ingredients. Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that people got by for thousands of years without any electronic appliances in their kitchens whatsoever!
Mixers and processors are convenience tools but are by no means mandatory. If you don’t have access to a food processor (or your machine suddenly decides to stop working at the worst possible moment), you can recreate the vast majority of its actions with a decent knife and a chopping board.
This is definitely the most laborious approach of all but is nonetheless the classic approach to preparing food. Of course, chopping with a knife isn’t a viable option when looking to puree or mash something to a fine texture, but there are other options available in this case - a potato masher, for example.
In any case, it is definitely worth considering investing in a decent food processor - or upgrading your current machine if it’s long past its prime.