Why do people hate chopping so much? Or, I should say, why do some people hate it so much? It’s one of those household tasks like laundry or dishes that some find soothing while others find dull and even taxing. The extent of people’s loathing for chopping became evident to me a few years ago when multiple people told me they dropped Blue Apron because all of the chopping involved.
It sounded silly, but I also had to admit: I am not a huge fan of it either. And, just like putting off folding clean clothes or washing dishes, I can’t really explain why I find it so boring. Over the years, I’ve even tried a number of gadgets — some expensive, some not — to get around this food prep task. Most worked, some very well, all with their own positives and negatives. In the end, however, there’s only one I’m sticking with.
In my college years, I rented a house (with six other girls) that came lightly “pre-furnished” by the landlord. This meant, in reality, that he didn’t clean out much between tenants, which is how I found an unopened Chop Wizard in the kitchen a few months after moving in. It worked well enough, but really only for onions. And then you wound up with a hard-to-clean-up metal grid that you’d just shoved onions through. The smaller grid, for a finer chop, was also impenetrable: we were basically juicing an onion. When we moved out at the end of the year, the Chop Wizard stayed behind.
The Chop Wizard was not my only college experimentation with as-seen-on-TV-ish devices. At some point, someone gave me an off-brand Slap Chop, the exact brand now lost to the ages. The idea is simple: a small amount of food can be quickly pulverized with the rotating blades. If you had dexterity issues, this would probably be the easiest to use, accessibility-wise. But, for day to day tasks, the relatively small container for food meant it wasn’t practical for most jobs.
I didn’t realize until I started writing this article how much of my college career was spent trying to avoid cutting food. But, sometime in my senior year, I got a full-sized Cuisinart food processor. (I promise I also drank to excess and did all those other college things as well.) The Cuisinart let me avoid cutting in two ways: the blades in the base could, with a few touches of the lever, rough-chop just about anything. If you kept going, of course, eventually you’d get a mince, then a puree. There was also a plate for grating that went into the top and could grate and slice anything you could fit down the chute. This works beautifully for the one time a year you make latkes, but, really, I wasn’t lugging it out for everyday jobs. It’s still my favorite way to make pesto, however, and cheese balls. (Everyone will love you if you make a cheese ball.)
This is a solution for people with ample counter space: A mini food processor that can permanently live on your countertop. You still have to quarter an onion if you want it to do the rest of the chopping, but this is good for mincing a lot of garlic or mincing herbs. As I am not a person with a lot of counter space, however, the mini food processor is easily forgotten about.
Perhaps slightly quicker to set up, the hand-pulled food processor doesn’t really offer many more advantages. And while it’s actually pretty easy to use, the first few cranks can also be a bit hard. Not like, requiring Marvel-levels of strength, but it does take a bit of elbow grease. Given that it’s only a $5 savings from an electric-powered mini food processor, there’s not really a reason to get this unless you live in a house with almost no outlet and want to make a lot of homemade salsa for two.
OXO’s mandoline slicer was my go-to for many years. It wouldn’t chop things, but it would slice them very quickly, and you had a lot more control out of what kinds of slices you were getting than, say, with the food processor. You could slice a squash into ribbons, for example. If you do want something more finely diced, you can put in one of the two the juliennes (small and large) blade to get even matchsticks. It also works really well, and comes with a hand guard, which you must use if you buy this. I won’t tell you the story of why I am so insistent on this, but if you don’t use the hand guard I will know, and I will find you, and I will tell you the story. This is definitely the Cadillac of mandoline slicers, but I ultimately gave it up for another OXO product.
Ultimately, I found I was reaching for the mandoline less and less because, while easy to use, it still required a bit of set up and was hard to clean. Then I heard about the OXO grate and slice set, something of a little sister to the mandoline. In the mandoline, where the v-shaped blades have to be placed into the flat surface for grating or slicing. Here, you just have two individual mandolines and two graters that store in a container. When in use, however, they snap into the container lid for neat grating and slicing. You have far less options, but it’s easier to use and easier to clean up. I don’t think anything of reaching for it and quickly slicing a cucumber for a salad, for example. (I just always use the hand guard! Please use the hand guard!)
While it won’t do a rough chop like a food processor, I’ve found that the large grater can do a pretty good equivalent of a mince on things like onion, carrots, and even small cabbage. Plus, it replaces the need for a separate box grater and is about the size of one — I was partially motivated by our cheap box grater totally falling apart to make this purchase. It’s an imperfect solution, but I’ve realized there isn’t a perfect solution: kitchen sizes, storage, and preferences vary. But it is possible to find ways to speed up the dreaded chopping, slicing, and dicing if you want .
Ultimately, it’s hard to beat the versatilely of a chef’s knife. Long enough to chop quickly, and with a curved blade so you can rock back and forth on the cutting board as you do it, a good chef’s knife is also nimble enough to de-vein and de-seed a pepper. The flat blade can also be used to scrape and transport all that newly chopped food to the pan or bowl. Maybe if you remember all the good things a chef’s knife can do for you, you can turn around this dreaded prep task. (Or you can also play a podcast while you work. I’ve found that helps, too.)