universal food chopper grinder: vintage kitchen

universal food chopper

This is a kitchen gadget called a Universal Food Chopper. These manual food processors used to be incredibly popular, which is apparent in how common they are at swap meets, estate sales, and on eBay.

When I was getting ready to buy mine, I had trouble piecing together information about it. While a lot of people enjoy them as rustic décor, I’m using mine for chopping food—and it was hard to figure out what exactly it could do before I got it. So I’m sharing my thorough review of this classic food processor for anyone considering the purchase.

universal food chopper history

These Food Choppers were manufactured by Larry, Franders, & Clark from 1897 through 1965, when they went out of business. (Other companies have since produced replicas.) L.F&C. manufactured lots of household items under the Universal brand name. Here’s an ad from the Chopper’s early days:

poster for Landers, Frary & Clark, the “Universal food chopper, and a few of the things it chops,” New Britain, c. 1899

It seems like every household must’ve had one of these Food Choppers, because they’re extremely common. And because they’re so common, they’re super cheap. You can get one for almost nothing if you’re willing to do some rust removal and restoring, or for a little more you can get a shiny set that’s ready to use and has several kinds of blades.

The Universal Food Chopper and all its accessories are made of cast iron. I’m used to seeing black cast iron, but the choppers usually aren’t seasoned (and therefore black) like a cast iron pan would be. They’re silvery-gray like this.

food chopper parts & pieces

These are the parts that make up the Food Chopper. There’s a hopper assembly with a clamp at the bottom, an auger, a handle, and several grinder knives that determine the size of the cut. There are also a wing nut and thumb screw to hold everything together.

attachments

There are several types of grinder knives made for the Chopper; I have four of the most common ones. From left to right, the first blade does a fine dice; the second one minces; the third crumbs; and the fourth is a nut butter attachment. The difference between them is how many teeth they have: the fewer the teeth, the smaller the cut. The nut butter attachment has no teeth. It sits very close to the front edge of the grinder and completely smashes the food.

sizes

The Universal Chopper come in sizes 00-3. This is a size 1, so it’s right in the middle. The hopper isn’t big; it’s about the size of my fist. The blades are interchangeable between choppers from sizes 00-2; I suspect those same blades would also fit a size 3 chopper, but I couldn’t confirm that in my research. If anyone knows, please drop a comment below!

universal food chopper assembly

1. Fit the auger through the back of the grinder with the threaded side in front. This makes it a little easier to hold it still when putting the handle on.

universal food chopper assembly inserting auger

2. Set the handle in place with the thumb screw.

universal food chopper attaching crank

3. Put the grinder knife over the threads, rounded side facing forward, and loosely secure it with the wing nut.

universal food chopper attach blade

Don’t bother screwing it on tightly; it doesn’t improve the function and makes the handle harder to turn.

4. Attach the grinder to a countertop or table using the clamp.

The clamp has these little feet to help keep it in place, so keep in mind that it can leave dents in wood:

If the only free-hanging ledge you have is wood, you could prevent dents by sliding something like a silicone potholder underneath the feet. This is a used, beat-up table, so I’m gonna live with the dents.

blade uses

Time to go through the blades one by one and see what they do. There are quite a few articles and videos about using these to grind meat, which are very helpful. I had trouble finding info about chopping other foods; so today I’m using vegetables, nuts and bread.

dicing

universal food chopper dicing vegetables

I’m dicing some carrots with the first blade. As you can see, it’s not a clean or pretty cut. Because the carrots are so hard, the pieces sort of explode as they’re crushed and the outcome isn’t uniform. I’ve found that the pieces do come out more uniform in size with something softer like a bell pepper.

I’m adding the food to the hopper as I go. The pieces I’m putting in are about 1-inch cubes.

universal food chopper chopping vegetables

Here are some jelly bellies for scale. The finished carrot pieces average about ¼ inch in size.

mincing

I’m using this second blade to mince some summer squash. The consistency is like relish. This is also a good attachment to choose if you’re grinding meat.

crumbing

The next attachment says “bread crumber” on it, so used it to make bread crumbs. They turned out as expected.

making nut butter with the universal food chopper

I’m most interested in this last attachment: it says “nut butter,” and making nut butter is a difficult task even for a high-powered food processor. If the Universal Food Chopper can make nut butter, that alone makes it worth the purchase for some people. I’m gonna run some cashews through it and see how it does.

universal food chopper making nut butter

The first time through, it was hard to turn the handle. The cashews are finely crushed, but they’re more of a crumb texture. I ended up having to put the mixture through the grinder half a dozen times to get it to a dough-like consistency. This texture is pretty similar to when I’ve made cashew butter before, so I’d call it a success.

universal food chopper making cashew butter
cashew butter

Now I’m trying peanut butter. I went through the same process as last time, putting it through several times.

universal food chopper making homemade peanut butter
peanut butter

It turned out pretty well! It’s definitely peanut butter. A little coarser than store-bought, but still a spreadable consistency. Even though I had to put it through the machine several times, it took very little time and effort after the initial grind. I could see myself using this to make batches of homestyle peanut and cashew butter with the Universal Food Chopper.

washing up

yum

Whenever you’re done using the grinder, run a piece of bread through it to make it easier to clean.

Before washing, go ahead and take the handle off and set it aside.

Disassemble the other pieces, then take them to the sink and punch the chunks of bread out of the holes in the grinder front. Wash everything in warm, soapy water. A bottle brush helps.

how to wash universla food chopper

Do the best you can to dry it after washing, because the cast iron will rust easily. Don’t reassemble until it’s completely dry. This grinder is so small that all the pieces fit in my toaster oven, so I just throw them in there to dry.

If the Chopper ever gets rusty, you can use a piece of steel wool to scrub the rust off. Don’t use steel wool in regular washing.

strengths

I really like that the Universal Food Chopper can mince and grind while being really compact. Even though it’s a manual food processor, it doesn’t require much effort to use.

The size was a big plus for me. Mine came in this wooden box that only measures 11x5x5—about the size of a little kids’ shoe box. So it takes up a lot less space than a regular food processor, and is easier to handle and clean (at least for me).

It’s really cool that it can make nut butter. Some food processors can’t handle that—especially not on a regular basis. And if I’m making pasta sauce or soup that calls for a lot of dicing, it powers through vegetables like crazy.

It’s also super affordable, and virtually unbreakable. Even if it gets neglected and get covered in rust, cast iron is almost never a goner.

drawbacks

Things I don’t like?

First off, the “chopper” part of the grinder is very utilitarian. The chopped food is not pretty.

These carrots are perfectly fine for soup, but I wouldn’t serve them in a salad to guests.

Another downside is that the vegetables have to be pre-chopped into cubes to use the Chopper Grinder (although, to be fair, I don’t think most people are throwing whole carrots into their electric food processors).

Although impressive for a manual food processor, the Chopper doesn’t have as many features and doodads as an electric food processor, of course. If you want help with slicing and grating, you will need something else.

biggest flaw

The biggest downside—something that didn’t come up today—is that the back of the auger doesn’t have a gasket.

So when I’m dicing a large amount of fruit or vegetables, the residual juice starts to drip out the back of the grinder—a lot. I solve this by putting a chair with a bowl underneath it to catch the liquid, but it’s a considerable problem.

19th century stand-out

Over 120 years past its invention, this Universal Food Chopper is still a useful machine for the kitchen. As a hand-crank food processor, it’s a great alternative for those who need help with chopping or grinding but don’t want to deal with a big electric food processor. And the affordability gets an A+, with many priced under $20.

Have you ever used a Universal Food Chopper before? Do you have old gadgets in your kitchen?

I’d love to hear about it below!

If you’re interested in frugal kitchen DIYs, you might enjoy making homemade vanilla extract.

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