We’ve got nothing but love for our food processors and stand mixers, but there are often times when only the delicate touch of an elbow grease–powered piece of gear will do. Take mashed potatoes for example, which easily become overworked and gummy by the fast action of a stand mixer paddle attachment. This is one instance when simpler is better—I’ll take a fork to my potatoes before they ever see the inside of a food processor.
If you want to step up you mashed-potato game, regardless of whether you like them fluffy or creamy, a food mill or potato ricer is your best bet. We already know that they’re ideal for breaking down potatoes without overworking them, but which one should you invest in?
Here’s everything you need to know about each, so you can decide which one deserves a spot in your kitchen.
The Potato Ricer: Small Batches of Mash in a Snap
What We Like About Potato Ricers
A ricer looks a lot like a giant garlic press and works in pretty much the same way. It comes equipped with a perforated hopper, where you place your cooked food before applying pressure with a lever, which forces the food through the small holes. The tiny holes are about the size of a grain of rice, hence the tool’s name.
OXO Stainless Steel Potato Ricer
Unlike food mills, stand mixers, or even the humble potato masher or whisk, the potato ricer breaks down a potato into a smooth and fluffy mash while only rupturing the cells once as they pass through the perforated base. This ensures that they won’t get overworked and gummy, and instead remain fluffy and light. It’s just the tool you need for light and fluffy gnocchi or creamy and crispy make-ahead mashed potato casserole.
As a bonus, a ricer is simple to use and clean, with few moving parts and little assembly required. It’s a cheap hand tool that you can easily nestle into a large drawer or tuck away inside any cabinet, making it a no-brainer addition to any kitchen.
What We Don't Like About Potato Ricers
The potato ricer, as the name suggests, is designed to work on potatoes. Though you can press other soft food items through it to make simple purées, most other vegetables need something a little more forceful to break down their tough fibers and cell walls. Unfortunately, that makes a ricer a unitasker, best suited to homes that really love their mash.
It’s also worth noting that the hopper of a ricer can only handle the flesh of about one potato at a time. This is sufficient for day-to-day use, but can really slow your roll if you’re looking to prep larger quantities for the holidays or a special event.
The Food Mill: Level-Up Your Puréeing Game
What We Like About Food Mills
A food mill both purées and strains soft items, like boiled potatoes or tomatoes, in one shot. It has a simple construction, consisting of a bowl fitted with a hand crank that rotates a plate, which forces food through a perforated base. Many models offer interchangeable bases with variously sized perforations for smoother or coarser purées.
Oxo Good Grips Food Mill
It goes above and beyond smooth potatoes: it removes seeds from fruit for jams, skins from peppers in purées, and is the key to everything tomato. Fresh tomato sauce is easier than ever with a food mill, which will discard skins and seeds while reducing the flesh into a smooth pulp.
A food mill can also be a good buy for two very different kinds of cooks: the one who has it all and really wants to make Michelin-starred purées and mash, or the minimalist who’s looking for something instead of a blender or food processor.
What We Don’t Like About Food Mills
There are several drawbacks to owning a food mill, including the fact that it can be big, bulky, and pricey. Unlike a dainty ricer, there’s no drawer that could house a food mill. The interchangeable plates can also be difficult to assemble, disassemble, and clean, making it too fussy a tool to grab for a quick weeknight dinner. (The best way to clean a food mill is immediately after you use it! Immediately!)
Daniel also argues that food mills made for home use can often be flimsy and difficult to use. He recommends going pro and opting for a commercial food mill from a restaurant supply store. These are larger and more expensive, but they are sturdy and can easily process large batches of soups and purées.
So, Is a Potato Ricer or Food Mill Right for You?
It all depends on the specific needs of your kitchen. If all you care about is spuds and space, go with a potato ricer; if you want it all, and have the space and the cash, then make a splash and pick up a food mill.
How do you use a potato ricer?
To use a potato masher, pull the top portion of the handle upwards to open the ricer (so its plate is perpendicular to the rest of the ricer). Put some potatoes in the ricer's perforated hopper, then press the top handle downward to force the potatoes through the ricer's small holes.
What's the best potato ricer?
While we haven't formally tested potato ricers, this potato ricer from OXO is a staff-favorite.
How do you use a food mill?
Once a food mill is assembled, simply place whatever it is you want to process into the food mill's bowl. Then, turn the handle to force the food through the mill's perforated base.
What's the best food mill?
While we haven't formally tested food mills, the OXO Good Grips Food Mill is our staff pick. Former senior editor Sho Spaeth uses it "fairly frequently" and has "no complaints with its operation." That's (almost) good enough for us (perhaps a testing is in our future).
Which is better: a food mill or a ricer?
Ah, the age-old question! Okay, just kidding BUT the answer, I'm afraid, is nebulous; it depends on what you need. If you like potatoes a lot (like we do here at Serious Eats) and/or find yourself making gnocchi somewhat frequently, a ricer might be the right pick for you. If you're more of a "do-it-all" type (the kind who makes their own passata), then a food mill might meet your needs better.
What's the difference between a ricer, a food mill, and a potato masher?
Let's roll up our sleeves, grab some potatoes, and dig in. A ricer purees potatoes nicely, but it only works with one potato at a time and is a unitasker. Conversely, a food mill can be used for breaking down various food items, like tomatoes, cooked beets, and potatoes (obviously). Both ricers and food mills create an even, smooth consistency, which is different than a potato masher. Potato mashers create a slightly more rustic result since, instead of squeezing tubers through holes, they bash them up. You can read our review on mashers to learn more (and find our winners).