Choosing the Best Mixing Bowls
Chefscatalog.comJust curious: Who decided it was a good idea to sex up the mixing bowl? Sleek, curvaceous and available in a range of come-hither colors, it's been transformed from a no-nonsense basic to the counter-top equivalent of a push-up bra.There is even something called a batter bowl, with a big handle, like a liquid measure, and a spout for pouring, you know, pancake batter. Now, having an entire wardrobe of mixing bowls is extremely useful, but not if they don't stack easily. And for some reason, Pyrex has discontinued their innovative (and far more versatile) 5-quart Grip-Rite Teardrop bowl, which was top-rated by Cook's Illustrated in 2009. So, frankly, just looking at a batter bowl irks me. Use a ladle.
The Best Inexpensive Mixing BowlsWalk into any restaurant kitchen, and you will hear the clank and clatter of stainless-steel bowls being bashed about by the line cooks, bashed about by a (human) dishwasher, or accidentally -- or not -- dropped on the floor. Although stainless might dent when dropped (or kicked), it is otherwise indestructible. It's also lightweight, nonreactive, and heats up or chills down faster than any other material. If you want to embark on a holiday-worthy spree, check out the enormous range of sizes at chefdepot.net. The 3/4-quart size (which measures about 6 inches across the top), on sale at the moment for $6.65, is invaluable, so get two. The largest size is 20 quarts; it's suitable for marinating multiple racks of ribs, mixing enough turkey stuffing to feed the extended family and then some, or bathing an infant.
If the thought of too many choices brings on an anxiety attack, though, then perhaps the set of six stainless bowls from Chefs Catalog ($29 at chefscatalog.com is just what -- or all --you need.
What about a bowl with a nonskid coating? Although it can't be put over a pot of simmering water to serve as a double boiler, it will indeed stay put on the counter during Look-Ma-No-Hands maneuvers. But be aware that a damp paper towel placed under the base or a twisted kitchen towel wrapped, like a turban, around the base will do the trick, too. If I had to choose in the nonskid category, I'd take the three-piece Amco set ($39.95 from chefsresource.com). Compared to the similarly priced OXO set, for instance, Amco's bowls are wider across the top (more efficient stirring and whisking), wider across the bottom (better stability), and their coating just covers the bottom of the bowl instead of wrapping around the entire exterior like a Thermos (too much insulation prevents rapid cooling or heating).
The Pyrex Prepware Mixing Bowl Set (about $16 from amazon.com), which comes in three utilitarian sizes (1 quart, 11/2 quarts, and 21/2 quarts), has been a mainstay of American kitchens since 1915. Widely available (supermarkets, hardware stores) and made of rugged tempered glass, the nesting bowls are ovenproof and can go in the microwave, although they can't be used on the stovetop or under the broiler. Because glass, like stainless steel, is nonreactive -- that is, chemically inert -- it's resistant to acid, stains, or odors and it won't discolor food or affect the flavor in any way.
As a rule, I dislike plastic or silicone bowls (unlike glass or stainless, they can and do absorb odors and stains), but if space is an issue, try Progressive International's three-quart collapsible bowl, available from target.com. At just $12.99, it wins my Cheap 'n' Cheerful award for the month.
More Expensive Options in Mixing BowlsWhite on the inside and cane (what Americans would call "buff") on the outside (reflecting the natural coloring of the clay), Mason Cash bowls are decorated with a diamond pattern cut into the exterior to reduce the weight. The brand, a mainstay of English kitchens, was once exclusive to Derbyshire, but now, as a part of the Rayburn Group, Mason Cash products are "sourced worldwide." Keep your eyes peeled for a vintage bowl, but in the meantime, you'll be happy with one (made in Portugal) sold by Fantes Kitchen Wares Shop; the 61/2-quart size will run you $44.95.
I generally avoid products with the name of a celebrity on them, but everyone I know who has Nigella Lawson's four-piece ceramic set of nesting egg-shaped bowls ($59.95 at cooking.com) loves them. They come in a pale robin's-egg blue or dreamy cream. Cradling one of these babies under your arm will make anyone feel like a domestic goddess.
All-Clad's nesting set of three bowls (5-quart, 3-quart, and 11/2-quart) is made of heavy-gauge stainless that's polished to a gorgeous finish (about $90 from amazon.com). The side handles, generously sized and smartly angled, are a great alternative to the swinging ring that is a feature of some metal bowls.
A note from Jane Lear: I don't accept free products or consider products for inclusion in these columns on the basis of press releases or marketing campaigns. My suggestions are based on my years as a food writer and home cook.
More on Kitchen Equipment and Cooking
- Get Jane Lear's advice on more kitchen equipment, including cookie sheets and skillets.
- Get a month's worth of cookie recipe ideas.
- Learn how to make pumpkin pie and how to make fudge (you'll need a mixing bowl for both recipes).
- See how to separate stuck glassware, such as mixing bowls.