No kitchen is complete without a set of mixing bowls. Whether for stirring ingredients, marinating foods for the grill, storing leftovers, organizing measured amounts of ingredients before embarking on a complicated recipe or even serving a salad or another dish, you'll find yourself reaching for your mixing bowls time and again.
With a wide range of sizes, materials and prices, how do you choose which ones are best for you? If your space and budget permits, it's actually handy to have a wide range of sizes and types of bowls. The smallest bowls can hold one cup or less, perfect for beating a single egg or holding a portion of ingredients ready to be mixed into a recipe. And you'll find bowls as large as 6 or 7 quarts, which might not be needed on a daily basis, but are certainly handy for entertaining or stirring up multiple batches of cookie dough. An assortment of 5 bowls spanning a range of sizes from 2 cups to 4 or 5 quarts in capacity should be sufficient for most households.
As for materials, there are several common materials typically used to make mixing bowls, each with their own set of attributes and drawbacks. Here's a roundup of the most popular types of mixing bowls, and what you need to know about each. When you've decided what types of bowls you need, check out the Mixing Bowl Roundup for some options:
GlassPros: Glass is nonreactive, meaning that it won't chemically affect the taste, color or texture of the food. Plus it's microwaveable, and some tempered glass bowls is more durable and can be used in the oven or freezer. Tempered glass is engineered with certain materials and a heating and cooling process that makes it more durable and temperature-resistant, as well as causing it to break into pebbles of glass rather than shards if broken.
Cons: Even tempered glass can break if dropped. What's more, glass can be sensitive to changes in temperature. It's also difficult to beat egg whites into foam in glass bowls, as the sides of the bowl are too slippery.
Buying tip: Look for glass bowls that have features like measurement markings, lids and pour spouts.
MetalPros: Easily found at restaurant-supply stores or well-stocked kitchenware stores, metal mixing bowls are generally inexpensive, ultra-durable and versatile. The right sized bowl can double as a double boiler (choose one that nests inside a saucepan but doesn't quite reach the bottom. The bowls are lightweight, which makes them ideal for people with limited mobility.
Cons: The thin metal can get very hot if it's holding a hot liquid. Metal bowls also have a sterile, industrial look, which some people might see as a drawback. Be careful when using a whisk, such as to beat egg whites or whipping cream - if you repeatedly scrape too hard against the bottom or side of the bowl, you run the risk of your mixture turning grey or taking on a metallic taste.
Buying tip: Look for stainless steel rather than aluminum, which is more likely to adversely react with food, particularly acidic ingredients like tomatoes or citrus.
CeramicPros: Ceramic bowls can have a very decorative look - they come in a wide range of pretty colors and can even be found with raised patterns sculpted on the sides or stripes and other designs painted onto the surface, making them attractive enough to double as serving pieces. They're heavy enough to minimize movement on your counter as you stir, and might even be microwave- or oven-safe.
Cons: Ceramic is prone to chipping, cracking and breaking.
Buying tip: Look for high-fired ceramic, which is more durable than regular earthenware ceramic. If looks are important to you, some dinnerware patterns might even have a mixing bowl set available as part of its line extension.
CopperPros: Beautiful and classic, copper bowls are the best vessel in which to beat egg whites, as tiny quantities of copper ions react with the egg to stabilize the mixture.
Cons: These are among the most expensive bowl you can buy.
Buying tip: If you beat a lot of egg whites by hand, invest in one appropriately sized copper bowl just for that purpose and buy the rest of your bowls in another material.
PlasticPros: Inexpensive, lightweight and virtually unbreakable, so they're particularly handy for toting salads and other dishes to a picnic or potluck.
Cons: Some plastic can melt if it comes in contact with hot surfaces. Also, some plastic can stain or absorb strong odors like garlic.
Buying tip: You can often find mixing bowl sets that come with lids for storage.
Wood/Natural MaterialsPros: Wooden, bamboo or cork bowls have a warm, natural look and feel. Plus, there is nothing better for making a salad than a wooden bowl; the wood gets seasoned over time and adds flavor to each subsequent salad.
Cons: Wood and other materials might not provide the smooth, nonporous surface that you'd want for mixing up doughs or batter.
Buying tip: Choose a shallow, 4- or 5-quart bowl that will be the ideal size for tossing and serving a salad, and also invest in some mineral oil to rub into it when it shows signs of dryness.
SiliconePros: One of the hottest new kitchen materials, silicone has a host of advantages – it's temperature-proof, nonstick, easy to clean, collapsible and virtually indestructible. They're microwave- and dishwasher-safe. Plus, they're flexible, so you can pinch them slightly to create a pouring spout.
Cons: Not everyone likes the swishy, rubbery texture of silicone. Plus silicone can retain the odors of pungent foods.
Buying tip: Especially convenient are small silicone pinch bowls, just the right size for holding small amounts of ingredients while you're cooking, like salt, spices and minced herbs.