This most basic piece of cooking equipment might not seem worthy of scrutiny—until you have one that wobbles when you whisk, slips in your hand, or traps food in its crevices.
Published Sept. 1, 2014. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 15: Dinner in the Mediterranean
They may not be as sexy as chef’s knives or as cutting-edge as sous vide circulators, but when it comes to basic cooking tasks, plain old mixing bowls can’t be beat. We reach for them any time we mix up pancake batter or vinaigrette, or when simply melting butter. A good bowl should be so steady, durable, and comfortable to handle that it goes almost unnoticed while you work.
For those reasons, we shop carefully when outfitting the test kitchen with mixing bowls. Our criteria start with size: At the very least, we need small, medium, and large bowls—by which we mean 1- to 1 1/2-quart; 2 1/2- to 3-quart; and 4- to 6-quart, respectively. We also find it useful to have a set in both stainless steel and glass: The lightness of metal makes it easy to use, but only glass can go in the microwave. Plastic and ceramic bowls just aren’t practical: The former’s porous surface scratches and retains oils, while the latter is so heavy that it’s a detriment.
To single out a set of each, we scooped up three stainless-steel sets and four sets made of tempered glass (glass that has undergone a mechanical strengthening process to increase its impact and thermal resistance), all priced from $13.19 to $59.99. We bought nesting sets when possible and cobbled together a custom set if the sizes we wanted were available only as open stock. We then subjected the bowls to the core tasks that we think any mixing bowl should be able to handle. In each of the small bowls, we whisked oil into vinegar to make dressing. In the medium and large bowls we mixed up muffin and pancake batters. We also used the large bowls to mix bread dough and the medium bowls to melt chocolate in a jury-rigged double boiler, with the bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water.
Getting in Shape
Not all the bowls excelled at these basic functions. Some models even made easy work annoyingly difficult, thanks to a variety of design defects.
Take bowl height. A vessel’s walls should neatly contain the food but be shallow enough that users—particularly shorter folks—don’t have to strain to access the food. A side-by-side comparison of the 5-quart bowls from two different makers illustrated this point: Standing nearly 5 inches tall, one model forced some testers to reach farther up and over its rim than felt comfortable, while the the other, which was shorter by almost an inch, allowed easy access to the bowl’s contents.
Not only did some makers get the height right, they also got the shape of the walls right, too. In relation to their bases, these bowls’ sides curved gently, which made it comfortable for testers to not only reach into the bowls to stir but also hold the bowls aloft t...
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Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.