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Mini Prep Bowl Sets

From Autumn Desserts

How we tested

Following the lead of professional chefs seen on television, many home cooks now use mini prep bowls to help them complete their mise en place, or the preparation and arrangement of the various ingredients needed to execute a recipe. Mini prep bowls allow cooks to measure out, separate, and organize these elements, making cooking tidier and more efficient.

Since we last tested these bowls in 2009, two of our three recommended sets have been discontinued, so a second look was warranted. First, we ruled out bowls with a capacity of 2 ounces or less for being too small. We then gathered seven sets of the most widely available mini prep bowls, covering a range of sizes and materials, and put them through a battery of tests. We wanted to see how easy they were to fill and empty, how well they contained different volumes of food, how vulnerable they were to staining and odors, how well they stood up to repeated washing, and how breakable they were when pushed off the counter. We also wanted to evaluate their versatility: Could they be microwaved and/or put in the oven? Could they handle both wet and dry ingredients? (Several of the bowl sets came with lids, which come in handy if you’re prepping and storing your ingredients ahead of time. However, while we liked having them, the performance of the bowls themselves was more important to us than this extra feature.)

With the exception of the silicone bowls, which were small, floppy, and retained food odors, most of the sets worked pretty well. Glass mini prep bowls dominate the market, and for good reason. They’re oven-, microwave-, and dishwasher-safe; they tend to be fairly sturdy; and they’re easy to clean, retaining no off-odors or food stains. Their only drawback is that they are slightly susceptible to static cling, making it a little more difficult to extract fine or dry ingredients like chopped herbs or ground pepper. Sets made of stainless steel or recycled materials like bamboo had less of a problem with static cling but were demoted for various reasons—among other problems, they couldn’t be microwaved, limiting their functionality.

While most of the sets we tested contained bowls of only one size (usually between 4 and 8 ounces), our favorite set had six nested bowls of different sizes, including two medium-size bowls of 10 and 16 ounces. Made of heavy glass, the relatively wide and shallow bowls were easy to fill, empty, and clean. And with a slight lip on the outside, they were also comfortable to grip while whisking or scooping out ingredients. The only problem: They were the only glass bowls that broke when we pushed them off the counter during our durability test. However, the heaviness of the glass with which they’re made makes it unlikely that they’ll easily fly off the counter.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*