In deciding which mixing bowls to test, we immediately dismissed those made from plastic, silicone, or ceramic. Plastic bowls can’t function as a double boiler, while bendable silicone lacks sturdiness and can harbor off smells that may transfer to food. Ceramic bowls are pretty but also very heavy and prone to chipping along the rim. We also excluded stainless steel bowls with rubber-coated bottoms because, judging from our experience, the seam between the nonskid coating and the bowl can harbor bacteria and mold.
A great all-purpose mixing bowl is nonreactive and lightweight yet sturdy. Beyond that, we had a short and simple list of criteria for mixing bowls we wanted to test:
Efficient mixing, folding, beating, and tossing
A great mixing bowl has sloped sides that allow you to cleanly toss nuts or chopped veggies without utensils, has deep walls that contain splatters, and has a wide shape for folding delicate batters. Wide, shallow mixing bowls are great for folding and tossing, but they often can’t contain splashes from a hand mixer. Although deep and narrow bowls help contain ingredients when you’re using a hand mixer or vigorously whisking vinaigrette or cream, narrow bowls don’t allow for the wide range of motion needed to quickly fold whipped batters, and the extra mixing can deflate your end result.
Get a (good) grip
If you’ve ever struggled to get a secure one-handed grip on a mixing bowl while scraping the last bit of cake batter into a pan, you understand the importance of a wide rim. The rim on a mixing bowl gives your fingers something to hook onto so you can easily pick up the bowl or hold it in place even when one of your hands is busy mixing, whisking, folding, or scraping. We prefer rims that jut straight out to the side with a rolled or slightly bent edge to help anchor your fingertips.
A bowl’s surface texture is also important. Glass and mirror-finish stainless steel can get slippery when your hands are greasy or wet. In our tests, we found that brushed stainless steel bowls added traction for fingertips.
Though we saw bowls ranging in capacity from 1 ounce to 20 quarts, the most common sizes for home cooks are between 1 and 8 quarts. For stainless steel bowls, we think a set of three with capacities of 3, 5, and 8 quarts is perfect for most home cooks. A 3-quart bowl is appropriate for small jobs like whisking dressings. A 5-quart bowl is the right size for whipping up cakes and cookies with a hand mixer. And a big 8-quart bowl is ideal for making potato salad, coleslaw, and stuffing.
Tempered glass is a different story: Most glass bowl sets max out at 4 quarts. But that isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. A 4-quart bowl is plenty big for most home dinner prep and simple baking projects that don’t involve a hand mixer, and anything bigger can be too heavy. (For example, we dismissed this open-stock 6-quart bowl because it was too bulky to be a convenient, everyday kitchen tool.) Tempered-glass mixing bowls are a good option if you don’t do a lot of big-batch cooking or if you’re short on kitchen storage space and want a more attractive bowl that’s useful both in the kitchen and on your table.
A sturdy build and a flat base will keep your bowl in place while you mix. Glass and thicker-gauge stainless steel bowls are more stable because they’re heavier. And wider bases are less likely to wobble or tip. But Jürgen David of the International Culinary Center gave us a great tip to keep bowls stable: “Just stick it in a cake ring or a small pot to hold it in place.” A wok ring or a rolled-up dish towel tied into a circle works well, too.