Whether you’re a fresh-out-of-college grad stocking your first apartment, a newlywed feathering your nest, or a longtime home cook, having a set of the best mixing bowls on hand is always a kitchen must. There’s almost no time of day or occasion when you won’t find yourself reaching for them: when you’re whisking up a pancake batter or beating eggs for omelets, stirring pasta or tossing a salad, mixing up a blend for meatloaf or marinating chicken thighs, folding together a cake batter or a batch of brownies, or just looking for a receptacle for your popcorn while you chill on the couch.
Though it’s certainly possible to put together your own assortment, many companies sell mixing bowls in nesting sets, which are convenient not only in terms of value but also storage space. But bowls come in a million sizes and shapes and materials. To determine which popular sets are the most versatile, reliable performers, I spent a week whisking, folding, and tossing with several of the leading mixing bowls sets. Read on to find out the best mixing bowls (and scroll down farther to learn more about how we tested and what we look for in a mixing bowl).
Best Overall: Cuisinart Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl Set
With an attractive brushed stainless steel surface and a rolled lip that’s comfortable and easy to grip, these mixing bowls impressed me the minute I got my hands on them—and that opinion was only confirmed after putting them through days of regular kitchen abuse. While the set comes with only three bowls, the sizes—1½-, 3-, and 5-quart—were fine for most of the everyday tasks I encountered while prepping and cooking for a small family. (That said, if you regularly batch-cook or prep food for a crowd, it would be worth investing in at least one larger bowl).
The Cuisinart nesting bowls' lightweight design makes them easy to move and stack and comfortable to hold with one hand while stirring or tossing with the other. The smaller bowl's rounded bottom nestled perfectly in one of my saucepans, making for a terrific double boiler. Thanks to their simple tight-sealing plastic lids, the Cuisinart bowls also do double duty as food storage containers—I loved that I could prep and stash all in one go. And despite repeatedly being dropped into a sink of dirty dishes and banged against the countertop, the bowls ably withstood all the abuse I leveled at them without a single dent or warp.
The well-balanced lids, of course, were a welcome addition to the bowl set. They proved to be balanced without being too weighty, and as expected, fit into each bowl with ease.
It was during the whipped cream test that these bowls really distinguished themselves from the rest of the pack. Unlike its shallower competitors, the Cuisinart bowl's deep interior and tall sides kept my counter completely free of spray and spatter even when using a hand mixer on high speeds. And the smooth round corners were easy to get into with a spoon or rubber spatula, making scraping and spooning a breeze.
Best Oversize Bowl: Endurance Stainless Steel 12-Quart Mixing Bowl
Let me tell you a story. About a decade ago, a few years after I began cooking seriously, I impulse-bought a hulking old Mason Cash mixing bowl from a dealer at a flea market. I wasn’t thinking about practicalities: The bowl was chipped and fragile, so hulking and capacious that you could bathe a newborn in it, and looked like it had come straight out of the scullery at Downton Abbey. But as soon as I plunged my hands into it to rub together a batch of biscuit dough, I had an epiphany: My whole life, I had been using batter bowls that were too small. Everyone had been!
Suddenly I was liberated. There was room to breathe, room to move. My arms weren’t cramped; my movements were fluid. If I wanted to double that batch of biscuits? No problem! Bust out the hand mixer and beat some eggs? No splattering happening here. Whip up a family-reunion-size tub of Chex mix?! Done.
That is why, ever since, I have been a big-bowl zealot. And that is why I believe that it’s important to supplement even the best standard mixing bowl set—whose biggest bowls usually max out at a relatively modest 5 to 8 quarts—with one oversize “a la carte” option in the 12-quart range. Yes, a big bowl may be harder to stash away in your cabinet—though you can likely just stash the rest of your bowls inside it. But if my experience proves right, the first time you use it to knead loaves of challah, triple a batch of holiday cookies, or prep pasta salad for a crowd, you’ll be a total convert.
How We Tested the Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls
Mixing bowls play a million different roles in the kitchen, so to get a picture of their versatility I tried to cover a lot of culinary territory in my testing. First I whipped up a few batches of fudgy double chocolate brownies, using the bowls not only for mixing but also, in the case of the stainless steel and glass bowls, as a double boiler for melting chocolate for the batter. After that I cleaned and dried all the bowls, got out the electric hand mixer, and used each one to make freshly whipped cream. (No, this was not a painful taste test.) Finally, I diced up dozens of cucumbers and cherry tomatoes and piled them into each bowl to get a feel for how it felt to toss together a simple chopped salad. We also evaluated the following factors.
What are the mixing bowls made of?
While there are hundreds of mixing bowl sets on the market, most are made from stainless steel, copper, glass, and plastic. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Stainless steel bowls are inexpensive, durable, and lightweight—making them a staple in professional restaurant kitchens—and they can do double duty as double boilers. But they are not microwave-safe. It's worth mentioning that professional cooks and bakers prefer stainless steel. Stainless steel stays cool regardless of the temperature in your kitchen, ensuring your dough or batter remains at a cool temperature throughout. Additionally, eggs fluff up and firm more quickly in stainless steel bowls.
Like stainless steel bowls, copper bowls mixing are excellent for maintaining an even temperature when making dough and batter. Copper, in fact, has ions that bond with an egg while you're whipping it—and those ions stop the eggs from deflating and keep them super fluffy as they expand. In Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child said that copper was the most satisfying cookware to use. That's no small compliment! But as great as copper is, it tends to be more expensive (and more delicate) than other materials. Since we were focused on finding the most utilitarian, everyday mixing bowls that could withstand any and everything, we left copper mixing bowls out of this particular roundup (though you can check out our guide to copper cookware here).
Glass bowls are microwave-safe and look more attractive if you like to use one bowl for both prep and serving, but they are much heavier than stainless steel bowls, which can make them feel cumbersome, especially if you're trying to hold the bowl with one hand. On the other hand, you might welcome the weight that allows the bowl to stand firm on the counter no matter hard you whisk. It's a matter of personal preference.
Plastic and melamine bowls are durable and shatterproof but generally less versatile than either stainless or glass because they cannot be used as double boilers or be put in the microwave. They also have a tendency to scratch over time, making them inferior for tasks like whipping egg whites, which can be ruined by any fatty residue trapped in the crevices. Plastic also tends to trap odors and discolor over time when exposed to ingredients like tomato sauce or turmeric. Still, if you are set on this style of bowl, our editor Kendra Vaculin highly recommends these bamboo bowls.
Are the sizes of the bowls practical?
You might be seduced by a set that boasts six different bowls—but if half of them are too small to hold more than a pinch of spices, what's the point? Instead, when seeking out mixing bowls, look for a range that includes at least one small (1 to 1 ½ quart) prep bowl and two larger bowls in the 3 to 8 quart range that will allow you room to fold and toss with confidence and without worry of making a mess. In general, you can find mixing bowls in the following sizes: 1½, 2, 2½, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 12 quarts.
Are they durable and easy to clean?
A good mixing bowl should stand up to high-intensity work and clean up easily. It should, of course be dishwasher-safe and come out without leaving behind dents, scratches, stains, or odors.
Are the mixing bowls a good value?
If you want to spend your money, save it for fancy serving bowls and platters. Mixing bowls are meant to be workhorses. While build quality is important, these kitchen tools should be priced accordingly and affordably.
Other Mixing Bowls We Tested
Tempered-glass Pyrex bowls have been a fixture in American kitchens for generations for good reason: They’re exceptionally sturdy, well-designed, and versatile—and can move safely and stylishly from the countertop or the microwave straight to the dining table. I liked that this set came with four bowls rather than three—all of which were handily sized not only for mixing but for portioning out mise en place. But ultimately the extra weight of the glass felt cumbersome in comparison to stainless steel and disqualified them from being my number-one pick.
These restaurant-supply-style stainless steel mixing bowls have a lot going for them: They’re lightweight, easy to handle, inexpensive, well-proportioned, and nest for simple storage. I loved that the biggest bowl was a generous 8 quarts—3 quarts larger than the biggest bowl in the Cuisinart 3-piece set. But while the bowls performed ably during my brownie and chopped salad tests, they fell short during the whipped cream test. The reason: Compared with our top pick, these bowls have wider openings and shallower sides that aren’t as good at catching errant drips and splatters, especially when using a hand mixer. So, in the end, I thought that the Cuisinart set was a more reliable overall choice.
Like all Oxo products, this set is distinguished by a few smart design features that set it apart from the pack. I appreciated the deep bowls, high sides, and built-in pour spouts, which made transferring batter from bowl to baking pan neat and easy. I also liked the rubberized grips on the bases, which kept the bowls sturdy on the counter during even the most vigorous whisking and beating. But while Oxo’s molded, unbreakable BPA-free plastic feels well-made and durable, for long-term use I worried this set would suffer the same drawbacks as all plastic mixing bowls: a tendency to stain, trap odors, and scratch. Also, plastic bowls are not suited for use as a double boiler or the microwave—so despite their appealing design, we found them considerably less versatile than their stainless steel and glass counterparts.
With deep interiors and tall sides, these bowls are similar in design to my first pick (and the set comes with two extra-small prep bowls), but the difference in build becomes apparent as soon as you pick them up. Overall, the FineDine bowls felt flimsier and more cheaply made than the Cuisinart set, and though they're slightly cheaper, that small difference in price didn't seem to justify the concern that they would not wear well over long-term use. I also found the FineDine’s lids fiddly to get on and the seals unreliable. And while I did not personally experience problems with discoloration, I was alarmed by a pattern of Amazon user reviews citing denting, scratching, and rusting.
The Cuisinart Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls With Lids are the best option for a well-built, versatile, user-friendly set that should provide years of pleasant, practical use. I especially loved their rolled lips and high, deep sides, which are easy to grip and keep whatever you’re mixing inside the bowl not on your counter. And the matching lids are sturdy and airtight, making the bowls great for marinades, storing leftovers, or transporting food to parties and potlucks.
That said, because the largest bowl in the set is a relatively modest 5 quarts, for true kitchen comfort, we would recommend supplementing the package with at least one very big bowl in the 10- to 12-quart range, such as the Endurance 18/8 Stainless Steel 12-Qt Mixing Bowl. And if you use the microwave a lot, or just like the feel of glass in your hands (despite the extra weight), the Pyrex Smart Essentials Mixing Bowl Set is a well-designed classic and a good choice.
Whichever set of mixing bowls you choose, you can't go wrong. They'll quickly become one of the best tools in your kitchen. Not only are they instrumental for food prep, they are go-tos for food storage, popcorn night, giant salads, whisking up salad dressings, big batches of cookie dough, and so much more.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious