Choosing the Right Mixing Bowls

August 20, 2012

Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help. Today: choosing the right mixing bowls.

Ceramic Bowls

When you close your eyes and imagine a kitchen, what do you hear?

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I hear the low hiss of a sizzling pan; I hear the juicy whoosh of a slicing knife. I hear pots and pans clanging, someone shouting. Maybe there’s a loud crack somewhere, or a shatter, or a bubbling of laughter.

Without a doubt, though, I hear the sounds of mixing bowls: the whisking, the stirring, the stacking of them. I hear the whack of a wooden spoon against one, the soft rustle of chopped vegetables tossed into one; I hear the essential kitchen tasks that are done with them, in them, on them, around them. 

Mixing bowls may not be sexy, or novel, or buzzworthy. But I can safely say this (and feel free to correct me): no kitchen can function without them.

Now, for the real question: what kind?

Stainless Steel


When it comes to mixing bowls, there are five (five!) main materials to consider: stainless steel, glass, ceramic, plastic, and copper.

Deep breath.

Stainless steel is a workhorse – and cheap. For $34.95, I can get myself a set of six Chefs Essentials bowls that very well may last forever: ones I can clang and clash and whisk and whack to my heart’s content, and then stack them in a drawer at the end of the day. They are non-reactive, so they won’t make my food taste metallic-y – plus, I can hack a double boiler with them.

The one, small bummer: stainless steel just isn’t that pretty.

Glass bowls

Glass and ceramic mixing bowls, on the other hand, can be gorgeous – and they can double as serving bowls. Multi-purposesisity (yes, I just made up that word) is prized in a First Kitchen. Why have two sets of bowls in a drawer when I can only have one? Why not serve my salad, or my aioli, or my side dish in the very bowl I mixed it in?

Plastic Bowla

The answer: glass and ceramic are heavy. They chip. They can be pricey (a ceramic set of nesting bowls can set me back $60). And if I’m all about choosing tools to make me cook more – to get me into the kitchen, to make me experiment, to get dirty and worn and faded with time – I want bowls that won’t take bicep work to get at.

Plastic, like stainless steel, is light – and some, even, are collapsabile! (Whoa!) But plastic, unfortunately, absorbs odors and oils. And odorific, oily food happens to be my favorite.

Copper Bowl

The last material to consider? Copper. The most expensive of the materials – and the prettiest, of course – is perfect for whipping egg whites; the copper ions help the egg whites peak, and, well, it's a beautiful thing to have in a kitchen. But at $47.00 for a mere 2-quart-er, they may not be worth it – though it wouldn’t hurt to splurge for one, cute, tiny one. Right? Right?

What kind of mixing bowls do you use?

As usual, I'll be pinning everything I'm coveting to my First Kitchen Pinterest board, so check it out!

Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware. All wisdom is appreciated.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jamie Hitt
    Jamie Hitt
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    susan g
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  • Frank Piuck
    Frank Piuck
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


Jamie H. April 8, 2019
The problem I'm having is the "shape" of the mixing bowls I'm finding. I see these sets of bowls, ...and I'm thinking, "Those are nice, ...but they're not 'mixing' bowls." Even the stainless set you have featured in the Amazon link, ...that's not what I envision when I think of mixing bowls. Those are more like SS salad tosing bowls.
Kookla September 10, 2012
As I become more and more aged, I realize how important the weight of things is. I have been using a set of 5 nested stainless steel bowls for years now. They're light weight and don't break, I love them! I also have a copper bowl for egg whites. I have some vintage Texasware bowls that I use also. If I need to microwave something, I use my old Corning Ware now instead of plastic!
susan G. August 30, 2012
Working in the kitchen, I realized that there's a factor that I don't think anyone has brought up. Ceramic or glass, and some plastics, can be used in the microwave, but metal (of course!) can't.
witloof August 26, 2012
I have a set of five nested ceramic mixing bowls from Martha Stewart. They were not terribly expensive and I love them. But I use a very large spouted Villeroy and Boch bowl {http://www.heritagehousetableware.com/servlet/the-11282/VILLEROY-%26-BOCH-HOME/Detail} for most baking and for stock making. No spills!
Frank P. August 26, 2012
Given that this is for the first kitchen, inexpensive but pretty plastic may be the way to go. As you say they can do double duty as serving bowls. I have never had one pick up odors, but if they do you can throw them away (or recycle them) and get something more permanent. In fact, that is an advantage as your tastes change and your budget increases, you will have a reason to replace them. But whatever you choose, get at least one large mixing bowl with a handle and spout, because it is very convenient for pouring batters you make in it.
Betsy S. August 26, 2012
I'm with the general consensus on the stainless and glass bowls, I've got lots of both in many different sizes. Plus, of course, the solid copper bowls for hand beating and the hellishly expensive one for my Kitchenaid. But every now and then I pull out my set of vintage blue & white ceramic bowls from the flea market in Belgium. Practical? Nope. Romantic and fun? You bet. My other "go to" set is a set of nesting Sterilite bowls with lids. They are perfect for melting chocolate in the microwave - they don't heat up, they hold their shape, have spouts and are light enough to hold in one hand while using a spatula in the other for pouring tempered chocolate for bark or ganache to cover a cake. And they're inexpensive! I got mine at BigLots!
MegB August 24, 2012
I have had a set of 8 thick glass nesting bowls for about 5 years. I agree with your comments in the post that they are cumbersome (heavy)-- restacking them is a bit of a chore. And they do chip. We've got chips in 2 where something struck them at just the wrong angle-- usually another one of the bowls, while restacking them!
Bob Y. August 22, 2012
I'm using the same stainless bowls I bought for my first kitchen over 30 yrs ago - and they are usually used daily. I also use some inexpensive glass bowls of various sizes for both mixing, mise en place and serving. The combo works fine. Later on you might want to purchase some attractive ceramic bowls for serving, but the stainless is a workhorse.
scott.finkelstein.5 August 21, 2012
I'd stick with stainless steel in combination with oven-safe soup bowls and a single large ceramic cooking bowl (possibly the bottom of a pressure cooker). For eggs, I've been meaning to head over to the local building supply store to pick up some copper wire to make into a whisk.
susan G. August 21, 2012
A few additions to the previous wise comments.
I have 2 stainless sets, and experience tells me what I need. One set is similar in shape to your photo, the other (found cheap in a drug store), I use most often -- they have a wide shape which actually makes hand mixing easier, especially something like cole slaw or hand mixed bread doughs.
For batters and other dry-wet mixes, I like to use a 6 cup rubbermaid measuring cup, which also has a pour spout, and fits an immersion blender well too. Measure and mix...
What I love most is a set of glass bowls, 10 of them in graduated sizes from teeny to really large. I've had them about 45 years, a Williams Sonoma find (owned by another cook on f52 - I identified it in a recipe photo!). They sell something similar now. Amazingly, only one bowl is chipped, and they are all still in use. Good mix/serve hot/cold bowls.
Last, the copper bowl for whipping egg white, from the Julia days. That, along with the oversized whisk, haven't been used in years, but they do look good.
Then there's the wooden chopping bowl -- my mother and grandmother used them (need a metal chopper, but recently I found that a pizza cutter rolled along the bottom works, maybe better). Good cross-purpose tool.
carpecookie August 21, 2012
Stainless is never a mistake. It's used in commercial kitchens for a reason- lightweight, unbreakable (will not suffer chips or cracks like ceramic or glass), inexpensive, multi-purpose, stackable (get a couple each of the sizes you'll use most), and does not hold odours. I've tossed & served big salads in large stainless ones. And for homemade caramel popcorn or granola you'll always want a bowl big enough to hold the whole batch. One thing to note: there are different shapes of stainless bowls, one which is more "round" with higher sides, and one which is "flatter", with lower-sloped sides. I prefer the "round" ones, for many reasons, such as smaller footprint for storage, higher usable capacity, better stability, and less chance of spillage when mixing with a hand-held mixer. I do have one very large "flatter" one which is useful for tossing popcorn, granola, etc. I bought an Emile Henry stacking set of 3 bowls many years ago and while I love the look of them, they chip easily and are so heavy that they stay in the back of the cupboard most of the time. Best of luck!
fiveandspice August 21, 2012
Somehow I have some of each, and I use all of them, except copper. I wish I were that fancy. I always grab the stainless steel for whisking and the glass/pyrex for prepping vegetables, etc. Same as ChezSuzanne, I have the one plastic OXO bowl with a grippy bottom from a Food52 contest, and I'm continually surprised by how much I like it. Because of it's pour spout, it's great for mixing wet ingredients that you're going to pour into dry. But, my absolute favorite bowl by far and away and the one that is my go-to for baking because there's nothing like holding it and stirring something with a wooden spoon in it, is this antique heavy dark brown ceramic bowl that was a college graduation present from my best friend and her mom. They have a whole set of them, and they were all we ever used for baking at their house (the place I really learned to bake since my mom didn't). I was beside myself when they gave me one. It's the best.
healthierkitchen August 21, 2012
the new OXO bowl with the grippy bottom is now lined with stainless!
mcs3000 August 21, 2012
I enjoyed reading everyone's comments. I like all kinds of bowls depending upon what I'm making. Pie dough -> big, ceramic glazed bowl. Pancake dough -> Rosti bowl. Small glass bowls -> recipe w/lots of spices, etc...
TXExpatInBKK August 20, 2012
I have a nesting set of five stainless bowls that cover the whole range of sizes. I also have a Pyrex bowl with a non-slip bottom and handles that I love for when I need something that can go in the oven. Then I have my everyday white ceramic cereal sized bowls that can also go in the oven for when I want to cook smaller dishes.
threefresheggs August 20, 2012
I have a beautiful set of Emile Henry nesting bowls that was given to me as a gift around a dozen years ago. The first week I had them, I dropped the smallest on the floor and put a long crack in it, rendering it useless for food. It collected change for many years before I finally got rid of it, hoping that putting it out of sight might assuage my guilt. The other two weigh a ton and I hardly ever use them. I do wish I had the E.H. pie plates, but that's another story...

I don't mix plastics with food if I can possibly help it, they leach into your food, which disturbs me considerably more than their yuck factor as they age and 'patina'. What I do use, everyday, and for nearly every meal, and for all sorts of stuff is stainless – specifically, I use IKEA'S Blanda Blank "serving" (apparently you CAN use stainless as tableware in Sweden) bowls. They don't have the lip most pro-kitchen pre bowls do, but they are light as can be, which makes them seem like nothing to wash, they stack, nest, and go in the dishwasher. I have (3) 11", (3) 8" and maybe (8) 5" – which seem small, for mixing spices or a little but of dressing, but hold about two cups heaping, and are great for prep work: sorting ingredients by step and eye-ball measuring as you chop along. I could probably have done with one less 11" and one more 8", but I am not complaining.


For double-duty serving dishes, choose handsome oven-to-table ceramic ware. Shallow roasters, bakers, gratins, and even casseroles can be used for serving. They are designed to be set-out, and can be pretty well camouflaged when being used outside their 'offical' purpose – so long as you choose styles without handles. Also, think pasta bowls for another necessity that, well chosen, can double as lovely serving dishes for family-style meals and smaller parties.
Suburbanitis August 20, 2012
I have a bunch of stainless bowls, a set of melamine nesting bowls as above, and those little mise-en-place glass bowls.
I use the plastic every day. I like the little handle and spout, I like how lightweight they are - good for lifting and tipping when whisking. I use all sizes almost equally and love how they work so well for every recipe - cookies? One large wet and one small dry bowl. Perfect. Making pizza dough? Mix in the large, rise in the medium. They work so well together.

I tend to use my stainless on three occasions: making whipped cream (they chill nicely), double boiling, and passing out Halloween candy (they're huge). The glass bowls are cute for this and that, mixing dry rubs and spice blends, and putting dipping sauces on the sides of things. They're rarely big enough to do any real work, though.
rroseperry August 20, 2012
I also have the first stainless steel bowls I bought back when I was setting up my first kitchen. I think having some stainless is essential. In a pinch you can use them as a diy bain-marie. What you need to think about, nearly more than material, is to get a good range of sizes. You want to have some tiny to small for prep, some medium to large for most things, and at least one huge one (preferably stainless) for the occasional big batch of something or other.
creamtea August 20, 2012
I have a large and medium stainless steel, a smaller stainless steel with "ears" that's part of a double-boiler set, and a collapsible plastic-y one that I've used for travel. I loved my glass one but it broke a few years ago...
calendargirl August 20, 2012
I have a motley collection of mostly stainless, a few plastic (all ancient), and also several ceramic bowls my mother made. The oldest of the stoneware bowls are at least forty years old. I especially love those because they are surprisingly light-weight, nest nicely, have not only a spout for pouring but also a comfortable handle for holding on to the bowl or hanging it. And of course they remind me of her with every use. Brette, I expect that over the years you will find that it is an assortment that best fills the bill for you. Start with a couple of basic all-purpose mixing bowls and add slowly as space and needs dictate. And you will have memories associated with the different bowls... your first ones, a gift from someone special, etc.
Greenstuff August 20, 2012
Definitely not a smart choice, especially for a first kitchen, but I have a huge number of Waechtersbach ceramic bowls in red and a rainbow of other colors. They're not the most practical of choices, but they make me really happy every time I pull them off the shelf and use them.