Kitchen

Microwaveable Bowls With Handles

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From microwave to mouth

I habitually ate while seated on a sofa or at a desk. I had difficulty with plates and ordinary bowls. They could be too hot to carry; they were liable to spill their contents; and they were tricky to set down safely on my lap or to find free space for on a desk. So I was happy when I picked up a large (20 oz.) stoneware bowl with a handle. (Two cups =16 ounces.) It could hold a large-size can of soup. It was comparatively compact—and its handle was cool after microwaving. To accommodate it, I avoided food that required a knife and fork.

Recently I acquired four brands of containers that have snap-on lids, which:

  • Protect my microwave from getting splattered. (The lids need only be laid atop the containers, not snapped tight.)
  • Keep the heat in, speeding up the heating process and reducing the power consumed.
  • Keep the food warm for longer after it’s been heated.
  • Allow me to store leftover portions—or portions yet to be eaten—in the fridge in an airtight container.
  • Prevent food from spilling while being carried. (Provided the lids are snapped tight.)
  • Permit me (in two of the brands) to steam-cook certain vegetables.

Other advantages are that the containers:

  • Don’t need potholders.
  • Are safe to use in microwaves and dishwashers.
  • Are less tiring to hold (three brands).
  • Weigh less (two brands).
  • Look better (one brand).
  • Are insulated (one brand).

Three of these bowls have 4.5 or better ratings on Amazon, based on at least 150 reviews—the other is 4-rated. Here’s a quick run-down, from the least to the most expensive. Each one has attributes that would make it the first choice for some potential buyer.

1. Microwave Bowl with Lid; Set of 4: $15 for four, or $3.75 each, including shipping. (above photo)

It’s plastic—and there’s no claim that it’s BPA-free. It is about half the cost of the next-cheapest alternative. What you get is basic: the mugs are very lightweight and the lids lack a vent-hole. Amazon reviewers have noted that over time the flimsy lids distort enough in the microwave that they no longer provide a watertight seal—so they can’t be used to transport soup from a home to the office.

The upside is that the extra three mugs can be used as airtight containers in the fridge to store portions from a previously prepared large batch of stew or homemade soup—which eliminates having to ladel each portion out subsequently, and enables one to warm up the container on a countertop for a few hours before heating, reducing the oven’s energy consumption. (In effect, you can use these mugs as Tupperware substitutes. If you like this feature, and you like to make a really large initial batch of stew, you should buy a second set.)

bowl-2

2. Sistema 656 ml (20 oz.) Soup Mug: $7. All plastic—BPA-free.

Lightweight but not flimsy. Its three clamps are meant to ensure a watertight seal, presumably primarily to allow soup to be carried to the office for heating there. Unfortunately, a trickle of water escaped when I upended it and shook it vigorously. A thick soup or stew would not leak—or not much—even if sharply tilted and shaken during transport. A plastic bag would prevent any slight leak from spreading. It could be safely carried in a car inside a small cardboard box with a raspy-side Velcro patch on its bottom, keeping it anchored to the carpet. (And so could the other containers.)
A tight toggle switch in the lid opens the vent to allow steam release during heating. If left closed—or even if open—certain vegetables like carrots & brussel sprouts can be steam-cooked; you can turn down the power after the initial heat-up phase to save power.

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3. CorningWare French White 20-Ounce Mug; bowl is stoneware, lid is plastic & BPA-free: $13

It’s heavy—so it’s best used at a table or desk. It’s good-looking—it has a nice color, fluted sides, and flared top. It’s similar to #2 in terms of its mild leakiness when shaken and its ability to steam veggies.
Lid removal is easier if the lid’s top is pushed down at the same time its tab is lifted up. (The instruction sheet is devoid of such tips—e.g., that the vent hole is opened by pulling up on the blue tab—it provides only warnings.)

bowl-4

4. Cool Touch Microwave Bowl With Unique Handle; plastic outer bowl, thin ceramic inner bowl, plastic lid: $13

This is a bowl, not a mug, so it has a slightly larger capacity—24 oz.—than the others. I steam-cooked a half-pound of brussel sprouts in six minutes. You can, unlike the others, set it on your lap (or on a heat-sensitive surface) right out of the oven—the outer shell insulates the heat inside; and it keeps the food warmer for longer.

The innovative thumb-hook handle encourages the fingers to curl under the bowl and support it, providing the comfiest and most secure grip of the bunch, so it’s good for eating in an easy chair or sofa. Its wider base and lower height make it safer in bed. And this is the best brand for someone who is infirm or has arthritis because its handle is the easiest to grasp and release, and because it has a secondary handle on the opposite side.

Envoi: If you are considering buying one of these, you should read the reviews on Amazon to learn its full range of quirks and pluses. (One quirk shared by the three brands containing plastic is that there will be small burrs on their edges that should be sanded off. The plastic is also liable to stain to some degree—although this affects only the underside of the lids in the two brands whose bowls are ceramic.)

-- Roger Knights 01/28/15