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What is a Pinch Bowl?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A pinch bowl is a very small bowl which is designed to hold a limited amount of ingredients. There are a number of uses for pinch bowls, and many chefs and cooks like to keep a set around, often in a handy location so that they are easy to access in a hurry. Most kitchen supply stores sell pinch bowls made from a variety of materials and in an assortment of shapes and sizes.

There are a number of uses to which pinch bowls can be put. One of the most common is as serving containers for condiments like ketchup, mustard, dips, and so forth. Such condiments can look unsightly when served in the container or in large bowls, and there is more of a potential for wastage when large volumes are set out. Offering condiments in pinch bowls encourages people to use them more efficiently, and looks more aesthetically pleasing; a pinch bowl of tartar sauce, for example, can be dressed up with a sprig or parsley or a wedge of lemon to make the overall presentation look neater and more elegant.

A pinch bowl can also be used to hold a side, like lemon wedges, salsa, or coleslaw, and pinch bowls are also used to present small amounts of food on appetizer platters. These bowls are especially useful for corralling foods which might otherwise roll or bounce away, such as pickles, olives, and so forth. Some households also use pinch bowls to hold seasonings like salt and spices, allowing guests to season their food to taste.

In the kitchen, a set of pinch bowls can be vital for mise en place. Many cooks use pinch bowls to hold small amounts of chopped ingredients so that they are out of the way and ready for use, especially when making complicated dishes. Many Asian dishes, for example, require things like chopped garlic, scallions, ginger, and so forth, and rather than trying to keep those ingredients organized on a cutting board, cooks can push them into pinch bowls and then upend a pinch bowl over the wok as its ingredients are needed.

Pinch bowls may be glass, ceramic, plastic, or wooden. Many of them are designed to go through the dishwasher, and some also come with lids, allowing cooks to preserve small amounts of expensive ingredients for later. A good pinch bowl is seamless and evenly textured inside, so that ingredients do not cling to it, and the edge may be lipped to provide something for the cook to grip.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By runner101 — On Oct 13, 2011

My first experience with pinch bowls was actually in my ceramics class. It was our first project because the idea was that by pinching out a small bowl we would get used to the clay that we were working with and start to learn how much it can give.

I love to use pinch bowls when my husband has people over for football bowl games. During those big football games we actually try and feed people traditional football food, and our way of trying to do it differently is to let everyone have a pinch bowl or two so that they can have their own amount of condiment or to have their own unique condiment.

I love this particularly with football food because so much about the food is about the condiment. With wings some people may want more hot sauce, some may want more ranch, others may need the pinch bowl for their salsa which they can add spices such as extra cilantro or onion and adding their own flair to the salsa.

By JimmyT — On Oct 12, 2011

@ - I have a wide range of pinch bowls that I use for different things. Most of them are 4 ounces. Obviously, that is a half cup and is enough to hold a good amount of liquid or sauces. The 2 ounces dishes are great for spices. I use the bowls for holding chopped vegetables. The 8 or 10 ounce bowls are best for that.

The material is important, too. I really like silicon bowls, because you really can pinch them and pour in your ingredients. They're easy to clean, too. I think glass bowls are best if you're going to be serving anything in them just because they look better.

By Izzy78 — On Oct 12, 2011

Are there different sizes of pinch bowls? I have been looking for a set to use, but I'm not really sure what I should be looking for. I have a gift card to use, so I've just been looking at bowls online.

I have seen a range from 2 to 12 ounces. I know a cup is 8 ounces, but I can't really visualize what the bowl would hold. Does anyone who has used pinch bowls know what sizes would be best for different uses?

Most of what I would be using them for is spices and different sauces that I'm adding into a skillet. I might want to use them for chopped veggies every now and then, but usually I just throw everything in a bigger bowl and mix them together.

By jmc88 — On Oct 11, 2011

Pinch bowls are great for kids, too. From experience, I can tell you letting a kid control how much ketchup they want with their fries or sandwich can be a disaster. Instead, I will put a reasonable amount of ketchup or some other condiment in a pinch bowl and let them put it on their sandwich or dip fries in the bowl.

Pinch bowls don't just make adults feel special. The kids really like having their own bowl, plus you can limit their portions.

By matthewc23 — On Oct 11, 2011

@fify - I completely agree. When I first started cooking, I thought I could just grab ingredients, measure them out, and throw them in the pan when I needed them. That strategy works okay in some cases, but I also had a few disasters where stuff started to burn or get too dry by the time I had added everything.

I finally bought a set of silicon pinch bowls, and they have been great. I can throw all of my herbs and spices in one bowl and put sauces and other things in the other bowls.

Pinch bowls make cooking so much quicker and less stressful. I never thought about using them as condiment bowls, though. I'll have to keep that in mind.

By sunshined — On Oct 10, 2011

I love serving jams and jellies in pinch bowls. This looks so much more attractive on the table than the jar they come in.

It is easy to spoon out the amount of jam you want and you don't have to worry about a sticky knife sticking out of the jar.

I always love buying homemade jams and love to have more than one choice for breakfast. When it is just myself, I just use the jar, but when I have company, I always use my pinch bowls.

They also work great for condiments for parties too. I think a nice looking table goes a long way, and like to use pinch bowls instead of the regular containers.

By myharley — On Oct 09, 2011

I like to watch cooking shows on TV and noticed many of the chefs used pinch bowls when they were making their dishes. Many times the ingredients were already chopped and measured out sitting in the pinch bowl.

All they had to do was pick up the bowl and pour the ingredients in, knowing it was the correct amount.

When I was recently at a Pampered Chef party I ordered a set of glass pinch bowls for myself. I love using these bowls when I am making something like soup.

I cut up all my vegetables that I will add to the stock ahead of time and keep them in pinch bowls. When it is time to make the soup, all I have to do is pour the ingredients in the stock and let it cook and simmer.

Clean up is really easy too. I just put them in the dishwasher and they stack up when they are dried so they don't take up much room.

By burcinc — On Oct 09, 2011

I don't use pinch bowls when I'm cooking but I love using them when serving guests food. I have a set of 20 ceramic pinch bowls that are really stylish. I use them to serve sauce and dips.

Once I made a meat dish that had a sauce to go with it but I didn't know how much sauce each person would want on the meat. So what I did was put some sauce in pinch bowls and serve the bowl on the plate with the meat. That way, my guests got to decide how much sauce to use and it looked so nice on the plates.

I think it made the guests feel really special too. They didn't have to ask anyone to pass the sauce or bend over the table to reach to it.

By fify — On Oct 09, 2011

If I don't keep everything organized while I'm cooking, I tend to rush and get stressed out which often ends with a cooking disaster of some sort.

Everything goes really well though if I prepare all my ingredients beforehand and keep them in pinch bowls ready to go. Last year, I had the extended family over for Thanksgiving dinner and made everything by myself. I knew I would go crazy the day of if I didn't have everything organized.

So, the day before, I took out all of my ingredients, washed, dried and cut them and put them in bowls. Any ingredient I had in small amounts, I put in pinch bowls with lids and kept them in the fridge. The next day, all I had to do was take the ingredients out of the fridge and start cooking.

Everything went so well and I had all the food ready by the time everyone arrived. Pinch bowls can be such a lifesaver when it comes to cooking in short periods of time.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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