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The Best Disposable Bowls

By Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm Published

Disposable bowls may seem like an afterthought, but we found one that’s both durable and comfortable to use—ideal for your next picnic or outdoor gathering.

What do macaroni salad, baked beans, and ice cream all have in common? You’ve probably, at one point or another, eaten them out of a disposable bowl.

Disposable bowls are ubiquitous at picnics, family gatherings, and birthday parties for their convenience and ease of cleanup. But when you think about it, your disposable bowl experience may well be unfavorable: bowls that crush too easily in your hands, fly away with a whisper of the wind, or develop soggy bottoms within minutes of being filled with food. 

We set out to find the best disposable bowl—one that was durable and comfortable to hold and eat from—and tested 12 models, priced from about $0.05 to about $0.80 per bowl. First, we ate fruit salad from each and evaluated their abilities to withstand repeated slices and pokes of a disposable fork and knife, and then we ate hot baked beans from them with a disposable spoon. Next, we let hot soup and ice cream cake sit in separate sets of each bowl for 30 minutes before checking them for any signs of sogginess or damage.

Which Disposable Bowls Were the Most Comfortable to Hold and Eat From? 

Since we often hold a disposable bowl while eating from it, such as when at a party or picnic, we knew that a good disposable bowl needed to feel comfortable in our hands, especially when filled with hot food. We were looking for a few key attributes: a wide rim, a wide base, and short walls. A wide, sturdy rim would allow us to easily pick up the bowls, especially when they were full of hot baked beans or when we were removing them from a microwave. A bowl with a wide base would be more secure to hold and easier to grip.

Bowls with shorter walls (above center) were easier to eat from than bowls with taller walls (above left and right). The taller walls made it more difficult to maneuver disposable utensils in and out of the bowls, so it was challenging to extract food, especially while standing.

Bowls with smaller bases were typically more tapered in shape and therefore had taller walls than those with wider bases. The higher the walls, the tougher it was to eat from the bowls, as the angles made it harder to see food and use utensils. Bowls with shorter walls allowed us to more easily access our food, whether we were scooping beans with a spoon or piercing and cutting pieces of fruit with a fork and knife.

Which Size Is Right for You? 

We tested a variety of bowl sizes, ranging from 10 to 20 ounces. The smaller bowls (10 to 12 ounces) were great for sides—potato salad, coleslaw, mac and cheese, fruit salad—or even containing a messy pulled pork sandwich or a slice of ice cream cake. However, they were too small to hold a meal-size portion of chili or a salad containing bulky greens. We found that the 16- to 20-ounce bowls were too big for a small side, but they were perfect for larger portions of soup, stew, and salad. If you’re serving a variety of foods and want to buy only one model, we think that the larger sizes are more versatile.

Which Disposable Bowls Were the Most Durable? 

Durability depended on the materials the bowls were made from (foam, compostable materials, or coated paper) and whether or not they were coated with a waterproof seal. The two foam bowls in our lineup were too flimsy and too easily punctured with a disposable fork and knife. They were also the only two models that weren’t microwave-safe.

We microwaved chicken noodle soup in each of the bowls and let the soups sit in the bowls for 30 minutes. Compostable bowls (above left) developed soggy bottoms and sides, while coated paper bowls (above right) emerged unscathed, thanks to their waterproof coatings.

While the seven compostable models held up to repeated cuts and pokes and contained the ice cream cake without becoming soggy, they struggled with hot foods. When we added hot baked beans and chicken noodle soup separately to two sets of each model, their bottoms (and often their sides) became soft and the outsides of the bowls felt sweaty. Even though these bowls were supposedly microwave-safe, we found that a stint in the microwave to heat up chicken noodle soup made the sides precariously soft and malleable.

Is Compostable Tableware Actually Compostable?

While compostable bowls might be considered by many to be a more eco-friendly option than bowls you would just throw away, we learned that this may not be true if you don’t have access to a commercial composting service. Experts told us that compostable tableware such as cups, bowls, and utensils aren’t meant to be composted at home. For an item such as a disposable cup to be certified compostable, it has to be able to degrade in a commercial facility within a time frame of 60 to 120 days. In these commercial facilities, they speed up the composting process by finely shredding or grinding the materials into tiny pieces. They also regulate the temperature of the materials being composted to ensure that they stay hot, and, depending on the facility, they may also add extra microorganisms to the mix to help speed up the process. Also noteworthy: Disposing of compostable bowls as you would regular trash doesn’t ensure that they will biodegrade once they hit the landfill. If there’s oxygen available in the landfill, compostable bowls will break down at the same rate as other biodegradables such as paper. But air-locked or capped landfills, where oxygen is scarce, are more common. In these situations, compostable tableware can take hundreds of years to decompose. So if you want to buy compostable tableware, we suggest subscribing to a composting service (unless your city has the infrastructure for commercial composting—in which case, contact your local municipality to make sure that they accept compostable tableware). There are several sites, such as this one, that list options in the United States, sorted by location. As far as recycling goes, many recycling programs won’t accept food-contaminated paper—or plastic—waste, so you should check with your local municipality about this as well.

The most durable disposable bowls were made from paper and had waterproof coatings. While the company would not divulge more specifics about what their coatings are made from, they are most likely an acrylic-based coating, according to Clean Production Action. No matter the temperature of the foods they contained, these bowls didn’t become soggy, sustained no damage when we tried cutting and poking them, and withstood being microwaved without any issues. 

The Best Disposable Bowls: Dixie Ultra Heavy Duty 20oz Disposable Paper Bowls

Our favorite disposable bowls are the Dixie Ultra Heavy Duty 20oz Disposable Paper Bowls, which cost about $3.50 for 26 bowls (about $0.13 per bowl). Both functional and durable, these bowls showed barely any scratches after the fork and knife test and, thanks to their waterproof coating, no signs of wear and tear after the ice cream cake, hot baked beans, and soup tests. We liked their big rims, which were helpful when picking the bowls up and when grabbing them from the microwave. Their wide base and low sides also made the bowls easy to hold and eat from. With a 20-ounce capacity, they were a bit large for side dishes or desserts, but we found them to be the perfect size for main courses and large salads.

We also liked the Dixie Everyday 10oz Disposable Paper Bowls, 36 Count, which cost about $3.00 for 36 bowls (about $0.08 per bowl). These bowls had smaller rims, which meant that they were tougher to grab and pick up, but their smaller size made them ideal for side dishes and desserts, and they were just as durable as our favorite bowls. Made with the same material and coating as our favorites, these paper bowls held up well to both hot and cold food tests and didn’t become damaged by the microwave or the disposable utensils. We also appreciated their wide base and low sides, which made them easy to hold and eat from. 

Our favorite compostable model was the Stack Man 100% Compostable 12 oz. Paper Bowls [125-Pack], which cost about $13.00 for 125 bowls (about $0.10 per bowl). While they didn’t hold up well to hot foods, they were easy to use and had wide rims and bases and short walls. We also liked their thicker sides, which prevented them from getting as soggy as other compostable bowls when filled with baked beans and soup. We think these are a great compostable option for many different kinds of picnic fare (potato salad, fruit salad, and desserts)—just avoid putting superhot food in them.

Equipment Review Disposable Bowls

Disposable bowls may seem like an afterthought, but we found one that’s both durable and comfortable to use—ideal for your next picnic or outdoor gathering.

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16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.