I’m simultaneously the best and worst person to write a review of the BonBowl, a newly released personal induction cooker designed to make single-serving meals in about 15 minutes or less. On the one hand, I tend to make a lot of single-serving meals and, like any good Spoon scribe, I’m into kitchen gadgetry. On the other hand, I still tend to do a lot of actual cooking the analogue way and rather enjoy making a colossal mess in order to put a meal together.
Still, I pre-ordered the BonBowl, which arrived a few weeks ago, and decided to spend a week putting it through its paces.
The device comes in two parts: a cooktop base that plugs into a wall and uses induction heating, and an accompanying bowl from which you can both cook and eat the food. The whole thing currently goes for $149 at the BonBowl website.
Before we get into the food, let’s talk about the setup. That won’t take long, because it’s literally a matter of removing the device from the box and plugging it into a wall. Bonus: I don’t have a ton of counter space in my kitchen. The BonBowl fits nicely into a little corner, where it now lives even when I’m not using it:
As far as what you can cook with it, the BonBowl site offers a range of recipes, including a handful by Trader Joe’s. There’s no app integration (yet), but if you don’t want to drag your computer into the kitchen, a handy card accompanies the device and lists multiple recipes with quick cooking instructions. Think single-serving pasta, mac ‘n’ cheese, or oatmeal.
I picked one of the Trader Joe’s recipes for my inaugural BonBowl meal, a simple tomato soup with gnocchi. The recipe has just four ingredients, and I was also struck by the convenience factor of not having to guess at a single-serving size (which I mess up on a daily basis). The meal took 15 minutes to make.
One huge plus is that the bowl itself is a non-stick dish with thermal insulation, so it heats the food but doesn’t become too hot to handle. Ever yank a glass bowl that’s been in a microwave out with your bare hands? Between the thermal insulation and induction heating of the device, that scenario doesn’t happen with the BonBowl. Cleanup is a matter of washing the bowl and spoon.
I made a couple other recipes from the BonBowl site, but what I really wanted to discover was whether the BonBowl could accommodate my weekly eating habits without my having to change them very much. For instance, every Sunday I make a huge pot of garlic rice and garbanzo beans, which serves as my go-to meal when I don’t have much time. Normally I reheat portions in a skillet, guessing at the serving size. (I don’t like microwaves and have never owned one.) For that week, I simply chucked the food into the BonBowl, set the time for 10 minutes, and went about my day until the machine beeped.
One small quirk, if you can even call it that, is that a couple times the machine heated the food so well the meal had to cool for quite a while, though that problem was easily solved by adjusting the timer.
Beans, in fact, are an ideal food for the bowl. Garbanzo, black, pinto, the inimitable Heinz baked beans. I tried them all, and in fact the BonBowl is all I use now for heating beans, sauces, and other simple items. I reheated leftover pasta from a takeout order. I made a rice krispie treat that wouldn’t win awards for presentation but tasted great. I even scrambled an egg.
Less successful was my attempt at making a single-serving portion of a chicken recipe that’s been in my family for generations and is therefore about 150 years old, maybe older. The resulting sad little meal (see above) was probably a combination of a very old recipe, my trying to turn a four-serving dish into a one-serving meal, and the fact that the BonBowl is probably not the ideal gadget for highly experimental kitchen projects.
Which is totally fine, because I don’t think the makers of the BonBowl designed the device for complex recipes loaded with ingredients that have to be combined “just so” in order to create an edible meal.
Rather, the BonBowl seems designed as a way to make simple-but-healthy meals at home quickly and with minimal fuss (or cleanup).
But why, you ask, would I not just buy a hotplate for $30? Being able to cook and eat out of the same dish is one reason. Another is that the induction heating and precision cooking sensors properly cook the food, rather than zapping it to death (microwave) or burning it (hotplate). It’s also safer because rather than an entire hot surface, only the tiny button where the bowl sits heats up.
It’s also versatile. I can’t personally attest to using it in a college dorm room, but it seems ideal for that setting. I can attest to having in the past lived in some NYC apartments with dodgy kitchens, where a BonBowl would have saved a lot of money in takeout fees. These days, the BonBowl is not a necessity, but it’s proven itself a valuable addition to my kitchen and my weekly meal planning.