A kitchen scale or food scale is a simple tool that:
- Saves you time while cooking
- Ups the chances that your baked goods would turn out right
- Saves you time while washing dishes
- Practically eliminates the risk that you'll run out of ingredients before you expect to
I've been using one for about three years now and now can't imagine why there's not one in every home in the U.S. (the Europeans already have scales). As Rose Levy Beranbaum says in The Cake Bible:
There's no doubt about it; weighing is faster, easier, and more accurate than measuring.
Watch my video on using a kitchen scale to see for yourself!
Save time while cooking
Just put your mixing bowl on the scale, then pour in the ingredients until you have enough. Measuring 4 1/2 cups of flour is one step instead of 5 (dip and level 4 cups plus one half cup). Some flours I pour right from the bag. For the next ingredient, just set the scale back to zero and you're ready to measure again.
Up the chances that your baked goods turn out right
Good measuring is a key to good cooking, especially for baked goods. Successful baking relies on using the right portion of ingredients so that the chemical changes occur as intended. But dry ingredients using measuring cups is amazingly inaccurate. As the Best Recipe folks said in the September 2008 issue of Cooks Illustrated:
We've found that when measuring dry ingredients using a "dip and sweep" method, different cooks can be off by as much as 10 percent—a variance that, in baking, can mean the difference between a dense cake or a fluffy, tender crumb.
I weigh rather than measure my dry ingredients that are bigger than a tablespoon. If you'll do the same, we'll be using the same amount of flour in the bread recipes.
Weighing also makes it much harder to lose track of how much you've measured so far. Don't you hate it when the phone rings just as you'd measured three ... (or was that four?) ... cups of flour? With a scale, you don't have to remember how much more measuring you've got to go.
Save time while washing dishes
Most of my measuring cups are not dish-washer safe, so I'd always have a stack of measuring cups to wash at the end of a big baking session. Sometimes I'd have to wash them mid-baking when I needed a quarter cup of cocoa and of powdered sugar. But now that I use a scale, I mostly measure right from the container into the mixing bowl, eliminating the need for measuring cups. I pour honey from the jar, saving cleanup and waste (although I do miss licking the honey spoon). For flour and sugar, I keep old measuring cups right in the canisters so I don't even need to use a fresh cup for dipping. Some ingredients I pour right from the bag and others I dip out with a spoon that goes right into the dishwasher. All told, having a scale means washing a lot fewer measuring cups.
Practically eliminates the risk you'll run out of ingredients before you expect to
Say you are following the Cook for Good winter shopping list and menu, so you expect to use 10 pounds of flour and have 1 1/2 cups of flour left. Let's also say you are one of the people who packs a cup of flour more than most people when you measure, so it contains 10% more flour than it should. You'll be scooping out 11 pounds of flour where by weight you'd be getting 10 pounds (and other people will be scooping just 9 pounds). At the end of the month, you won't have 1 1/2 cups of flour left, you'll be 2 1/3 cups of flour short! It takes 2 1/2 cups of white-wheat flour to make two loaves of bread, so this is a could be a real problem.
Makes the cook (at least THIS cook) more friendly, too
I used to tense up whenever someone would enter the kitchen while I was measuring, sure that I would lose track of where I was and ruin the dish. No more! It's hard to lose track while using a scale even for multiple ingredients, and impossible when weighing items separately in one bowl and then putting the weighed amounts into a mixing bowl.
Why doesn't every cook use a scale?
Nearly all American cookbooks show measures for dry ingredients by volume (cups) rather than by weight (ounces or grams). Evidently even most modern cookbook authors and cooking school teachers think American cooks are too dim to use a kitchen scale (also called a food scale). I was at a cooking class run by King Arthur Flour, which sells scales in its catalog. The instructor laboriously fluffed the flour with a spoon before putting it into a measuring cup. After the class, I asked her why she didn't even mention using a scale. "Oh, home cooks won't use a scale." Have you ever tried to show a class about weighing ingredients? "No, home cooks won't use a scale."
In my lifetime, home cooks have embraced many more complex and expensive devices than the kitchen scale. Think of the microwave, which required learning which containers were "microwave safe." Or the convection oven, which changed the time and temperatures for most recipes. Or even the bread machine or ice cream maker! Surely people who know how to weigh themselves on a scale can learn to enjoy the benefits of weighing flour and powdered sugar.
Which scale to use? Update: it depends.
For years, I've used an OXO Good Grips scale with the pull-out display. It's been a delight. I've traveled with it across the country and to many events. I even have the smaller version in my Wildly Good Cook kit. The batteries on this rugged scale last a long time. The display is very easy to read, with two bonus features:
- If your big mixing bowl blocks the display, pull the display away from the base so you can see it.
- If you are cooking by candlelight, touch a button to light the display.
On the other hand, in early 2014 I received the sleekly elegant Procizion digital scale to review. It's lightning fast, accurate, and easy to read. Best of all, the Procizion scale has a slim profile and black glass top, so it is beautiful enough to leave out on the counter. It's the one I took with me to make Hot Italian Cocoa Cookies on TV. The Procizion scale is so gorgeous and convenient that they now sponsor for this page.
Both the OXO and Procizion scales display weights in grams or ounces, but the Procizion scale also displays pounds and kilograms. Both kitchen scales have the "tare" feature so you can measure one ingredient into a bowl, reset the scale to zero, and measure another ingredient without having to do any math.
I only wish I'd started using a scale for baking years ago!