I'll be honest - the world would be a simpler place if we all relied on kitchen scales. 200 grams of flour would always be 200 grams of flour. Five ounces of chocolate would always be five ounces of chocolate. And a 1/2 pound burger would always be a 1/2 pound burger. There would be no more debate over the scoop-and-level method vs. the fluff-and-scoop method. No more conversions between grams to cups. Just the simplicity of scale precision.
But scales are tedious. They're fussy. They require words like "tare". They require math (such laborious adding and subtracting). We have to store them, retrieve them, clean them. And it's somehow so much less fun to precisely measure than to scoop and dump.
I'll admit it - I don't use a scale much. Despite baking breads and cakes quite frequently, I almost never weigh out my flour or sugar or chocolate. (Tssk, tssk.) I use the fluff-and-scoop method for flour, I dig with a cup into my sugar and I eyeball my chocolate. Call me lazy, call me imprecise, but fussing with a kitchen scale just seems so…well…fussy.
But after years of resisting, I finally invested in my own scale. I got sick of guestimating metric conversions. And I liked the idea of being able to evenly portion out burger patties. Or precisely weighing out ingredients after a successful recipe test. I like the IDEA of a scale - I just rarely use it.
Yet don't let my bad habits deter you from making the world a simpler place. Any serious baker (or cook for that matter) should own a good scale. And if you plan to invest in a scale, here are some things to think about before buying:
- Weight Limit: Look for a scale with a weight limit of 10 pounds or more. Your bowl or plate will count toward that limit. And if you're weighing out hamburger patties or dough, it won't take long to hit a 10 pound limit.
- Flat, Broad Surface: The broader your scale resting surface, the larger the area you have for resting bowls, plates, etc. A broad, flat, stable surface will result in fewer spills and fewer accidents while measuring. Avoid scales with unstable or narrow resting surfaces.
- Easy to Clean: You're going to drop flour, dribble eggs and smear chocolate during the life of your scale. So do yourself a favor and buy one that's easy to clean. I prefer a completely smooth surface, but definitely avoid knobs, buttons, dials, seams and cracks.
- Ounces, Grams, Milliliters: Some recipes measure in ounces, other in grams. Some ingredients are measured by volume, others by weight. So do yourself a favor and buy a scale that can easily toggle between ounces, grams, milliliters, etc.
- Tare Function: Unless you plan to dump flour and liquid ingredients directly onto your scale - or plan to remember the weight of your bowl or plate (and then subtract it out later) - buy a scale with a simple tare function. The tare function allows you to zero-out the weight of the bowl or plate so that you can start from zero with any ingredient.
- Baking: Everyone says scales are helpful when baking. And while I still stubbornly refuse to use my scale for baking, in theory a scale would help me more precisely measure ingredients to achieve more consistent baking chemistry. So I really SHOULD use a scale for baking.
- Hamburgers: I use my scale all the time when I make burger patties to ensure that every patty is the same weight. It's a trick I learned from my father-in-law, and I'd buy my scale again just so I could measure out burgers. It's probably what I use my scale for the most.
- Chocolate: Sometimes a recipe calls for something like "5.5 ounces of chocolate, chopped". And since chocolate is rarely sold in these precise measurements, I can either "eyeball it" or trust my scale.
- Ingredients like Graham Crackers: I hate when recipes call for something like "1 cup of graham cracker crumbs" because I have no idea how many un-crushed graham crackers I will need to achieve 1 cup of crumbs. But with a scale, I can precisely weigh that 1 cup of crushed crumbs and make a notation in the recipe that 1 cup of crumbs equals 4 ounces of crackers.
- Metric Recipes: If you cook or bake following recipes originating from outside the US, you will find a scale invaluable. Sure, you could try to convert metric recipes to cups and ounces using Google - but be careful. A cup of butter weights more than a cup of flour which is different than a cup of sugar.