Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tools and Tips: Kitchen Scale

Measuring Flour


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.

Tare with Bowl on Kitchen Scale

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.

    Kitchen Scale
     
  • 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.

    Kitchen Scale Closeup
     
  • 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.

    Kitchen Scale, ml Unit
     
  • 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.

    Tare with Bowl on Kitchen Scale
For those of us persisting in bad habits - taking comfort in the simplicity of scoop-and-dump with hand cups - I know what you're thinking: "When would I ever really need of a scale?" And if you're asking such a question, you probably shouldn't invest in one because like me, you'll rarely use it. But in case you're searching for a reason to justify a purchase, here are my favorite (but still infrequent) uses for my scale:
  • 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.

    Measuring Bowl on Kitchen Scale
     
  • 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.

    Weighing Hamburger Patties
     
  • 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.

    Measuring Chocolate on Kitchen 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.

    Measuring Flour


14 comments:

  1. Great post and a nice looking set of scales too. As I'm from the UK I was brought up using scales, first by measuring in ounces with my Mum and Grandma and more often now I use grams, partly because a lot of modern books don't have an imperial conversion.


    I have a set of measuring cups but every time I use them for one of making a recipe from one of my US books I have to write the conversion down in the book. For recipes that call for a cup of vegetables I just guess as to me 1 cup of something isn't a volume that I can easily reference, unless of course it's a cup of tea! The only thing I find them really useful for is liquid measures when I don't want to read off the lines on a measuring jug. The imprecise nature of cups also bugs me but then again I am a scientist and do love being able to weigh right down to the last gram on my scales.


    Does this mean that more people in the US are starting to use scales?

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  2. Bintu @ Recipes From A PantryAugust 7, 2013 at 5:55 AM

    Great tips. I am UK based too so use scales always but tend to convert my measurements into cups and OZ for American readers.

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  3. Great post - I've also been trying to use my scale more and it has been super helpful. But you're right, even though I know it's better and easier (and there are fewer dirty dishes!) I still hesitate to pull it out all the time...I guess it's just force of habit. Maybe one day I'll break it.

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  4. Kayle (The Cooking Actress)August 7, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    SO helpful!

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  5. Super post. We've used a scale for years, and couldn't get along without it. It's so much easier to bake when you weight ingredients. Alas, most cookbooks still use volume measurements, so that's what we still do most often. We really should start converting all of our recipes, at least the ones we make all the time, to weight measures.

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  6. lol I'm not sure it means more folks in the US are switching to scales - but it would make things simpler for sure! I have a rather precise method of measuring with cups to ensure consistency when I bake, but it's not as precise as a scale so I really SHOULD rely on the scale instead of cups ;) Thanks for the kind words, Jen, and I'm glad you enjoyed the post...

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  7. I really should weight my ingredients, especially when baking, and provide both the cups/ounces and grams for international readers. I really should...

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  8. For me, it's definitely force of habit because I grew up with cups and never used a scale. More recently, I have been occasionally pulling out the scale - but it's still more of an afterthought :/

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  9. I definitely should provide weight measures for all of my baking recipes in my blog. Maybe that will be my next undertaking :/ Thanks for the kind words, John, and glad you enjoyed...

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  10. Jess @ FloptimismAugust 7, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    I know, I'm the same. I'm good with things like yogurt and snacks when the serving size is listed in ounces or grams, but with actual recipes it's always more of "you know, sometime I should really weigh these ingredients as I make it..." ...and then I usually don't.

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  11. I have to admit that I didn't start using a scale until about a year ago and now I use it religiously, especially for baking and making jams. For cooking, my normal method is measure by eyesight and experience. :)

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  12. Making jams... that makes a lot of sense why a scale would be helpful and I didn't even think about that! I don't have nearly as much cooking experience, but I'm pretty much the same when it comes to non-baked recipes. I rarely follow the recipe and I don't like measuring :/

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  13. Some good designs of digital kitchen scales are on this page. In these days sensor technology are used in scale manufacturing process specially in food scales because people want more accurate results. These kinds of digital scales can measure up to 0.001 grams with accuracy.

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