Finally, some mainstream press about how useful kitchen scales are!  Thanks for the WSJ link, Carol.  I posted about his very issue here last April.  And, as I've just gotten back the copyedited manuscript  of my next cookbook, due out next April Lee Gomes's story is enormously heartening (you need a scale to take full advantage of my book). I truly believe the average American home cook is ready for the scale (the one I use is at the bottom of this page, but the major brands all work fine–just make sure they have a "tare," or zeroing, button and that they can measure both grams and ounces; I also like them to be able to handle up to five pounds).  There's a video on the WSJ link which shows one reason they can be so useful and also how scales actually work.

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54 Wonderful responses to “Kitchen Scales! Hallelujah!”

  • *susan*

    The King Arthur website has been redesigned, and ALL of the recipes now include weight and measures. Someone doesn’t think we are dumb!

  • andy brooks

    I started using a scale several years ago,after watching Alton Brown. The only trouble I run nto is that there are some recipies that only include volumetric amounts.

  • luis

    Just converted one of Ming Tsai’s master sauces from six cups to one cup. Real easy with the kitchen calc. When I made it I used the kd2000 digital scale Rhulman recommended in the past. I zero the weight of the recptacle I used and weighed in the oz weigthed stuff and zeroed the scale each time. Then I added in the volumetrics you tsp of this and 1/4 of that (liquids). And voila!! mix all in and presto Soy-Dijon Marinade. That is very cool.

  • luis

    Jacqueline Church, Also there are many versions of what a cup should weigh in grams around the net and in cookbooks… Pick one and stick with it is my take on that.

  • Pavlov

    Jacqueline Church said:”how will I convert recipes that are written in cups…we’re not talking math, are we?”

    How about the simple empirical method: Measure a cup of flour and weigh it out. You should probably do this several times and average (just a little math here). Once you know what a cup of your flour weighs, put a label on your flour bin with the conversion. Do this with all your ingredients.

    Alternately, the first time you make a recipe with a scale at hand measure out by volume and then weigh the ingredient. Note the weight on your recipe and the next time you only have to weigh.

    If you use unusual ingredients like specialty flours the empirical method is the only way to go as you are unlikely to find an appropriate conversion online for unusual ingredients and even if you do such things are not as uniform from manufacturer to manufacturer as something like all-purpose flour is going to be.

    I have some cookbooks which don’t list weights on individual recipes, but give you a conversion table somewhere at the front or back of the book. If you are provided with such a table, obviously that is the one to use.

  • Jacqueline Church

    I’m eager to get a scale, how will I convert recipes that are written in cups…we’re not talking math, are we?

    anyone have ideas about the the small one in the WSJ piece, we a loft and limited space for storage.

    Thanks!

    PS I thought eight balls were for billiards?

  • luis

    Jacqueline Church, “>>how will I convert recipes that are written in cups< <"
    Jacqueline go >> http://www.calculated.com <<
    and check out the kitchen calcs… This is
    one tool I use often.
    Lots of recipes come in portions of four or six and I bring them down to two for the most part. Sometimes for parties I take them up to twenty… its a real great tool to have.

  • Garrett

    First you want me to toast and grind my cumin from whole seeds, now you want me to use a scale. Pushy, aren’t we? ;)

    (Actually, mine should already be on it’s way; I just ordered it a week ago.)

  • Erin

    I have used scales in my kitchen for years and I don’t think I could do with out them. Mine is a Saltier.

  • luis

    Pavlov.. you are right…

    >>”A moderate earthquake occurred at 11:42:15 AM (PDT) on Tuesday, July 29, 2008.
    The magnitude 5.4 event occurred 4 km (3 miles) WSW of Chino Hills, CA.
    The hypocentral depth is 14 km ( 8 miles). <<”

    Not the big one…not yet at least. God bless California and everyone in it.

  • latenac

    I’m not even really a baker and I use the scale I got last year at least twice a week. Even just having it to weigh things like when recipes call for 1 lb of potatoes is nice. It’s really one of those things like DVR, once you have one you wondered how you lived without it all this time.

  • cybercita

    i have wanted to bake with a scale ever since my first trip to europe when i watched my host weighing ingredients for a cake, and i understood immediately how much more precise it is especially when measuring flour. but i haven’t ever gotten one because none of my baking books list weights!

  • ChicagoFood

    You are such a food snob – and not in a good way. Seriously, do you think you have any sense of taste at all?

  • Judith in Umbria

    Using any kind of scale is better than not using one at all. I write recipes for the USA and the world and I end up doing bizarre things because USians won’t weigh!
    Once you are using a scale, when you prepare a recipe you like, pencil in the weights right on the page. Accurate, yes, but even more, weighing accounts for the wild swings in humidity that make a cup of flour weigh more one day than another. Your leavened goods will be far superior and you won’t have to wash all those cups for dry measures!

  • Victoria

    This was a wonderful subject. Your answer to me was very helpful, and all the comments are interesting; some are informative.

    I will take particular note of Pavlov’s suggestion to have a standard mass to make sure my scale is staying accurate.

    Your blog is definitely a must-read for me. I’m always glad to see a new post in my Google Reader.

    Thanks.

  • Eric

    Besides the obvious use for baking, I use my scale for almost every meal. If I need to boil two pounds of potatoes for a mash I use my scale to weigh them out. I want exactly two pounds because my butter/cream components are scaled for two pounds. This way I really don’t have to sweat it each time I dump in the cream and it looks like soup because I know that I soon have potato nirvana as it thickens. I also use a scale if I have a 12 oz bag of noodles and it calls for only 8 oz. It takes out the guess work.

  • milo

    If you’re putting all ingredients into the same container and just re-zeroing, how do you avoid putting in too much of something (other than adding a tiny tiny bit at a time)? If you are pouring baking soda directly onto flour, it’s not like you can easily scoop off one.

  • JGPavlov

    Weighing does not compensate for changes in water content of flour due to varying humidity and temperature. You still don’t know how much of the weight you measure is excess water.

    I did some checking and some testing. I can be consistent within about 5% (by weight) when I scoop and level a 2 cup measure. But that is when I am really working at being consistent. I can imagine it varying much more when I am not being so careful. Also, from information I found on the web, variations in flour water content are likely to be within ~2% by weight. (It would be interesting to know what they would be by volume.)

    WOW, AN EARTHQUAKE. (I am in southern Cal at 11:43 am. July, 29th)

    That was fun, I hope no one was hurt.

    Back to the post.

    As far as weighing out things like baking soda, unless you are weighing out more than a teaspoon or 2, spooning it out is easier and just as accurate as weighing due to the resolution of most kitchen balances. The same goes for ground spices.

  • Pavlov

    Ruhlman said:”I will have weights and volume measures in the new book but the whole notion or ratios is meaningless when you go only be volume.”

    Ratios are certainly not meaningless when using volumes. They are not, however, interchangeable with weight ratios. So long as you specify if you are using volume/volume, weight/weight, or weight/volume ratios all will be fine.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Even if you don’t give a sh-t about simplifying the way you think about the realtionship between ingredients by reducing their measure to units that only describe their mass or weight, you’d have to be a dope to think that it makes any sense to measure some ingredients in a single recipe by volume, others by “each” and the rest by weight/mass.

  • Edna

    It is so tedious to fill those measuring cups etc. There is no question when a weight is given, 100 grams is 100 grams. When you have a recipe with flour is measured in cups, all kinds of questions comes – spooned into the cup or scooped or something in between? Hallelujah and amen – scales for all.

  • Sam

    Any good website suggestions that show how much common ingredients weigh?

  • Brian

    I just upgraded to a Salter model myself, really useful since I use the same containers and have a chart in front of it to know what I need to subtract/re-zero etc. Spent far too long using an old school scale for both cooking and brewing..this upgrade was one of the best of 2008 I feel.

    Cheers!
    Brian

  • luis

    The companion to a good scale is the kitchen calculator. I use both a lot.

    ntsc I also toyed with the idea of a wine cooler for the charcuterie. I am glad you are thinking along the same lines. The environment needs to be cool and dry. ~57 deg?? if I recall. Please let us know how it turns out for you.

  • Pavlov

    Ruhlman said:”I will have weights and volume measures in the new book but the whole notion or ratios is meaningless when you go only be volume.”

    Ratios are certainly not meaningless when using volumes. They are not, however, interchangeable with weight ratios. So long as you specify if you are using volume/volume, weight/weight, or weight/volume ratios all will be fine.

  • Pavlov

    Just a note on balances vs. scales:
    Balances are very accurate and great at weighing (determining the mass, more accurately) something, but inconvenient for measuring out a specific quantity. Scales have a continuous readout (either mechanical or digital) and are very convenient for measuring out and knowing when to stop pouring into the pan. They are also easier to tare. So a balance would be out of place in the kitchen.

    As far as weighing being more accurate, It certainly is for things like salt and sugar. But I have trouble believing that it is all that much more accurate to weigh flour considering how much the water content of flour changes with temperature and humidity. That would be a far greater source of error. On the other hand it is certainly more convenient than packing, leveling, and counting cups. It is also great for checking dough portions when you are forming dinner rolls, or dividing out individual pizza dough. I also use it to weigh out coffee for my Moka Brew pot and for weighing out spices when I make sausage.

    Being an analytical chemist, I have a 0.1 milligram resolution balance at work and it is always strange for me to shift gears and feel comfortable with only 1 gram resolution at home, even though I know that is plenty for cooking.

    Also, it is good to keep a standard mass around to check the calibration of your balance from time to time. I have real calibration standards at work, but they are too expensive (and much more accurate than necessary) to take home, so I usually take an ordinary object and compare the weight on the analytical balance and on the home scale every few months to make sure all is well. I would advise picking a standard object (say a measuring cup or a bowl) and weighing it periodically to see if your scale drifts too much.

  • kanani

    Alton Brown has used a scale for all 12 seasons of Good Eats.

    Unfortunately, I have a very hard time staying awake through any of his shows. Don’t get me wrong, I like him, but there’s something about his patter that puts me to sleep. Happens on airplanes too.

  • bob

    ntsc sez:
    > I thought an eight-ball was an eighth of an ounce. Good to know street pharmaceuticals have gone metric.

    Naw… an eight-ball is an 8th of an ounce. An “eigth” is an eigth of a gram… heheh… funny tho… “‘teenth” is a 16th of an ounce.

    jeeze… its like the people who came up with those terms were on drugs or something.

  • Dave_C

    I purchased a digital postal scale for my wife’s ebay selling, but actually kept it when I went through my sourdough/wild yeast baking phase. $15 at Staples on the mark-down table.

    If I’m off by a few grams, that’s only 1/2 teaspoon, at most, for most ingredients so I’m not going to sweat 1/2 teaspoon of flour, sugar or oil… etc. However, salt I still measure using spoons..

  • ruhlman

    natalie: using a scale is more convenient, faster, AND ore exacting.

    victoria, i agree with warren that balance may be better but it’s not nearly as convenient. digital scales work fine.

    kanami: i think you’ll see more and more scales used by TV chefs, especially if they have actual training.

    milo: i will have weights and volume measures in the new book but the whole notion or ratios is meaningless when you go only be volume.

  • kanani

    That last scale looks like the one I purchased for my staff at the post office! And guess what. They NEVER use it.

    So maybe I’ll just bring it home.

  • David Owen

    I tried many variations on proportions for pie crust dough. Finally in the CIA book I saw, “Pastry dough is basically a 3-2-1 combination; by weight – 3-flour, 2-fat, 1-water”
    I have never looked back.
    Flour by volume is a very tricky thing, and fat or butter by volume is ridiculous.

  • JoP in Omaha

    My kitchen scale needs to be replaced. Now I know what to get.

    I’m happy to know the next book is well on its way to publication, but waiting until April to get it is going to be a long wait indeed. Dang. Sigh. And dang again!

  • milo

    So Michael, does that mean your book is weight and volume or just weight? What specifically do you mean by “taking full advantage”?

  • tinarina

    I have a very inexpensive Escali digital scale with a tare purchased on Amazon for less than $25. It totally meets my needs, and it’s small enough to keep in a drawer when I’m not using it–counter space is most precious!

  • Amy

    Needless to say I’m not a baker…At least not yet anyhow…And I’m slightly intimidated by the scale.

    In due time I guess.

  • Eliane

    You know, if I were American, I would find the following quote from the WSJ article insulting:

    Publishers don’t put weights in recipes for the simple reason that they think you’re stupid.

    “A lot of cookbook publishers say that adding weights tends to look daunting, and a lot of cookbook publishers try to keep things simple,” said Hannah Rahill, baking editor with Weldon Owen, a San Francisco company that creates cookbooks at the behest of publishers. That attitude, she explained, is especially pronounced in celebrity cookbooks.

    Those self-same publishing houses (because let’s face it, this is an international buisness) are quite happy putting out books with weights for us Europeans, and even in two different weight systems in the same book.

    Seems to me, this is all a bit chicken and egg. You won’t get the books until you start using the scales and you can’t use the scales until you get the books.

  • frenchtart

    i love my digital scale. it also comes in handy for mailing packages when i don’t have time for the line at the post office and just want to buy postage online.

  • Dave

    Alton Brown has used a scale for all 12 seasons of Good Eats. The Food Network tends to convert his recipes to volume measure when it is posted on their website.

  • ntsc

    I thought an eight-ball was an eighth of an ounce. Good to know street pharmaceuticals have gone metric.

    A balance scale is superior and is none electric, but the counter weights are very easy to misplace and you have to clean your hands before picking them up. With a balance you are balancing against a certain known weight, whereas with a digital you are using a strain gage and the battery voltage may cause miscalibration. However life it too short to worry.

    I’ve a mechanical that goes to 10 lbs. I keep looking at electronic, but with what ConEd is doing to the budget, not soon. The wine cooler so I can hang a ham for more than 5 months is higher on my list (I’ll let you know how that works out in about a year). I’ve also a small electronic that does a few hundred grams.

  • Shannon

    Kanani,
    Nigella is the only FN celebrity I know who uses a kitchen scale, but of course she’s British. Americans need to pick up the practice.

    It’s so much easier to deal with a recipe and even weighing out portion sizes for meals.

  • Mike

    By far the best place to buy a scale is from Old Will: http://www.oldwillknott.com/

    Not affiliated with him or the site, but his service, price and selection is outstanding. I purchased scales for work through him and when my Salter conks out (hopefully soon…lol) I will pick a much nicer one up from him.

  • luis

    Hey Michael, you should do an OPRA and pass out a few freebies to your loyal posters…hmm?
    Got a KD2000 and a very pretty “TAYLOR” spring type. Love them both.

  • kanani

    Why don’t any of the chefs on Food Network use kitchen scales? Seems to me that by using they regularly, they could add a lot of understanding to the art of cooking. As for me, yes, I’m going to take the plunge and order one.

    By the way, in September I’ll be covering Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in NYC. When I have time for a breather, I’ll be looking for good eats around Bryant Park. Anyone with a suggestion can contact me through my blog.

  • Bob

    I picked up a remarkably good digital scale on a web site (can’t remember the name) for around $40. Spooky thing was there were a lot of scales-of-questionable-use on most of the sites devoted to selling scales.

    Like I’m gonna need a scale that will measure out 1/8 grams… I know of no recipe that specifies something like “an eight-ball of baking soda” or a “‘teenth of pharmaceutical grade olive oil”

  • Victoria

    I have used a digital scale for years; however, Delia Smith is adamant that a balance scale is superior to a digital scale. I would love to hear Michael Ruhlman’s comments on this.

  • Chris

    I have the exact same scale…
    I ordered it after I returned a Salter that wouldn’t register anything until after you hit 25 grams.
    Love the MY Weigh KD. Use it for everything.

    Cheers

  • Natalie Sztern

    i watched the video and I always thought weighing flour or sugar (as an ex) is a more exacting way to bake than measuring it from a measuring cup, but that was not explained.