Why a Kitchen Scale Is the Most Important Tool in Any Kitchen

Why a Kitchen Scale Is the Most Important Tool in Any Kitchen

Your kitchen should have the right tools. Welcome to A Guide to Gearing Up Your Kitchen, a series where I help you outfit the space with all the small appliances you need (and ditch the ones you don’t).

You’ve probably heard folks refer to cooking and baking as a science. While I consider a great deal of it an art, I don’t deny that I do an inordinate amount of trials, weighing, measuring, temperature-monitoring, and record-keeping for an artist. Of all the tools and appliances I use, one of the most essential is my digital scale.

A kitchen scale is required for consistency. It allows you to accurately measure ingredients, monitor serving size, split cake batter evenly between cake pans, and even help troubleshoot where a recipe went wrong. There are features to help you measure each item with accuracy even if you’re piling seven ingredients in the same bowl. While this might seem like the sort of thing only a professional baker would need, use it a few times and you’ll begin to see how it fits into your cooking style.

The best part is that, even though professional production kitchens need large, heavy duty, high-capacity scales, home kitchens can generally keep it more compact. Luckily for us, there are plenty of kitchen scales available that look sleek, store easily, promise accuracy, and can handle decently heavy loads.

What are the basic functions?

Tare button

Every digital kitchen scale, even the budget models, will have at least two buttons: the on-off-tare button, and the unit button. While you’re certainly familiar with turning an appliance on and off, “tare” might not be a term you’ve used a lot.

When you weigh ingredients, like flour or eggs, you don’t just pour flour onto the scale platform and hope it all stays together, you pour it into a bowl. The bowl has weight. Instead of doing the math in your head, “The bowl weighs 7.43 ounces plus 5 ounces of flour…” You can “tare” the bowl’s weight and just weigh the 5 ounces of flour. You’ll also hear this called “zeroing-out the scale.” When you press this button, the scale takes into account the weight of the container you’re measuring the ingredients in and returns the display weight to zero. This is nice for one ingredient if you hate doing math, but it’s a real boon for multiple ingredients that can go in the same bowl. Measure the water, then tare the scale. Now you can measure the amount of flour you need without even switching bowls.

Unit button

The unit function is a bit more straightforward and every bit as helpful. The unit button will switch the measuring unit seamlessly between ounces, grams, pounds and ounces (for larger measurements), and possibly others. The scale will take care of conversions between units with no trouble. Measure out whole wheat flour in ounces, then easily switch to grams to start weighing the salt. Added some salt but forgot to switch over to grams? It’s OK; the scale will convert what you already sprinkled in.

How to find the best digital kitchen scale

Most at-home digital kitchen scales share the same look—large center weighing platform, small digital display with a button on either side—but there are some handy features that set some models apart from the vast majority. These are a few things I like to look for.

Kitchen scales to consider:

Accessible display

At-home kitchen scales are very low-profile. The weighing platform is usually around six inches in diameter and the entire scale sits pretty low to the countertop. This shape is fantastic for storage, but wide bowls and trays can easily get in the way of the display. This makes it hard to switch the units, tare the scale, and, of course, actually see the weight.

Look for a scale that features a detachable display, one that has the screen tilted downward (so you can crouch and see under the bowl if needed), or has the display significantly pushed forward in the design. Detachable displays will have a retractable cord so you can pull it away from the scale a couple of inches. It’s just enough to make the display accessible. I also like when the screen has a backlight feature. You’d be surprised how dark it gets under a bowl or a sheet tray.

Easy-to-clean platform

Everything that enters my kitchen ends up with flour on it or with greasy fingerprints across it. (No, it’s not children. It’s me.) My scale is subject to the same treatment, if not worse, so it’s important to have one that is easy to clean. Most of the scale’s housing is easy to wipe down, but you never want to submerge it. The platform is subject to the most spillage and stuck-on goo, so look for a scale that has a removable platform cover. These are usually light, thin, stainless steel covers that slide on and off the top of the scale.

Check the weight capacity

Once you get used to weighing ingredients in the same bowl, you never want to go back to dirtying excess dishware. This is why the “Err” is so irritating when it pops up on your scale. You’ve maxed out the weight, so you have to start weighing in another bowl. When you set out to buy your food scale, make sure to check out the maximum weight capacity. You might think a three- or four-pound max is just fine, but doubling the cookie dough or slow cooker stew might send you over the limit. I’m not saying you need a food scale that goes up to 400 pounds, but if you have the option, go for something around 10.

Kitchen scales are pre-calibrated, so you don’t have to worry about it at home. Once you pop the batteries in, it’s ready to roll. You can finally break out those metric recipes you’ve been dying to try.

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