Aside from helping dieters control portions, kitchen scales can actually improve cooking and baking results. That's because the "dip and sweep" method -- filling a measuring cup, then leveling it off -- that many cooks regularly use can be off by as much as 10 percent, easily affecting the flavor and texture of foods, experts say. In contrast, the accurate measurements of a kitchen scale ensure a recipe will turn out the same every time. You can also use a kitchen scale to weigh letters and small packages.
Kitchen scales come in two types: mechanical and digital. Mechanical scales, which contain a delicate internal framework of small springs and pieces, display readings with a needle, but their fragile nature means they can wear out faster. They also measure weight in larger increments than digital scales do, which can make them less accurate. Most reviewers say digital kitchen scales offer more precise readings and are less cumbersome to use. Of course, the electronic nature of digital scales means they may be more prone to malfunction, although most come with at least a two-year warranty.
Among digital scales, one standout is the Oxo Good Grips Food Scale With Pull-Out Display (*Est. $50). Testers say it has all the features they look for in a good digital kitchen scale: accuracy; a large, sturdy platform that removes for washing; an 11-pound capacity; a bright readout; and a manufacturer's satisfaction guarantee. This model, which uses four AAA batteries, has a unique feature that sets it apart: Its backlit pullout display can't be obscured by a large bowl or platter, making weights incredibly easy to read. In their review, editors at Fine Cooking magazine say the Oxo Good Grips food scale is intuitive, and its removable, stainless-steel platform makes cleaning a breeze. The scale also earns the top recommendation in the largest comparison review we found.
User reviews of the Oxo kitchen scale are favorable, as well. At Amazon.com, more than 200 owners contribute to an average rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. Most praise the scale's slim design and easy-to-use tare function, which zeroes out the weight of the container holding the ingredient. An indicator clearly displays how much weight is left on the scale before reaching its 11-pound capacity, making this model especially useful for adding multiple ingredients to the same bowl. However, we did see a few complaints about the Oxo's display, which uses fractions instead of decimals. While professionals generally prefer decimals, many home cooks favor fractions because most home recipes are written that way.
If you don't want to spend so much, consumers like the EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale (*Est. $25); almost 2,800 owners give it a perfect 5-star average rating on Amazon.com. They say this budget-priced model with a two-year warranty offers all the functionality of a standard food scale, plus it comes with a book that allows dieters to calculate the caloric content of many foods. Users appreciate the four measurement units (displayed in decimals, not fractions) of grams, kilograms, pounds and ounces, and praise the ability to convert between measurement units easily. They say the EatSmart scale is small, lightweight and easy to store, but we did see a few complaints that it's a bit small for larger food portions. In addition, weighing large plates on this model can block its display.
The staff of bread-making site BreadInfo.com tests the accuracy of the EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale by weighing various combinations of nickels and quarters (nickels weigh exactly 5 grams and quarters weigh precisely 0.2 ounces), and finds the scale to be extremely accurate. Elle's New England Kitchen, a cooking blog, reviews the EatSmart and reports that it's accurate, easy to operate and easy to read. It has a tare feature, an 11-pound capacity and a three-minute automatic shutoff, and uses two AAA batteries. It appears that the manufacturer sent the scale to top food bloggers to test.
If you're looking for more advanced nutritional content information, consider the EatSmart Nutrition Scale (*Est. $70). Its main advantage over the EatSmart Precision Pro and other food scales is a built-in nutrition calculator that allows users to determine the amount of carbohydrates, fiber, fat, cholesterol and protein in the foods they eat. Its digital memory includes such data on thousands of packaged and unprocessed foods, and information on other foods can be entered and stored. More than 360 owners posting to Amazon.com give this scale an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, saying it's accurate and easy to use. Most of these users are diabetics or dieters, however, so if you don't need the nutritional information, you might find it hard to justify spending the extra money.
Although it's not included in professional tests, the Escali Primo Digital Multifunctional Scale (*Est. $25) earns almost 700 positive reviews on Amazon.com and several dozen on Cooking.com. This model is less expensive than the top-rated Oxo scale, has a lifetime warranty, and comes in a range of colors including red, royal blue and chrome. When measuring in pounds, its display reads as pounds plus ounces, which some reviewers find less convenient than a decimal reading. Some owners gripe that it's made of plastic, not stainless steel, but most like the Escali scale for its accuracy and 11-pound capacity. One downside is its upward-facing display, which can be blocked when measuring large plates or bowls.
Finally, reviews say the Soehnle 65055 Digital Kitchen Scale (*Est. $30) is precise and well priced, but its 9-inch platform is so large that this unit can be tough to store. Professional reviews show it to be accurate, and almost 30 owners posting to Amazon.com say it's sleek and has an easy-to-read display. A few, however, say they wish the glass platform were removable for cleaning, and some complain about this scale being off-balance (the platform is supported on only one side). Owners are also critical of the Soehnle 66522 Futura Digital Kitchen Scale (*Est. $35), which they say has an awkwardly placed gram-to-ounces converter and a cheap-looking plastic base.
Cook's Illustrated and Choice magazines provide the best reviews of kitchen scales, evaluating models for accuracy, design, usability and capacity. Cook's Illustrated editors test nine scales, finding all to be highly accurate but some easier to use than others. Choice tests 15 scales and scores some less-expensive models higher than pricier ones. FineCooking.com, BreadInfo.com and AssociatedContent.com each provide some detailed reviews, but of only one model. Nevertheless, we found a windfall of helpful owner reviews and ratings on retail websites including Amazon.com, Cooking.com and Walmart.com.