Kitchen scales are useful for chefs who want to get the most accurate cooking or baking results, since measuring cups and spoons can affect ingredient measurements by 10 percent, say editors at Cook's Illustrated magazine. These errors can cause a dish to turn out differently each time you prepare it.
In most reviews, experts don't find big discrepancies in accuracy among digital kitchen scales. However, ease of use and range of features do differ. In fact, sometimes the simplest attributes prove the most useful. Most digital models offer a feature known as tare, which zeroes out the weight of the bowl or plate, so cooks don't have to subtract this amount from the total weight shown on the scale. Dieters often find food scales useful for measuring exact portion sizes, and kitchen scales can even be used to weigh mail. While manual scales can serve the same purposes, they're generally harder to read (most use a needle gauge that leaves margin for human error), less accurate, less precise (with measurements in 5-gram increments rather than a single gram) and more difficult to clean.
Diabetics and other people on special diets may find it worth spending the extra money for a digital scale such as the EatSmart Nutrition Scale (*Est. $70), which has a built-in database that provides nutritional information on a variety of foods. If you don't need this feature, general-purpose scales are significantly less expensive and many offer accurate measurements, several measurement-unit options and capacities of 11 pounds or more (experts say a scale should hold at least 7 pounds). Those with an automatic shutoff save valuable battery life, but if the shutoff time is two minutes or less, you might find that your scale turns off mid-measurement. In this case, recall of the last measurement read is quite useful.
As with many digital products, kitchen scales can malfunction. Most manufacturers offer a warranty of at least two years, and any major defects should be obvious within that time. Finally, most food scales now operate with standard batteries, although a few require specialty batteries that can be hard to find.
Here are some other things to remember when shopping for a kitchen scale: