Deciding on what food scale to purchase

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:

  • Look for a conversion button. Many scales have a grams-to-ounces switch on the front. This is a convenient feature for cooks who frequently alternate between measurements.
  • Users prefer compact models. Many home cooks appreciate a scale that can be stored in a cabinet. Larger, bulky items take up valuable counter real estate, and their bigger footprint can make them a pain to use.
  • Opt for a tare function. Tare features reset the scale to zero, allowing users to easily weigh ingredients without having to account for the weight of the container.
  • Search for seamless buttons. Steer clear of kitchen scales with seamed buttons, where flour and other fine ingredients can easily clog crevices. Over time, this can cause a scale to stop working.
  • Choose a scale with a removable platform. Food scales with this feature are much easier to clean.
  • Go for ample capacity and precise calibration. Experts recommend kitchen scales with at least 5 pounds of capacity, and a calibration of 0.1 ounces and 1 gram.
  • Check the display. Larger bowls and platters can obscure tiny display panels, making it hard to read measurements. Look for a scale with a very large display.
  • Take a test drive. Some stores allow consumers to test a scale before purchase. If this is an option, weigh five nickels to determine if a kitchen scale is accurate. The total weight should be 25 grams.

Back to top