R10_0019                                                                                                                                    Photo by Donna
Scale (noun):  A good digital scale is an important kitchen tool because it provides the most accurate way of measuring ingredients, which is especially critical in baking.  A tablespoon of different brands of salt have different weights but an ounce of salt will have the same impact no matter the type or brand.  Flour and other finely powdered ingredients measured by the dry cup can vary in weight as well.  A scale is recommended for any serious kitchen.

Scale (verb): To scale means to weigh—for example, “Scale that dough into 10 ounce portions for small baguettes.”

This scale is one of the most important tools in my kitchen.  It not only ensures constency, it makes putting together ingredients simple.  You know how much easier it is to measure 8 ounces of shortening as compared to one cup?  Here, I’m measuring ingredients for bread dough that I’ve been making a lot of recently.  If I were making cookies, I could put the shortening or butter right in there with the flour.  I was corresponding recently with a cook who weighed a cup of his flour and it was 3 ounces.  A cup of flour can weigh as much as 6 ounces.  If he measured four cups and I measured four cups, I’d have twice as much flour in my bowl.

But I don’t know how much a part a scale is of the home kitchen. Many of the people who read this blog are serious home cooks.  I’m working on a book now that relies a lot on the weight of ingredients, and I’m very curious to know what people who care about cooking think about scales.  Do you own one?  Why or why not.  Do you use it?  If so how?  If not why not?  I suspect a lot of it is because almost all the cookbooks out there use volume measurements so you don’t need one.  Here’s the scale I use.  But there are lots to choose from and start at about $25.  Key attributes are digital, measures in grams and ounces, and can measure at least 5 pounds or so.


120 Wonderful responses to “Elements of Cooking: Scale, Scaling”

  • Elaine

    I would consider myself a serious cook but I have never owned a weighing machine or a scale before. I never really had the need to as most of my cooking were based on estimates and using the measuring cups (for baking).

    Also if I encounter a recipe that uses weight instead of volume, I can always get it converted using the GourmetSleuth calculator. It may not be the most accurate but so far the recipes have turned out perfectly alright.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Couldn’t ‘scale’ also be used vis-a-vis fish as in ‘scale that fish”? Would it be a verb or still a noun? or worse..perhaps an adverb? lol but seriously does one not scale a fish too?

  • luis

    Cripes! the making of a chef is in the house…..Something to read during my iffy vacation at duck key…hand in hand with the baking scale, is a proper baking stone. I will share bakingstone.com with you bakers out there. YOu need every edge you can get folks.

  • Chennette

    Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, all the traditional recipes use weights for the dry ingredients, so there’s always a scale in the house. Especially handy for communities that did large scale cooking on a regular basis for weddings, and fundraisers etc. When I wanted to make something like our coconut bake or sweet breads or any of the Indo-Trini sweets etc, Mom would email a recipe that was hard to follow since my student accommodations didn’t have a scale. And now that you have made me think about it, I am ashamed to admit that I am yet to own a scale, even though I am long away from student accommodation…my only excuse is that I cook for one, and I get together with the older sister to make proper batches of traditional items and SHE has a scale!

  • luis

    KD 7000 is in the barn. Damm it this is a very nice scale. If Michael hadn’t mentioned it I would never have it. Still just like the percolator thing. Following his lead is priceless… Every other post here is a real gem.

  • Katie in Berkeley

    I use my scale as often as I can! I keep common volume-to-weight conversions on hand so when I work from a recipe, I can be consistent every time I bake it.

  • luis

    The companion of choice for this scale has to be a “kitchen calc” This beauty converts liquid measurements to dry weights among other things. It also scales recipe ingredients from x to y number of servings which is very useful.

  • EdTheRed

    I finally got a scale a couple years ago, and I know don’t know how I got by without one. I use it all the time…my model also switches easily to metric, and I just recently had an epiphany (when baking with a friend who used metric units) how much easier it is to work with metric units – especially when increasing or decreasing the size of a recipe. I can’t believe my 8th grade science teacher was right about something…

  • Victoria

    I use a scale. I always use it to weigh pasta, 2 oz. per person for side or starter portions; 4 oz. per person for dinner portions. I also use it to bake when a recipe I’m using has weights. Further, I have a lot of metric and British cookbooks (but they are a whole different issue, what with Imperial rather than metric measurements for liquids, so I have British pyrex measuring cups) and need it for that. I use a digital scale, which switches between oz and grams. Delia Smith says balance scales are the best, but I don’t think we can get balance scales for the home cook in this country. At least none that I have seen. http://www.deliaonline.com/cookery-school/equipment/scales-measuring-jugs-and-timers,71,AR.html

  • neil

    I’d just like to ask what’s up with Americans and the stick of butter thing? Every time I see a recipe calling for a stick of butter my eyes roll heavenwards, C’mon guys, sticks grow on trees, can’t you weigh it out like the rest of the world?

  • luis

    Michael, do you have any idea..any idea at all how much you have inspired me and guided me and introduced me to this world of fine cooking? Folks when I say Michael has mentored me in a million things I include all of you fine cooks and chefs and posters here.
    Each poster has contributed and amplified on what Michael’s post presented. This is one great blog to read. I am so taken with the trees that I miss the forest. But not for long…not for long at all.

  • Shaun

    I have several scales which I use for baking; I’ve converted my favorite recipes so that the ingredients are in ounces instead of cups. Here’s what really turned me on to weighing: seeing Rose Levy Beranbaum talk about weighing ingredients on TV years ago; and also eGullet’s Kitchen Scale Manifesto. Not only is using a scale more accurate, it makes cleaning up easier.

    Michael, I think whether you use weight in your new book or not depends upon who you’re writing for; I think you can make an argument for using weight in a book for experienced cooks. (Or dieters who are into portion control, but I doubt that’s who you’re writing for!)

  • kanani

    Well, I don’t think I’m a “serious” cook, but I pretty much cook three squares a day from scratch. I don’t use a scale because usually, I’m cooking on the fly.
    There’s usually a houseful of hungry kids and teens, a long day working, just enough time to get in there and make breakfast/lunch or dinner. You know, the “you take a stick of butter” philosophy of cooking.

    Anyway, someday I’ll get one and learn all about weights and ratios. But I’m just on a different freighter right now.

  • luis

    Kanani, There is still an issue with that you know??
    I can now scale any recipe down to ONE serving or any number thereof… But stop by the Publix Mkt…and guess what?? they still insist in selling a head of cabage and not 1/8 of a head of cabage.
    You can not win, but you can learn a lot about a lot of things you have zilch control over.
    OUT OF THIS TOTAL CHAOS… some order will emerge. We just gotta believe…in tha magic!.
    I can’t help but review a lot of recipes and just because the chef knows lots of ingredients and where to get them is NO FREAKING REASON for anyone else to think they are gospel. To prove myself wrong would cost me a fortune and a lifetime of developing the convoluted palate of degenerate super chefs. Degenerate in the sense of being NOT NORMAL. Not in the worst sense or connotation of the word. Please folks I love you all. And I think everyone is on their own path to the truth and the beauty that is to be had out there. But offal and monkey dicks…. hey that’s for gastronomy kamikazis like Anthony Bourdain.

  • kanani

    I remember pre-kid, I’d go to the farmer’s market with a friend and we’d split our purchases. It was part practical, part social. Of course, this often leads to moving in with one another…
    Ah well. Embrace the chaos.

  • luis

    Kanani, you are right about that. It’s fun to shop together and makes economic sense as well. My flour that used to be on sale for a buck a large supermarket bag is now $4 at the Publix. That is a 100% price increase over the normal $1.99 YIKES!!!!!!!!!! time to put fuel in the cars again!
    This is a crisis anymore. The flour is easy, I’ll stop by the Wholesale GFS market or the Costco and buy me 25 lbs sack of the shit.
    As for the sharing, Everything I cook I pretty much give away to fam and neighbors or co-workers.
    Wine is up 40-50% other than the Chilean wines trying to break into the US market. Beers are the same other than for the Australian upstarts which not only are great but still cheap. And so it goes….
    between Rulhman’s digital scale brainstorm and Alton Brown’s you tube bread primer… and my past efforts… I am loaded for bear and my baking program just became a priority.
    OBTW!… A lousy half loave of some type of decent bread at the Publix just retails for nearly $4 dollars now. While I wasn’t looking the cost of grocery rules have changed in my little corner of tha world. Yep!
    Retirement is fading away as I type.

  • Harry

    I have a Salter scale: digital, imperial and metric, and tares out. And I don’t use it for baking at all.

    I don’t bake much but when I do, eyeballs, experience and volume have worked fine for me. I probably could have use it back when I was learning

    I use the scale mostly to get a rough idea of how much this chunk o’ whatever (cheese or meat, usually) weighs, or to split something evenly, or weird conversions like how many full sized marshmallows are the equivalent of 1 c. of minis. OK, I guess I do use it a bit for baking: when I’m making deep dish pie I use it to split the dough 1/3 and 2/3.

    I agree with the principle that weighing is much more accurate. Guess I don’t have much need for accuracy in my cooking.

  • Beth

    I would not consider myself a seriously skilled home chef, but I do own a digital scale, courtesy of my brother-in-law, Vinnie; and yes, he is from Jersey. My son, Ted, is a type-1 diabetic and it comes in handy to precisely measure his portions for carb to insulin ratio calculations. I have found though that I do use it for recipes that are measured in grams – very convenient and easy.

  • Hander

    Hi, thank you for mentioning my website in your interesting article; Don Luis in replies mentioned it in regards of the flour ingredient amount multi converter.

    All the best,

    PS I am reading some more in your nice blog.

  • DavidinSF

    Try the KD8000 model of this same brand (MyWeigh) it converts to a % method of weigh for baking which is much preferred.