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.

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

  • Lisa

    As has been said, I would use our scale more often if cookbooks provided measurements in weight instead of, or in addition to, volume. Currently, we use it more for portion control than anything else.

  • Joe Mielke

    I started using a scale when Peter Reinhart’s Crust & Crumb came out and never looked back. By the time Charcuterie came out using a scale in the kitchen was habit and, for the sake of consistency, essential.

    I’m not sure scaling is important in general cooking books, but I use the presence of weights in baking books as a measure of their quality. Sure, volume measures can always be converted, but if the author is a serious baker they were probably converted from weights in the first place.

  • Paul Roub

    I do own one, do use it when the recipe provides weights, and seek out recipes that fit the bill.

    Baking’s tricky enough *without* getting the ratios wrong.

  • Don Luis

    I couldn’t do with out my scale. It’s an Escali, will weigh up to 7 pounds, and was under $30 I think. I doubt I could get repeatable results without it.

    I also need to mix AP flour with vital wheat gluten to approximate the bread flour I can’t get here (thanks to my online paisan Bob Del Grosso for this tip), and that would be far too imprecise if measured by volume.

    When I make dough for pizza or calzones, I make a lot, so not only do I weight the dry ingredients before mixing, I weigh the risen dough and divide by the number of portions I’m making.

    When I’m interested in a recipe that uses volume, I weigh the ingredients and write it down, so if I decide to make it again I can adjust accordingly.

    There are also plenty of online resources for converting volume of a particular ingredient to weight: 1 cup of AP flour weights 125 grams.

  • amber

    i originally bought my digital scale when i was on an eating kick that solely focused on health and fitness (i.e. nothing buttery and fatty and yummy) as everything had to be measured out. i’ve since given up that “eating plan”, but am happily still using the scale for lots of other cooking related tasks. it’s rare to find a recipe that uses weight measurements, but i’m always pleased when they do as i find weighing ingredients to be much easier than measuring them out by volume.

    i think most home cooks are just used to measuring by volume as that is how most recipes are broken down. i don’t think i would have bought a scale had it not been for the crazy eating plan, but now that i have one, i can’t imagine being without it.

  • Todd

    Since reaching midlife I realized if I was going to get serious about cooking, I had better accomplish it now. To start the process of doing so, I am working on my bread making skills. I must confess I am somewhat of a bread slut and willingly end up driving unusually long distances for quality bread. In my attempt to master the fickle baguette I borrowed the CIA’s ‘Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft’ tomb from the library. Needless to say, I required a scale immediately, along with some long lost math skills. The scale I acquired is low cost and non-digital at this point, with the anticipation of upgrading if my bread making meets with any success at all.

  • Kevin

    I am a butcher and I do everything by weight. It makes it so much easier for scaling up or down a recipe and it is so much more precise. I get people who ask me to make a custom sausage blend for them and they hand me a recipe that is all in volume measurements and they get a black look in their eyes when I ask them what brand of salt they used when making this particular recipe. Some of them I have to show them the difference it makes. Also, it is nice to know basic recipes by percentages or ratios.

  • Gretchen

    I have a scale and use it quite often. I’d like to see more recipes (especially baked goods)with weight measurements. I also find it handy for weighing mail for postage!

  • milo

    “I don’t understand why the U.S. books tend to lean towards volume”

    Because that’s what people are used to using.

    It’s a chicken/egg thing. People don’t want to buy a scale when hardly any cookbooks use it. And publishers don’t want to use weights when hardly any home cooks have scales. Same goes for metric measures in the US.

    Isn’t the obvious solution for a cookbook to list both, but recommend going by weight?

  • Phil

    When I’m doing any kind of serious baking at home I drag out the scale and I’m partial to the Salter variety. Otherwise I tend to go by the volume method unless the recipe calls for weight.

  • sygyzy

    I have three scales. I use one to measure tea that is accurate to 0.01 grams. I use one in the kitchen that just does 1 gram increments. And I have another one for hydrocolloids that measure to 0.1 grams.

    First of all, ever since I brought a scale to the kitchen, I find excuses to use it everyday. I am not sure if I am just more aware of weights or if recipes are actually including them more often. There are a few problems that scales and books need to overcome before the adoption is universal

    1. More recipes need to speak in terms of weights instead of volume.
    2. It’s to find the balance between accuracy and capacity. For example, I too want a 5 lb capability on my kitchen scale but if I am to use that to measure out minute amounts of hydrocolloids (like 0.8 grams), it’s going to cost me hundreds of dollars. You have to either choose lots of weight or lots of accuracy. Of course, you can have multiple scales.

    You should also look for some key features when buying a scale such as the ability to tare, a counting feature is good, a locking feature (ie lock the dial so I can move the large bowl off and see the display), etc. Also, remember that just because you are only measuring a few grams for hydrocolloids, or spices, your holder may weight a few 100 grams. You need to be able to support what you are measuring plus the container it’s being poured into.

  • joelfinkle

    I don’t do as much baking as my wife, but the one area I wish more recipes had weights instead of volumes is shredded cheese.

    I’ve got some microplanes that make such a snowy flaky shred that a half-ounce of parmegianno fills a cup. I’ve got another big-hole grater where a cup is closer to 3 ounces or more.

  • Chris

    I used my scale into oblivion… The battery went dead and after a replacement was installed, it failed to function. This happened last week and I have not replaced it and I am rather pleased with the link to the model you use.
    Thanks for the information and all the books.

  • JoP in Omaha

    I have a scale, too. It’s not fancy, and I don’t know how accurate it is. In addition to using it when a recipe is given in weights, I use it to determine portion size. A serving of something is x ounces–the only way I know how much that is is by weighing it.

  • John Beaty

    I use a scale when necessary. But sometimes the need comes up in unexpected places. In the current issue of Art of Eating, Ed Behr mentions off-handedly that he makes his coffee 15.5 to 1 by WEIGHT. (The comment refers to professionals making coffee fro 14-19 parts coffee to 1 part water by weight) OK, then, haul out the scale and discover that we are making drip coffee about 2/3 the strength he is. Up the amount and now our coffee is better than it has ever been.

  • KN

    Oh, so glad your book with have weights. I don’t understand why the U.S. books tend to lean towards volume, as opposed to weight. I much prefer accuracy!

  • Cooking in the high desert

    I have to use a scale, as flour in our arid climate is never correct when measured by cup.

    I will say that I see a ton of different opinions as far as how much flour a “cup” should equal. And that it’s different for whole wheat etc. So perhaps I’m just as confused.

    Any thoughts on this?

  • Oana

    I use my scale for recipes which give quantities in weights. Unfortunately, those recipes are few and far between in Canada. I understand Dorie Greenspan was told that no one in the US would buy her Baking: From My Home to Yours cookbook if the measurements were in weights, as opposed to volumes. I would buy it a second time if she re-issued it using weights!

  • Paul

    I own a kitchen scale (or two) and use them quite a bit, especially for measuring things like flour.
    As you suggest, I suspect I’d use it more if cookbooks were better about providing weights instead of volumes.

  • Rory

    I have a scale, although I really only use it when making a recipe that calls for weights. I actually think that 80%+ of the times I’ve used it have been for recipes from Charcuterie (or variants thereof, e.g. measuring weight of meat/salt for confit, then riffing with my own herbs/spices). I hardly ever (ok, never, really) bake, so I don’t use it for that. My wife used it for a little while when she was dieting and controlling portions. Personally, I wouldn’t blame volumetric recipes (I don’t use those often either), I would blame the fact that I don’t care very much about precision for most of what I cook: I season by instinct, spice by fancy, and cook by touch.