Digital Kitchen Scales

Published July 1, 2016. From Cook's Illustrated.

Overview:

A digital scale is a game changer in the kitchen. A scale is critical for baking recipes, where measuring dry ingredients by weight is the only way to guarantee accuracy. We’ve proven this in tests where we’ve repeatedly measured a cup of flour by volume, using a “dip and sweep” method, and found that there can be up to a 20 percent difference in the weight—a variance that can mean the difference between a cake that’s squat and dense and one that’s fluffy and tender.

Scales have many applications in cooking, too. Using one to portion burgers, for example, means no more guessing if the patties are the same size and will thus cook at the same rate. They can even make cooking and cleanup more efficient, thanks to the help of the “tare” function; with the push of this button, you can reset the displayed weight on the scale to zero, allowing you to skip the fussy “dip and sweep” method.

For years, we’ve relied on the OXO Good Grips 11 lb Food Scale with Pull Out Display ($49.95), but many new (and some cheaper) models have since hit… read more

A digital scale is a game changer in the kitchen. A scale is critical for baking recipes, where measuring dry ingredients by weight is the only way to guarantee accuracy. We’ve proven this in tests where we’ve repeatedly measured a cup of flour by volume, using a “dip and sweep” method, and found that there can be up to a 20 percent difference in the weight—a variance that can mean the difference between a cake that’s squat and dense and one that’s fluffy and tender.

Scales have many applications in cooking, too. Using one to portion burgers, for example, means no more guessing if the patties are the same size and will thus cook at the same rate. They can even make cooking and cleanup more efficient, thanks to the help of the “tare” function; with the push of this button, you can reset the displayed weight on the scale to zero, allowing you to skip the fussy “dip and sweep” method.

For years, we’ve relied on the OXO Good Grips 11 lb Food Scale with Pull Out Display ($49.95), but many new (and some cheaper) models have since hit the market, so we decided to take another look. We bought 10 scales, priced from $11.79 to $67.27, with maximum capacities between 9 and 15 pounds. We tested them for accuracy and also assessed their design, countertop stability, and how easy they were to clean and store.

Measuring Pros and Cons

The good news: All of the scales were acceptably accurate. When we weighed calibrated lab weights on multiple copies of each model, most gave the exact same reading every time. Only two of them consistently displayed fluctuating readings, and even those were just a few grams off the mark. (Note that we tested only consumer-grade scales, which are not certified by the National Conference on Weights and Measures, as more-expensive commercial-grade scales are too pricey for the home cook.)

The bad news was that half the scales were either so unintuitive to operate or so hard to read that we can’t recommend them. The first flaw became obvious when we timed testers as they weighed 5 ounces of flour on each model and watched them fumble around for a switch or button to change the unit of measurement from grams to ounces. On one of the losing models, this was a tiny toggle on the underside of the scale underneath the battery cover, which we only found once we referred to the owner’s manual. On another, you must gently press the “on/off” button as the scale powers up—and if you miss that brief window, you have to turn it off and start all over. Start to finish, it took roughly twice as long to complete the task on these models as it did on our top-rated scales.

Legibility was problematic on models with tiny, hard-to-read, or obscurely labeled buttons but was even more of an issue on scales where the control panel was flush with the platform rather than set into a separate part of the scale body. No matter how big and crisp the display was on these scales, larger bowls cast a shadow over, or completely blocked, the screen, forcing us to bend down to peer underneath or nudge the bowl backward until it threatened to fall off the back end of the platform. Only the OXO truly excelled in this test: Its display bar can be pulled out 4 inches from the platform, ensuring that the screen is visible under even the biggest, bulkiest items.

When it came to countertop stability, lighter-weight (under 1 pound) scales with feet frequently teetered back and forth or slid around on the counter. In general, squat scales with smooth bottoms stayed put more reliably; plus, they were easier to store.

Cleanup was a finicky job for a few models, which trapped flour—or, worse, water that could seep in and damage the internal hardware—in their crevices. In this evaluation, we preferred two models that featured removable platforms, which allowed us to scrub them without risking water damage.

Worth Their Weight

By the end of testing, we’d found three scales that impressed us with accuracy; intuitive design; responsive, clearly labeled buttons positioned on an easily visible control panel; and slim frames that were easy to slip into a drawer or cabinet. The best of these, our previous champ from OXO, also boasted great stability, a bright backlight, and a removable platform that made cleanup a snap. But if its nearly $50 price tag is too steep, consider our Best Buy from Ozeri ($11.79). Though it feels a bit lightweight and lacks the winner’s removable platform, its performance was otherwise stellar.

Methodology:

We tested 10 digital kitchen scales, priced from $11.79 to $67.27, with maximum capacities between 9 and 15 pounds. All models display weights in at least two units of measurement, which we’ve listed below. “Ounces” indicates a display that can show a total weight in ounces, while “pounds/ounces” indicates a display that will show pounds and ounces for items heavier than 16 ounces. “Grams” indicates a display that can show a total weight in grams, while “kilograms/grams” indicates a display that will show kilograms and grams for items heavier than 1,000 grams. Prices shown were paid online. Models appear below in order of preference.

ACCURACY: We tested three units of each model, weighing 30-, 200-, and 500-gram lab-calibrated weights 10 times on each unit, at the beginning and end of testing. We preferred scales that gave consistently accurate readings; models that routinely ­varied by more than 2 grams lost points.

EASE OF USE: We timed how long it took to turn on the scales, switch from grams to ounces, and measure 5 ounces of flour. Several test cooks also subjected top-performing models to a week of daily use. The best models had intuitive controls that were easy to access.

LEGIBILITY: We preferred digital displays with sharp color contrast or a backlight option, big digits, and large screens. Scales lost points if a 5-quart mixing bowl blocked or obscured the screen.

DURABILITY: We dropped each model onto the counter from a height of 2 inches, checking to see if any pieces fell off or if the scales became damaged.

CLEANUP: We stained the platforms with a measured amount of yellow mustard, tomato paste, and canola oil; after 36 hours, we washed them by hand. The best models had removable platforms that we could wipe off or scrub. Scales that trapped water and food residue lost points.

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