If you take cooking seriously, you'll know that getting the ingredients just right can make the difference between mediocre and a masterpiece. Unless you're a celebrity chef who can swiftly fling in just the right amount of cornflour mid-simmer, or instantly convert grams to cups mentally, guesswork only goes so far. That's why a good set of kitchen scales is a must for most. But how do you pick the best one for your culinary needs?
Tipping the scales
An old-style model just like grandma used to use would look so good on your kitchen counter, but will it be accurate? This is the 21st century, should you be opting for one of those fancy digital models that can break things down to a decimal point? Don't worry, we're here to weigh in on what's best about both types.
Digital or mechanical?
Digital scales are generally better at measuring out small and precise amounts - especially useful if you're cooking something complicated, on a strict diet or planning to ride the next Tour de France.
Mechanical scales often come with bigger bowls or trays and can be easier for weighing large amounts. They aren't as precise as digital scales, but most are accurate.
What makes one better than the other?
It really depends what's most important to you – ease-of-use (mechanical) or accuracy (digital). Whichever way you decide to go, the measurements should be easy to read, the controls easy to use, and the continuous weighing function should be reliable and work as promised.
What else should I look for?
For both types of scales:
How much do you need to weigh? For the average domestic kitchen, a three-to-five kilo capacity should do it. But bear in mind that the maximum weighing capacity of the scales includes the weight of the ingredients as well as the weight of any bowl or tray that holds them.
You want to have a large enough platform area to hold most of your ingredients, but it's not a crime if some of it hangs over the side as long as it is balanced and centred on the platform and you can still see the readout.
Scale-speak for resetting the scale to zero. If the model allows for continuous weighing, the tare function lets you weigh a new item without removing the old one by resetting the scales as you weigh.
Some kitchen scales come with a lightweight bowl or measuring jug, which are handy and practical - particularly when using the tare function (see above) with heavy ingredients (you're less likely to reach the maximum capacity before you finish weighing). Some scales come with no bowl at all, so you'll need to consider what you have in your own cupboard.
Imperial and metric measuring system
It's handy to be able to measure in pounds as well as kilos, for working with older and US recipes.
This is more important for rotating mechanical scales where the base is used to reset the scales to zero.
Mechanical scales can be bulky, especially if they have a bowl attached. Electronic scales are quite compact and flat and can be stored away easily.
Liquid measure feature
You can weigh liquids on any scale using a kilogram readout as long as they are a similar density to water. Use the liquid measure feature for weighing liquids that have a different density to water, like honey or oil.
For digital scales:
Look for an easy to read digital display with clear labelling. An automatic turn-off screen saves the battery when not in use. If you do lots of batch weighing, choose a model that has a longer time period before it switches off.
This is a digital display signal that shows the life of the battery.
For mechanical scales:
The numbering should be clear, with a contrasting colour needle.
It should be easy to get back to a zero reading either by base rotation or dial.
Kitchen scales can cost between $17 and $160.