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How to buy the best kitchen scales

Digital or mechanical? We'll help you find the right way to weigh.

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If you're a keen cook, you'll know that measuring out the ingredients just right can make the difference between mediocre and a masterpiece. But unless you're able to fling in just the right amount of cornflour mid-simmer, or mentally convert grams to cups, guesswork only goes so far. You'll need a good set of kitchen scales to help. We explain the differences between digital and mechanical scales, and the features to look for when buying a new set.

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What's the difference between digital and mechanical scales?

Digital scales

Digital (electronic) scales like the ones in our kitchen scale reviews are generally better at measuring out small and precise amounts, which is especially useful if you're cooking something complicated, or are on a strict diet.

Mechanical scales

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.

Which type of kitchen scales are best?

It really depends what's most important to you. Most kitchen scales are easy to use and reasonably accurate, but if you want something very simple that doesn't need batteries, then go for mechanical scales. If you want precise, easy to read measurements, consider digital scales. 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.

Features to look for

For both digital and mechanical types of scales:

Capacity

How much do you need to weigh? For the average domestic kitchen, a 3–5kg 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.

Weighing platform

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's balanced and centred on the platform and you can still see the readout.

Tare function

The tare function simply resets the scale to zero. You can place a bowl on the scale, use the tare function to reset the scale to zero, then measure out your ingredients into the bowl, so that you're only weighing the ingredients, not the bowl as well.

Continuous weighing

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. This can be handy if you want to mix set amounts of ingredients in the one bowl, such as flour, then sugar, and so on.

Weighing bowl

Some kitchen scales come with a lightweight bowl or measuring jug, which are handy and practical – particularly when using the tare function 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. Look for a lightweight bowl with a small base area but a wide rim with a pouring lip.

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.

Non-slip base and bench stability

Make sure the scales sit flat on the bench and don't move when pressing on controls. This is more important for rotating mechanical scales where the base is used to reset the scales to zero.

Storage

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. Some are raised and have a bowl which can be removed and stored separately.

Liquid measure feature

You can weigh liquids on any scale using a kilogram readout as long as they're a similar density to water. Use the liquid measure feature, if available, for weighing liquids that have a different density to water, like honey or oil.

For digital scales:

Screen

Look for an easy to read digital display with clear labelling. You should be able to easily see the display while your ingredients are on the scales. An automatic turn-off screen, that has at least a three-minute time period before it switches off, plus a memory recall (which shows the same reading again once the screen comes back on), allows enough time to measure your ingredients and helps save the battery when not in use. It's also handy if the display indicates how much life is left in the battery.

For mechanical scales:

Easy-to-read increments

The numbering should be clear, with a contrasting colour needle.

Easy tare

It should be easy to get back to a zero reading either by base rotation or dial.

Smooth surfaces

For easy cleaning, look for a smooth flat surface with no cracks and crevices, especially around the controls. 

How much do kitchen scales cost?

The kitchen scales we've tested range from $9–110.