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.
Digital (electronic) scales like the ones in our kitchen scale reviews are generally better at measuring out small and precise amounts - especially useful if you're cooking something complicated, or on a strict diet.
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 is 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 a mechanical scale. If you want a precise, easy to read measurement, consider a digital scale. 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.
For both digital and mechanical 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.
Tare and continuous weighing
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.
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. That can be handy if you want to mix set amounts of ingredients in the one bowl, such as flour, then sugar, and so on.
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. Look for a a light weight 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 do not move when pressing on controls. 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. 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 are 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:
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:
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.
For easy cleaning, look for a smooth flat surface with no cracks and crevices, especially around the controls.
Kitchen scales can cost from under $10 to over $150. As with most appliances, a higher price doesn't always mean the scales are better; we've found some cheap scales that rate better than much pricier models.