Hello, friends, and welcome to what may be one of the most important posts I’ve written. Today we’re talking about how to use a food scale, and more importantly, why to use one.
A kitchen scale is perhaps the most used piece of equipment I own, and I’ll tell you why, give you my recommendation for my favorite one, and teach you how to use it. So if you’ve ever wondered why people would ever bother to weigh their ingredients for a recipe, now you’ll know!
This post is one in my Fundamental Friday series where I answer baking and cooking questions and/or teach techniques. For ease of browsing, you can find all of my Fundamental Friday posts in one place. You may also be interested in my ingredient function and mixing methods posts.
Thanks for being here as we explore using a kitchen scale!
See my how to use a kitchen scale web story here.
Balance Scales Vs Digital Scales
Friends, how to use a food scale is the most fundamental of fundamentals. And it’s something that the average home baker resists most mightily. I know; I was one of them.
The first day of culinary school, they set scales in front of us. And not those cute little glass ones you can get at Bed, Bath and Beyond, either. No, they were big old doctor’s office-looking balance scales with sets of weights and everything. Our heads collectively exploded.
Even though I got used to using the balance scale, it still kind of makes my head explode. Plus, they are expensive. (See that link above)
And they’re not super intuitive to use, either. I feel like I’m doing algebra when I have to replace a bunch of smaller weights with a bigger one and then add on more. Yuck.
A few weeks into culinary school though, our personal digital scales arrived. Nothing flashy. Nothing fancy. Just small plastic oval-shaped kitchen scales made by Escali. I still have that scale plus a matching friend for him.
The Importance of Using a Scale
Like all of us in our initial baking class, you’re probably wondering “What’s the big deal about using a scale?”
Here’s the thing. Measuring cups are made to hold a certain amount of Stuff. Once the measure is full, you level it off, and you’re done.
If you fill a cup measure with sand, you have a cup of sand. If you fill it with salt, you have a cup of salt. If you fill it with flour, you have a cup of flour.
When we use measuring cups to measure, we’re measuring volume or how much room something takes up.
Now, pour each of those cups of Stuff onto a scale. Each one will weigh a different amount. Even though each ingredient took up the same amount of room (8 ounces of room, since there are 8 ounces of volume in a measuring cup), since different ingredients have different densities and some can be packed down, their weights will all be different.
To illustrate the confusion, here’s a quoted comment from my friend Brandy’s fantastic Savory Simple blog in response to a post about Grain-Free Paleo Pizza Crust in which she gave measurements in both cups and ounces:
I am confused about the recipe. It says add – “4 ounces (1 cup) almond meal” and “4¼ ounces (1 cup) arrowroot flour” – but… 4 oz does not 1 cup make. 🙂 Did you possible [sic] mean 1/2 Cup … or the 1 Cup for each?
On the surface, it does seem confusing. If I may be so bold, I think this is how that commenter’s thought process went:
- What the what?!
- A cup is 8 ounces, right?
- Then why would anyone specify one cup of two different ingredients and say one is 4 ounces and the other is 4 1/4 ounces? That’s crazy all by itself.
- Aside from that, she surely must have meant half a cup since half of 8 is 4.
- I will gently remind her of this, softening the blow and keeping it light by making a smiley face.
What Brandy’s instructions indicate is that, if you’re using a scale, you’ll need 4 ounces by weight of almond meal and 4.25 ounces, again by weight, of arrowroot.
And if you don’t have a scale, the best you’ll be able to do is use a one cup volume measuring cup and get pretty close.
It’s like that old riddle, “Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of bricks?” The answer is that they weigh the same: one pound.
Volumetrically though, the feathers will occupy a ton more space since they weigh so much less than bricks. It takes lots of feathers to add up to one pound, but you’ll have to break a brick into six pieces to get a piece that weighs a pound (standard building bricks weigh about six pounds each).
You could easily hold a pound of (part of a) brick in one hand. You might need a pillowcase to hold a pound of feathers, though.
Busting the Volume Measure Mentality
Here’s what a friend posted on her Facebook page regarding measurements:
Hey folks! There’s often a bit of confusion when I specify ounce measurements next to cup measurements in a recipe. I think this is worth repeating periodically for those who are new to baking:
-1 cup of liquid = 8 fluid ounces.
-1 cup of dry ingredients does not = 8 ounces. It will vary depending on what the ingredient is. For example, 1 cup of bricks will weigh more than 1 cup of feathers. Make sense?
Liquid measurements are different than dry measurements. I highly recommend investing in a kitchen scale!
Now, this sort of post is music to my ears, because I have been preaching the gospel of weights lo these many years I’ve been lost and wandering in the wilderness. But, many people (especially in the US) only understand cup (Volume Measures).
1 Cup Doesn’t Always Equal 8 Ounces
Another commenter had this to say:
Glad you posted this different sites say different things. I guess flour, sugar butter would weigh the same? (THIS IS NOT TRUE)
I always use scales but thanks for the advice if I stick to 8oz = 1 cup for things like butter, flour, sugar it should be ok. How many fluid ounces in one cup? (THIS IS NOT TRUE)
I understand the confusion. Let me try to be very clear about weights and volumes:
For liquid measurements in fluid ounces, there are three ingredients where one cup equals 8 oz (or where 8 fluid ounces equals 8 ounces by weight):
- whole milk
- whole eggs
The only culinary liquid ingredients that measure the same both by weight and by volume are whole milk, whole eggs (out of the shell), and water.
While most other liquid ingredients will weigh right around 8 oz per cup, some such as honey are notably heavier (1 cup of honey (8 fluid ounces) weighs about 12 ounces while 1 cup of vegetable oil (8 fluid ounces) weighs about 7 ounces.
Weighing in Grams or Ounces
Since I’m from America, I tend to weigh ingredients–liquid or dry–using ounces. In almost every single one of my posts, I have a section that specifically lets folks know that they need to know how to use a food scale so they can follow my recipes and succeed.
Maybe I’m a stickler, but I’m willing to die on this hill, even in ounces.
As much as I hate to admit it, measuring in grams is more precise.
Here are some often-used conversions from grams to ounces/ounces to grams:
- 1 ounce = 28 grams
- 1 cup water, milk, or whole eggs = 225 grams
- 1 cup flour = 125 grams
|Ingredient (1 Cup)||Weight in Ounces||Weight in Grams|
|flour||4.5 ounces||125 grams|
|granulated sugar||7 ounces||200 grams|
|brown sugar||7.5 ounces||213 grams|
|milk||8 ounces||225 grams|
Whether your recipe is written in grams (which is always a measure of weight) or it is specified that everything is weighed in ounces (like most of my recipes), you can use the same scale. Just press the measurement selection button to toggle between pounds & ounces and grams.
Do I Need to Weigh Small Amounts Like Teaspoons?
I generally use measuring spoons for anything with a volume of less than 2 Tablepoons (roughly an ounce, if it’s a liquid).
Here are some common ingredients that are usually used in small amounts, so if you want to weigh them, you certainly can:
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt = 3 grams for Diamond Crystal, 5 grams for Morton’s (Morton’s has smaller crystals, so it packs together more tightly than Diamond)
- 1 teaspoon table salt = 6 grams
- 1 teaspoon yeast = 3 grams
- 1 teaspoon baking powder = 4 grams
- 1 teaspoon baking soda = 3 grams
Parts of a Kitchen Scale
If you’ve never used a digital kitchen food scale before, it’s a pretty straightforward piece of equipment. While there will be some differences among brands and models, these are the basic parts that almost all scales will have in some form or other.
- Weighing platform: This is where you place your bowl or container to measure ingredients into. Some scales come with a bowl strictly for this purpose. I tend to measure into whatever I’ll be cooking/mixing in:
stand mixerbowl, saucepan, etc. If I’m scaling out individual portions, like for rolls, cookies, or hamburger patties, I’ll cover the weighing platform with a piece of plastic wrap to keep it from getting dirty. Then, I scale directly onto the platform rather than into a bowl.
- Display: Pretty self-explanatory. Here’s where you’ll read the weight and double-check to see if you’ve zeroed out your scale between measurments.
- ON/TARE button: Press once to turn the unit on. Press again once you have weighed something to reset the scale to zero again, even with a bowl on the weighing platform.
- Measurement Units Selection: toggle among pounds and ounces, ounces, and grams.
When scaling small portions, as for meatballs or cookies, place a piece of plastic wrap over your scale to keep it clean. Then you can measure directly on the weighing platform.
How to Use a Food Scale
Using a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients is a straightforward process, once you get used to it.
Here’s how to do it.
- Place your scale on a clean, flat surface.
- Place the bowl or container you’ll be measuring into onto the weighing platform.
- Turn the scale ON. It should come on and read 0.00, 0:0.0, or 0g depending on which measurement it is set for. NOTE: If you place your bowl or container on the scale after you turn it on, press the TARE or zero button. On the Escali, this is the same button you press to turn it on.
- Measure your ingredient into the bowl, stopping at whatever measurement you’re going for.
- To add more ingredients into the same bowl, simply press the TARE/ON button between measurements so the scale will always start at 0.
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How to Use a Food Scale
Step by Step instructions on how to weigh ingredients using a kitchen food scale.
- Bowl or Other Container
- Plastic Wrap (optional)
- Scoop, Spoon, or Cup
- Kitchen Scale
- Place your scale on a clean and level surface, like a countertop.
- If portioning directly onto the weighing platform (for rolls, cookie dough, meatballs, etc), cover the platform with plastic wrap to keep it clean. Otherwise, place your bowl onto the weighing platform.
- Press the ON/TARE button on your scale and wait for it to read "0."
- Press the measurement selection button so your scale will measure in the increments needed: pounds and ounces, ounces, or grams.
- Using a scoop, spoon, or cup (depending on what you're weighing), add the ingredient to the bowl until you reach the desired weight.
To Weigh Multiple Ingredients Into the Same Bowl
- Follow Steps 1-5, above.
- Press the TARE button to return the display to zero.
- Repeat Step 5 for each subsequent ingredient, pressing the TARE button after each measurement before going on to measure the next ingredient.
To Scale Out Individual Portions
- Follow steps 1-4.
- Using a bench knife or similar, cut off a piece of what you're scaling out (bread dough, cookie dough, meatball mix, etc) and place it on the plastic wrap-covered weighing platform.
- Read the measurement in the display, and add a bit more or remove a little until you get the measurement you need.
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Thanks for hanging out with me for this admittedly very long post about how to weigh ingredients using a kitchen scale!
Take care, and have a lovely day.
What Others Are Saying...
I too was a scale-denier — through over 20 years of baking! I think for a long time I was just pooh-poohing the scale evangelists, thinking “Oh, they’re just being overly picky…” when really I was in denial about my own resistance to change. I’m an extremely practical, left-brain person, and eventually I just could no longer deny the logic of it.
I got away with it for so long because my primary baking interests were breads and pastry doughs, which are fairly forgiving, but when I had to begin really learning cakes due to client demand (I’d never been a cake lover myself), the importance of weighing became indisputable.
I’m not sure what the best way to convince home bakers of this would be. Some people are just always going to resist change. And it doesn’t help that some otherwise science-based cooking programs (like America’s Test Kitchen) continue to use the volume method almost exclusively in their recipes.
It probably won’t ever stop until American finally joins the rest of the world in converting to the metric system. Oh, how I wish that day would come. Our measurements system is so irrational that if you didn’t grow up using it, I’m sure it would look completely insane.
Jennifer Field says
Yes! that’s it exactly–ATK, who prides themselves on precision, still use volume measures. King Arthur, too. I guess it’s the whole “Americans are too resistant so let’s just go with the flow,” but I find it lazy. And I was thinking about our measurements, about how a foot was the length of a King’s foot. Seriously? Weird.
Yeah, really weird. Base 12 for length, and base 16 for wet and dry volume. Truly nutty.
Margo, Thrift at Home says
I’m a cookbook editor, so I do understand the volume vs. weight thing, but as a home cook, I don’t really use a scales. I have one, but most of the recipes I make are not precise enough to need it.
Jennifer Field says
For cooking, I rarely if ever use a scale, but I find I get my best results in baking when I weigh at least the critical components (I never weigh or measure vanilla or other flavorings/spices, etc).
Jennie I understand perfectly what you are saying about weight vs. volume. My need to know question is: If you have a recipe that is in volume only, for instance, use 1 cup of flour, do you change the recipe by weighting that cup of flour. By doing this are you messing the recipe up? Or do you proceed and weight everything like butter, sugar, etc? Seems like you are then creating a new recipe. I hope you answer me because I have come upon this so many times and not known what I should do.
Jennifer Field says
That’s a really good question, Shirley. If you have a recipe written in volume only *and* you have made it before and have been successful, I’d just measure each quantity by volume and then write down each corresponding weight. That way, you won’t ever have to bother with volume for that recipe again. If you have a recipe written in volume and you have *not* made it before, I’d probably consult a conversion chart and do all the volume to weight conversions using it. King Arthur has an excellent one here: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe/master-weight-chart.html I hope this answers your question. Feel free to ask for clarification if I’ve missed the mark. I’m happy to help!
Glenyce England says
I’m so glad that I found somebody willing to help me. I’m so tired of waiting for the United States to go metric, and I am exhausted with all these measuring cups and spoons. So I’m doing my best to strike out on my own, using kitchen scales rather than measuring cups and spoons. My first question is that my scale has a milk mode and a water mode. But no oil mode, so how do I measure oil? And are the milk mode and water mode on a scale really that important? My second question is how do I measure solids, like butter, margarine and shortening? Third question: I’ve always thought that grams was a dry measurement. So why do I see online where milk, for instance is so many grams? My fifth question is when would I use fluid ounces rather than milligrams? I’m searching my best for online websites with recipes in metric, but they are hard to find. One more question. I’m new to kitchen scales and using metric measurements in the kitchen, so, is there a website that will offer to turn my family recipes into metric measurements from imperial? I sure don’t trust myself to do this properly. Thank you so much!
Jennifer Field says
Hey, Glenyce! I’m so glad you found this post, and I’m happy to help you on your journey towards accurate weighing and away from volume measures.
First, a scale is going to have no idea of what you’re weighing, even if you use a “milk” mode, so I think that option is sort of a gimmick. What I will say is that water weighs the same as by volume. So, for example, 8 oz water in a liquid measure will actually weigh 8 oz. The only 3 liquids that are exact, volume to weight, are whole milk, water, and whole eggs (yolks and whites). All other liquids will vary. Some, like oil, will weigh less per cup and some, like heavy syrups, will weigh more per cup.
What I do when I am unsure of the weight of an ingredient is to either a)weigh the volume amount and then write that down (like weighing out 5 Tablespoons of butter and then writing down what the weight is) or b)consult the King Arthur Flour ingredient chart. It gives the weight of tons of frequently-used ingredients. You can find that here: https://www.kingarthurbaking.com/learn/ingredient-weight-chart If I want to know how much olive oil weighs, I can look it up. The chart shows me that 1/4 cup of olive oil weighs 1.75 oz or 50 grams. So if you need a cup, you’ll multiply by 4. You’ll weigh either 7 oz (1.75 x 4) or 200 grams (50 x 4).
Gram measurements always measure mass. Whether that mass is composed of dry or wet, it doesn’t matter. To keep it simple, think “weight” when you see “grams.” Your scale should have a button to allow you to switch between ounces and grams. I use that button often! When I do find a recipe that is measured in grams, I just use the gram button. I often weigh in ounces for myself, since as an American, I understand ounces better than grams. All my recipes, when I expressly call for ounces, are measured by weight and not volume. I’d rather weigh out 7 ounces of milk on a scale than try to use a liquid measure for that. And again, with whole milk, the volume and weights are consistent with each other.
When a recipe expressly calls for fluid ounces, you’ll need to use a liquid measure. To weigh the liquid instead, I’d refer to the chart. If it’s a recipe or an amount you’ll use often (like 1/2 cup oil, for example), weigh that cup of milk in ounces or grams and then write down the result. That way, next time you need a cup of milk, you’ll be able to weigh it out rather than mess around with a liquid measure.
As far as metric system measurements, a cc (cubic centimeter) = 1 gram, so you shouldn’t have to ever use milliliters.
An ounce imperial = 28 grams in weight, so you can often just multiply number of ounces by 28 to get the gram weight. This works with water, whole milk, and whole eggs, volume to mass/weight. So if you need 1/4 cup of milk, and a cup is 8 oz, you know you need 2 oz. Multiply that times 28 and you’ll need 56 grams of milk.
I hope that makes sense! Start by converting your favorite recipes. Say you have a cake recipe and it calls for 3 cups of flour. Measure that flour out the way you normally do, and then weigh the result and write it down. Depending on how you measure your flour: scooping and sweeping, spooning and sweeping, etc, a cup will weigh somewhere between 4 and 5 oz. Say you measure *your* cup out at 4.5 oz, so next time you make that cake, you know you’ll need 13.5 oz of flour. In grams (x28) that’s 378 grams. Write it down and you’ll never have to mess with your measuring cups again!
Please let me know if I’ve not been clear enough or if you have any other questions!