Tips

how to use a kitchen scale

[And ditch your measuring cups forever!] Count me among those who rejoice whenever a recipe is presented in weights. Why? Because nothing is more accurate. A cup of flour, packed different ways, can weigh anything from 4 to 7 ounces! But a 4.5 ounce cup will always be a 4.5 ounce cup. Plus, nothing uses fewer dishes. A one-bowl cake is truly a one-bowl (and one spoon) recipe, messes are minimized and cooking becomes a flow that it is not when you’re rifling around in your drawer-o-kitchen-crap for the bleeping quarter teaspoon measure. A few people have asked me lately how exactly one uses a scale to measure ingredients, and this post is for them:

It all comes down to taring or zeroing out the existing weight of what you’ve got. Place you empty bowl on your scale and “tare” or “zero out” you weight. (On most digital scales, which I think are the easiest for kitchen use, you simply hit the “On/Clear” button again. On a mechanical scale, you can turn a knob back to the zero mark; on a balance scale, you would set the pointer to the center mark, but somehow I doubt you’re using a balance scale in your kitchen, right?) Add your first ingredient, slowly, until the scale reaches the weight you need. Zero it out again. Add the next ingredient. Zero it out again. If the recipe calls for you to whisk, whip, or blow gentle kisses across the surface of your ingredients, go do that too, but when it calls for the next ingredients, re-zero out the weight of the bowl so that you can continue.

You’ll have this method down in no time. You’ll wonder why you hadn’t tried it sooner. And when the rest of the world (coughUSAcough) gets on this weighed ingredients bandwagon, you’ll wonder what you’ll do with all of the extra drawer space you once devoted to a tangle of dash-pinch-teaspoon-cup measuring implements. I’m voting for stashing chocolate.

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41 comments on how to use a kitchen scale

  1. jessie

    oh, I have been hoping so hard that your book will be published with recipes with weights! so many great cookbooks coming out of the US at the moment, but it’s so so annoying to be always trying to remember how much a stick and a half of butter weighs. pounds and ounces are a language I can get my head around, but sticks and cups? does my poor little head in ;)

  2. Marion

    That’s funny… I’m European and find measuring spoons and cups a lot less fussy! I only ever use one measuring cup (it’s a whole cup but 1/2, 1/4 and 1/3 are marked on the inside) and one set of measuring spoons so it doesn’t take much drawer space. However, I should probably add that I’m a very sloppy baker/cook. The dminished accuracy is actually a good thing in my book. Your recipes still taste delicious :)

    I do hate sticks of butter, though. I can never remember how much they weigh.

  3. I got a “My Weigh KD-7000” for Christmas last year, and I was a bit sceptical about how much use I’d get out of it, but believe me, it’s so much easier weighing out 22 ounces of flour by dumping it in a bowl than scooping and sweeping six individual cups of flour. In other words: I’m pretty lazy for someone who likes making bread and very happy that Deb’s book will have weights!

    @brita – I don’t have anything to compare my model to, but I’m quite pleased with it. It conveniently has a number of different forms of measurement that you can switch between–so it doesn’t matter whether the measurements you have are in ounces or grams, since the scale registers those and more.

  4. I too am a scale convert. I use it even if the recipe calls for cups. By now I know most of the conversions off the top of my head:
    1 cup milk or water = 237g (sorry I’m European, love the metric system. You can divide these amounts by 28 to get ounces)
    1 cup butter = 230g
    1 cup sugar = 200g
    1 cup flour…
    Ah, the flour is trickier, since as you mentioned, it depends how the cup is filled. But I hate cups so much that I just go with 1 cup flour = 125g, more or less, and I’ve never had a problem.
    When the recipe calls for 1 cup ground almonds, or something I haven’t memorized, then I search online for something like “volume to weight conversion almonds” and usually find a good source for conversions, such as: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/

  5. I am not coming from a weight-measuring background, in Turkey we used “tea glass”, “coffee cup” and “water glass” for the measurements…and the feel “earlobe consistency” for dough, and “as much as it can handle” for flour addition.
    But now that I am trying to re-create my grandma’s recipes and trying to come up with a recipe that I can remember, I invested in a kitchen scale and using a calculator in the kitchen as well, and it has made everything so easy. My years in the lab is paying off now:)

  6. rebecca

    Thanks for these wonderful tips. No need to publish this comment, but I want to let you know that in paragraph 2 you say “Place you empty bowl on your scale.” As wonderful as it is to imagine your words in a crazy accent, I’m pretty sure the “r” was cut out during editing. Just thought you’d want to know. (And I’m honestly impressed by the fact that you manage to publish so much with so few errors).

  7. amy

    I could not live without my scale. not only has it changed my life in the kitchen, but it does pretty well as a postage scale. And I would rather do anything than go to the post office with twin 3 year old boys (or really at all since they were born)
    I weigh, and then hit the USPS website to get the $$ amount and i put that value in stamps on the package. and out the door it goes for my mail-woman.

  8. I’ve got the most brilliant scales- I’m away from them at the moment and can’t for the life of me remember the brand, but I do know its essential characteristics off by heart:

    1. It measures very small as well as very heavy things, which makes it just as useful for measuring yeast as measuring potatoes (or very small babies).
    2. It is electric. If you want to measure very small increments, even small increments (such as 30g of butter), than mechanical scales don’t work so well.
    3. It has a completely flat surface, allowing me to use any bowl I like on top (rather than a custom-fitted one).
    4. It has a ‘hold’ button, which will keep the weight just measured in the display long enough for me to take off the extremely large bowl I’ve used and see how much that baby weighs.

  9. Andy A

    Deb,
    Great website! Whatever happened to the link you used to have posted on your cooking conversions website that gave various weight equivalents? I used to just link to it from your site every time, but now it’s not there. How am I supposed to know how much a cup of flour weighs in grams now? Thanks for any help!

  10. Ann

    Hi,

    this is great! But, I am a UK reader! Where, for all that is good and holy, can one find a definitive version of what 1 cup of flour weighs in grams? 2/3? It can vary from site to site from 115g to 155g! I’ve had personal failures due to this glitch with the amazing sounding chewy granola bars and chewy oatmeal raisin cookies. This is no fault of the recipe, but I can’t find the accurate ratios. And yes, I have many cups & mugs in my home, but not one that I know equals what Americans know to be one cup! Any one have any help?

    Thank you so much for now adding quantities in grams, I am so grateful!

    Ann

  11. Q

    thank you! i’ve been meaning to make certain recipes forever where you must. have. scale. or you’re just wasting ingredients.
    is there any specific trusted brand/model you (or anyone else) could recommend?

  12. Antuanete

    I am devoted fan of your blog (it all started with carrot muffins and maple cream cheese…) and I hope you will never switch fully to measuring in weights. Ever since I got my copy of “Joy of Cooking” and started trying American recipes, I loved measuring in cups (which, after all, are strictly defined volume, not like our European “glass”, varying from 200 to 300 ml). And since I have set of measuring cups (instead of single, unmarked cup which is 240 ml and that’s all), I love them even more. Though, it is useful to have alternative measurements in recipes, when sharing my versions of your recipes to Latvian cooking-and-talking-in-forums community (especially with sticks – have several times put twice as many butter in a dough, because our “sticks” come as 200 grams – but it haven’t ruined any of dishes!)
    Thank you for this inspiring blog; can’t wait for a SmittenKitchen cookbook!

    1. deb

      I really like my Salter digital scale, but I know the OXO and this model are also very popular. What matters most, I’d say, is that it’s digital, switches easily between grams and ounces and preferably goes to 10 pounds. My first one, my favorite, went only to 5 pounds (I theorized that I’d rarely be weighing heavier things, which was true, but I do use heavy bowls and want to weep every time I’m adding flour to a bowl and it goes over and zeroes out and I lose my work.)

  13. M

    I also LOVE my kitchen scale! However, I made the mistake last week of measuring out cooking oil with the mL unit, rather than grams, not realizing that mL on the scale is probably calibrated for water, which of course weighs more than oil. So my cake was super oily, it was like someone poured a bottle of oil over a regular cake. Don’t do this. :)

  14. Mary

    Hi,
    I made a recipe today that called for 1cup of melted butter. I melted 2 sticks of butter on the stove. When it was melted, I poured it into a measuring cup & there was more than 1 cup. I always thought a stick of butter was 1/2 cup.
    What gives? I ended up using the measured amount. Did I do the right thing?
    Now I’m worried about how much butter to use when recipes call for it. Do I need to measure it? I don’t trust the markings on the butter wrapper now.

  15. Expat Eric

    a bit of a can of worms here, but yes, many thanks Deb for going for weights, in that it is largely much more accurate and also, thankfully, as you point out, it saves on washing up.

    One trick I like to use, now that I have a scale that measures negative values, is to place the bag of sugar/flour/chocolate/block of butter on the scale, tare it, and use a scoop/knife to take as much as is needed. This is helpful if you’re worried about dumping too much of an ingredient in (eg. excess chocolate (is there such a thing?) can’t be removed from melted butter), or if you’re approaching the maximum weight limit on your scale. If your scale doesn’t read negatives, you’ll have to do the arithmetic.

    Mary, I’m sure you’ve figured it out long ago, but what kind of cup measure did you use? Dry cups are not the same volume as liquid cups, something my British, now-ex-wife wasn’t aware of, much to her, and a particular recipe’s chagrin. Just to make your head spin, fluid ounces, pints and gallons are not the same size in the UK as they are in the US! I could go on, and on, and on…

  16. Nakadaca

    I’m going to ask a dumb question here. I’ve recently received the Salter scale for Christmas, and so far, I love it. However, can someone tell me the proper way to add dry ingredients to the measuring bowl? I have dumped flour, etc. right in the middle, but if stirred, the weight will change a fair amount. I’ve tried scooping the dry ingredients into the bowl evenly (in a circular motion, so the contents are level). Still, when the contents are mixed lightly, the weight changes. Which is the correct way?

  17. Lois

    Nakadaca…your question is not dumb at all! I read thru the entire blog looking for just such a question & it’s answer, as I too am having the same problem. Being from the USA I have always used cups etc., however, I recently purchased a Salter Digital Scale and I plan on using it for bread making…so hopefully someone out there will answer our dumb question!
    Thank you in advance!

  18. deb

    Sorry for the delayed responses:

    Nakadaca — The weight may change by a gram or two as you move things around, but nothing to worry about. If more, there might be a problem with the scale. (I can’t attest to all Salter scales, of course. The one I had for several years worked great, though, and I’d have bought it again but couldn’t find it once my original one kicked.)

    sam — I’m not sure. lb’oz isn’t any measurement I’ve heard of.

  19. Rozy

    Hello,
    I’m slowly converting as well. My question is similar to sams, I believe he meant lb:oz, my scale says that too (or fl:oz), Iam trying to figure out the cooked ground meat I measured. As I poured it into the bowl it went from [0: 15 lb:oz] to [1: 0.5 lb:oz] this was a lot of meat all together, but I can’t figure out what the scale is telling me in oz, in order to divide up portions.

    Also, I am concerned that my scale might be wrong because the cooked meats I weigh at 6oz/serving seems a lot more compared to what a restaurant serves as their 6oz piece of meat. What are your thoughts?

  20. Larry

    Great site! I was hoping to find out how scales claim to measure fl oz/ml. I’ve never tried to use one, but I’m really curious.
    Rozy…
    #1 the number before the colon is pounds, the number after it is ounces. 0:15 = 15 ounces, 1:0.5 = 1lb 1/2oz, or 16.5 ounces.
    #2 Restaurants usually quote meat portion sizes in uncooked weight, so if you’re weighing out 6ozs of cooked meat, you’ve got a portion they would call 8oz(approx)

  21. Laureen

    I bought 5 scales in the past years and all of the, 2 digital and 3 mechanical, are inaccurate and inconsistent and end up breaking on me

  22. Laureen

    I bought 5 scales in the past year and all of them, 2 digital and 3 mechanical, are inaccurate and inconsistent and end up breaking on me

  23. Lindsay

    Deb I need your help…I am also an obsessive home cook and I keep wondering why I find so many different answers to ‘how much does a cup of flour weigh?’ Americas Test Kitchen says 140 grams per cup, but you say 125 grams. On king Arthur’s flour website they say 120. Which is correct?? What do I use when a recipe calls for 1 cup of flour? I use my kitchen scale for everything.

  24. Dusty

    Weight v.s. volume for me is easy if conversions or equivalents are needed. A pint is a pound. Two cups are a pint. So if the recipe calls for a cup I often use an 8 oz package of something. Fudge pies for Holiday Season that said 2 cups were easy to just dump in a 16 oz package of chocolate chips. There cannot, after all, be too much chocolate in the pie. My cooking teacher insisted that cooking is not (usually) rocket science and close or best guess will mostly taste great. And those fudge pies were wonderful. My butter has tablespoons and cups and part-cups printed on the wrappers. A cup of flour is enough scooped flour from the (sealed) storage can to fill the measuring cup to the line. Or, I might measure 8 ounces(equivalent grams?). Too easy. I mix and match weight with volume and it is always good. So far. I am going to buy an electric scale because of all the comments here. Will see how that does in my kitchen.

  25. deb

    Lindsay — I’m so sorry I missed your comment earlier. And yes, you are 100% — it’s very annoying that nobody agrees. I’ve always used 120 in the past but these days, will often split the difference with 130 grams. While I feel that 120 is more accurate, I know that most home cooks are not delicately spooning and sweeping flour into their 1-cup measures, thus, they’re getting closer to 130 grams. Hope that makes sense.

  26. Ted

    One of the problems I find with weighing ingredients (which I prefer for baking) is that sometimes recipes want a measure of something using hundredths of a gram: e.g., the bread recipe I saw last week that called of 9.04 grams of yeast. (The author runs a production bakery, so I suspect the recipe was scaled down from one producing something like 20 loaves.)

    My scale is calibrated in whole grams so weighing hundredths and tenths of a gram is just me eyeballing it.

    I guess I need a more accurate scale, but I also hope that recipe developers will work in whole grams.

  27. Tinny

    I don’t mind measuring things by volume, as long as it is metric, and not the terribly inconvenient American cups (and oh lord, “a stick of butter” -_-). Incenvenience here being the fact that those are measures not really used by anyone who is not an American, and hence, unless I want to order a separate set of measuring spoons from the States, everything needs to be converted into usable measures. Your blog is basically the only place where I find recipes that I will bother converting to metric for actual use, otherwise American cooking will continue to not exist in my life until it comes readily measured in metric volumes and weights :D

    I’ve often considered a kitchen scale, but haven’t found it necessary so far, since all local recipes here come with volume and weight measures used pretty much according to whichever measure the thing is sold by. Notable exceptions include sugar and flour, but they are not hard to measure in terms of volume. Sure, I don’t do professional level baking, but I have never had a problem with a recipe because measuring something like flour according to volume would have been too tricky or inaccurate. Problems have arisen occasionally when having to convert from American volume measures to metric, because that’s where it’s sometimes impossible to be completely accurate, but that is a marginal issue, and a bit of experience helps in navigating around those problems.

  28. Shelly

    I LOVE my kitchen scale ! I am wondering if the discrepancy with the flour weights comes from different flours?? AP vs WW vs Cake flour which all seem to have a different density. Laughingly I have to agree with others about the “stick of butter” … as butter generally does not come in sticks in Canada I am constantly having to look it up. I use my kitchen scale to weigh cookie dough portions to get same sized cookies, to weight filled cake tins to get same sized cakes etc. So many uses.

  29. Rainlee

    I’ve been happy with my Soehnle digital scale. It weighs up to 5000 grams/11 lbs, easily converts from grams to lbs/oz, and has a tare button. I use it almost every day.

  30. i always measure flours and sugars, etc, and i agree it can pack down and make your baked good too heavy. but i have never used the scale for 1 tsp vanilla for example. would the kitchen scale be accurate enough for small amounts like that? even if it is, vanilla or another liquid, poured in would be tough to not over pour. once you put it in, you can’t take it out again. unless you eye-droppered it in. i would think a set of spoons is still useful for this purpose. i’d rather look for the right measuring spoon then be like,”now where did i put that eye dropper again?” but i do agree about using it for flours and sugars. especially in baking. unless you’re experimenting/trying to create a new recipe, follow the recipe to a T in baking. that’s my motto.

  31. Bana

    Yes, yes, YES! Thank you! Please, lovely Americans, can you ditch the measuring cups and spoons? (and the entire imperial measurement system for that matter :) I’m a Canadian that’s been living in Europe for a long time, and when I’m following a recipe nothing gets me more than having to rummage through the drawers searching, as you aptly stated, for that ‘bleeping quarter teaspoon measure’, while I google on my phone with sticky hands what blabla fahrenheit is in celsius, and what a stick, or worse, a tablespoon of butter is in grams (how can you have a tablespoon of solid butter?!), ARGH! The disparity in measurements when using cups/spoons along with the difference in flours and ingredients between the U.S. and Europe makes for some seriously off-kilter recipes.

  32. Hillary

    Yes! I finally did this today with Jacob’s “tchocolate” birthday cake. It was amazing! The best part was not having to pack the brown sugar. Thanks for the tip!