If you need an all-purpose digital kitchen scale for baking, cooking by ratio, or even measuring beans to brew coffee, the Jennings CJ4000 ($26) combines some of the best features we’ve seen in a scale. We found this after nearly 30 hours of research, interviews with experts, and tests over the last two years. The Jennings is easy to use and store, comes with an AC adapter to save on batteries, and has an auto-off function that you can disable—so you can take your sweet time mixing or brewing. It costs roughly half the price of our previous pick and can do one thing our previous pick can’t: It measures in half grams for even better precision.
For those who need even more accuracy for smaller amounts, we like the $18 American Weigh’s SC-2KG pocket scale with a capacity of .1 gram to 2 kilograms (great for weighing espresso).
Anyone who wants more consistent results from their baking, cooking, or coffee brewing should consider getting a kitchen scale.
You probably already know that bakers recommend using a food scale. The delicate alchemy of ingredients relies on precision, and there’s no better way to achieve that than by using a scale. According to Alton Brown, one cup of flour can equal anywhere from 4 to 6 ounces, depending on who measures it, how old it is, the size of the bag, and relative humidity. That’s a 50 percent disparity, the difference between a light-as-air cake and one that’s tough or rubbery.
Less commonly understood are the benefits of cooking with a scale. It’s far more accurate to weigh ingredients than to cram them into a measuring cup. Take cheese as a classic example: a recipe may call for a cup of shredded cheddar, but you’ll get different volumes grating with a box grater, microplane, or food processor. The same holds true for nuts, vegetables, or any number of ingredients that you’ll cut up. Your chop or dice may differ from that of the recipe tester.
Beyond accuracy, many chefs also like using a food scale because it makes cooking faster and simpler. Michael Ruhlman, author of Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, told us he likes cooking by ratio because it streamlines the mixing process. If you know the ratios in your recipe, you can whip up a batch of pasta dough (three parts flour, two parts egg) or biscuits (three parts flour, two parts liquid, one part fat) in a few minutes, or tailor the recipe to the number of guests you’re serving.
Even cheap digital scales can be very accurate, so if you’re currently using a $15 or $20 model that easily switches from grams to ounces, you might not want to upgrade.
Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and the forthcoming Bread Revolution: World-Class Baking with Sprouted and Whole Grains, Heirloom Flours, and Fresh Techniques, told us that for years he’s happily used a cheap food scale that only has an on/off button and tare feature.
Digital is the way to go for kitchen scales these days. Although you can still find old-school balance and mechanical/spring scales, digital ones combine accuracy and a slim design at a better price. They’re also the standard in professional kitchens. (Michael Chu, of Cooking For Engineers, gives a great explanation of the pros and cons of each style.)
As Michael Ruhlman told us, a scale “must read in grams and ounces. And, of course, it needs to be accurate.” Preferably the scale will read out in decimals rather than fractions (some scales come with both functions, but pro chefs recommend just decimals).
Any decent digital food scale has a tare button, which allows the scale to subtract the weight of the mixing bowl and report only the net weight of ingredients. You should be able to repeatedly tare, so you can zero out the weight of whatever’s in the bowl and measure additional ingredients.
The auto turn-off function shouldn’t kick in too quickly. It’s annoying when the scale turns off before you’ve finished measuring, because you’ll have to reweigh ingredients.
Most digital food scales weigh in whole grams (or eighths of an ounce). That level of accuracy is fine for most recipes. But for some tasks—like pour-over coffee or perfecting the amount of salt in your pain Poilâne—you might want a scale that goes down to .5 or .1 grams.
As for how much the scale will weigh, according the Ruhlman, unless you’re curing whole muscle cuts or making enormous batches of dough, a 6-11-pound-capacity scale should be fine for the average home cook. Peter Reinhart told us: “If you’re baking at home, you’re probably using something like a KitchenAid mixer, and you’ll rarely mix more than a couple pounds of flour at a time.”
Beyond these basics, the buttons on the scale should preferably be covered in a plastic membrane (a.k.a. “seamless”), so gunk won’t collect in the cracks and you can clean the machine easily. And when making large batches of food or cooking all day, an AC adapter can also be a nice feature. “Recipe testers I work with love to have plugs because they use scales all day,” said Ruhlman. “Changing batteries is a pain.” It’s also nice if the scale has a good-sized weigh platform that will easily hold a large mixing bowl or sheet pan.
Some scales also offer a “counting” function alongside weight. To use it, you weigh a sample set of 10 or 20, for example, and the scale then counts new objects based on the average weight of your sample set. We don’t think most people need this feature (though some enterprising bakers have used this function to do baker’s percentages).
The only thorough review of kitchen scales that we found was in Cook’s Illustrated. We did, however, find plenty of editorials—from The New York Times to a video by Alton Brown—preaching the gospel of cooking by ratio. User reviews of these gadgets also abound. Because of the lack of editorial reviews, we leaned heavily on advice from our experts.
We tested the accuracy of each scale with lab weights (500 g, 100 g, 50 g, 20 g, 1 g, and .5 mg) and weighed bread dough and pour-over coffees on each. Then, to get a better feel for how we liked the specific features, we used the scales daily for two weeks.
The Jennings scale has one of the smallest footprints of the scales we tested, making it easy to store on a counter or slip into a cupboard or drawer. It’s about the same size as the Ozeri, but much more sturdy, so we think it can take a bit more abuse.
Most people will probably use the battery setting on the Jennings scale, but it’s nice to have the option of the AC adapter. Not only does it conserve battery life, but it could also save you a last-minute trip to the store when you find the batteries have finally died. The My Weigh KD8000 also comes with an AC adapter option (as do most of the My Weigh and Jennings scales), but the other models we tested only use batteries.
The Jennings scale was one of only two scales we tested that allow you to disable the auto-off function. If this isn’t disabled, the scale turns off after about a minute and a half of inactivity—which is pretty skimpy compared to the OXO’s 6 minutes. But with the auto-off function disabled, you can take as much time as you need measuring and not worry about re-taring ingredients.
We also like the Jennings scale’s bright orange, backlit screen, which stays on as long as the scale does. The OXO, by comparison, turns off after only 30 seconds.
This is one of three scales we tested that has a counting function, which allows you to count big batches of individual objects. This feature is probably most useful for jobs outside the kitchen, but we can think of a few examples where it could save time in food prep. Say you’re making snack packs for your kid’s daycare and want 15 pretzels in each bag. You’d choose the PCS (count) mode and select “s = 10,” place 10 pretzels on the platform and lock the weight in by pressing the mode button. Now you can throw fistfulls of pretzels on the platform and the scale will count them based on the average weight of the first 10 weighed. You can also lock in the weight based on 20, 50, or 100 pieces. Some pretzels will be bigger or smaller, and the variation might cause the occasional miscount, which is why, for food, measuring in grams would probably be more accurate overall.
And again, for about $26, the Jennings CJ4000 offers a lot of value. It’s significantly better than a basic $20 food scale and a steal compared to the $50 OXO.
The Jennings scale comes with a 20-year manufacturer’s warranty.
The Jennings CJ4000 was recommended by Prima Coffee Equipment. We also read great things about it on threads on eGullet and The Fresh Loaf, and it received an average of 4.5 stars with 44 reviews on Amazon.
When weighing the 500 g, 100 g, 50 g, and 20 g lab weights, the Jennings scale consistently read .5 g higher. None of the scales in the test read 100 percent accurately. The slight misread could prove problematic for some coffee people, but not a biggie for most bakers or cooks.
If using a big pot for mixing dough, it takes some maneuvering to see the screen. You definitely can’t see the measurement if using a sheet pan. We prefer the OXO’s pull-out display. Yet for most baking, cooking, and coffee tasks, we think the Jennings will work just fine.
Over the six months since we initially made our picks, I’ve used this scale several times a month for baking and cooking, and I still highly recommend this model. I’ve found that I really like how compact it is for storage and how the small size doesn’t sacrifice functionality. The Jennings’s bright backlight makes it easy to see the display even when a big bowl is placed on the weigh surface. Surprisingly, one of the handiest features of the Jennings is the plastic cover that does double duty as a small measuring bowl. It’s just big enough to hold a few potatoes or apples at a time, so you don’t have to reach for a bowl to hold these items while weighing. I will say that batteries seem to die quicker in this model than in our prior top pick, but it’s not a big deal as it comes with an AC adapter. The adapter has come to my rescue several times when I realized, at the last minute, that the scale batteries were dead.
Many people love this scale because it does baker’s percentages. There are a number of standard formulas for different breads, and mixing by percentage (or ratio) makes it easier to tweak a recipe or scale the quantity up or down. It’s nifty that this scale does the math for you, but you don’t need this feature to mix with baker’s percentages. Peter Reinhart, who included baker’s percentages for all of his recipes in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, told us he’d never heard of a scale that would do baker’s math and doesn’t think it’s a necessity.
The OXO comes with a pull-out LCD screen, so you can set a sheet pan or big bowl on the weigh platform and still read the screen. It was more challenging to see the display screens on all of the other scales we tested.
The OXO’s ample 7 ¼-inch square metal weigh platform also pops off, so you can wash it easily without getting the mechanics wet. It’s also easy to wipe down the control buttons, since they’re covered in a plastic membrane.
The OXO reads in whole grams, so this isn’t the best scale for precisely measured pour-over coffee. The backlight also only stays on for 30 seconds, which some users seem annoyed by (this doesn’t really bother us).
We did find a substantial number of reader complaints that the OXO doesn’t remember the last unit measure used. We spoke with OXO, and they said this shouldn’t happen. It seemed to be an issue with only a percentage of the models.
If you happened to contact OXO recently to replace a Good Grips Stainless Steel Scale with Pull-Out Display that always reverts to ounces—even if you last chose the gram mode—and were told you couldn’t get a replacement, try again. After a reader let us know he was denied a new scale, we worked with OXO to resolve the replacement issue. Turns out that there was a misunderstanding within the company about the malfunction, but they’ve worked it out. If you have a scale that always reverts back to ounces after it turns off, you can get a full refund (if you have a copy of your receipt) or replacement by emailing [email protected] or calling 800-545-4411.
The OXO was Cook’s top choice, recommended by both Saveur and The New York Times, and has a 4.4-star average across 508 Amazon reviews. The Sweethome’s Lesley Stockton has also used this scale in professional kitchens and liked it.
For espresso, we like the $18 American Weigh SC-2KG pocket scale ($18), which measures in .1 gram increments. It’s very easy to use, with a 4-by-4-inch platform (big enough for a large mug), a tare button, and a bright blue backlit screen that stays on as long as the scale does.
We feature this scale in the Wirecutter’s Gear for making great coffee guide, and the Sweethome’s Christopher Mascari has used it for coffee twice daily during the past 8 months and says it’s great. A jeweler or coin dealer would also like this scale, as in addition to grams and ounces it reads in Troy ounces (ozt) for gold, and pennyweight (dwt) for silver.
If you need yet even more precision for spices or leaveners, we’d go with the American Weigh Digital Pocket Scale ($8.50), which measures in .01 gram increments. We didn’t find a conclusive review on these smaller scales, but this is Amazon’s top seller, comes with a flip-open lid to protect the weigh surface, and has a capacity up to 100 grams. If you’re super finicky about brewing espresso at home, you might also like this scale. As Steve Rhinehart of Prima Coffee Equipment told us:
“I always recommend trying to find a scale with one decimal point of resolution greater than you need. If you only need to weigh whole grams, get something that is accurate to half or tenths of a gram. That way, you know your whole numbers are accurate, and only your decimals get fuzzy … For brewed coffee (pour-over, french press, Clever drippers, etc.), you should be good with the 0.1-0.5-gram resolution. But for espresso, and especially with home espresso enthusiasts, going to 0.01 gram resolution is not a bad idea. Because of all the pressure involved in an espresso extraction, the difference between 16 grams of coffee and 16.4 grams of coffee can be very striking. So, as I stated above, going one decimal point finer than you think you require will add the accuracy you want.”
That said, scales this precise aren’t for everybody. An OCD cook trying to get 4.99 g of baking soda to inch up to 5.00 exactly may find themselves negotiating desperately with motes of powder. You can find a nice selection of these diminutive models by My Weigh, Proscale, and Jennings at Old Will Knott Scales.
Digital scales can break when loaded past their capacity. So don’t try weighing a 10-pound bag of flour on the Jennings JC4000, which can only take 8.8 pounds.
Both the Jennings CJ4000 and My Weigh KD8000 can be calibrated using lab weights. However, heavy calibration weights tend to be far more expensive than a kitchen scale, so it’s not a practical solution. In our accuracy tests, we found that none of the scales were off by more than 1 gram, even with heavier weights. Besides the My Weigh i5000, none of the other scales we tested have a calibration feature.
For both the Jennings CJ4000 and My Weigh KD8000, we’ve found their user manuals invaluable for disabling the auto-off function and using the other specialty features (like counting and baker’s math). Here’s the manual for the Jennings CJ4000 and one for the My Weigh KD8000.
Learning the basic ratios of different recipes can make cooking and baking really fast. Once you know the ratio, it’s easy to scale the recipe up or down, depending on how many servings you want. For more on cooking by ratio, we recommend Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, and his Ratio app for iPhone and Android, which calculates ingredient amounts, stores recipes, and comes with a gram-ounce converter.
Despite the efficiency and consistent results of cooking by weight, most cookbooks don’t include weight measures (although this is starting to change, as you’ll notice more weights in some newer cookbooks). To convert all the recipes you love to weight measures, you can use standard weight and volume conversions for common ingredients (these tend to be more helpful for baking than cooking). Tack the conversions near your scale, so you can easily reference them, as Dave Arnold, Director of Culinary Technology of The French Culinary Institute at The International Culinary Center, recommends doing in this New York Times article.
We tested the My Weigh iBalance i5000 Multi-Purpose Digital Scale ($37) for our original review. This scale weighs in full grams up to roughly 11 pounds and has some of the same features as the Jennings CJ4000 and other My Weigh scales (including a backlit screen, the option of an AC adapter, and a counting feature). This was our fourth favorite scale overall. We did find it difficult to see the display screen when a big bowl was placed on this scale, and overall it felt cheaper than our top picks. Michael Chu, of Cooking For Engineers, recommended this scale, but it was only recommended with reservations by Cook’s Illustrated.
We included the Ozeri Pro Digital Kitchen Scale ($20) in our second round of testing because it’s one of the top-selling food scales on Amazon. It’s a very basic scale—with just on/off and tare buttons—and looks almost identical to a number of highly rated basic food scales. We found the scale to be accurate and easy to use, but we missed having a backlit screen and found it particularly difficult to see the screen with a big bowl on the scale. The Ozeri is currently the fourth best-selling scale on Amazon with a 4.6-star average over 2,152 Amazon reviews.
EatSmart Precision Elite Digital Kitchen Scale – 15 lb. Capacity, UltraBright Display and Stainless Steel Platform ($37) – This gets great Amazon user reviews, and Peter Reinhart uses an inexpensive scale by the same company. We opted not to test it because we didn’t find other editorial recommendations for it, and it didn’t look better than the scales we did decide to test.
EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale ($20)- This scale looks identical to the Ozeri Pro Digital Kitchen Scale. It receives great Amazon reviews, but we opted not to test it since we were already including the Ozeri and it didn’t have the other features we were looking for (such as a backlit screen).
Ozeri Pronto Digital Multifunction Kitchen and Food Scale ($15) – This is almost identical to the Ozeri scale we did test but has smaller buttons. It didn’t receive better reviews than the Ozeri Pro.
American Weigh LB-3000 Compact Digital Scale ($39) – With only a 3000-gram limit (about 6.6 lbs.), this doesn’t have the capacity for bigger batches of bread dough.
Salter 3003 Aquatronic Glass Electronic Kitchen Scale ($30) – Not more highly rated than the other scales we tested.
My Weigh UltraShip U2 ($29) – This is the scale that Michael Ruhlman likes. This is actually a shipping scale with a capacity of 60 pounds, and only reads in 2-5 gram increments—not as precise as we wanted for this review. It also doesn’t get better reviews than the My Weigh scales we included in our testing.
Polder Easy Read Digital Glass Top Kitchen Scale ($27) – Didn’t get higher reviews than the scales we tested.
Escali Pana Large Volume Measuring Scale ($65) – Less expensive scales offer just as many features as this scale, and it also didn’t receive better reviews than the scales we tested.
Terraillon BM1002 Professional Digital Baker’s Scale ($70) – No longer available.
OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display, 22-Pound ($70) – Wasn’t more highly rated than the 11-pound OXO scale we tested. The capacity is also higher than most home cooks or bakers need.
Whether you’re an avid cook, baking fanatic, or die-hard coffee nerd, you’re going to benefit from using a kitchen scale. Get the Jennings CJ4000. With its precise measurements, user-friendly interface, and compact design, it’ll make your life easier—and your creations more delicious.
Originally published: September 11, 2014