The Best Digital Kitchen Scale Makes Anyone a Precision Cook

After hours of research, testing, and interviewing experts, I’ve concluded the best digital scale on the market hands-down is the OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display ($50).

WAIT: August 15, 2014
Setting this guide to wait status while we work on switching our pick to the Jennings CJ-4000. Check back soon for an updated guide with all of our latest research and testing.

Even if you hold to the old adage that cooking is an art form and baking a science, success in both relies on a blend of accuracy and intuition. If you’re a natural in the kitchen, you may be able to wing it by mixing in a little of this or that, but most professional chefs agree you’ll get better (and more consistent) results—whether baking or cooking—by using a food scale to measure ingredients.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many reviews of kitchen scales. The only thorough one I found was in Cook’s Illustrated. However, I did 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. I chose the OXO based on this research, as well as my own testing.

It’s far more accurate to weigh ingredients than to cram them into a measuring cup.
Of course, you probably already know bakers recommend using food scales. 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, which could spell the difference between a light-as-air cake and one that’s dense as cardboard.

Beyond baking, maybe you’re wondering why, exactly, you’d want a food scale. For the most part, American cooks—besides the Weight Watchers set—haven’t embraced these gadgets, perhaps because it seems tedious or unnecessary. Yet you’ll find serious benefits to cooking with a scale.

It’s far more accurate to weigh ingredients than to cram them into a measuring cup.  A classic example is cheese: a recipe may call for a cup of shredded cheese, but you’ll get different volume depending on if you grated on a box grater, microplane, or in a food processor. The same holds true for nuts, vegetables, or any number of ingredients that you’ll cut up. After all, your chop or dice may differ from that of the recipe tester. By weighing you ensure consistency.

Scales also solve the messy ingredient conundrum. Have you tried scraping every bit of honey, molasses, butter, or shortening from a cup or spoon lately? It’s nearly impossible (and annoying).

Beyond accuracy, many chefs also like using a food scale because it makes cooking faster and simpler.  If you know the ratios in your recipe, you can whip up a batch of pasta dough (3 parts flour, 2 parts egg) or biscuits (3 parts flour, 2 parts liquid, 1 part fat) in a few minutes, or tailor the recipe to the number of guests you’re serving. In this New York Times article, Dave Arnold, Director of Culinary Technology of The French Culinary Institute at The International Culinary Center, recommends attaching a chart of standard equivalents next to the scale, which will make cooking much faster.

And since you can measure all your ingredients into one mixing bowl—subtracting cups and spoons from the equation—this type of cooking also cuts down on dishes. Who doesn’t like that?

What to Look For

Besides digital scales, you’ll also find balance scales and mechanical/spring scales on the market, but these aren’t as practical for home cooks. (Michael Chu, of Cooking For Engineers, gives a great explanation of the pros and cons of each.) Although balance scales have good precision, they can be bulky and aren’t that quick to use. Mechanical/spring scales can be imprecise, unless you ante up for a high quality, expensive one. Digital scales, on the other hand, combine precision, speed, and reasonable price. They’re also the standard in most professional kitchens these days.

“A scale must be digital” —Michael Ruhlman
For advice on a food scale’s essential features I turned to Michael Ruhlman, author of Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. Beyond writing cookbooks, some with the likes of Eric Ripert and Thomas Keller, Ruhlman is a huge proponent—one might even say evangelist—of cooking by ratio (read his short treatise in this great Gizmodo article). I also suggest checking out Ruhlman’s app Ratio for iPhone and droid, which calculates ingredient amounts, stores recipes, and comes with a gram-ounce converter. “First of all, a scale must be digital,” he told me. “It must read in grams and ounces. And, of course, it needs to be accurate.”

Through Ruhlman’s advice and my own research, I found that there are a handful of features that every digital food scale needs. It should have a good sized weigh platform that will easily hold a large mixing bowl or sheet pan. The display screen should be large enough so that you can read the amounts easily, and it will preferably have a backlight option (although Alton Brown says this feature is “frosting, not cake.”)

Any decent food scale will have a tare button, which allows the scale to subtract the weight of the mixing bowl and report only the net weight of ingredients. The best scales allow you to repeatedly tare, so you can measure many ingredients in the same bowl without having to do the math yourself. The auto turnoff function shouldn’t kick in too quickly. If it turns off too fast, and you haven’t finished measuring, you’ll have to re-tare, which is hugely annoying, particularly if you’re halfway through measuring a specific ingredient.

As Ruhlman mentioned, the scale should read in both grams and ounces (metric and avoirdupois), and preferably read out in decimals rather than fractions (some scales come with both functions, but pro chefs recommend just decimals).

Beyond these basics, the buttons on the scale should preferably be covered in plastic (a.k.a. “seamless”), so gunk won’t collect in the cracks and you can clean the machine easily. If you’re 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,” says Ruhlman. “Changing batteries is a pain.”

There doesn’t seem to be total consensus on the capacity that digital food scales should be able to weigh. Alton Brown and Cooking for Engineers say 11 pounds is sufficient. When I spoke with Ruhlman, he said 5 to 6 pounds should be fine (although his favorite scale, the My Weigh UltraShip U2—actually a postage scale—weighs up to 60 pounds). According the Ruhlman, unless you’re curing whole muscle cuts or making enormous batches of dough, a 6 to 11 pound capacity should be fine for the average home cook.

As a side note, if you need to weigh very small amounts—such as spices—you’ll want to invest in a digital pocket scale. Regular kitchen scales generally won’t weigh less than 1 to 2 grams, but pocket scales usually weigh in increments of .01 grams. Like their name implies, these scales are small enough to fit in a pocket. According to Ruhlman, culinary students often call these drug dealer scales, but they’re also used by jewelry makers.

Small, precise
If you need to measure more precisely than a tenth of a gram, you'll need a pocket scale. Thankfully, they're cheap.
I didn’t find a conclusive review on these smaller scales, but Amazon’s top seller is the American Weigh Signature Digital Pocket Scale ($8.70), which comes with a flip open lid to protect the weigh surface, and has a capacity up to 100 grams. You can find a nice selection of these diminutive models by My Weigh, Proscale, and Jennings at Old Will Knott Scales.

Narrowing the Choices

As I mentioned before, beyond Cook’s Illustrated, reviews of kitchen scales are sparse. However, I did find overwhelming praise for the 11-pound capacity OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display, which was Cook’s top choice, recommended by both Saveur and the New York Times, and receives an average Amazon user rating of 4.6 out of 5 stars (from 138 reviews). A friend who used to work in the test kitchen at Martha Stewart Living also said this is her favorite scale.

I was also intrigued by the family of My Weigh scales, which Michael Ruhlman highly recommends (he’s used many models, and likes all of them). Michael Chu, of Cooking For Engineers, recommends the My Weigh i5000 ($54), which also weighs up to 11 pounds and comes with a nifty counting feature, so you can actually count individual items, such as jelly beans (although I’m not sure when you’d really need this feature). Cook’s doesn’t love the My Weigh i5000, only recommending it with reservation, but I liked that it comes with the option of an AC adapter (most digital scales only run on batteries), a large LCD screen with backlight, and that it comes with a lifetime warranty.

Of the other scales Cook’s reviewed, the Soehnle 65055 Digital Scale ($28.50) seemed most promising. This was Cook’s previous favorite (before the OXO) and was also mentioned in the New York Times article on kitchen scales. I liked its modest price and interesting design—it looks a little like a glass-and-plastic U.S.S. Enterprise, so you place the measuring bowl on the platform, and the buttons are at the base. The Soehnle 65055 will weigh up to 9 pounds 15 ounces. This scale comes with a 5-year warranty.

I read up on Cook’s other top choices, such as the Polder Easy Read Digital Kitchen Scale ($26), and the Salter 3003 Aquatronic Glass Electronic Kitchen Scale ($39.50), but both had lower Amazon ratings than the OXO, My Weigh, and Soehnle, so I decided to stick with these three for testing.

Our Pick

Even as I pulled the three scales from their boxes, the OXO felt sleeker and more substantially built than the My Weigh i5000 or Soehnle 65055. Further testing confirmed the OXO is by far the winner.

Accuracy wasn’t a problem for any of the scales. To determine this, I used 200 and 500 gram calibration lab weights.  Each of the scales weighed accurately and precisely (within 1 or 2 grams). Each will also repeatedly tare, and they all have nice, readable LCD screens. Yet the OXO excelled in design and overall user experience.

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 (which has a backlight). I found it difficult to see the LCD screen on either the My Weigh i5000 or the Soehnle 65055 scales when I set a large mixing bowl on the weigh platform.

The OXO’s metal weigh platform also pops off, so you can wash it easily, without getting the mechanics wet. Additionally, it’s super easy to clean the control buttons, since they’re covered in a layer of plastic.

Another huge selling point is the OXO’s superior standby mode. If you have to take a break from weighing, the OXO will stay on for 6 minutes before switching to standby; it retains the memory of what you’re weighing up to another 24 minutes, so you won’t have to re-tare. The My Weigh i5000, on the other hand, switched off after 5 minutes and the Soehnle after only 2 minutes; once they turned off, neither remembered what I’d weighed.

Although OXO products don’t come with a warranty, the company does offer a “satisfaction guarantee” for all of its equipment. So, if you buy this scale and aren’t happy with it or it breaks, just send it back for a replacement or refund. I’d take that even over an official warranty.

At 1 ¼-inches thick, the OXO’s slim design also allows for easy storage. You could keep this baby on a cookbook shelf or in a kitchen drawer, no problem.

The Competition

Beyond the three scales I tested, there were a few others that seemed promising, based on Amazon user reviews, my own research, and the Cook’s Illustrated article, but didn’t stack up to the OXO model for one reason or another. Here are just a few of the others.

In addition to their 11 pound model (our pick), OXO also makes their 22 lb Food Scale with Pull-Out Display ($70). This higher capacity version comes with all of the same features, including the handy pull-out display, so you can easily read the LCD screen when measuring into a big bowl or onto a sheet pan. Additionally, it has a specific liquid ingredient feature that will measure volume in cups and milliliters. If you need a higher capacity scale, you may want to go for this model; however, like I mentioned before, the average home cook will do just fine with the 11 pounder.

As I also mentioned, Michael Ruhlman loves his My Weigh UltraShip U2 ($30), a shipping scale that will weigh up to 60 pounds. This, of course, is way more capacity than most people will need. Like both OXO scales, this scale comes with a detachable display, which Ruhlman has found particularly useful for curing meats. “One of coolest features is that the front of the weighing end comes out, so you could put a big sheet tray on the scale. This is really useful if I’m weighing a hog belly and figuring out the amount of brine I’m putting in.”  Like most of the My Weigh scales, this one also comes with the option of an AC adapter. Yet the UltraShip U2 isn’t really made for kitchen use; because the buttons aren’t covered in plastic, I’d worry about gunking up the controls.

If you’re looking for a very basic model, the EatSmart Precision Pro-Multifunction Digital Kitchen Scale ($25) is the top seller on Amazon, getting 4.8 out of 5 stars (from 5,100 reviews). This model weighs up to 11 pounds, re-tares, and weighs in both grams and ounces. Yet many Amazon reviewers also complain about this scale feeling and looking cheap and that the weigh platform is too small, which spells trouble if you’re using a big mixing bowl. The buttons also aren’t covered in plastic.

I looked into a number of other scales from brands such as Polder, Salter, Escali, and American Weigh, yet none ultimately compete with the functionality, design, and overall usefulness of the OXO 11-pound scale.

Wrapping It Up

Whether you’re a casual cook, baking fanatic, or die-hard home chef, you’re going to benefit from using a kitchen scale. Get the OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display. With its slim, durable design, and user-friendly interface, it’ll make your life easier—and your baking and cooking better.

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Sources

  1. "Digital Scales", Cook's Illustrated, 1 September 2008
    "Handy as they are, measuring cups will never measure up to the accuracy of a digital scale. We’ve found that when measuring dry ingredients using a “dip and sweep” method, different cooks can be off by as much as 10 percent—a variance that, in baking, can mean the difference between a dense cake or a fluffy, tender crumb. To find the best scale for the job, we tested nine models, each measuring in 1-gram increments."
  2. Michael Ruhlman, "The Kitchen Scale, Unsung Hero of Great Cooking", Gizmodo, 30 August 2009
    "Why is a scale important? Because recipes work better when you weigh ingredients. A cup of flour can weigh between 4 and 6 ounces. That means if you've got a bread or cake recipe that calls for 4 cups of flour, you might measure out 16 ounces or 24 ounces—a 50% difference in the main ingredient! No wonder people are so afraid of making their own cake. Measuring is easier and cleaner and results in fewer dirty measuring cups when you use a scale. You can measure everything right into your mixing bowl. Have you ever tried to measure out a cup of shortening? It's a mess."
  3. Michael Chu, "Kitchen Scales", Cooking for Engineers, 15 December 2004
    "A kitchen scale is an essential tool in every kitchen. Most American kitchens have a set of measuring cups, but don't have a kitchen scale. Even though kitchen scales aren't that common to the American kitchen, Amazon.com still has over 200 scales for sale ranging from $7 to over $300. Is this a gadget that only perfectionist chefs and constant bakers need? No, give a good scale a try and you'll find that it's a better and faster way to cook."
  4. Farhad Majoo , "Tipping the Balance for Kitchen Scales", The New York Times, 13 September 2011
    "Professional chefs have long argued that there is nothing simple about a simple cup of flour. Nor is there anything foolproof in that cup of grated cheese, a half-cup of diced carrots or a tablespoon of butter. When you fill a measuring cup or spoon with any ingredient, the amount you get depends on a number of factors: how small you’ve sliced it, how tightly you’ve packed it in, how carefully you’ve scooped and whether you manage to get all of it out of the spoon. (Consider the mess of getting all the honey out of a tablespoon measure.)"
  • Jeremy

    I’d recommend the Jenning CJ-4000. It’s accurate to 4 kg and down to a resolution of .5 g. It has a smaller plate for weighing than the OXO but also a smaller footprint on the counter. Plus, it’s cheaper, comes with an AC adapter and has a cover to keep it clean while not in use. I originally found it for making coffee, but I really like the fact that it is accurate to .5 g, which allows me to do many tasks on it that would otherwise require breaking out the little American Weigh scale you recommend for spices.

  • Mike Searcy

    I was going to make the exact same that comment Jeremy made. The OXO seems to come with lots of praise, but the CJ-4000 weighs smaller increments and is a favorite of the coffee snobs over at prima-coffee http://prima-coffee.com/catalog/jennings-cj4000-scale-29075.

  • bobchadwick

    I got a My Weigh scale on Ruhlman’s recommendation and I love it. One thing that wasn’t mentioned in this article is baker’s percentages, which the My Weigh scale that I have features. Using baker’s percentages makes it super easy to mix up a batch of bread dough, and if you want to make different amounts, it does the scaling for you.

  • http://drinkipa.wordpress.com/ Ken

    I’ll third the J-Scale. I use it for coffee and it’s pretty great. Two AAs or the AC adapter it comes with. The AAs lasted for at least a year.

  • James Mitchell

    I’ve been using the My Weigh KD8000 for about eight months. I’ve been very, very happy with it – I weigh ~50 gram portions with it a dozen times a day, and whip up bread several times a week. It is stable, accurate and quick to tare. Remembering the old weight would be handy, but a five minute limit is still well in bounds for good results.

  • CJ

    I have had an OXO scale and used it daily for 7 months and I have bought another. I have used mine mainly for coffee. I am pretty sure that OXO scales are regularyly off by a few grams, and mine regularly experienced issues. I sent it into OXO who replaced the unit and I still run into the same issues. If you are looking for a precise scale then the American weigh scale is the way to go, the one recommended on this site is ridiculously small they have a better one that will work for most in home uses. I love my American Weigh SC-2KG, it has much quicker readings and can handle quite a bit more weight, as well as is accurate to .1 gram.

    http://www.amazon.com/American-Weigh-SC-2KG-Digital-Pocket/dp/B001RF3XJ2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1378840553&sr=8-2&keywords=aws+scale

  • CC

    Why do you recommend a different scale for measuring coffee?

  • Andrew

    Serious problem with this scale: although it will switch between English and Metric measurement, it will not remember this setting when you switch it off. This is incredibly annoying.

    From comments on Amazon.com, it sounds as if this is specific to the American model, and that it might be possible to exchange it for a European version that does not exhibit this issue. OXO’s support is terrible, however (both calls and emails go unanswered), so I wouldn’t pin your hopes on this.

  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlHeYGVyWjBiyUXp5h123FDJy-_ll5Dq6s george

    Really good work on this. Love all the citations. Looking forward to your test of the newer Jennings/Jscale JT2!

  • http://www.twitter.com/joshstaiger Josh Staiger

    I bought the OXO Good Grips Scale because of the high praise here and on Amazon.

    Gotta say I’m disappointed. Reposting my Amazon review:

    For the price and great reviews I expected more attention to detail.

    Three design flaws I did not expect from a $50 scale:

    1. You can switch between US and metric measurements, but it doesn’t remember your choice. It defaults to pounds and ounces every time you turn it on. If you routinely weigh in metric (as I do) you have to switch to grams every time you use it.

    2. There is a three second delay on the display each time you power on. Huge deal? No. But for frequent use this adds up. Instant on would be a huge plus.

    3. The backlight has a short, 30 second sleep timer and turns off even if the weight on the scale is changing (i.e.: you’re still measuring something). In practice this makes it perfectly timed to shut off mid glance almost every time I use it.

    My previous $25 scale didn’t have these issues.

    The scale has some nice features: big display, removable top plate for cleaning, extended tare even after a sleep.

    But to me, these are “nice to haves”. I use my scale dozens of times per day and I’d rather they nailed the common use case and left off the bells and whistles. The three issues above are small annoyances you’ll run into on nearly every use.

    If this scale were half the price, it’d be okay. With the OXO, I thought I was paying more to get the “near-perfect” every day scale, but this isn’t it.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Hi Josh. Here is what our expert researcher had to say-

      “Overall, we found the combination of the OXO’s functions and design better than anything else we looked at. For most people, we think that the slim design of the OXO, the fact that you can pop the top off to wash, and the interface that pulls out (for when using a big bowl or sheet pan) make this a really useful scale and worth the extra money.”

      Hope this helps!

      • Andrew

        Please reconsider your pick; apart from the serious design issues outlined above, I had to return mine after just a few days of use because part of the screen died. The store was fortunately very gracious about it, as it was beyond the normal period. The women at the customer service desk was quite unsurprised and indicated that there had been many scales coming back with the exact same issue.

        Also note that on the imperial/metric issue it’s only models sold in the US that will not remember your preference. No idea why they would intentionally hobble it like that.

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          Thanks for the note!

    • JoeyBill

      I just got this scale on sale for $20 (w00t), and it remains on metric with zero problem. However, I got it at HomeGoods (only mentioning vendor since it may explain metric sticking – per Andrew’s note below), which will sometimes get Euro/Asia intended-stuff. My model has a sticker with some Chinese on it right beside the UPC barcode. So maybe it was an international model? I’m not sure. The manual is solely in English.

  • josie

    I have a food scale but not an OXO. What I bought was the Procizion Digital Kitchen Food Scale @ http://www.amazon.com/Procizion-Digital-Kitchen-Food-Scale/dp/B00GMMTT5C/ and its great too! I believe each food scale is different from each other. For me, so long as it serves the purpose why I bough it then its okay! :)