One of the single best things you will ever do for your cooking is to switch from volume measurement (2 cups, ½ teaspoons, etc.) to weight measurement (1kg, 2.2lbs, etc). Measuring by weight is more precise, significantly faster, and requires exponentially less cleanup.
Why Measure by Weight?
Precision. My cup of flour, is likely not your cup of flour. Let’s say I pack a cup of flour and the resulting amount, by weight, is 155 grams. Then you pack the same cup, but arrive at 130 grams—a 25 gram difference. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot, but what if the recipe calls for 4 cups? You’ve now got a 100 gram difference, which is about ¾ cup, more or less. And then there’s the question of “What did the recipe author intend? Was their cup closer to 155g, or was it 130g—or was it somewhere between?” And if you’re feeding a crowd? These inaccuracies only compound as you scale. The fine folks over at ChefSteps have done an excellent job of illustrating this.
To make matters worse standard volume measurements differ from country to country. In the US a Tablespoon is 14.79 mL, in Australia 20 mL, and in the UK and Canada 15mL. Moreover, a cup is 236.59 mL in the US, 284.1 mL in the UK, and 250 mL in Australia.
Then there are tasks that require minute precision, like weighing emulsifiers, or thickeners, which are typically introduced at tenths of a gram. Would that be 1/24th of a teaspoon? In salumi we typically use curing agents like sodium nitrite at 0.25% of total meat weight. When curing a 1kg piece salume, that’s only 2.5 grams. And considering nitrite can be deadly when used at too large of quantity, accuracy is of paramount importance.
Maybe you don’t care about accuracy and are not baking, cooking or curing where precision is important. All fine, but consider this: A key benefit of measurement by weight is speed. Weighing the ingredients of a recipe is significantly faster. Again, something ChefSteps has documented. When weighing we typically set a single vessel on a scale and add ingredients progressively, pouring directly from the container or bag important source. This does away with the litany of measuring cups and spoons. Further, it eliminates the time to clean and dry those utensils between liquid and dry ingredients.
Most of us have had to scale a recipe up or down. Say you’re cooking for a large party and need to scale up by 7x. This is another way in which weight (and the metric system!) excels. 7x ¾ cup is … uh, 5 and ¼ cups?. Where 7x 100g is 700g. The former requires that we go through the recipe, line-by-line, doing the conversion math. The latter is easy to do on the fly in your head.
In addition to speed of prep, cleanup is drastically reduced. With weight measurement we are only using the vessel in which we are measuring ingredients into. With volume we have a dozen different items to clean. Or maybe you like cleaning?
Switching to the weight method of measurement has been one of the most significant milestones in my evolution as a cook. I’ve yet to find a single person that has ever “gone back.” I doubt I ever will. As for the investment, the cost of an accurate kitchen scale is around $20. The cost of a quality set of measuring cups and spoons is about the same.
I switch between 3 different scales. This is not strictly necessary, but it’s what works best for me. For many, a single high-capacity scale with a 1g accuracy is sufficient. If you are working with ingredients that require precision measurement, at small quantities, you will want to invest in a small precision scale with a 0.01g accuracy.
Most scales, regardless of quality, lose a bit of accuracy over time and require calibration. Calibration is as easy as purchasing a calibration weight and pressing a button or two. Most scales require a particular weight (e.g. 50g, 100g, etc.). It’s a good idea to purchase the required weight at the time of purchasing the scale. This will allow you to confirm that it is indeed calibrated correctly and allow you to check and calibrate whenever necessary.
There are a lot of excellent scales from a myriad of different manufacturers out there. The following are the scales I use and recommend.
OXO Good Grips Food Scale w/ Pull-Out Display
Max weight: 5kg / 11lbs.; Accuracy: 1g / 0.25oz.
I’ve had this scale for 4+ years and I’ve not treated it gingerly. It gets beat up and tossed around the kitchen and still works like a champ. As of this post a 100g calibration weight confirms it’s still right on the money. The stainless steel top pops off for easy cleaning and the front display pulls out for times when your ingredient is larger than the scale. Since I’ve purchased this, OXO has released a 10kg/22lb. increased capacity version for $10 more. If this scale ever fails me, I will opt for the increased capacity.
Calibration: The OXO scale does not indicate that it can be calibrated.
Medium-Capacity, Precision Scale
American Weigh Scales AMW-SC-2KG
Max weight: 2kg / 4.4lbs.; Accuracy: 0.1g / 0.01oz.
This scale is small, about the size of my palm (I do have large hands). It’s a great scale for typical, medium duty tasks where 0.1g resolution is sufficient. American Weigh Scales (AWS) make excellent scales. I typically use this scale for weighing spices and herbs. It also comes with a plastic case that doubles as container to measure ingredients. At times when the OXO is not precise enough, I reach for this scale.
Calibration: One or Two 1,000g weight(s) (one 1,000g weight for one-point calibration; or two for two-point calibration)
American Weigh 100g x 0.01g
Max weight: 100g / 3.5oz.; Accuracy: 0.01g / 0.00035oz.
This is an extremely accurate scale and best suited for precision tasks like weighing emulsifiers, thickeners and curing ingredients. The scale comes with a handy hinged cover and can be calibrated with a 100g weight. The only thing more impressive than the 0.01g accuracy, is the $12 price tag.
Calibration: One 100g weight