3 September, 2014
Digital Scales: Which Weigh To Go?
I’ve run into a few questions of late that involve the weighing of ingredients. Some of the writers mention that they don’t have a scale and I wanted to point them to a good choice when they do decide to make the upgrade to weighing their doughs so they too can benefit from the multiple advantages of scaling.
I realized that although I’ve talked about weighing in passing in many posts, as well as a slight rant or two about the benefits of weight over volume measures, I’ve not put myself behind any specific scales people could consider when they do go out hunting for this most important baker’s tool. I’m going to fix that here.
There will be two levels of bakers to look at here: the hobby home baker and the professional (or expert home baker), both these levels having slightly different requirements. Primarily, the home baker will need something simpler, dependable and can do with an inexpensive model while the pros will (hopefully) have a bit more of a budget for this tool they depend on for their trade. This aside, there are aspects that both ends are in need of and even if a scale is in the lower price area, you will want to hit some points so your purchase will not become a frustration.
Let’s outline some of these “must haves”, in no specific order.
Scale Shopping: The Power Source
Look for a scale that uses normal batteries, such as AA or 9 volt. Avoid any scale that uses the flat disk lithium batteries as these are rather expensive and, as they also do not have a very long life, will begin to run up the bill over a short time. Although a lot of scales now use these small batteries because they allow for a “sleeker” design, it is really not a good trade-off. And the other batteries don’t necessarily make for bulkier scales. Yet, they will give your scale power for a very long time.
As an example, my 9 volt powered StarFrit scale, shown above, was bought in 2009 and in only on its second battery. Comparatively, I bought a slim lithium battery scale for school as I thought its low height would make it easier to carry in my toolbox. In the space of two months, the battery had died and I paid $6 for a new one. As the scale was just $10, it didn’t take very long for the costs of batteries to overtake the cost of the scale. Likewise, when I started working at the restaurant, they were using similar scales that needed two lithium batteries. Being in constant use daily, we went through many pairs at $9 and in no time I’d easily seen over $60 of batteries eaten on just my station’s scale (there were three in use). $60 can buy a pretty nice small pro scale, so I pointed this out to the boss and instead of sinking more money in batteries, we got a great new scale that uses AA batteries and is much better overall than the slim old scales. It also can use an optional power adaptor, should we need.
Scale Shopping: The Auto Shut Off
Any decent battery-powered scale will need an auto shut off feature so that the scale doesn’t stay on indefinitely and drain the batteries. What you need to look out for is the length of time the scale stays on before it shuts off. My recommendation is for a minimum of 2 minute to shut off. Many low-end scales, however, can have 20 seconds to 1 minute before they turn off. This I’ve found is not adequate for times when you do need to maybe grab an ingredient or stir a pot while scaling. You turn away for just a bit and by the time you come back, the scale is off and you’ve lost your weight.
Better scale distributors will note the expected shut off delay on the box, but some will not specify this. If that’s the case, then you will want to make sure the store you’re buying from has a refund policy and/or will allow you to test that shut off time right there. You might want to go shopping with a couple of AA, AAA and a 9 volt batteries in hand to make this testing simpler for when the scale doesn’t have a battery included. If your potential scale has a shut off of less than 2 minutes, move on to another scale.
Scale Shopping: Weight Units
You will want a scale that gives you several unit choices, typically selected by pressing a button several times to rotate through them. Most good scales will offer units in:
- Pounds and Ounces (2 lbs, 8 oz),
- perhaps Pounds and Decimals (2.5 lbs),
- straight Ounces (40 oz),
- Kilograms (1.134 kg) and
- Grams (1134 g)
And you most definitely do want to get into using grams. (Yes, I’m looking at you, reluctant American home bakers!)
Now as far as grams go, do not bother getting a scale if it does not go down to the single gram unit, meaning it must be able to know between 126 grams and 127 grams. Some scales go by 2 grams, other in 5 gram steps. Theses are pretty pointless to a home baker who will generally be making two or three loaves at a time and needs that 1 gram accuracy. If you were a large industrial space doing large batches, you might never even use anything smaller than 5 grams in your 50 kilo bread batch. But when you are using 1000 grams of flour and need 1.5% of that in instant yeast, you really do want 15 grams of yeast, not 10 or 20.
Scale Shopping: Other Desirable Features
A Tare button (sometime labelled as a “Zero” button) is pretty much mandatory. This function allows you to reset the scale to zero as you add more stuff into the bowl. So let’s say you have an empty bowl; you set it on the scale and get its weight, which you usually won’t care about. You then hit Tare (or Zero) and the scale reads “0 g” again. Add your flour, get up to your desired 1558 rams (let’s say), then hit Tare again and you’re back to 0 g. Add the required amount of the next ingredient ands tare to zero again, and so forth. As you can see, setting the scale back to zero means you don’t need every single ingredient in a new container – although I still very much recommend doing Mis en Place and scaling everything ahead of putting it together to avoid missing the salt or something. Still, zeroing the weight of the container would be done even if you did use several little dishes. So Tare or Zero function: very important to have. Admittedly, it is probably pretty hard to find a digital scale that doesn’t have a Tare/Zero feature these days but if you happen to see one, pass it over.
It would be good for your scale to have a removable stainless steel platform so you can pop it in the dishwasher or kitchen sink (if the dishwasher happens to also be you). Alternatively, a glass or chrome platform , even of you can’t remove it separately, will make cleaning a little easier.
You also want to see that the buttons are easy to clean. Some scales have a soft silicone button, others a button hidden behind a flat film layer so no gunk will ever get in the innards. In effect, you want everything to be cleanable with the swipe of a damp rag and not need scrubbing and picking dried goo out of crevices.
The scale’s weight limit should be at least 5000 g (5 Kilos) or 11 pounds. This will give you plenty of extra elbow room for adding the weight of heavier bowls to your totals and make sure you don’t annoyingly hit the max when you’re still making your dough. Again, it may be unusual to run into a scale that doesn’t meet this level but skip it if the one you check out isn’t there.
You will also be wanting a digital display with a good sized screen and easily legible numbers. Some scales have a readout that is way too small and will be frustrating. Especially if, like me, you don’t exactly have perfect vision.
Easy to see display. Even when the screen is good sized, if it is in an awkward place, it might be obscured too often by larger bowls. I’ve found a scale with a raised platform and sloped front display seems most convenient to see. If you do select one of the flatter scales, you’ll want to make sure the remainder of the platform is long enough you can set the bigger bowls towards the back so they don’t hide the screen.
You don’t need the scale to come with it’s own bowl; your scale will/should work just as well with any of your various sized containers so there’s no good reason to pay extra for the designer’s view of the bowl you need.
“Volume” weights, where they have included a database of typical things you’d be weighing, such as cups of water or oil. This is like getting into a car and wanting to walk it. You have a weight scale, you are baking, you want to get on with weights and not muck about with volume conversions. The sooner you get into weights (and metric weights, specifically), the sooner you’ll be able to use more professional recipes/formulas and get great bread. Not a wise choice, that. That said, I’ve seen a couple of nice scales that also feature this so if the scale has ALL the other options you do want checked and the price is good for you, then go for it. But avoid seeking this type of scale to bridge your switch over to weights; it will merely complicate things and likely impede your conversion.
Scale Shopping: Costs
It is possible to score a pretty decent digital kitchen scale for $15 or so, maybe even less if you’re willing to do some serious shopping. But generally, look at around $20-$25 for a nice little scale. And you can go up from there to as much as you want to spend.
Scale Shopping: Suggested Brands
Now I will say flat out that I haven’t checked out countless scales to compare them all, but I can say from personal experience that I’ve had and used an Escali scale and found it pretty decent. It hit all the points noted above. They are widely available online and in some brick-and-mortar stores. They are suited to a wide range of budgets and styles. Their Escali Primo line is available for about $25 in the US. Be sure to check out their full line on their website, Escali.com, read each scale’s Product Brochure for the details (battery type, functions, auto shut-off length, etc.) then go shopping for the best price online.
Another brand that has gotten fairly decent reviews (I haven’t used it myself, just passing on the good word I’ve heard) is the OXO Good Grips Scale. One of these has a removable readout so the bowl is on the scale and the entire front end can be pulled out so it isn’t hidden by the bowl. These puppies start at about $24 US.
Again, this isn’t even close to an exhaustive list of decent home kitchen scales so don’t think you are limited to just these I’ve talked about. But if you see one check it out and note these functions then compare others to them. If you see and like another brands and it seems to have hit all the main points above, then go for it.
If you happen to be in the market for a higher end scale, I can do no wrong recommending the My Weigh KD7000 or My Weigh KD8000. These two sister scales have features that will make most pro bakers pretty happy. Now I’ll grant that bakers in heavy production setting may A) not have a say in the scales used by their shop or B) want something more robust and possibly larger but in even a small professional or expert hobby baker setting, these are quite fine scales. The KD8000 happens to be the scale I now get to use at work and it was also one of the scales used at baking school.
The first difference between these two versions is that one can weigh up to 7000 grams, the other to 8000 grams, something I’ve found quite useful when making larger batches of bread dough. I can even put a big 20 quart Hobart mixer bowl (~4 kg) on it and still have 4 kg weighing space for some ingredients.
These scales have a selectable Auto Shut off of 2 or 5 minutes or disabling the shut off completely. They also offer a backlit display option which I’ve found makes reading the scale much easier, no matter what angle you are from the display. They also offer a Hold function so you can lock the weight at a certain point and add more stuff without changing it or keep the Auto Off function from setting in while you go do something else for a bit. The KD8000 also has the bonus of offering a nifty percentage function so you can, for example, add all your flour, hit % then add the remainder of the ingredients based on your Baker’s Percentages without needing to calculate the actual gram weights. These scales use 3 AA batteries and can also use an AC adapter.
In the US, they can be had for around $30 and $50 (give or take), respectively. And that is still within even a small hobby baker’s possible budget.
As with the home scales, I do not suggest that the My Weigh scales here are THE epitome of pro scales; there are other My Weigh scales and plenty of other scale manufacturers I haven’t had the pleasure to examine. But this scale is certainly one I’d go out and buy were I in need of a new scale at some point.
Got a recommendation for a different scale? I (and probably other readers) would love to hear what scale you’ve used and found pretty darn awesome! Pop your comment below and share!
Scale Shopping: Much Smaller Weights
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a scale that will give you fractions of grams for, say, very small amounts of spices, yeast, salt, etc., your average kitchen scale will likely not cut it. Almost all of them will get a little iffy when dancing around the 1 to 5 gram range. And of course, they aren’t going to help much at all if you need half a gram of saffron.
Enter the “Jeweller’s or Pocket Scales“, designed to measure in increments down to 0.1 grams to as little as 0.01 grams with weight limits of 100, 300 or even 500 grams (usually). Theses smaller scales are also physically smaller and most will fit in your pocket easily. Price wise, they are also small, coming in at $10 or less. A really good one used by a real jeweller or goldsmith may be a fair bit higher as they’d want extreme accuracy when weighing diamonds and gold. Fortunately for us bakers though, whether we’re a microgram or two off in the yeast isn’t that big a deal and $10 for a scale is a perfectly good amount to stick to.
I’ve not heard anything particularly good about the “spoon” scales I’ve seen out there so I cannot recommend this style. Some may be good, so if you do have one and find it helpful (or dreadful), please add a comment below with your own review.
And there you have the current version of “What Scale Should I get”. I most certainly welcome comments below with more questions, viewpoint (pro or con to my recommendations), suggestions for other excellent scales, and look forward to some further discussions with you, gentle readers.