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Cooking Tips

How to Weigh Ingredients and Why It’s So Important

Digital scales are key for accuracy in the kitchen.
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Published Feb. 7, 2024.

“This tool is 100% GUARANTEED to make your baking quicker, tidier, and more successful!!!” I know that sounds like clickbait, but I stand by it when the tool being discussed is a digital scale, especially one that measures in grams as well as ounces.

Baking is different from cooking. When you’re cooking you can tweak ingredient proportions as you go—a little more salt here, a little more acid there. But in baking, tweaking isn’t an option. 

Once you’ve put your batter or dough in the oven, everything is out of your hands, so using the correct amount of each ingredient at the outset is crucial. A scale delivers that accuracy quickly and reliably. A set of measuring cups? Not so much.  

Here are 3 reasons why it’s important to weigh ingredients, plus tips for doing it right.

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1. Weighing Is More Accurate for Measuring Dry Ingredients

Technically, dry measuring cups don’t measure ingredients; they measure the amount of space ingredients take up, which sounds like the same thing, but it can be quite different. 

When you fill a cup measure with something light and dry such as flour, that flour isn’t the only thing occupying space in the measuring cup; there’s air in there, too, and the amount of air mixed in with your flour can vary depending on your habitual measuring style. If you gently spoon the flour into a measuring cup and level it with a butter knife, that’s about 4¼ ounces of flour. If you scoop it out of the bag, and level it by pressing the cup firmly against the side, that’s about 5½ ounces of flour. 

And with every cup that you measure by volume, that variability is compounded. When measuring 5 cups of flour, the light-handed baker will be using 21¼ ounces, producing a bread dough that’s sticky and difficult to shape, and a baked loaf that’s flat or even sunken. The heavy-handed baker will be using 27½ ounces of flour, making a stiff dough that bakes into a dry, dense loaf. 

But if you weigh out 25 ounces (our standard for 1 cup of AP flour is 5 ounces), you’ll nail the perfect proportion every time because the scale measures only the flour, not the weightless air. 

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2. The Math Is Easier

America’s Test Kitchen has been listing imperial weights for some baking ingredients for well over a decade, but doing so has led to some awkward, though mathematically correct, measurements. Consider our 5-ounce cup of all-purpose flour: It’s a nice round number until you have a recipe that calls for of a cup of the stuff, which, logically, should weigh 3ounces. Have you ever seen a scale that measures in thirds of ounces? Me neither. This is where metric weights come in handy. Two-thirds of a cup of all-purpose flour weighs 94 grams—so elegant, so easy. We now list both imperial and metric weights online for lots of baking ingredients. 

If you’re dividing (or multiplying) a recipe yourself, using a scale saves you the awkward mental math, too. 

3. Scales Create Less of a Mess

Say goodbye to spilled ingredients and dirtied measuring cups messing up your workspace. It’s much quicker and tidier to pour the ingredients into a mixing bowl on a scale than to use a measuring cup. No trail of flour or powdered sugar from bag to bowl, and there’s just one bowl to clean at the end.

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Tips for Weighing Ingredients

Have I convinced you to use a scale yet? Below are some tips to keep in mind when using this handy kitchen tool.

1. Follow the recipe precisely. Different recipe sources use different weight-to-volume conventions for flour and other fluff-prone ingredients. For the best results, use the weight listed by the author of the recipe you're following, no matter what brand of flour (or cocoa powder, or cornstarch, or brown sugar) you're using, even if the weight listed on the nutrition panel of the product is different. The weight listed in the recipe is the weight that the recipe developer used. 

2. Clear your workspace and give the scale some breathing room. Make sure there are a few inches of empty space around the scale so that nothing can impede its function. If the edge of a package or utensil gets under the weighing platform, it can prevent the proper weight from registering. 

3. Use the tare button. When measuring multiple things into one bowl, remember to hit the tare button after adding each ingredient (and when you put the bowl on the scale) to ensure accurate measurement.

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4. Put up a barrier when measuring messy ingredients. When weighing sticky, messy ingredients such as raw meat, line your scale with plastic wrap to keep your scale tidy and make cleanup easy. Or, set a plate on the scale first, but be sure to remember to use the tare button to account for the plate’s weight.

5. Pour slowly into different sections of the bowl. Unlike using a separate measuring cup, when using a scale to weigh ingredients you’re usually combining ingredients into the same container. It’s easier to add more than take some out, so pour the ingredient slowly to ensure accuracy. It's also helpful to pour each ingredient into a different section so that they don't get too mixed together and you can remove extra if you go over.

6. Use measuring spoons (not a scale!) for small amounts of ingredients. I’ve done large-scale baking for restaurants and hotels, and there even items such as salt and baking powder had gram weights. But domestic baking uses much smaller amounts, and most digital scales aren’t accurate enough to accurately measure powerful ingredients that are used in small quantities. In those cases, measuring spoons are actually more precise. 

If you’ve been reluctant to weigh your baking ingredients, reasonably priced digital scales and gram weights in ATK baking recipes mean that now is the perfect time to start. Quicker, tidier, more successful bakes await.

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