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Chefs Weigh in on How to Choose Kitchen Scales

“Scales are almost as important as knives,” says Scott Dolich, executive chef for The Bent Brick and Park Kitchen in Portland, OR. They play a critical role in preparing and serving meals, of course, and make the kitchen more efficient.

There are many kinds of kitchen scales, so we asked chefs to weigh in with tips for choosing the best ones for your restaurant.

Basic Uses

Scales are primarily used for three purposes in a commercial kitchen:

1. Cooking: “We require our cooks to have their own 5-pound scales so they can accurately follow recipes,” Dolich notes. The Bent Brick alone has five of these scales in its kitchen.

2. Baking: Baking is an exact science and bakers prefer metric scales because they’re more accurate. “Most companies make scales that do both pounds and ounces to kilograms and grams,” says Jean Claude Berger, a retired pastry chef. Keep the baker’s scale separate from others so it doesn’t get overused.

3. Receiving: “You need a large bulk scale dedicated to checking in orders,” says Kevin Callaghan, chef/owner of Acme Food & Beverage Co. in Carrboro, NC. “It doesn’t have to be extremely exact — it just needs to be close enough so if you’re paying for 31.6 pounds of tuna, you can verify that’s what you’re getting.” He adds with a laugh, “There’s an old adage that if you have a scale and use it the first time you take an order in, vendors will never try to rip you off because they know you check.”

Important Features

Kitchen scales come with all kinds of options, but our chefs recommend looking for these fundamental features:

  • Toughness: “The most important things to look for is durability,” Dolich says. “The kitchen is a very harsh environment.”
  • Accuracy: Check user ratings and ask other chefs which brands are the most accurate.
  • Ease of Use: “You want a removable top that’s easy to clean,” says Callaghan. Also consider the scales’ footprints. Choose ones that don’t eat up too much prep space on kitchen worktables and that can easily be moved for cleanup.
  • Readability: This seems obvious, but make sure the screen is readable when a big bowl or tray is on top, otherwise, it’s not going to be of much use in a practical setting.
  • Versatility: Your scales have to be multi-faceted, with readouts for pounds/ounces, kilograms/grams and tare. What’s tare? The term dates from the Middle French word tare, meaning "wastage in goods, deficiency, imperfection" and from the Arabic tarah, meaning "thing deducted or rejected." In the kitchen, cooks use the tare function (usually a button on the scale) to subtract the weight of empty containers or plates and zero out the scale before food is added. This enables kitchen staff to weigh ingredients and correctly and consistently portion dishes going to diners.
    Bonus: Tare weights make the kitchen more efficient. Rather than using several measuring cups, which have to be found, cleaned and restocked — ingredients can be added to the same bowl on a scale, zeroing out after each item to get an accurate new measure.

Doing a little research and investing in the best equipment you can afford ensures your kitchen scales and your food will always measure up.

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