Over the years I’ve had several different kitchen scales. The first one I remember was a cheap spring-driven one that almost never got used. It sat on the shelf with the glasses, and sometimes we used it to weigh letters (like emails on paper; you remember those).
My current kitchen scale is a fairly inexpensive electronic scale. But it does an amazing job of making sure that I’m giving you recipes that are easily replicated and scalable. It’s usually only the small stuff (1/4 tsp. black pepper, etc.) that I resort to volumetric measurements. (If you have trouble with amounts when you have to multiply by 20, let me know.)
It’s interesting how electronic scales like the one I have work. Instead of a classic spring loaded scale, it uses what’s called a load cell, which converts the amount of strain is being applied to it into a digital signal that’s converted to whichever weight system you want to use. And it has a tare button. Okay, enough nerd.
What’s the value of weight versus volume? Well, for one thing, it’s easier to scale your recipes up and down. The second is that it’s easier to divvy up portions when you can weight them out. Take a side of salmon for instance. Everyone can get the same amount even though the shape changes as you move more towards the tail end. And, if you’re counting your calories, the nutrition information on the food you buy here is all based on 100 grams, a weight measurement. It makes buying easier for parties and specific recipes too, since packaged food comes with weights printed on the label.
Also consider that the cheap measuring cups you just bought. Who sized it, some guy in China? Don’t take my word for it, test them. Take some flour, measure it in a cup. It should weight 4oz (113 grams). Well, it’s supposed to, but it depends on the type of flour you use as well (if you don’t know about different types of flour, stay tuned). If the cup isn’t the right size, it could be off by as much as an ounce. Plus, there will be a difference between scooped flour and sifted flour. These kinds of measurements start to matter more when you get into the more technical aspects of cooking, like baking. Besides, what the hell is 113 grams?
I have a better question. What’s a cup of shredded lettuce? How much is a medium onion? These are arbitrary or relative measurements. Weights give us precision.
Speaking of precision, many people grab for a measuring cup when a recipe calls for a cup of liquid. Dry measurements do not equal fluid measurements. “A pint’s a pound the world around.” Remember that. It means that sixteen fluid ounces of water weighs 16 ounces. A fluid cup of water therefore weighs eight ounces. A dry measure cup of water weighs 7.3 ounces. For water it might not be crucial (except maybe in baking), but for vinegar and wine, it could throw off the flavor of the dish, and for a milk/baking soda reaction, it might end up being too bitter from an unbalanced acid/base reaction. Blech. One kilogram of water equals one liter, by the way. It doesn’t rhyme, but it isn’t a base-16 system either.
Recipes that give weights also give you an indication of the quality of the recipe. Professional recipes will usually be in weight measurements. Again, this is done so that the recipe can feed 20 or 200.
I recommend that you get yourself a digital kitchen scale if you don’t already have one. Start converting your favorite recipes from volumetric to weight. You don’t have to do them all at once. You can find converters online. Here’s one I use for flour. If you’re still skeptical, try my sourdough bread.