Alton Brown and the Metric System

alton-brown-everydaycook-cookbook-coverI have previously written about how the Food Network’s popular chef Alton Brown has praised the ease of the metric system for kitchen use as far back as 2012 in my post called Not the End of the World:

It is impossible to measure these ingredients with consistent accuracy by avoir dupois—that is, volume. Heck, I’ve seen a cup of flour weigh anywhere from 3 to 6 ounces. If you want to measure flour, you have to do so by weight. End of story.
I’m Just Here For More Food, Alton Brown, p. 14.

But, bless his little Southern heart, in his latest book, Every Day Cook: This Time It’s Personal, he’s taken things a step further:

Despite the grumblings of my editor, I’ve decided to quantify these recipes the way I do in real life…For instance, I combine weights (metric no less) with standard volumetric measurements, that is, tablespoons, in the same recipe…However, when I do weigh, it’s always metric because…I hate fractions. I also hate working with decimal points, and that’s the nice thing about grams. No one ever says 18.4 grams unless they’re weighing out something that’s controlled either by local/state/federal laws or by international treaties. Now, I know that there of you who say food isn’t worth the trouble of purchasing a decent, multiformat digital scale with tare function (allows weights to be zeroed out), but you’d be flat-out wrong.

Of course, I could quibble with the fact that the metric system is based on mass rather than weight (weight varies by the gravity of the planet you happen to be on—mass is mass, regardless), but I suppose he could quibble back our scales actually go by a weight equivalent of mass—and I couldn’t prove him wrong.

kitchen scale

There are lots of scales on the market. Pick one that catches your fancy to start with.

But here’s the important bit: not only is he urging cooks of various persuasions to buy and use a scale in their kitchens (you can’t consistently use the metric system without one, and very few people have a proper kitchen scale), but he also includes recipes that are based on metric units!!!!!!!

For instance, his recipe for Always Perfect Oatmeal includes 120 grams of rolled oats, 25 grams of quinoa, 475 grams of water and 7 grams of kosher salt. Yes, he does provide a couple of those ingredients with U.S. customary equivalents but for the quinoa and salt, he does not, thus forcing the use of a scale or a conversion. Where there are conversions, there will be conversion errors so hopefully those with the mistakes will see the error of their ways.

I urge you to take advantage of the coming holiday season to 1) buy lots of copies of Alton’s book for those you love; 2) and buy them a scale to go with it to get folks familiar with weighing things in the kitchen. Then, when we do convert to the metric system, more people will be ready. Tell you what, if this post gets more than 2,000 views before the end of the year, I’ll make a short video showing just how easy a scale is to use for cooking.

A couple of words about kitchen scales

Three years ago I wrote a post called Someone’s in the Kitchen with the Metric System where I extolled the benefits of using scales in the kitchen. While Alton said something about getting one for under $100 (yikes!), most of the ones I’ve bought for the kitchen and demos are between $10 and $15 each and—when I checked them against a calibration standard they do a respectable job all the way down to a gram.

In the post I put up a few years ago, I also pointed how there are some very cool scales you can get to present along with his book. Hardcover is currently $23.57 from Amazon. Throw in a scale for another $10 and you’re good to go. Buy a nifty scale like the one above and bump the package price up by an additional $20. Hey, do whatever best suits your gift-giving needs.

However, I do urge you to buy and use his book to support someone brave enough to include metric system units in an American-based cook book that also supports my work by getting people familiar with using scales in the kitchen. Every little bit helps and this is more than a little bit!

If I loved him before (and I did), I love him even more now.

Also, do let him (and his publishers) know that you support his use of metric system units through social media by using #EveryDayCook along with #USAgometric.



9 thoughts on “Alton Brown and the Metric System

  1. Hey, why not persuade Alton to create a book and scales bundle? Or perhaps get a scales supplier to include a discount voucher for Alton’s book when a customer buys a (metric only) kitchen scale?

    • Feel free to raise that flag to him @altonbrown on Twitter. It appears he both monitors and responds to that. Might be helpful for your suggestion to come from someone other than me. ThankQ!

  2. Cooking by weight is the norm in Europe.

    My own observations of digital measuring devices suggest to me that they are designed around metric units and that imperial/customary units are an “add-on”. For example, one model of kitchen scale that I saw was designed around one binary bit being equal to one gram – in metric units it measured to the nearest gram, but in imperial units it measured in units eighths of an ounce (3 g). Another device that springs to mind is a digital thermometer that I once had. It was designed around one binary bit being 0.1 degrees Celsius. The Fahrenheit display was a conversion from the Celsius display. Although it appeared to display the temperature to the nearest 0.1 degree Fahrenheit, in reality a typical set of consecutive Fahrenheit readings would be 32.0, 32.2, 32.4, 32.5, 33.7, 32.9 (being rounded conversions of 0, 0.1, 0.2, 03, 04 and 0.5 degrees Celsius). The values 32.1, 32.3, 32.6 and 32.8 degrees Fahrenheit would never be displayed.

    • If you mean which brand do I use, I don’t have a strong preference. Between home and demos at work, I use three different brands and all perform quite well. Will go a little more expensive to give with his book. There are some really cool designs out there. Alton indicated he uses one with a detachable readout. I don’t measure anything near that big to need that functionality. Mostly I want one easy to clean and would avoid any with lots of nooks and crannies. Thanks for the question!

  3. Weighing ingredients is just better because it Is consistent. I do it all the time and I know that it will tast the way it should at the end.

  4. Pingback: Thirsty Thursday: How to Make the Perfect Root Beer Float – The Verdude Abides

    • Are you disagreeing with me or Alton Brown? I’m quoting him about the advantages of the metric system measures. And yes, I agree with you. If you are making an ice cream sundae it really isn’t an issue. However, when it comes to baking, small differences can really add up. I recommend that if you have an issue with the quote I used, you should really address them to him and not to me. But, yes, soups and stews and sundaes just don’t need to be that precise unless you want consistent results–then it does become an issue. Thanks for commenting.

  5. I am writing from the United Kingdom. Many years ago my wife was given a subscription to a US cookery magazine. Looking at it, I asked the question “What is a STICK” of butter. Before 1975, butter was sold in the UK in 4oz, 8oz and 1lb packs, today is it sold in 100g, 250g and 500g packs. The concept of a “stick” of butter is meaningless. I also advised my wife to be careful about the use of volumetirc units when using any recipes from the magazine – US liquid pints are 473mL and UK pints are 568mL.

    I remember two of my mother’s cookery books – one was “Mrs Beetons”, a ninteenth century UK classic – all the recipes were in pounds and ounces rather than cups, so Alton Brown was right in asserting that US cookery style is archaic [my wording, not his]. The other cookery book was “Nederlandse Koekboek” (Dutch Cookery Book), a present from her mother-in-law (my father was Dutch). It was exclusively in metric units – all that my mother had to translate was the names of the ingredients, there were no gotchas such as “sticks of butter” or “[US] pints of water” to muddy things.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.