Our friends at America’s Test Kitchen are constantly on the search for the latest and greatest in kitchen gadgets. However, sometimes the most impressive culinary tools are something we may already own, but haven’t yet realized all the ways we can use it. Case in point: portion scoops. Or as most of us think of them: ice cream scoops. Lisa McManus is in charge of equipment testing at America’s Test Kitchen. Managing producer Sally Swift talked with her about this nifty time-saving tool that brings uniform beauty to your kitchen and table. Use your new (or old) portion scoop to make perfectly sized cookies with this America’s Test Kitchen recipe for Classic Chewy Oatmeal Cookies. [Ed. Note: the results of America's Test Kitchen's equipment test can be found below the interview.]
Sally Swift: I have a friend who is a great baker with a birthday coming up. Do you have any thoughts on a piece of sneaky, smart, inexpensive equipment I could get for him?
Lisa McManus: One of the favorite things that we found – and one of the things that I love the best – is portion scoops. These things are great. Some people think of them as ice cream scoops, but they're so much more.
SS: And perfect for a baker, right? Tell me how you use them.
LM: We use them for all kinds of things: anytime you want something fast and uniform when you’re scooping something out. Generally, something fairly soft and difficult to manage, otherwise it gets sticky and all over everything. Things like cookie dough, muffin batter, potato salad, ice cream. But then, for a smaller size, you could portion out a whole bunch of cookie dough super-fast; it all comes out the same size, bakes evenly, and looks professional. That's how they do it. That's the secret.
(Photo: America's Test Kitchen)
SS: I'd never even thought about that. What do we look for when buying a portion scoop?
LM: We tested them and found that some are super-hard to squeeze. You feel like you're getting way too much hand exercise; it's exhausting and it will wear you out before you get done with the cookie dough. Some of them are too loose, and that's a problem too. The portion scoop is a little round scoop with a sliding piece of metal that runs around the back of it as you squeeze, and that pushes out whatever you've scooped. If it doesn't have enough tension – if the little piece of metal doesn't move smoothly – stuff goes in, but it won't come out. Or it comes out and it launches – or gets mangled on the way out. There's a lot of ways they can fail. They all seem similar, but there are different behaviors when you go to use them. There are certain ones you just don't want; they're more work than they save you.
SS: Is there a particular size that would work well if you were going to have one portion scoop in your house?
LM: If you bake a lot of cookies, we looked at what size. Because that's when people are doing large batches. At the holidays, or any time you bake some cookies, you usually have couple of dozen that you're working with. You can cut your time and labor down by great amounts. We did a test where we portioned the same dough with a tablespoon; with a portion scoop it took a third of the time. Before you're sick of it, you're done!
SS: I can imagine that testing session with a stopwatch going.
LM: We timed it; we also measured and weighed each cookie to see how they came out, and whether they were even. It’s a lot easier to get a uniform cookie with a portion scoop. We found about a three tablespoon size is the best size. One of the things you have to look out for, though, is that these are professional tools, and they have an unconsumer-friendly way of describing them. They’ll say it's a #24 or something. What that means is, if you have a level scoop, it will take 24 of those to fill a quart. Well, who can remember that? And who has any idea what that looks like if you're not in the professional baking world?
Our favorite is a three tablespoon scoop, which is a great size for cookies. It’s called the OXO Good Grips Large Cookie Scoop, it's fifteen dollars. It has nice tension and feels great. Just snap, snap, snap and you can get your baking done really fast. The cookies come out perfect at the same size, they bake evenly, you don't get some that are burning while the other ones aren't done. It’s our secret weapon.
Portion Scoops Equipment Review
Reprinted with permission from America's Test Kitchen
Winner – Highly Recommended
OXO Good Grips Large Cookie Scoop
Featuring grippy rubberized handles and an inner spring with just the right amount of resistance, this portion scoop was very comfortable to hold and squeeze. It also dispensed dough with the neatest and most controlled motion.
Vollrath Stainless Steel Squeeze Disher - #24
Although the smooth, all-steel construction made the handles a little more slippery than our winner’s, this portion scoop was generally easy to hold and squeeze. If anything, its inner spring was on the loose side, offering a bit less control when releasing the dough.
Recommended with Reservations
Norpro Grip-EZ Scoop, Santoprene Handle, 53mm
This model had nice grippy handles, but a superstiff spring made it physically difficult to squeeze repeatedly—it “feels like a grip strengthener,” as one tester put it. And it dislodged the dough with a slightly jerky, messy plop.
Vollrath NSF Certified Disher - #24 Size, 1 1/3 oz. capacity
Unfortunately, all but the largest hands had a difficult time reaching this scoop’s long, stiff lever, which was positioned at a 45-degree angle to the handle, making it very uncomfortable and awkward to use. And it dispensed the dough less neatly, mashing it on its way out.
Zeroll Universal EZ Disher in Red
Testers were united in their scorn for this portion scoop, whose flimsy plastic handle made for especially slippery use. Worse, this model offered very little control, flinging the dough out of the scoop.
On each episode of The Splendid Table we visit with the test cooks at America’s Test Kitchen to discuss a wide range of topics including recipes, ingredients, techniques and kitchen equipment.