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Measuring Different Ingredients in Cooking

posted in Measuring by Kathy Maister

Learning how to measure ingredients is essential when you are learning how to cook. The correct balance of ingredients is what makes food taste good. We all know when there is too much salt in something, and can certainly tell when something is too spicy or bitter.

Professional cooks make it look so easy by just throwing in a dash of this or a pinch of that, but they have the experience and the feel for measuring without always having to use the exact measuring tool.

When you are learning how to cook, it is best to try to be precise with all your measurements.

My guest blogger from England, Jon Sacker, taught us how to measure by weight. In the US, we mostly measure by volume.

(Be sure not to confuse the term “fluid ounces” with the term “ounces” that we use when referring to weight. Ounces measure weight, fluid ounces measure volume.)

The three basic tools used to measure ingredients in cooking are:

  • Measuring spoons
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Liquid measuring cups

Measuring Spoons

A basic set of measuring spoons come with 5 spoons:

  • 1/8 teaspoon
  • ¼ teaspoon
  • ½ teaspoon
  • 1 teaspoon
  • 1 Tablespoon

Recipes are always written with the small t representing teaspoon and the capital T representing tablespoon.

By the way, 3 teaspoons = 1 Tablespoon; Who Knew?

Even though the words are the same, standard measuring spoons are *not* the same as the teaspoons and tablespoons in the drawer that you use to eat with.

It is very important to be exact when measuring things like baking powder and baking soda. (These are leavening agents which means they make things rise.) Always even off the top of the measuring spoon with the straight edge of a knife.

When measuring spices the spoon often doesn’t fit into the mouth of the spice jar. Pour some spice in a small bowl and then measure.

To get the spice back into the jar make a funnel out of paper and it just pour the unused spice back into the jar!

Dry Measuring Cups

Dry measuring cups are usually made of metal or plastic and have an even rim. You dip the cup into the dry ingredients and level off with the straight edge of a knife. (Again, don’t confuse the word “cup” in a recipe with cups that are used for drinking.)

This is method of measuring is called “dip and sweep”

To measure brown sugar always use dry measuring cups. You need to always pack the brown sugar into the measuring cup. This would be very difficult and not very accurate with a liquid measuring cup.

If you need to measure anything sticky like honey, syrups, or even peanut butter, spray the measuring cup with vegetable spray. This will help the sticky ingredients slip right out of the measure when you’re done.

If you are brewing fresh coffee, one “scoop” measures 1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons of coffee (to 5 ½ ounces of water). I always use two scoops with my French Press coffee maker.

Liquid Measuring Cups

Finally, there are liquid measuring cups, which have a pour spout and a handle which helps when adding the liquid ingredients to your other ingredients. The measurement markings are down from the rim, which helps to prevent spilling. There are 8 fluid ounces per cup.

Tempted as you might be to use your kitchen glasses to measure, do you know how many ounces of liquid your kitchen glasses hold?

When you’re measuring liquids, be sure to look on the outside, not the inside of the cup. Always look at eye level, but don’t hold the cup up to your eye level. I guarantee you will not be able to hold it steady or level and your measuring will be off.

Put the cup on a flat surface, bend down and look at the outside of the cup to get an accurate measurement

There are some liquid measuring cups on the market today, specifically designed to look down into the cup for the proper measurement. For today, we are using only the classic glass measuring cup.

How to Measure Butter

All sticks of butter are made up of 8 Tablespoons, which is also ½ cup of butter.

There are markings on the wrapper indicating Tablespoons. Sometimes the wrapper gets twisted making the two ends a bit wonky. If you want just 1 Tablespoon check the lines.

Measuring Tips

It’s best not to measure ingredients over your mixing bowl. If you are adding a teaspoon of salt, for example, and are measuring it over a cup of flour, if the box of salt slips, you could ruin your creation!

If a recipe calls for a pinch of something, it is literally what fits between your thumb and forefinger, or about 1/16 teaspoon!

A pinch is smaller than a dash.

So a dash is bigger than 1/16 of a teaspoon but… less than and 1/8 teaspoon of dry ingredients. I know this sounds ridiculous!

Fortunately a pinch and a dash usually refer to salt, and that is according to your own taste!

Scant, on the other hand just means “slightly less than.” For example a scant ½ cup would mean slightly less than ½ cup.

And of course heaping is slightly more, in fact overflowing!

For now…that’s all you need to know about measuring!


Other posts on measuring:

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Beth Best said:

After 41 years of marriage and lots of cooking in my kitchen, it is time to replace some of my worn out and overused baking tools. I often add new gadgets but some of the old favorites are still with me. One of my pyrex glass measuring cups no long has the red letters on the outside. By habit I use it still but we are downsizing our home and moving to the country. Time to re-assess my kitchen tools and buy lighter, plastic ones. I have arthritis in my hands and now choose bowls, and baking items to fit into my new limitations. I’ll let you know what I find in my shopping trip to top up my kitchen tools. Beth

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Jon, I knew I could count on you for a great translation! Well done!

Jon Sacker said:


I think this is a great and really helpful blog. For you overseas readers may I offer my normal cooking ‘translation’ service.

British measuring spoons are metric so a teaspoon is 5 ml, a dessertspoon 10 ml and a tablespoon 15ml.

Also in Australian where they also use cups, the cups are metric so also a different size to American ones.

Finally, we get butter in blocks, which are 250 grammes (about 1/2 lb) unlike your ever so useful sticks.

And a hint from my father, if you are measuring butter in spoons, use it straight from the fridge rather than room temperature – it comes off the spoon far more cleanly!


Kathy Maister said:

What a great tip-practicing to measure with salt. Thanks Lydia!

Lydia said:

The very first thing my cooking groups learn is how to measure spices in the palm of the hand — no measuring spoons allowed in my kitchen (except when baking)! Learning what a teaspoon, tablespoon, etc., looks like in your hand makes it easy to cook with confidence and speed — and with abandon, at times. It’s a fun exercise to try with something like salt (inexpensive). Measure with a measuring spoon and pour into your hand, and you will be able to see exactly what a teaspoon or tablespoon looks like in your palm. Have fun!

doingsos said:

I’ve been cooking for many years and I prefer to use measuring cups. I prefer to be precise about what I’m doing thank you very much! I am not any less of a good cook for doing so. In fact many cooks use measuring cups. You sound kind of critical of anyone who doesn’t do it your way. I think when you’re learning to cook, learning to measure is essential.

I wouldn’t be doing many of your groups!

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Doingsoso!

I’m one of those cooks who always measures everything very precisely. In fact I actually prefer to measure by weight rather than by volume as I do believe it is more precise. When someone is just learning how to cook it is essential to learn precise measuring. It is not quite as important when making soups or stews but in baking it is a must. I think it is wonderful when some people can throw in a pinch of this or a handful of that, but I’m not one of them!

Doingsoso said:

Hi Kathy, Oh Lordy I know what you mean. I wasn’t talking to you hon, I got kind of irked at Lydia’s response:) It came across as sort of snooty. Like anyone who uses measuring cups is a second class cook or something. Maybe that’s not the way she meant it, but that’s the way it came across to me at the time anyway.

I have to admit I’m not quite that precise, weighing everything. I really do need to invest in a good set of kitchen scales. But when it comes to measuring I am pretty strict about that, especially when it comes to baking. It’s almost impossible to get good yeast doughs or a good pie crust if you overdo on one thing or underdo on another. Doughs and pie crusts are not quite as forgiving as other things. And a lot of specialty batters don’t bake up correctly if you get too much or too little salt or have too much or too little of any one ingredient.

So yeah, it sounds neat to say you just put in a pinch of this and a dash of that, and it may look impressive to anyone watching. And in some things that can be done. Some soups and stews maybe, a few roasted meats, veggies and stuff like that, they’re fairly forgiving, but fresh herbs are usually very strong and just a tiny bit too much of one herb can overwehelm everything else. Measuring utensils were invented for a reason, and have been used by cooks since time immemorial. And I don’t think allll those cooks were wrong:)

Sooo while I don’t look down on someone for NOT using measuring utensils, at the same time I’m not going to sit here and let someone treat me like a second class citizen because I do use them.

Each cook to their own. You and I both know that it doesn’t matter if we measure or we don’t. If both of us cooked the very same dish, the very same way in the very same kitchen, they would still turn out a tad differently. That is a phenomena that I have seen over and over through the years.

My empty serving dishes speak for me. I can always tell what people like and what they don’t by how much is left over, LOL.

I baked a simple little apple crisp a few days ago, using fresh apples. I made enough to fill a 9×13 pan and it disappeared like magic, LOL. So I reckon my family likes that particular recipe.

Alex said:

What should I do in England when the receipes call for cups? What is a cup equal to?

I am really confused because I either need to get American measuring equipment or I need to know what the different measurments equal in weight… personally, I think it’d be easiest just to have all the tools you have.

Jon, do you know where in the UK to buy US cooking equipment?


Jon (Sacker) said:


I’ve posted here on buying metric measures. If you want to get some cup measures then amazon is probably a good place to start.

Or you could use this site which is a great place for converting measures.

Hope this helps


Kathy Maister said:

Alex it is all very confusing measuring by weight vs. measuring my volume! This description on converting recipes from volume to weight will help. (What would actually help would be a world wide standard!) I would actually vote for using scales-it is much more precise.

Thanks Jon for jumping in!

Alex said:

Yes, here as elsewhere on the site; thanks you both!

Kim said:

Question about measuring flour–I remember my mom spooning flour into measuring cups rather than the much easier dip and scrape. She would tell me dipping packs the flour. Is this true? I thought maybe recipes have changed or flour has changed and spooning is not longer necessary.

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Kim,
(American) recipes are written with measuring flour in basically three different ways:
1. sifted
2. lightly spooned
3. dip and sweep

All are correct but do produce slightly different results. Most recipes will indicate how to measure the flour.

Measuring by weight rather than by volume is much more accurate.

1 cup of all-purpose bleached flour equals:

Sifted………………4.0 ounces……….114 grams

Lightly spooned……4.2 ounces……….121 grams

Dip and Sweep…….5.2 ounces……….142 grams

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