You’ve got a recipe. You’ve gone shopping. You’re standing in your kitchen ready to go. But before you can start cooking, you need to measure ingredients! This post will teach you how to measure both wet and dry ingredients. We’ll talk about measuring with cups, spoons, a liquid measuring cup, and a kitchen scale.
Measuring ingredients will ensure that your recipes come out right. While you don’t want garlic to overpower the flavor of your dish, the great thing about cooking is that there is a little bit of leeway when it comes to ingredients. If you don’t get a spice exactly right, it won’t ruin your recipe. If you prefer a little more heat and use double the hot sauce than the recipe recommends, it’s not the end of the world. That’s the beautiful thing about cooking – it’s an art that lends itself to variety and creativity.
Baking, though, is completely different. Baking is a science. Chemical reactions are happening between your ingredients, and they need to be in the correct ratio or else it won’t work quite right. Not enough sugar, and your cake won’t brown. Not enough fat, and it won’t be tender. So, if you plan on baking at any point in your future, measuring ingredients properly is essential.
It’s important in cooking, too. It’s just less important than baking.
Not to mention, if you’re paying attention to your food intake, whether it’s counting calories or sugars or whatever you’re into, you need to know your number of servings and serving sizes! The nutrition facts label will give you all the information you need – it’s just up to you to dole out the proper amount. When they say it’s all about portion control, this is what they’re talking about. Measuring out a given amount of food. And it doesn’t have to be hard!
That being said, let’s get measuring!
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Units of Measurement
Okay, so unfortunately I have to get middle-school math on you guys. There are a couple of different units of measurement, which measure different properties, like weight or volume. You’ve got to know which one matches with which, to make sure you’re using the right type of measuring tool.
Volume is the amount of space an object takes up. Units of volume include teaspoons (tsp), tablespoons (Tbsp), fluid ounces (fl oz), cups (C), pints (pt), quarts (qt), gallons (gal), liters (L), and milliliters (mL). If you’re in the U.S., you’ll be more familiar with fluid ounces and cups. Everywhere else, and milliliters are your jam.
The tools you’ll use to measure volume include a liquid measuring cup, dry measuring cups, and measuring spoons.
These measurements can be converted to one another. You can take the time to memorize them all, if you’re interested in that. Or, you can just google it when you need to, like I do!
Just like you get on your bathroom scale to measure your weight, your food can get on a kitchen scale to measure its weight! It just needs your help. Units of weight include grams (g), kilograms (kg), and ounces (oz), which shouldn’t be confused with fluid ounces. But they make it confusing, anyway…Why do they have to do that?
Most kitchen scales have the ability to go from grams to ounces at the poke of a button, which eliminates the need to bother Siri about unit conversion.
Just FYI, weight measurements are far more accurate than volume measurements!
A Real-World Example
Let’s start with a case study. Your typical breakfast – milk and cereal. (Don’t judge, I was craving some honey nut!) Normally, you would dump a ton of O’s in to the bowl, and top it with some sloshes of milk, right? Well, what if you’re counting calories or watching your sugar? If you need to get precise, you’ve got two ingredients you need to measure. But, how do you know how much to measure out? What’s a reasonable amount of O’s? Half a cup? Two cups? Well, that’s really up to you, but you can use the nutrition facts label to guide you!
The standard serving size for cereals, mandated by the FDA, is 3/4 cup, or approximately 28 g (1 oz), as the label says. This is nice because it gives us both the volume and the weight. We have options!
To measure the dry cereal by volume, I’ll use measuring cups. A little math helps me out by telling me 1/2 + 1/4 = 3/4, so I used two measuring cups to get my measurement. Just for fun, I placed it on the kitchen scale (zeroing out the bowl) to see how much my O’s weighed. 30 g! Not too far off, but it’s easy to see how weight can be more accurate than volume. Take out a few O’s if you’re anal retentive about measuring.
The milk must be measured in a liquid measuring cup. If you tried to measure milk in a dry measuring cup, you’d spill milk everywhere and your cat would lick it up and then you’ll be mad at your cat. We can easily measure one cup of milk – the standard serving size of liquids – and sploosh it in the bowl with the O’s.
Now, this took a little bit longer to prepare your breakfast than you’re used to. But once you get the rhythm and get comfortable measuring (and familiar with either standard serving sizes listed on packages or the amount you’ll actually eat), this will literally only mean seconds added to your prep. Plus, now you know the nutritional value of your meal!
Like I said before, in baking, it’s not just about needing to count calories – it’s about the recipe coming out right. Because science. Whether you’re counting nutrients or just want to (or need to!) stick to a recipe, measuring is a total breeze.
Let’s go over how to properly use our tools!
Using Tools to Measure Ingredients
I’ve mentioned that we’ve got four different tools used to measure. Dry measuring cups, measuring spoons, liquid measuring cup, and a kitchen scale. Volume, volume, volume, and weight. We need to know how to fill these things and read them right!
Liquid Measuring Cup
Liquid measuring cups are easy peasy. I use The Perfect Beaker, which is wonderful because it has so many different units of measurement. I mean, I still really only use cups or ounces, but it’s nice to have options, you know?
To use a liquid measuring cup, set it on a level surface. Locate the measurement that the recipe is calling for, then pour your liquid in. Get eye-level with the measurement you need – you’ll probably need to squat. It’s okay, squatting is cool now. Once the liquid reaches the notch on the cup, you’re good! If it looks like the liquid is curving (usually seen in narrower cups), measure by the lowest point in the curve.
Dry Measuring Cup
To use a dry measuring cup, you can scoop the whole thing into your ingredient or spoon the ingredient in. I wouldn’t recommend dunking into a vat of peanut butter, but drier ingredients like sugar or flour work just fine. A good tool to use if transferring something sticky is a rubber spatula.
You’ll use a dry measuring cup for everything from sugar to honey to chopped nuts (mmm that all sounds good together, actually. What are we making?). Just get the ingredient into the cup. From there, the most important part is to make sure it’s level. Some things, like raisins, won’t get level, and that’s okay. For things like sugar and flour, use the flat edge of a butter knife, perpendicular to the edge of the cup, and scrape all the way across. If you’re at an angle, the ingredient will just glide over the knife and back into the cup. If you use the curved blade of the knife, you’re digging into your ingredient and getting rid of more than you want. Flat side, perpendicular, straight across.
A good habit to get into when measuring flour is to tap the top of the measuring cup before scraping the excess off. Sometimes you’ll get air pockets in the flour. Tapping gets rid of these and fills in the space with flour, giving a more accurate measurement. Never pack flour – let it be fluffy!
Brown sugar is an ingredient that always gets packed. I use a spoon and my super thumb strength to press the brown sugar into the measuring cup. Level it off, and tap it into your bowl. Brown sugar will hold its shape for a little bit – that’s how you know you packed it right!
You can use both liquid and dry ingredients with measuring spoons. With liquids, just go slow and pour directly into the spoon. Hold the spoon over your bowl of ingredients or over a spare bowl, just in case it spills. Try to get as level as possible without spilling over. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I always spill vanilla extract over the edge. Ooooops. Total accident. 😉
Some dry ingredients can get poured into a measuring spoon, like table salt. I wouldn’t recommend using a spice’s holey top to try to pour into a measuring spoon, though. It won’t really work. Instead, scoop the spoon right into the spice (or whatever it is your using). You can shake the spoon back and forth a bit to level it off. Tapping the edge of the container or even tapping the spoon with your finger also helps!
Ideally, your spice or box of baking soda or whatever has a flat edge somewhere. You can scrape the spoon along that flat edge to level it off. Also, it’s very satisfying, and I do that ingredient several times just for fun.
The kitchen scale is your tool for measuring weight. I keep mine out on the counter because I use it all the time! It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. I use one like this – just make sure it has a “TARE” button and can switch between grams and ounces.
You can measure items directly on it, or place a bowl on the scale, zero it out, and place your ingredient in the bowl. The “tare” button is what zeroes out the scale. It measures whatever was placed on the scale (a bowl), then if you hit tare, it’ll automatically subtract the weight of that object. If you take the object off, you’ll see the weight is in the negative. This way, you can measure an ingredient without also measuring the bowl you’re using!
My kitchen scale says “Hi” when I turn it on, which is nice. It takes a second to balance itself, and then displays “0 g” or 0 oz”, depending on what mode I’m in. I can hit my “mode” button to switch between these two. (Mine also has pounds, but I never need that much of something!)
Just remember to hit “tare” before adding a new ingredient to the bowl, if you’re measuring multiple things at once!
You’re a pro!
If you don’t know how to measure stuff by now, I am at a loss! That was an exhaustive how-to article. But, hey, maybe you’re a visual learner and need a video. I get it, I’m cool with that. Maybe that will come from me sometime soon. But for now, measure on, and be confident that your recipes will come out great (unless you got a bad recipe). Count calories or grams of fiber with ease! Go forth and measure!