Measuring ingredients for recipes is the most fundamental cooking basic to master as a new cook or when teaching someone how to cook. It’s really all about the measuring tools. The golden rule of measuring is simply this: Use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients and liquid measuring cups for liquid ingredients.
First things first: To measure dry ingredients, be sure you’re using graduated dry measuring cups (those cups that stack inside one another for ¼ cup, ½ cup, etc.) or measuring spoons for smaller amounts.
Before measuring dry ingredients—such as flour, cornmeal, oats, panko, and sugar—stir it in its container. Use a large spoon to fill the measuring cup without shaking or packing. Use a straight edge to level off the excess into a bowl or back into the container.
Treat ingredients like applesauce, hummus, peanut butter, sour cream, yogurt, and other ingredients that aren’t “dry” per se but also aren’t liquids as dry ingredients when measuring. Spoon in the ingredients and level off.
To measure milk, water, oil, broth, and other liquids, pour the liquid into a liquid measuring cup (those clear cups with a handle, a pour spout, and markings on the side) on a level surface. Bend down so your eye is level with the markings on the cup, and add or remove liquid until the bottom of the meniscus is at the amount you need.
Note: Some newer liquid measuring cups have a slanted piece on the inside of the cup with measurement markings that can be read from above without needing to bend down to eye level.
To measure small amounts of liquids—a tablespoon or less—turn to your measuring spoons. Fill the appropriate-size spoon to the rim without letting liquid spill over.
If you’ve struggled measuring peanut butter, honey, molasses, syrups, and other sticky ingredients because they won’t come out of the measuring cup or spoon, we’ve got the trick you need. Before measuring the ingredient, spray your measuring cup or spoon with nonstick cooking spray. When you pour, the ingredient will slip right out, or at least come out very easily with the assistance of rubber scraper.
Sticks of butter have tablespoon markings on the wrapper—8 tablespoons per stick. Make sure the wrapper looks like it’s put on straight. Just cut off what you need. You’ll find these same kinds of markings on block cream cheese and shortening. Measure them the same way.
As mentioned in the section on measuring butter, if your shortening or cream cheese is in block form, it will likely have measurement markings on the package. If you’re using nonblock shortening or cream cheese, spoon it into a dry measuring cup. Pack it firmly into the cup and level off the top.
If you’re feeling uncertain about how to measure spaghetti and other pastas with your measuring utensils, you should be. Measuring cups are not ideal for measuring pasta in its dry, uncooked form. Dry measuring cups will work for short dry pasta shapes like elbows and orzo, but other shapes are too large or will leave large air holes based on how they land in the cup. Your best bet is to use a kitchen scale to get a dried pasta weight (especially for spaghetti, angel hair, and other long pastas). Most recipes will list a weight and approximate cup amount to make cooking as easy as possible.
By now you’ve figured out there are three primary kitchen tools for measuring: measuring spoons, liquid measuring cups, and dry measuring cups. A kitchen scale is also helpful for measuring ingredients, as it can be used to measure pasta that doesn’t fit into measuring cups or for more precise amounts. The precision from weighing on a scale is beneficial for baking.
Measuring spoon sets always include ¼ teaspoon, ½ teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, and 1 tablespoon. Larger sets include ⅛ teaspoon, ⅓ teaspoon, and ½ tablespoon, which are helpful for cooks who don’t know all the measurement math. Same goes for dry measuring cups: sets always include ¼ cup, ⅓ cup, ½ cup, and 1 cup. Larger sets have ⅔ cup and ¾ cup. Most liquid measuring cups are 2 cups in capacity, but you may find it helpful to invest in a 1-cup measure, 4-cup measure, or other sizes, depending on how often you use them and what you use them for. These are the basic measuring utensils to stock in your kitchen.
Now that you’ve mastered measuring, it’s helpful to know how many teaspoons in a tablespoon, how many tablespoons in a cup, and so on. Here’s a little tablespoon math to help:
To convert measurements from tablespoons and cups to pints, ounces, etc, here’s a helpful guide: