How to Use Measuring Spoons and Cups

Most of us have measuring cups and spoons in our kitchens, but do we know how to use them? Measuring your ingredients carefully and correctly helps to produce a consistent outcome. Click any photo to enlarge it.


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    Know the difference between liquid and dry measures, and use the appropriate one for each task. While they hold the same volume, they are used differently. Measurements are labeled on each measure.
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    Use a liquid measure for liquids, such as water, milk or oil. Fill the cup to the appropriate line, place it on a level surface, and read it with your eye at the level of the liquid. Water surface curves downward, so use the bottom of the curve for accurate measurement and not the edge that is against the measuring cup. This is helpful for bread recipes in which the exact amount of water is crucial.
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    Use a dry measure for powders, such as sugar, salt, and baking powder. Spoon or scoop the powder lightly into the cup. Run a knife or spatula across the top to level the surface and scrape any excess back into the jar or canister.
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    Measure a liquid in a measuring spoon by filling it full.
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    Use measuring spoons for dry ingredients by filling and then leveling with the straight edge of a spatula or knife. Many baking powder cans come with a built-in edge for leveling. In a pinch, you can also use the edge of the lid.
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    Measure a "heaping" or "rounded" tablespoon, teaspoon, or (less frequently) cup. This quantity is not so precise, but it is generally a moderately sized, round mound, or heap of the dry ingredient in addition to that which fills the spoon.
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    Measure a "scant" cup or spoon by filling the measure not completely full, or by shaking or pouring a little bit out. Again, this is an imprecise measurement.
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    Add measurements if you don't have a measure that size. For instance, 1 3/4 teaspoons is 1 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon.


  • When cooking, cook to a recipe. When baking, bake to a formula. For instance, if you'd like a little more or less salt in your soup, taste it first, then go ahead. On the other hand, if a muffin recipe says to add 1/2 tsp of salt, you should add exactly that much. Altering baking recipes can result in a less-than-tasty product. (Anything with baking powder in it needs a little salt to help things along.)
  • If you're trying a new recipe, try it exactly as written the first time. Make adjustments once you have tasted it and you know how it works.
  • U.S. measurements used in the kitchen have these proportions:
    • 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon = 0.5 fluid ounces
    • 16 tablespoons = 1 cup = 8 fluid ounces
    • 4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup = 2 fluid ounces
    • 2 cups = 1 pint = 16 fluid ounces (a pint of water weighs one pound)
    • 4 cups = 2 pints = 1 quart
    • 4 quarts = 1 gallon
  • Tablespoons are abbreviated T or Tbsp. Teaspoons are abbreviated t or tsp. Cups are abbreviated c.
  • Three tablespoons of butter.
    Butter often has measurements marked on the wrapper in tablespoons. To use these measurements, use a sharp knife to cut straight through the stick, wrapper and all. Generally, one stick of butter is 1/2 cup.
  • Flour is best measured by weighing it, but if you wish to measure flour by volume, sift it first and spoon it into the dry measure gently, without pressing or packing it in. Then level with a knife as usual.
  • One third cup of packed brown sugar.
    Measure brown sugar by packing it moderately firmly into a dry measure with the back of a spoon.
  • To measure things like grated cheese or chopped nuts, pack them loosely into a dry measure until they are about even with the rim.
  • Half a cup of peanut butter.
    To measure a substance with the consistency of peanut butter or shortening, use a spatula to pack it into a dry measure. Then, use the spatula to scoop it out again.
  • Spraying the measuring cup with non-stick spray before filling it with peanut butter helps the peanut butter slide out more easily.
    • An alternative method for measuring large (over half cup or more) things of an awkward consistency (margarine, peanut butter etc) is displacement measurement. To do this take a large liquid measuring vessel (e.g. 2C measuring glass), fill it with water to a particular point (e.g. 1C) and then scoop the food you are trying to measure into the water. Add the measure you want (e.g. 1/2C) to the measure the water was at (e.g. 1C), and when the water level is to the new measure (1 1/2C), pour off the water and use the amount of substance you measured.
  • A jigger or a shot is .1875 U.S. cups, or 3 Tbsp. Should you need to measure one, jigger measurements are available.
  • Have you seen us? A "tad", "dash", "pinch", and "smidgen".
    You may see definitions and even measuring spoons or tools for a "pinch", "dash", and so on. You can measure these quantities if you want, but they usually connote a generic small amount, to taste. These spoons contain quantities as follows:
    • Tad: 1/4 tsp.
    • Dash: 1/8 tsp.
    • Pinch:1/16 tsp.
    • Smidgen: 1/32 tsp.
    • Drop:1/64 tsp.
  • A "dollop" is not a specific measurement, but rather a smallish lump of a semisolid food or a splash of liquid. It is to taste, perhaps however much will stick to a spoon.
  • Until you learn the sizes of the various things, always try to keep some type of label upon your measurements.


  • Don't put a wet or oily spoon into a canister of a dry ingredient. You will only make a mess. Whenever possible, measure all the dry ingredients first. Otherwise, clean and dry the spoon.

US to metric

1/5 teaspoon = 1 milliliter

1 teaspoon = 5 ml

1 tablespoon = 15 ml

1/5 cup = 50 ml

1 cup = 240 ml

2 cups (1 pint) = 470 ml

4 cups (1 quart) = .95 liter

4 quarts (1 gal.) = 3.8 liters

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