Measuring ingredients for recipes should be straightforward, but it’s not. There are fluid ounces and weight ounces, imperial and metric systems, liquid and dry measures. And when successful baking often relies on very accurate ingredient measurements – more so than cooking, where there’s room to be flexible – how you measure your ingredients really matters.
So, what is the best way to measure wet and dry ingredients for baking?
Measuring by Volume
First things first: use the right measuring cup for the right ingredients. Measuring flour in a liquid measuring cup will mess up your recipe. Same with measuring water in a dry measuring cup. Why? Liquid and dry ingredients have different properties.
Secondly, not all measuring cups are created equal! Measurements are standardized, but inexpensive sets can (and do) vary in size. Sadly, cute novelty ceramic measuring cups or heart-shaped measuring spoons are often designed more for looks than accuracy. For best baking results, stick to high-quality, basic metal sets of cups and spoons.
In America, the standardization of volume measurements in recipes became more common in the late 1800s. Older recipes called for “cups” or “teaspoons” as a colloquial amount.
Common Units of Volume
- Teaspoons: 3 teaspoons equal 1 tablespoon
- Tablespoons: 1 tablespoon equals 3 teaspoons
- Cups: 1 cup equals 8 fluid ounces
- Pints: There are 2 cups in 1 pint
- Quarts: There are 4 cups in 1 quart
- Gallons: There are 4 quarts in a gallon
- Fluid ounces: Fluid ounces are not the same as weight ounces. 1 cup of water is 8 fluid ounces but weighs 8.3 ounces
- Liters: This is metric measurement, equal to 33.8 ounces
- Milliliters: There are 1,000 ml in a liter
Essential Tools for Measuring by Volume
- Liquid measuring cups, which are made of clear glass or plastic and have a spout so you can pour from them.
- Dry measuring cups, which are made of metal or plastic. A basic set includes 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, and 1/4 cup.
- Measuring spoons, which are used for amounts of dry and liquid ingredients. The largest measure in the set is a tablespoon. The smallest is usually 1/4 teaspoon, though some sets include 1/8 teaspoon. To measure 3/4 teaspoon, just measure 1/2 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon of the ingredient.
How to Use a Liquid Measuring Cup
Remember chemistry class? The way you measure liquids in a lab is the same way to do it in a kitchen:
Get down so the cup is at your eye level. When you fill the cup, surface tension on the liquid can make it curve upward at the edges of the cup. This is called the meniscus. You want the bottom of the curve to be level with the marking on the measuring cup.
- For sticky liquids, like honey or molasses, use a liquid measuring cup. Greasing the inside of the cup beforehand will help the sticky liquid release.
- For thick pastes, like peanut butter, use a dry measuring cup.
- For small amounts of liquid ingredients, use measuring spoons.
Also, it's important to note: the imperial system of measurements likes to throw us curveballs. Fluid ounces are a unit of volume for liquids, and not the same as ounces by weight. If dry ingredients are listed in ounces, weigh them on a scale. Wet ingredients listed in ounces should be measured with a liquid measuring cup.
How to Measure Flour with a Dry Measuring Cup
How you measure flour can make a giant difference in recipes—giant enough to make a difference between dense and gluey banana bread versus light and cakey banana bread.
In most recipes (including the ones on our site), the best way to measure flour with a measuring cup is the fluff-and-scoop method:
- Lightly fluff the flour in its container.
- Scoop or spoon the flour into the measuring cup.
- Level it off with a flat edge, such as the back of a table knife. Do not pack the flour or tap the cup.
This might sound overly fussy, but it gives you more consistent weights per volume. When you simply dip the cup into the container, you often get more grams per cup than the recipe intended, and that leads to heavy doughs and dry cookies.
Even so, the fluff-and-scoop method isn't perfect, which is why the best way to measure flour is with a kitchen scale (more on that below).
For the Most Accuracy, Use a Kitchen Scale!
In most cases, weight is trustier than volume measurements. If a recipe calls for 140 grams of flour, there’s no quibbling. But one cup of flour – even one weighed with the fluff-and-scoop method – can weigh anywhere between 120 grams or 170 grams. With volume measurements, you never really know what you’re adding to a recipe.
Not so with measuring by weight! You’ll get better results, particularly in baking, if you switch to weighing ingredients because weight is absolute. A kitchen scale (here's one of our favorites) is affordable, faster than measuring by volume, generates less dirty dishes, and eliminates guesswork.