First Kitchen

Waxing Poetic About Measuring Spoons

September  3, 2012

Food52's Editorial Assistant (and college student) Brette Warshaw is curating her very own first kitchen -- and she needs your help. Today: Brette waxes poetic about measuring spoons and cups.

Measuring collection

For I have known them all already, known them all,
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, 
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…

- T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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Measuring out life? In coffee spoons? Does it get more depressing than that?

Though my English professors may turn white at the thought of my using Eliot in a column about cookware – and this whole introspection-thing may be a product of this being the first week of my senior year of college – I couldn’t help but start thinking deep about measuring spoons. Real deep. Deep enough that I found myself in the half-dark on a sunny afternoon, laying on my couch, doing a dramatic reading of Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock to the giant jar of pretzels on the table next to me.

Slow down, Brette.

Measuring cups

Measuring cups and spoons, sure, are one of the most essential items in a kitchen. They’re what this website is based on; they’re the building blocks of cookbooks and magazines; they’re how recipes are spread around the globe, through generations, across cultures and divides.

And choosing the right measuring cups and spoons – though there are many options available – is one of the easiest (and most boring) kitchen tasks out there. Sure, there’s plastic, stainless steel, wood, glass. Of course, you want ones that are accurate, easy to read. The kicker? Most of them are -- and they're easy to find.

(My one, real criterion: the measuring spoon has to be narrow enough to fit into a spice jar. The Cuisipro measuring spoons work wonders.)

Measuring spoons

So why – if measuring utensils are such a must in a home kitchen, if they’re so easy to find and use, if they’re left off no list of essential cookware – do we continually ignore them?

Why do we double some things and halve others, pour instead of splash? Why do take a recipe we love – one that we’ve followed exactly, and that’s worked to a T – and tweak it? Why do we feel the need make things messy, to color outside the lines, to add and subtract and to make new again?

Measuring utensils – and the quiet, respectful disregard of them – are what make cooking fun.


They’re how we have a constantly growing collection of recipes – how we document the ones we have, and how we create new ones. They’re how history is recorded and then changed. And with them – and without them – we can shape the way we cook: the way we approach our ingredients, our countertops, our stoves, and each other. 

Because why not make something more salty, acidic, tart, bitter? Why not slather instead of spread, squeeze instead of sprinkle? Why not, as Kristen Miglore once did, add an extra 1/3 cup of olive oil to Marion Burros' Purple Plum Torte, and watch the top get dark, shiny, and perfect?

Do this, and your life will be measured in pours and in pinches, impulsive splashes and calculated dumps, in tastes and tweaks and shakes and splatters. Not, as Eliot put it, in coffee spoons.

How do you use your measuring spoons and cups? And how to do you approach innovation in the kitchen?

As usual, I'll be pinning everything I'm coveting to my First Kitchen Pinterest board, so check it out!

Email me at [email protected] with your First Kitchen recommendations -- your favorite tools, your favorite cookware. All wisdom is appreciated.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Veronica
  • shellie
  • Linn
  • Sauertea
  • carol.penn.romine
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


Veronica June 23, 2020
I love those brown round, wooden measuring spoons in the third photo! Who makes those?
shellie August 11, 2014
I know this is a very old post, but in case anyone is setting up their first kitchen and looking for advice: if you can find measuring cups and spoons that include not just the English measuring system but also metric, those are ideal. It's helpful to see that, say, a tablespoon is 15 ml and 1/4 cup is 60 ml -- makes it much easier to increase volumes. (Like if something calls for 2 tablespoons but I'm doubling the recipe -- I can just grab my 1/4 cup measure). Not essential, of course, just a nice perk.
Linn September 14, 2013
For the most part, I use a scale. And I still have my deciliter measure which I brought back from Sweden. As for spoons, I have them but don't use them very often.
Sauertea September 9, 2012
My favorite measuring spoons are two sets of vintage foley stainless steel measuring spoons. My mom had them growing up. I can't cook without them. They are narrow and are double ended. I only need three out at any time. One of the few that have 1/8 of tsp and 1/2 tablespoon as part of the set. I scoured eBay to get the second set. It is too bad that Foley is a ing of the past.
carol.penn.romine September 5, 2012
I recently heard about a chef who got measuring spoon rings tattooed in the palm of his hand, so that he can quickly grab up the required amount without having to search for a spoon. I think I'll stick with my skinny measuring spoons that fit into the spice jar. And just eyeballing it whenever I can. Ouch!
Brette W. September 5, 2012
Leyla D. September 5, 2012
First of all, I love my kitchen has saved me miles of trouble making pizza dough, cookies, and pies. Also, whats the name of those wooden measuring spoons? I think I'm in love
mcs3000 September 5, 2012
I agree with gt9 - nice to have a scale. Originally bought it for baking but use it daily. Hardily use measuring cups anymore.
creamtea September 4, 2012
I totally love my odd-size metal measuring cups: 2/3, 3/4, 1-1/2 & 2 c. measures. So much easier than always having to haul out two sizes and measuring twice, and makes measuring extra cups of flour for challah baking easier. Although I have recently started to use a scale like gt9.
vvvanessa September 3, 2012
My first rule of measuring spoons and cups is to separate them off the ring they come with; that ring brings me down! I bake a lot and rely heavily on a kitchen scale, but I do find using measuring spoons is easier for small amounts like baking powder, so I have a small glass on the counter where I have 2 (maybe 3) sets of measuring spoons out and ready so I don't have to dig for them in a drawer. Every time I use one, which is almost every day, I'm glad I have them set up that way.

Then again, I rarely measure spices like cinnamon or ground ginger and tend to eyeball the amounts of things that don't affect structure (again, like baking powder). And I never measure spices I grind to order, like nutmeg.

I had a great time this weekend cooking with my partner's teenage daughter who had never made pasta by hand before. We made ravioli, and I think she was pretty fascinated by the fact that we didn't measure anything but the flour; we put together the ricotta filling by my coaching her to add some-of-this and some-of-that. We used a recipe for a peach cake, but I took some liberties with the spices, and it was great to see her reaction to the cake once it was done. She loved it *and* got a little lesson in improvisation and innovation. Bonus!
Panfusine September 3, 2012
I tend to hoard measuring spoons. Its hard to handle them while they're stuck in those key rings and they invariably get lost once detached.. (the proverbial single socks of the kitchen tool drawer), not to mention they tend to get left behind in the tins after measuring!, Love the metal ones and the melamine ones from Sur la table that look like teensy cups to measure by tsps /tbsps
gt9 September 3, 2012
If you plan on baking I find a scale to be a must have. I also use it for portion if you only want 6 ounce burger or 4 ounce portion of pasta. Thanks for the read. Have fun your senior year!
Sadassa_Ulna September 3, 2012
Unless I am baking and need exact measurements, I use spoons from our daily cutlery: it turns out our soup spoons are exactly a tablespoon and our regular spoons are exactly a teaspoon - I am not sure, is this true for most modern cutlery? Or for dry ingredients I estimate in my palm what a certain amount would be.

But for critical things in baking like cream of tartar, baking soda, etc., I dig for the real measuring spoons. And I am totally in agreement about the bowl of a measuring spoon fitting into the average spice jar!