Is There Value in Measuring by Volume?

September 14, 2013

There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it, once a week, to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to keep the conversation going.

Today: Is it time to toss our measuring cups?

Baking with Weight vs Volume, from Food52

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We're pretty attached to our measuring cups. We have a drawer full in our new kitchen, and Brette has waxed poetic about them: "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...Measuring utensils – and the quiet, respectful disregard of them – are what make cooking fun."

Even though we know a cup of flour weighs 4.5 ounces, we've perfected how to measure flour correctly without weighing it. Not every kitchen has a scale, and even when we do have access to a scale, somehow it doesn't feel right to be so precise with grandma's chocolate chip recipe. But giving up precision can come at a cost. Despite following proper procedure (spooning aerated flour into a measuring cup and sweeping off the excess), you still won't always end up with exactly 4.5 ounces, and slight differences can have a big impact on your baked goods. This doesn't just apply to flour -- extra ounces of any ingredient can throw off your results. As a result of this issue, this week on the Hotlinefionula shared a decision to convert to baking by weight rather than volume, and is now questioning what advantage -- if any -- there is to using volume measurements.

Are we just hanging on to measuring cups for nostalgia's sake? SeaJambon says: “I have a large bookcase full of cookbooks that use volume measures. I love and cherish way too many recipes in them to toss, and it is way too time consuming to make the conversions myself.”

Maedl says: "I switched to weighing ingredients years ago. It is more accurate, so results are more consistent. I also find it easier to measure using a scale rather than by trying to use cup measures. It doesn't mean tossing out old cookbooks -- you just learn what the weight equivalents are and carry on."

Are there advantages to baking with volume? Should we all toss our measuring cups and go buy scales? (While we’re at it, should we go all in and convert to the metric system too?) We can't wait for you to weigh in. Add your two cents to the question on the Hotline here or continue the conversation in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Maryhelen
  • Lunagal500
  • Jonathan Baker
    Jonathan Baker
  • Baketress
  • Laura415
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Maryhelen December 26, 2016
If a recipe was created using volume AND weight (as most do, not all ingredients are by volume) then the cake or whatever you are baking should come out just fine and on the contrary, changing the volume measures to weight measures will ruin it.
Lunagal500 September 16, 2013
In Australia one tablespoon equals 20ml, instead of 15ml as for most other countries. You have to be careful when cooking recipes from non-Australian books/websites etc, to remember to use a 15ml measure, not the usual 20.
Jonathan B. September 16, 2013
Assuming your scales have a tare button it is a substantially faster way to measure ingredients, not only that's but it also saves on washing up. The volume method of measurement is the only reason I never buy American cookbooks (except for Rose Levy Berenbaum - her books are by volume, metric and imperial)
Baketress September 15, 2013
I am begging editors! Please start converting baking recipes into metric system! To me it's less crucial for cooking since there is usually more space for improvising with decent results. I do have nice conversion app but it's annoying especially if you spend money on a book or app. After purchasing food52 app I was unpleasantly surprised to find recipes with volumes.
rainey September 16, 2013
I lived in Canada shortly after they had converted to metric. Recipes were given in columns with the volume measurements in the first one, the ingredient name in the next one, any directions (like chopped or packed, for example) and then the metric measurements in the last column. It was very simple and visual.

I came to appreciate the simplicity and mathematical ease of metric (consider the issues it would save in doubling or halving recipies alone!). I have never understood why we never made the conversion despite the number of dates the US set to have done that by back in the 60s and 70s.
Laura415 September 15, 2013
Weighing has a big place in my kitchen, but I trust my instincts too. If I weigh some salt and it takes what looks like a quarter cup to get to 20grams you better believe I'm getting out those measuring spoons. Weight may be the best way to get consistent results but like anything in recipes, (cooking times, temperatures etc.) you should not follow them blindly or your dish may turn out to be too salty, overdone or burnt. When my crummy scale goes I am gonna invest in something that can measure small amounts accurately. Any suggestion?
Rochelle September 15, 2013
I always measure by weight. Not only do you get consistent results you save up on the washing by measuring straight into the bowl.
MelissaH September 14, 2013
I find very little value in measuring by volume, unless you don't care about reproducibility. If I'm trying a brand-new recipe and it's written in volume, the first time through I'll measure by volume but note the mass of each ingredient (in grams, please). I'm even anal enough to have two scales, one that can do up to 2 kg in 1 g increments, and the other great for measuring small amounts in 0.1 g increments. It's easier, requires less cleanup of measuring utensils (no more madly trying to dry the 1 tsp measure!), and gives me consistent results.
I refuse to buy new baking-centric cookbooks that don't give volume measurements.
rainey September 14, 2013
I have a scale and I use it -- when I feel like it. And I measure when that's convenient. They both work out fine for me. I am not doing bakery work where consistent results are important. I am doing home baking for my family who enjoy things whether they're slightly more crispy one time than another.

I also never use a recipe for meatloaf and probably haven't made the same one twice in 45 years of cooking unless it was by accident.

As for the precision of scales, the little conversion table that came with my Salter scale says that a cup of flour weights 5 ounces not 4.5. It says that 1 cup of cocoa weights 3 1/4 cup but a half cup weighs 1.5 ounces. It weighs in grams (and it's beyond FABULOUS to just switch a toggle and carry on with European recipes) but only in even numbers. So when my recipe calls for 75g my scale is already fudging. And, finally, when it calls for 30g of dry milk powder and that fluffy stuff starts billowing out of the package I'm lucky to keep my error down to 10%. Guess what? It doesn't make all that much difference. ...anymore than when my hands are less than adroit enough to get liquids exactly right.

My rule about baking is "Forget rules and anything that's intimidating and enjoy what you're doing!" Someone will always gratefully eat your "mistakes" even if it's the family dog. ; > The need for real precision belongs to the pros.
AntoniaJames September 14, 2013
I like your attitude, rainey!
rainey September 14, 2013
Forgot to say that no less a luminary than Nick Malgieri has said that you can get perfectly adequate precision with measuring cups and spoons. So everyone should relax and feel fine about their own preferred method.
emery September 15, 2013
rainey is a real cook
AntoniaJames September 14, 2013
I measure by weight whenever possible. I use the nutrition information on the sides of jars and packages to help with the conversion, as US food labels include grams as well as ounces. E.g.,(my favorite use!), measuring peanut butter by weight is so much easier. Just glob it out of the jar right into the bowl. No messy cup to clean! Also, measuring everything directly into the bowl is so efficient. I bake a lot of bread, but have a lot of traditional recipes with volume measurement. The time taken to convert to weights (metric) has been well worth it. (I plan to update all my recipes here on Food52, when time permits.) ;o)
Jana September 14, 2013
I'm from Germany where measuring by weight is normal. I really had problems with American recipes at first, because I just wasn't used to it. I'm still using my measuring cups though if needed, but I always write down the weight so I can use my scale the next time.
I really can relate to Helens, measuring butter by volume is the strangest thing ever and not very practical...
AntoniaJames September 14, 2013
In the U.S., nearly all of the butter sold for home cooks comes in 1/4 pound sticks that are wrapped in wax paper, with markers printed on the paper showing tablespoons; each stick is 1/4 cup (8 tablespoons). Many recipes, especially for baked goods, call for 1/2 cup or a cup of butter, which to us simply means, 1 or 2 sticks. So it's really not all that strange to us. It's quite easy, really. So universal is the practice that I've seen the suggestion (something that pros here do) to keep in your fridge pre-sliced tablespoons of butter, chilled in a bowl, on days when you're doing a lot of baking. ;o)
AntoniaJames September 14, 2013
Sorry, that should have been, "each cup is 1/2 cup" not, "1/4 cup." Each stick is 1/4 pound. ;o)
Nancy W. September 14, 2013
I'd be very interested in using recipes by weight. Can you recommend a good and reliable home scale?
AntoniaJames September 14, 2013
The OXO 11 pound scale is excellent. You can light the area where the measurements are shown, as well as pull that panel out, in the event that you have a wide bowl or other vessel on the scale. Plus, it's flat and compact. I have extremely limited storage space in my kitchen, so my scale goes in, on its side, into a cubby in an upper cabinet, next to my blender base. (All appliances are off the counter, due to the even more limited counter space.) You can get the OXO scales at Bed Bath and Beyond. ;o)
Nancy W. September 14, 2013
Thanks for the weigh in! Greatly appreciated.
Michele H. September 14, 2013
Here is the advantage to measuring cups: they contain what's in them, so they separate ingredients as well as measure them - kind of like an instant mise-en-place.

If you're weighing ingredients, typically you add them to the same bowl - which can be faster, and better...until you make a serious error in measurement. Imagine what would happen if the hand pouring the salt shook and added 4x too much? You'd have to start over, but as long as you aren't measuring your salt over the bowl when you use measuring spoons, you simply wipe up the salt and move on.
Helens September 14, 2013
I'm from the UK, so the idea of not measuring by weight seems strange to me, and I always convert American recipes into metric weight before I cook. (Ok, I'll admit that I have a go to throw-together cookie recipe that I do by volume, but that's it.) Liquids are almost always measured in metric volume (250ml=1cup for anyone who's interested), and one thing I cannot get my head around is when US recipes call for cups of butter. I mean really, who measures butter in cups?!
rainey September 14, 2013
We do in the US. Our butter comes in wrappers in sticks or blocks. The wrapper indicates where 1 tablespoon, 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup is. A cup is the equivalent of 2 sticks or blocks. It makes perfect sense within the construct of the dairy and consumer working together.
rainey September 14, 2013
Alas! That was a good illustration but the blog doesn't allow linking. If you paste and copy the URL you may be able to see it. If not, page down this page:
Helens September 14, 2013
Ohh - I see what you mean. I had all these images of Americans trying to stuff butter into measuring cups and then scooping it out again. Which to be honest, would be a little ridiculous, so I probably should have deduced that there was a simple solution like this. Thanks for clarifying (haha - clarifying, geddit?).

In Europe we tend to get butter in 250g blocks (shorter and wider than your sticks) with 25g or 50g lines along the wrapping. Anyway, I've converted enough American recipes in my time to have learnt that 1 US cup of butter is about 225g and 1tbsp is about 15g.