Must-Haves for Measuring

Must-Haves for Measuring


Carpenters are fond of saying, “Measure twice, cut once” and I say the same holds true in the kitchen where careful measurement can mean the difference between culinary conquest and catastrophe. Here are some of the tools I use to insure against the latter.

Perfect Beaker
This is pretty much the only liquid measuring cup I use. Wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, the perfect beaker is equally easy to read when full or very nearly not. And the indexing around the outside includes pretty much every form of volumetric measurement you could ever need.

Stainless Steel Ruler
There are plenty of baked good recipes out there that call for careful measurement of length, but I use this stainless steel ruler for a lot of other jobs. For instance, if I’m supposed to reduce a pot of a liquid by a third, what better way to calculate than to stick a ruler right down into the pot for a baseline measurement. After all it’s way easier to reduce from four to two inches than to simply guess “by half.”

Push Cups
I have long been a proponent of plunger style measuring vessels because there is simply no device better for volumetrically finagling or dispensing goopy stuff like mayo, shortening and peanut butter.

Scale
I have a rule in the kitchen: If you can weigh it … weigh it. This is especially true of compressible powders like flour. Not only is this OXO model accurate and precise, (there is a difference, but that’s a discussion for another time) the digital display pops out for easy positioning and reading.

Baster
Although it’s more commonly known as a “turkey baster,” this is not the tool I would reach for if I was actually going to baste a turkey, which of course I wouldn’t because basting is evil. What I like this device for is measuring liquid ingredients, especially those I’m attempting to extract from narrow bottles containing bits and pieces I want to leave behind, (think pickle brine or chili oil). What makes this model special is that the tube is indexed in both U.S. and metric volumes.

48 Comments

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  1. 1
    William

    What is an acceptable tolerance for a digital scale. just bought one the other day and tried measuring 7oz. of sugar, and it wouldn’t get to an even 7oz., it would either read 6.98, or 7.02. i’m new to baking using weight, should i get a different one?

  2. 2
    Dee

    So….if we should be using a volumetric weight for compressible ingredients like flours (which I completely agree with) does anyone have a conversion for cups to ounces? Would that vary based on density of the item? I don’t have a single recipe in my arsenal that provides a weight for such ingredients.

    • 3
      David

      Conversions For Ingredients Commonly Used in Baking (Cooks Illustrated)

      Ingredient: 1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
      Ounces: 5
      Grams: 142

      Ingredient: 1 Cup Cake Flour
      Ounces: 4
      Grams: 113

      Ingredient: 1 Cup Whole-Wheat Flour
      Ounces: 5 ½
      Grams: 156

      Ingredient: 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
      Ounces: 7
      Grams: 198

      Ingredient: 1 Cup Packed Brown Sugar (light or dark)
      Ounces: 7
      Grams: 198

      Ingredient: 1 Cup Confectioners Sugar
      Ounces: 4
      Grams: 113

      Ingredient: Cocoa Powder
      1 Cup ⅔ Cup
      Ounces: 3.04 2.03
      Grams: 86.11 57.40

      Ingredient: 8 Tablespoons Butter (1 stick, or ½ cup)
      Ounces: 4
      Grams: 113

      • 4
        Philly Girl

        Some of the volume to weight measurements you give are a little off. I suggest using the USDA Foods list. Select the “Standard Reference” and look up the food. It is an excellent reference which I use to convert recipes to weight. For example you give the weight of 1 cup of whole wheat flour is 156 grams. USDA gives the weight as 1 cup of whole wheat flour is 120 grams. I have been using the 120 grams per cup to convert bread recipes for a bread machine for years, and that weight is spot on. At 156 grams per cup I would be producing tasty bricks of bread

  3. 8
    m

    Metric measurements ARE culinary measurements. At least on this side of the pond. You should really obey the law (Public law 94-168, signed by your President Ford some 40 years ago), wherein it is written, that metric is the way to go.

    • 9
      Sir John

      The “law” to change to the metric system was very quickly abandoned because Americans almost unanimously rejected the idea, and it was recognized as very expensive to businesses and public entities. Its only success? Now I have to buy whiskey in 750 ml instead of fifths. Anyway, it’s easy to convert metric to American customary units. Oh, and we measure our boat speed in knots.

  4. 12
    Michelle

    I like the push cups, but you can’t put them in the dishwasher or the markings come off. There are enough things I already have to had wash, is there a push cup out there that is accurate and dishwasher safe?

  5. 13
    Bill Maltsberger

    Carpenters are fond of misquoting Florentine Goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini: during the Renaissance he said “Segnar sette e tagliaruno.” To mark seven times and cut once.

  6. 14
    Candice

    What brand of plunger cups do you use? I got one a a Christmas present a few years ago and the first time I used it the rubber gasket inverted and broke off. So into the trash it went.

  7. 15
    Mr. Hufford

    I am a high school science teacher, I have caught myself converting units into metric and using brand new (borosilicate) beakers for this job.

  8. 16
    Jesslyn W

    That Oxo is the best scale in the world. I’ve used it almost every day for 4 years and STILL haven’t had to change the batteries.

  9. 17
    kate

    I was very close to purchasing the perfect beaker, however I was surprised to find that when ATK tested measuring cups that the perfect beaker was one of the least accurate measuring cups, the 1 cup mark being short almost a tablespoon.

  10. 18
    Warren

    Mr. Brown
    What do you suggest for dry measurements such as flour and sugar? the traditional .25 .3 .5 1.0 cups just seem to “Single Purpose” for my taste. Or am I missing the point and should be using a scale for dry measurement?.

    • 19
      Mina

      Sadly, most recipes call for volumetric measurements for dry ingredients like flour and sugar, but it really is best to use weight for these measurements. White sugar is probably OK with a volume measurement, since it’s hard to compact it, but things like flour and brown sugar can be compacted where you can ask four people to scoop 1 cup each and have them all be different.

    • 20
      Jason Brown

      When baking, I often hear it is more accurate to measure ingredients by weight rather than to measure by volume. This really makes sense, especially for flour. Depending on how it’s measured –scooped and leveled, spooned and leveled, not leveled at all, packed or loose- and depending on the brand –Gold Medal vs King Arthur vs White Lily vs some other brand- you can get wildly different results. However, nearly every recipe published in the USA has flour by the cup rather than by grams. It seems like the latter would be far more consistent.
      My question, then, is this: What is the weight, in grams, of one properly measured cup of all purpose flour?

  11. 22
    Alexandrina

    Lori, 165 cooked temp, but if you only temped one spot, maybe only that spot was hot enough.
    Also, plenty of restaurants have found that if chicken is fatty enough it can go up to even 200 without getting dry. If your chicken is fatty enough, aim to say 180.
    And have you calibrated your thermometer? Fill a cup with ice, add just enough water to carry temp, leave thermometer in it till it settles. It ought to say 32, but if it doesn’t, find out if it can be reset.

  12. 23
    Fillmore

    I have actual AB push cups, and everything else but the Perfect Beaker. The other thing that I like for measuring is a plastic syringe for small liquid measurements. Along the lines of the blaster, it lets me accurately and precisely measure out things like oils and extracts. The can be found marked with both culinary measurements and metric markings.

  13. 25
    JohnB Sayles

    I watch a lot of “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Cook’s Country” both on PBS. They advocate much the same kitchen gear on their gadget segments. One thing I will buy soon is their digital thermometer, the one for measuring the interior temperature of food with a bayonet gauge. They say it’s relatively expensive ($50-$100 I believe) but well worth the cost. It saves a lot of time wasted in overcooking and maybe ruining a dish. And it’s accurate to .1 degrees.

  14. 26
    JB

    I had a push cup once. I tried to use it with some liquid. It seeped down the sides and the seal was never the same. I ended up throwing it away. :-/ Maybe it was defective.

    I have a pint glass measuring cup that I keep in my boston shaker. Very handy!

  15. 27
    Dan Gracie

    Where is the ruler from? I can’t find it anywhere online. Alton needs to open up a store either through amazon or his site for this stuff. Please take my money lol

  16. 31
    captain funk

    received a push cup last year as a gift – every measurement number and line faded after two or three runs through the dishwasher. buyer beware.

      • 33
        captain funk

        mine was the KitchenArt brand that is available on Amazon and shown in the picture above. not sure if it specified hand-wash only, but if so that is the kind of mistake i would make, for certain!

  17. 35
    Melissa

    Alton, you should list where we can get those awesome gadgets, especially the push cups! i would die for one in my kitchen.

  18. 37
    judy graham

    Now that i am getting older i like to be by myself when I am cooking or baking, no talking to me so I don’t have to remeasure things.

  19. 38
    Ben

    I like the scale recommendation, but what I’d REALLY like is a scale that measured to the 0.1g, not just full grams.

    When I’m measuring out 9g of yeast, or 15g of sugar (final pizza recipe), whole grams just aren’t accurate enough for me. With the yeast, I could have anywhere between 8.5-9.4g. I’ve put a teaspoon or more of yeast on the scale with no change in the weight reading.

    • 39
      captain funk

      check out the My Weigh brand. There are quite a few on amazon that measure to the 100th of a gram. Unfortunately, what you gain in accuracy you lose in weighing capacity.

  20. 41
    Chad Walber

    AB, you should add a section on temperature measurements, oven, instant read, and IR laser thermometers. Timers, measuring cups, and measuring spoons should be in this regime as well. Lastly should be measurement aids, like using a rubberband as a gauge to determine the rise of a dough in a clear vessel. I also like your descriptions on how with various vegetation you can tell if they are too soft or too hard, so maybe add a couple write ups on that.
    I work in the measurement business, and I know for a fact that if people screw up on anything in life, it’s measuring and gauging various things. You do a very good job of demystifying this. Thanks sir!

    • 42
      Zack

      I would also like some info on thermometers. Which types do I need and what to buy. Every digital thermometer I buy doesn’t last and I don’t feel like I can trust them.

    • 44
      Lori in NC

      I absolutely agree on the thermometers. Mine die quickly, and rarely seem to be accurate (it said 165, but that chicken is still raw…) I would be happy to invest in a good one, if I had confidence that it would last.

      • 45
        Courtney

        I’ve worked in a food-service department where we rely-heavily-on accurate thermometers and use them about 50 times in a given six-hour period. Most digital thermometers I’ve used are pretty sturdy-provided the chip isn’t damaged and the batteries are good and fresh. But, we also use dial thermometers that have a hex nut where stem meets dial for calibration. Grab a little wrench (though good brands have an adjuster built in to the little case for it) and stick the stem into a cup of ice and water, and carefully adjust the face until it reads 32F (32.2 if it’s that precise) or 0C. Taylor is the brand we use most often, and I think you can find them on Amazon. If Amazon doesn’t have them, your local restaurant supplier will. 🙂

      • 46
        Dave

        thermoworks.com has great products, especially the Thermopen. Its one of my best kitchen investments (and autographed by Mr. Brown BTW). You see the Thermopen often in Good Eats

        • 47
          Mike

          I agree Dave. I have used ThermoWorks products for years. Although I love my Thermopen (I love to give them as gifts), I primarily use one of their couplers now. Next to a good sanitation regimen, my thermometer is one of the most important and most used tools in my kitchen. Heck, I even travel with one, I love it that much…..

      • 48
        Sean H

        ThermaPen. Alton uses it extensively on GE. Instant read, narrow probe. I’ve had mine 4+ years and haven’t even had to replace the batteries. Not cheap, but for testing food temp I haven’t found anything better.

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