Dry Measuring Cups vs Liquid Measuring Cups

May 15, 2008 26 Comments

Dry Measuring Cups vs Liquid Measuring Cups

Measuring Cups

I recently received this email from a visitor asking,

“If a recipe calls for four ounces of something, how do you know if they mean four ounces on the food scale, or in the measuring cup? What’s the difference between dry measuring cups and liquid measuring cups, why would you need different cups, wouldn’t they measure the same amount? This may sound stupid, but not to me. Thanks for your time.”

I asked my friend Chef Jennifer Field, a graduate of Orlando Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts School, who offered this response,

“This is a very good question; many people don’t stop to consider that there is a difference at all between liquid and dry measures, so good for you! My general rule of thumb is if the recipe calls for 4 ounces of a liquid, use a liquid measuring cup. If the recipe calls for 4 ounces of a dry ingredient, use your scale. Now to your other individual questions:

What’s the difference between dry measuring cups and liquid measuring cups?

Dry measuring cups are meant to be filled right up to the top and then leveled off with a straight edge of some sort. Liquid measuring cups generally have a pour spout and are made to be filled to the gradations on the side of the cup (1/4 cup, 1/2 cup, 6 oz, etc.) rather than being filled right up to the top.

Why would you need different cups?

Wouldn’t they measure the same amount? Well, for one, measuring a liquid by pouring right to the tippy top of the measuring cup is just asking for spilling and mess. For another, it’s really hard to level a dry ingredient (think flour or oatmeal) if it’s not right up to the top of the measuring cup.

Also, for liquids, the mantra “a pint is a pound the world around,” basically holds true within a couple of wee fractions of an ounce either way. This means that 1 pint of liquid (16 ounces) = 2 cups of liquid, whether that liquid be milk, water, or oil.

With dry measures, pesky settling must be taken into account. I wasn’t a physics major, but it’s a matter of mass versus weight: depending on how you use your dry measures (do you scoop up a cup of flour or spoon it into the cup? Do you sift first? Do you pack your flour down?) a cup of flour can vary in weight from about 3.5 ounces to about 5 ounces. That’s a lot of variation.

My advice is to measure dry ingredients with a dry measure once and weigh the outcome. Use it in your recipe and see if you like the way it turns out. If so, write down the weight of that particular ingredient and use the weight every time that particular ingredient is called for.

For example, the way I fill a one cup measure, all purpose flour weighs 4 ounces. I like how this works in my recipes, so I will use 8 oz. of all purpose flour for 2 cups in a recipe, or 3 ounces of all purpose flour for 3/4 cups in a recipe.”

Hope this helps, and thanks for asking such great questions. I bet this will help other folks with the same questions.

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Measuring Cups

Last modified on Mon 7 April 2014 10:01 am

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Comments (26)

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  1. Bill Lakenan says:

    Good article, but one minor correction regarding the physics of weighing dry goods. Mass is a function of the amount of matter in something. Weight is the amount of force than this stuff exerts downward due to gravity. On the moon you’d “weigh” one sixth as much as you do on earth, but you’d have exactly the same mass. Since we all live out entire lives on earth the concepts of weight and mass are used interchangeably and often confused. Measuring dry goods is really a function of weight and volume as a cup is a measure of volume which can vary dramatically from baker to baker.

  2. Jenni Field says:

    Thanks for the correction–like I said, I’m not a physics major; I’m a pastry chef:-)

  3. john says:

    I went to williams sonoma the other day. And i asked the lady if they had any liquid measuring cups and then she went over and showed me a bunch of dry measuring cups. And i was like aren’t these for dry ingredients? and she was like a cup is a cup, you can use any of them it doesn’t matter….i just stood there amazed.

  4. rosina Kowal says:

    This is all good stuff but my recipe calls for a pound of flour……my measurig cup is “liquid” how can I measure reasonably well using this cup?

    Hi Rosina, weighing flour is the most accurate way of measuring flour because of all the variables as discussed in the post but 1 pound of flour = approximately 4 cups. – RG

  5. Kathy says:

    Is French’s Bold N Spicy Deli mustard considered dry or liquid when measuring? I measured in a dry cup.
    Thanks

    Me, I would think of it as wet but I would check further. – RG

  6. melanie r. says:

    You can not POUR mustard, therefore it is a DRY measure.

  7. Jo Ann Jones says:

    Really good information, Thanks! I am raising a baby calf that was rejected by his mother (he was a twin and she would only accept one calf) and I needed my dry measurement of milk replacement powder to be pretty accurate. This article really helped me out. Thanks again, Jo Ann

    You are welcome Jo Ann – RG

  8. Jody says:

    If a recipe calls for 6oz. DRY, how much in cups equal 6oz pasta?

    Jody – My general rule of thumb for pasta is that 2 ounces of dry equals about 1 cup. So, for your recipe that calls for 6 ounces of pasta, you’ll end up with about 3 cups of cooked pasta. Hope this helps. – RG

  9. Kateri Osburn says:

    So, if I measured a cup of flour in a liquid measuring cup and a cup of flour in a dry measuring cup would they weigh the same?

    • Kateri – Even if you measure two separate cups of flour in the same measure, dry or wet, they might not weigh the same. This is because flour’s weight is effected by how much water from the atmosphere that flour absorbs as well as how packed down–or aerated–it is before measuring. A “cup” of flour can weigh as little as 3.75 ounces and as much as 5.5-6 ounces, depending on how you scoop the flour and the other factors I mentioned above. Aside from that, if you measured a cup of flour in a liquid measure and in a dry measure, they would weigh different amounts. This is mainly because, aside from what I’ve said previously, you cannot level off the flour in a liquid measure, and flour, unlike a liquid, does not seek its lowest level. It mounds up. If you shake the liquid measure to level off the flour that way, the flour gets compacted and thus will weigh more than the dry measure. In a dry measure, you can just heap the flour up in the cup and then level it off with a straight edge, such as an icing spatula. My advice to anyone who asks about weights versus volume measurements is to buy a scale. This is for both accuracy and consistency. I weigh a cup of flour at 4 to 4.5 ounces. That way, I don’t have to worry about leveling off, packing down, humidity or anything else. 4.5 ounces is 4.5 ounces, whereas a “cup” might not always be a “cup.”

  10. SMJM says:

    Thanks for the very informative information. I have been doing a lot of pickling the last few days (using old recipes) and I have run into some challenges with the measures. This information helps tremendously.

  11. Josie says:

    I learned in cooking school that dry ingredients and liquid where different. Thank you

  12. Mike says:

    I’m confused by what you say here ” For example, the way I fill a one cup measure, all purpose flour weighs 4 ounces. I like how this works in my recipes, so I will use 8 oz. of all purpose flour for 2 cups in a recipe, or 3 ounces of all purpose flour for 3/4 cups in a recipe.”
    Does this mean that if a recipe says 1 cup then to get 8 ounces for the recipe you need to fill 2 dry measuring cups? Or are you saying if a recipe calls for 1 cup then you only use what your dry measuring cups gives you which you weigh to being 4 ounces(which is not a true cup ie 8 ounces)?

  13. Kathy Proul says:

    So if I need only 9 oz of cake mix from a 15 oz box of mix, using a dry measure without measurements on the side, how do I calculate? I’m thinking a cup would be 8 oz, but what measurement do I use to get the extra oz?

  14. Cheryl says:

    Okay…Not a stupid question, but one needed to be answer…I have a recipe from online from the UK telling me to use 825g of pumpkin puree,55g of dry pectin and 900g of caster sugar. I’m pretty sure I can find the caster sugar, but I’m not sure about the measurements…would that be a little over 3 1/2 cups of puree pumpkins? and 2 oz of pectin with 4 cups of sugar?…And where can I find a book that can show me the conversion the online ones are giving me a headache…and I read the labels in my pantry to try to figure this out…thanks ever so much.

  15. Jenni says:

    Cheryl, One of the issues is that you are trying to go from metric weights to US weights and from there to volumetric measurements. That makes things a little tricky, and it’s why I advise everyone who is even a little serious about baking to buy a kitchen scale that will do the conversions for you. The one I use costs about $25, and has lasted for years.

    Having said that, here’s a chart I found that you can use for the pumpkin and sugar conversion: http://www.veg-world.com/articles/cups.htm

    An ounce (2 Tablespoons by volume)=28g, so I’d go with 2 ounces or 4 Tablespoons of pectin.

    Hope you find this helpful.

  16. Jenni says:

    Kathy, it is very difficult to switch between weights and volumes, and I would strongly urge you to buy a kitchen scale. But, if you don’t have time to get one, I’d measure the entire contents of the box of mix using cups. Then, I’d take 2/3 of it as my measurement (since 9 oz is close to 2/3 of 15). I don’t think you can get much more precise than that without a scale.

    For example, if the contents fills 3 cups, use 2 cups as your measurement. If the contents fills 4 cups, use 2 and 2/3 cups as your measurement.

    Hope this is helpful.

  17. Jenni says:

    Mike, this is why it is so difficult to convert from weights to volumetric measurements. Almost every different substance is going to weigh a different number of ounces per cup. 8oz per cup only works for liquids–namely water, whole milk and whole eggs. A “cup” of flour weighs 4-5 ounces, depending on how you measure it in the cup. If you dip the cup into the flour and end up packing some of it down, it’ll weigh closer to 6 oz. If you whisk the flour before lightly spooning it into the cup, it will weigh closer to 4 ounces.

    So, when I say that I use 4 oz as my measure for flour, if the recipe calls for 2 cups, I weigh out 8 oz using a scale. If the recipe calls for 3 cups, I weigh out 12 oz.

    I hope this helps.

  18. sue says:

    on a diet it says 1 cup of beef stew equals 220 calories what do i use the liquid cup or dry

  19. Christine Wolfe says:

    Sue: I totally agree with Jennifer regarding the food scale. I’m on a diet using portion control, so I weigh everything. I found the scale I bought to be a great tool. I can weigh my dish first, zero out the number, then add my stew into the dish while it’s on the scale That number is what I have in my dish!

    If your stew is from a can, and the portion is one cup, I would just cook the whole can, see how many portions are in the can, divide the contents of the pot and and take one portion, freezing the rest for another time. That’s what I do with most recipies. It’s worked for me. Good luck with your weight loss!

  20. PhilT says:

    “a pint is a pound the world around,”

    no it isn’t, that’s wrong.

    In the UK there are 8 pings in a gallon and a gallon of water weighs 10 pounds.

  21. Pat says:

    What about measuring macaroni? Most recipes call for a 1/2 lb. or a lb.of pasta. A box is usually 12 or 13 ounces. Should I measure by the cup. Thanks.

    Hi Pat, most pasta I purchase comes in 1 pound boxes but if I need an exact amount under that, I would use a kitchen scale, a very useful item in anyone’s kitchen especially if they do a lot of baking. If I didn’t own a kitchen scale, I would just estimate the amount and if I’m off by an ounce, I don’t think it really matters. – RG

  22. Jay Are says:

    thanks a bunch it was very helpful

  23. Judy says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Years ago my sister-in-law made such a big deal when she saw me measuring a dry ingredient in a liquid measuring cup. At the time I did not know there was a difference but I have been paranoid ever since. I am so glad that you clarified the difference but I also think at times I could use either one. If I had used my common sense I would have realized why there is a design difference. Thank you again!

  24. christine says:

    Liquid is different, I measured dry popcorn kernels in a 1/4 cup, and they measured 1/3 cup, in my 3rd cup. Thank-you God Bless, and Namaste’ Christine

  25. Jeff says:

    Dry to Wet Equivalency:

    1 Dry Unit = 1.1636 Wet Unit

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