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Which Measuring Cup is Right for You?

Which Measuring Cup Is Right for You?

Is there a point to different measuring cups? Indeed there is! Read on for the scoop (or rather the cup) on when to reach for which version.

9 min read

When you’re cooking or baking, does it really matter what kind of measuring cup you use? A cup is a cup is a cup…right? Not exactly. Liquid measuring cups have special features that make them the best choice for measuring liquids such as broth, oil, or water. Dry measuring cups are designed for doling out just-right amounts of dry ingredients, such as oats, flour, or chocolate chips. So what exactly makes each type of cup ideal for its purpose? Read on!

What Is the Difference Between Liquid Measuring Cups and Dry?

The difference is actually pretty minimal: When measuring liquids, you want the meniscus (the bottom of the curved surface line of the liquid) to touch the measurement mark. If you measure liquids in a dry cup, it’s easy to overfill the cups since the surface tension of liquid allows it to sit slightly higher—and your measuring cup may spilleth over. Dry cups allow you to measure ingredients exactly to the top of the cup and skim off any extra, which is just right for dry goods.

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WhichMeasuringCup LargeImage X

The Best Measuring Cup for Dry Ingredients

Flour, sugar, beans, rice, oats—you name it. These cups can do it all when it comes to measuring dry ingredients. They’re easy to dip into bags or canisters to scoop up dry goods and they conveniently nestle together for simple storage.

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WhichMeasuringCup LargeImage X

Plastic vs. Stainless Steel Measuring Cups

The plastic vs. stainless debate is really a matter of preference, as both materials, ahem, measure up equally well. Here are a few differences that might help you decide:

Plastic Cups: Stack and snap together. Have color coded measurements on the side and comfortable, non-slip grips. Dishwasher safe. Budget-friendly ($9.99).

Stainless Steel Cups: Stack and stick together with magnets. Have permanent, etched measurement markings and comfortable, non-slip grips. Dishwasher and heat safe. A bit more of an investment ($22.99) but durable and long-lasting.

The Best Measuring Cup for Liquid Ingredients

As discussed above, liquid measuring cups work by allowing you to look through the cup’s side or from above and see where the meniscus (the curved surface line) falls. Because there’s extra space in the cups, your milk, water, broth—whatever you need—can actually rise a little higher (at least on the edges) than the measurement marks without spilling over the edge of the cup.

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WhichMeasuringCup LargeImage X

The Best Liquid Measuring Cup for the Microwave

Glass and silicone are your winners in this category. OXO’s Glass Measuring cups are microwave, fridge, freezer and dishwasher safe, so you can melt chocolate chips and butter in the microwave, measure out hot broth, chill liquids, and clean everything up with equal aplomb. 

The BPA-free silicone in OXO’s silicone measuring cups is durable enough to withstand heat and the honeycomb pattern protects your hands by dissipating heat faster, so you can comfortably take it out of the microwave without burning your hands. It’s also squishy and flexible so it’s easy to squeeze the spout and precisely drizzle melted butter over popcorn or pancake batter into a pan, or to water small pots of succulents.

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WhichMeasuringCup LargeImage X

Is a Glass or Plastic Liquid Measuring Cup Better?

Whether you add a glass or a plastic liquid measuring cup to your kitchen tool kit depends in great part on what kinds of cooking or baking projects you like to undertake. If you cook and bake a lot—all kinds of different recipes—a glass cup might provide more flexibility, as it’s able to hold hot liquids as well as cold ones and move from the microwave to the fridge or freezer. Glass cups will be slightly heavier than their plastic cousins—should that be a concern for you—as well as more fragile.

Kid sous chefs on your team? Plastic may be wiser. OXO’s redesigned angled measuring cups incorporate 50 percent recycled content and allow you to easily look straight down into the cup to see the measurement markings. They also come in a wide range of sizes, including 4-, 2-, 1-cup, and Mini versions.

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WhichMeasuringCup LargeImage X

What Should I Use to Measure Small Liquid Ingredients?

Vanilla extract, lemon juice, or booze in cocktailsa beaker set is brilliant for any and all of them (one OXOnian even uses beakers to measure her kid’s medicine). No more liquids splashing around when you try to pour into measuring spoons.

Beakers are also excellent for those who love their mise en place (in other words, prepping and measuring ingredients before cooking and baking). Measure out 1 teaspoon, 1 tablespoon, 1 ounce and all the way up to 1 cup, and stand beakers on the counter until their add-in moment arrives. And come bathtime, they’re perfect for little scientists at play in the tub.

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WhichMeasuringCup LargeImage X

Can I Use Liquid and Dry Measuring Cups Interchangeably?

Can you use liquid measuring cups for dry goods? Ideally, not so much. The best way to measure out the proper amount of dry ingredients is to level them by skimming any extra off the top of the cup. That’s impossible to do in a liquid measuring cup because the top of the cup extends higher than the measuring marks.

It’s also easy to accidentally compact dry ingredients more than necessary in a liquid cup—by tapping it on the counter, for example—which could result in you having more of an ingredient than you really need. And as explained above, when measuring liquid ingredients in dry measuring cups, you may also end up with a little more than you need.

Your chosen measuring cup matters more in some situations than others. Cooking allows for more improvisation—a pinch of salt here, a splash of broth there—so absolute precision is less of a necessity. Baking, on the other hand, has a great deal to do with chemistry, exact amounts of ingredients that create specific reactions under heat or other scenarios. So, mess with the measurements too much and you may not get the results you want.

The overall rule of thumb: In baking, err on the side of measuring precision, matching ingredients to their preferred cup. In cooking, liquid is still better with liquid and dry with dry, but your dish will likely survive if you have to mix things up a bit.
 
Don’t have the perfect measuring cups on hand? Do some easy conversions with what’s available. For example, need 1 cup? Try  4 ¼ cups, 16 tablespoons, or 8 ounces instead. Or forgo the measuring cups altogether and learn how to bake with a food scale.

Now that you’re a measuring pro, put your knowledge to work on a new recipe or two, like Chef Melissa Ben-Ishay’s Sweet and Savory Toast and her Tie-Dye Cupcakes.

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