Liquid Measurements vs. Dry Measurements

measuring cupsOne of our SimplySmartDinnerPlans subscribers asked me this week: “Totally novice question, but is there a difference between dry measure and liquid measure? I’ve always wondered, but can’t figure out why it would be different & afraid to ask.  Thank you!”

This is a great question, if only because the answer is so darn confusing! I would say that, in my expert opinion, the answer is… “mostly no.”

Nobody, with the possible exception of Alton Brown, really understand the conversion process between weight and mass measurements. (That outta get us a bunch of “It’s really very simple…” responses from the math nerds…) You see, in cooking measurements, all liquids are liquid measurements, but most dry ingredients are also listed in liquid measurements…but not all.

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So, first of, let’s clarify the difference between a “Liquid Measurement” and a “Dry Measurement”.

Liquid Measurements

In the United States, liquid measurement is not only used for liquids such as water and milk, it is also used when measuring other ingredients such as flour, sugar, shortening, butter, and spices. Hence, a “cup is a cup” be it milk or sugar.

Dry Measurements

Dry measurements can be listed in liquid amounts (tsp, Tbs, cup) though the two usually branch off at this point, with dry ingredients being listed in fractions of, or whole pounds, and liquids listing as pints, quarts, and gallons. Even then, there is some cross-over, especially when measuring fresh produce (e.g. berries are sold by the quart, apples by the bushel, or peck).

Here’s where you really start to develop a twitch…

“Do not confuse the ounce of weight with the fluid ounce, because they are not the same; there is no standard conversion between weight and volume unless you know the density of the ingredient. To make matters worse, there are different kinds of weight measurement; Avoirdupois weight, Troy weight, and Apothecaries weight. In the U.S., when someone refers to pounds and ounces of weight (especially in cooking) they are usually referring to Avoirdupois weight.”

Good grief…I think I’ll just order a pizza!

Okay, maybe it’s not really that bad. With most cooking, you can get pretty close with some simple conversion charts, and, unlike baking, in cooking, close is usually good enough. This is why I don’t bake…our dough-master Terry does the meticulously measured baking, while I lounge about casually flinging handful’s of stuff into a saute pan. (Btw – don’t tell him I told you this…Terry is kind of a math nerd, but at least he’s one of those cool math nerds.)

Cooking is much more forgiving, and being off 1/16 of a teaspoon of salt in a recipe isn’t going to be noticeable in the final dish.

Here are a couple of great charts I found, which should help you get into the ballpark without needing a slide-rule and a scientific calculator…

food measurement conversion chart

food measurement conversion chart

So, I hope that helps…comment below with any further questions, or to chime in on this, we welcome your comments!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go make sure I have enough firkins in my hogshead…

-Chef Perry

2 thoughts on “Liquid Measurements vs. Dry Measurements

  1. Firkin? Hogshed? Your’e pulling my leg aren’t you?

    One of the reasons why I don’t bake and yet love to cook is because of the forgiving nature of measurements in cooking. Just to confuse things even further, parts of the world (like mine) measure liquids in mls and litres.

    The bigger the object, the less accurate the liquid measurement. For example, a cup of flour is pretty accurate, because flour is very small. But a cup of raisins for example, will vary a bit more.

    I never weigh my measurements and it’s probably a good thing after I found out that my kitchen scales are completely bogus!

    • Oh lord…just the thought of adding in metric measurements makes me want to chuck it all and live on McNuggets, lol!

      Btw…both firkin and hogshead are standard (and very old) wine measurements from England…

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