How to Properly Measure Wet and Dry Ingredients | Baking 101

April 19, 2022

Measuring cup of milk

Improve your success in the kitchen by learning the difference between a wet and dry measuring cup, what to measure in each,  and why it is so importance to choose the correct one when baking.

COOK + BAKE   |   Updated March 21, 2023

Learn the difference between a wet and dry measuring cup and why it is so important to use the correct one when baking in the kitchen.

Being successful at baking involves more than just being able to follow a recipe. Something as simple as how you are measuring ingredients can also impact the results.

Baking is considered an exact science. As often as you'll hear that old recipes call for a pinch of this and a dash of that, most ingredient that go into what you're baking need to be accurately measured in order for your cookies or cake to turn out just right.

Being even a little off in ingredients like flour or baking soda can dramatically alter the texture, taste, and color of a recipe. It can mean the difference between a successful cake and one that doesn't rise. It could be what is making your cookies spread too thin. Each ingredient in a recipe serves a specific function and they must be added in the right ratio of ingredients to see perfect results every time.

Because measuring is of utmost importance, there are two types of measuring cups for the average home baker, one for liquids and one for dry measurements. While the only way to get a truly accurate measurement of ingredients is to use a kitchen scale as a professional baker would, there should not be a problem if you are using your measuring spoons and cups appropriately.

So what is the difference between wet and dry measuring cups and does it really matter which you use when whipping up your favorite cookies?

Tips on how to properly measure ingredients for recipes


What are Dry Measuring Cups?

Dry measuring cups or measuring spoons are constructed so that ingredients will overfill the cup or spoon just a bit and then be leveled off using a straight edge like a knife (or in the case of baking soda, the flap of the box).  This ensures that you have exactly the right amount of ingredient going into you baking; not too much and not too little.

  • Ingredients that can be measured in dry measuring cups include spices, baking powder, flour, cornmeal, nuts, and chocolate chips.  Semi-liquid ingredients like peanut butter, sour cream, yogurt, shortening, and applesauce should also be measured in dry measuring cups because they are too thick to accurately be measured in a liquid cup.

  • Dry measuring cups normally come in a set of four sizes - one cup, one-half cup, one-third cup, and one-fourth cup.  They are most often made of metal, which is the most accurate and long lasting, but can come in plastic or ceramic.

  • Measuring spoons come in a set of four sizes - one-fourth teaspoon, one-third teaspoon, one-half teaspoon, and one Tablespoon.  They also come in metal, plastic, or ceramic options.

Correctly measuring ingredients is one key to successful baking and cooking.  Click to learn more. #baking101 #howotbake #bakingtips #andersonandgrant

What are Liquid (or Wet) Measuring Cups?

Liquid measuring cups are meant to measure anything that will "level itself off", such as water, milk, juice, vinegar, oil, maple syrup, honey, corn syrup, and molasses. These ingredients will naturally fill the entire measuring vessel they are put into that you can then pour into your mixing bowl.

They are normally made of clear glass or plastic with a handle on one side and pouring spout on the other. The measurements are printed onto the cup showing both measurements in cups (in third, fourth, and half cup increments) and fluid ounces. A cup that holds two cups of volume is most common and useful, although you can get them as in a cup cup version and as large as a eight cup / 64 ounce volume.

Correctly measuring ingredients is one key to successful baking and cooking.  Click to learn more. #baking101 #howotbake #bakingtips #andersonandgrant

How to Properly Measure with a Liquid Cup

Liquids should be poured directly into the measuring cup while it is sitting on a flat, level surface. Bend down to see the cup markings at eye level ensuring that the level of liquid matches up to the line of measurement. If you look down into the cup, you'll likely get too much. Look up and you'll get too little. Also, don't hold it up to your face because you may not be holding it still or level and that could give you an inaccurate reading.

You should not ever use a liquid measuring cup for dry ingredients.  Since you are unable to level off the ingredients in the liquid cup, measuring a dry ingredient in a wet measuring cup will result in an inaccurate measurement.


Before measuring sticky ingredients like honey or molasses, spray the measuring cup with non-stick cooking spray. The ingredients will slide right out.

Can You Use a Dry Measuring Cup to Measure Liquid Ingredients?

Using a dry measuring cup to measure liquids results in the liquid either spilling over the edges or not quite reaching the top.  Neither of which will be accurate.  The exceptions to this would be when you are measuring ingredients like extracts in amounts smaller than what would be measuring in a wet measuring cup.  Having a little more or a little less of an ingredient like vanilla will not affect the results of your baking.


How to Properly Measure Flour + Confectioners' Sugar

When measuring ingredients like flour and confectioner's (or powdered) sugar, you should use the "spoon and sweep" method (also known as the spoon and level method).This applies to all types of flour including all-purpose flour, bread flour, and cake flour.

This is important because these ingredients will compress when a measuring cup is pushed down into the canister or bag resulting in more ingredient than you should have. These ingredients should be light and fluffy.  When the compression removes the air pockets, you could end up with up to 50% more of the ingredient than you intended.

"Spoon and sweep" means that rather than dipping your measuring cup directly into the canister or bag, you add the ingredient to the cup with a spoon before leveling off with a knife or offset spatula.

Once you have filled your cup, do not pack the flour down or tap the measuring cup on the counter and continue filling.


Flour and confectioners' sugar will compress just by sitting on your kitchen counter. Before measuring out your ingredients, use a scoop or spoon to gently mix and fluff it in the canister to get a more accurate measurement.

What If the Recipe Calls for Sifted Flour or Confectioners' Sugar?

What you do in the case of sifted ingredients is based on where the comma is in the ingredients list.

  • If the recipe calls for a cup of flour, sifted, the you will measure the flour following the instructions above and then sift it.

  • However, if it says to use one cup of sifted flour, the you will need to sift the flour first and then measure out a cup.

Learn More About How to Better Understand the Way Recipes are Written

How to Properly Measure White + Brown Sugars

White granulated sugar and brown sugar, on the other hand, can be measured directly from the canister into the measuring cup.  Because they have a more solid structure and are heavier, they will not compress like the powdery flour and confectioners' sugar if you scoop the cup into the sugar.

Recipes using brown sugar most often call for it to be packed. This means that you should dip the cup into the brown sugar and press it down into the cup to fill. You may need to dip and press a second time to ensure that you have filled to the top of the cup. When packed brown sugar is dumped into the bowl of other ingredients, it should clump together and hold into the shape of the cup until you break it apart.

How to Measure Baking Powder + Baking Soda

Like flour, baking powder and baking soda can settle over time. Before measuring, shake up the container or give the ingredient a stir. Then gently scoop the amount you need and level it off.

READ NEXT: Difference Between Baking Powder + Baking Soda

How to Measure Cocoa Powder

Use the same spoon and level method as you do for flour and confectioners' sugar when measuring either natural or dutch processed cocoa powder. It can clump up over time and needs to be broken apart (and sifted if the recipe calls for it).

How to Measure Butter + Shortening

Butter typically comes "pre-measured" in sticks with wrappers that show markings in Tablespoons. Simply slice off however much your recipe calls for.

If you happen to use butter that doesn't come in stick form, use a dry measuring cup and level it off.

When a recipe calls for melted butter, measure it in it's solid state and then melt it.

Follow the same instructions of using a dry measuring cup when measuring solid shortening.

How to Measure Semi-Liquids

As mentioned above, it is easiest to use a dry measuring cup for ingredients like sour cream, applesauce, peanut butter, or yogurt because they are too thick to level themselves out in a liquid cup.

Spoon the ingredient into your dry cup and then level it off using a straight edge.

Ingredients like honey, molasses, corn syrup, and maple syrup can be measured in either type of cup. You may find it easier to scoop them out of the dry measuring cup since they are hard to pour.

Learn the difference between a wet and dry measuring cup and why it is so important to use the correct one when baking in the kitchen #howtobake #bakingtips #baking101 #andersonandgrant

Knowing the basics of baking will set yourself up for success in the kitchen.  By simply reaching for the correct measuring cup, you'll increase your chances of pulling a perfect cake out of the oven!

CONTINUE READING THESE POSTS IF YOU'RE INTERESTED IN THE BAKING 101 SERIES:  A collection of posts designed to help improve your baking skills.

Difference Between Baking Soda + Baking Powder

Improve Your Baking with Mise En Place

Join the Anderson + Grant Mailing List

Sign up to receive my tips + inspiration for creating a home you love delivered directly to your inbox.