Here is my lifetime lesson after years of running my bakery: Accurate measurement can make or break your baking game. Even a small miscalculation when converting tablespoons (tbsp) to cups or other units might end up wrecking all your hard work!
As a senior in the baking field, I have long gotten over my beginner days and now have many practical tips to share regarding this conversion. Keep scrolling to learn more!
In This Articles:
How Many Tbsp In A Cup?
1 cup equates to 16 tablespoons in general, but remember that spoon and cup sizes can vary in different countries and recipes. For instance, a UK metric cup is converted to 16.91 tablespoons in US standard but only 14.08 tablespoons when using the UK metric system.
What Is A Tablespoon?
A tablespoon (tbsp), considered one of the most common volume measurement units, is widely applied in cooking and baking. You will find them clearly marked on measuring cups and spoons to help determine the amount of liquid/dry ingredients required for a particular recipe.
Some examples of how I usually use tablespoons for some of my best-selling formulas:
- 3 tbsp of milk added to a bowl of cereal
- 1 tbsp of olive oil for a salad dressing.
- 2 tbsp of flour to thicken a soup.
- 1 tbsp of chopped fresh parsley to spice up the dishes
What Is A Cup?
Another popular measurement unit for recipes, cups are, however, slightly more complicated than tablespoons. How so? It’s because you need to be aware of the major differences among the total volumes of these three primary cup sizes:
- US Standard Cups: As their name suggests, US standard cups are favored for American recipes, equivalent to 236.59 millimeters or 8 fluid ounces.
- US Legal Cups: FDA, USDA, or other food organizations mostly use them to label nutrition facts and ingredients in commercial products. One legal cup measures precisely 240 millimeters, no more and no less, to ensure consistency.
- Metric Cups: Bakers from countries using the metric systems will likely stick to metric cups, even though they are not considered the official SI units. A metric cup equals 250 millimeters.
My bakery has always favored standard US cups for every homemade recipe, as we are all born Americans. But if you want to whip up a foreign feast, it is important to confirm which type of cup the recipe is talking about! If it doesn’t say, just grab yourself the standard cup of that specific region, and you’re good to go!
1 Cup to Tbsp Chart
1 cup contains 16 tbsp (or ¼ cup = 4 tablespoons; I personally found this easier to remember). This chart will summarize all the basic conversions for you:
|10 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons
|5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon
|2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons
|1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
Of course, remember that some countries might not use the same cup and spoon sizes, as we already discussed briefly above. So, if you want me to throw in some extra deets, this alternative table will break it down for you:
|Metric tablespoons (15ml)
|UK tablespoons (17.76ml)
|US tablespoons (14.79ml)
|US Standard Cup
|US Legal Cup
|UK Metric Cup
|South African Cup
How to Convert Tablespoons to Other Units
Though considered the most common, tablespoons and cups are not the available measurement units. Feel free to convert tablespoons to fluid ounces, teaspoons, quarts, gallons, etc., where suitable.
|Approximately 0.067 tablespoons
|1 fluid ounce
|About 67.63 tablespoons
How To Choose The Most Accurate Measuring Tools and Methods for Your Recipe
I always stick to this rule for all my recipes, regardless of the cooking method and chosen ingredients. My bakery has barely received any serious customer complaints ever since!
The General Rule
- A dry measuring cup is the ultimate choice for your dry ingredients (sugar, flour, etc.).
- Clear liquid measuring cups work best for oil, milk, or other liquids.
- A measuring spoon can be extremely convenient when used on spices, baking powder, and salt.
|Dry measuring cups
|Dry measuring cups
|Liquid measuring cups
|Liquid measuring cups
And let me get this straight: you can not just use a tea cup, a coffee cup, or a mug as an alternative! For successful cooking and baking, especially when you have to cater to a wide range of tastes every day, as I did at the bakery, you need the real deal: accurate measuring cups, and the more sizes, the merrier.
Can You Use Dry Measuring Cups for Liquid Ingredients or Vice Versa?
Technically, you can. But that does not mean these options are always recommended.
- Dry cups have a narrower, straight-sided design that works better for dry ingredients; using them for liquids is the recipe for spills and chaos!
Plus, since their markings are mostly in tablespoons or cups, you might find it difficult to take small sips in fluid ounces or millimeters.
- On the other hand, liquid measuring cups are curvier-shaped, which might trap air pockets and result in possible overfilling issues when measuring dry ingredients.
Thankfully, from my observations, the overpour drama is not a disaster but just a hiccup in the kitchen most of the time. But if you can avoid the issue from the get-go, why waste your precious time on these cups?
How to Use Your Measuring Cups Properly?
For Dry Measuring Cups:
You can shift, spoon, or scoop the ingredients however you like. But during the past ten years, I have never tasted failure using the traditional “dip & sweep” method.
- Place this ingredient in a wide jar or bag, then dip the cup into that container. Lift the cup out while letting the ingredient overflow.
- Use your bench scraper, chopstick, or the straight edge of the butter knife to level the top of your measuring cup. Ensure the top surface of the ingredient is smooth, flat, and level with the highest tip of this cup!
For Wet Measuring Cups:
- Place the cup on a stable and flat surface. Do not just grab them with your fingers!
- Next, pour the liquid into the cup gradually until it just grazes the line. Bend or squat down until your eyes are on the same level with it.
Most of the time, the liquid’s top surface will not be perfectly flat; instead, it will climb the container walls a little due to the effect of surface tension – which we refer to as a “meniscus.”
- Now, slowly add the remaining liquid until the meniscus bottom is precisely level with the final graduation line.
Still find it too complicated or time-consuming? Here’s an alternative.
I have bought numerous measuring cups from varied brands; regardless of the design differences, wet measuring cups are always much bigger than dry cups and measuring spoons! Therefore, you can consider weighing small amounts of a wet ingredient, like ¼ or less, with spoons or dry cups instead.
Let’s say you need ¼ cup of milk. As discussed earlier, ¼ cup equals 4 tablespoons, so you can simply take out your tablespoon and use it 4 times; no need to struggle with the liquid measure!
Some Common Mistakes to Avoid
Mistake #1. Not pouring the dry ingredients to the brim of the cup to avoid overfilling
Since these are only dry ingredients, you can quickly clean up the mess anyway. So feel free to overfill the cup and level it off later, or you might end up with the wrong measurement!
Mistake #2. Not fluffing powdered ingredients
Powdered ingredients like flour and cocoa powder might settle during long storage and create air pockets. Before measuring, I usually fluff them with a fork or spoon to ensure consistent volume.
Mistake #3. Tapping or shaking the cup
There’s a reason I told you to have the cup settled on a stable floor instead of holding it in your hands. Even the smallest shakes after filling might compact the ingredients and increase their volumes, leading to potential overfilling issues. Worse yet, the texture and consistency of your baked goods will be entirely ruined!
Mistake #4. Using a mixing bowl to measure
Mixing bowls, they love the tilt-and-tip game, making it a real challenge to nail down accurate measurements, and spills are on the horizon. I have to warn you that cleaning those messes can be quite frustrating, especially if they are sticky ingredients like syrups or honey.
Mistake #5. Swapping/Substituting ingredients without measuring
For clarification, you can get away with this in certain cases, but only when the two ingredients are mostly interchangeable, like replacing all-purpose flour with bread flour or granulated sugar with brown sugar.
Otherwise, measure them again if you swap components with significantly different volumes or densities. You cannot just replace fresh berries for chopped nuts in a cake batter and expect the same perfect cake!
And do not forget that precise measurement is a must for delicate recipes like pastry dough or custards. Random swaps without a second thought may tear apart their texture and consistency, making all your efforts go down the drain.
Mistake #6. Ignoring altitude and temperature changes
At much higher altitudes than usual, the lower air pressure might get in the way of the reactions between your flour and leavening agents, resulting in over-rising disasters. Therefore, you must adjust your recipe accordingly, such as using less flour or adding less baking powder. Do not just stubbornly stick to the exact readings of your measuring cup!
When preparing large batches of dough or batter, temperature variations might get all the more noticeable. So, when working in a warm kitchen, you should chill the ingredients slightly before measuring to avoid over-melted butter or premature yeast activation.
Extra Measuring Tips for Some Special Ingredient Types
Struggling to measure syrups, molasses, and honey that keep sticking to your spoon and cup? No worries; I have got you covered!
Before measuring, spread nonstick spray over your spoon and cup. The ingredient slips immediately as a result! And even if it does not, just apply more pressure with your rubber scraper, and that’s it!
Some butter brands already have clear tablespoon markings printed on their wrappers (about 8 tablespoons a stick). No need to dig out those measuring tools! Simply straighten out the wrapper and cut off the portion you need.
The same applies to certain shortening or cream cheese products (in block forms). For non-block ones, spoon the cream into your dry measuring cup, pack it firmly, and level the top with a knife or chopstick.
Measuring cups will not work well for dry, uncooked pasta. Even the largest dry cups will likely have room for the shorties only, like orzo or elbows, and leave huge air holes for all others! A kitchen scale will be a much better tool for measurement in that case.
I hope you can now conveniently convert tablespoons to any other unit (or vice versa) using this guide. Stick to my measurement tips for accurate readings, but be flexible when necessary to avoid wasting time and effort! If you still need help, my inbox and comment sections are always open.