Aide-Memoire: Learning To Measure Teaspoons and Tablespoons by Sight

Teaspoons and Tablespoons Chart

I used to wonder at the TV chefs that seemed to breeze through their shows without measuring anything.  A quarter cup of olive oil?  Just a few glugs.  A teaspoon of cinnamon?  Measured out casually into the hand.  Salt, always cast in from a dramatic height.  I figured this was just to make the show flow more smoothly.  And perhaps that’s true, but as explained in the Julia Child DVDs my mom gave me for Christmas a few years ago, it’s worth learning to measure teaspoons and tablespoons by sight.  If you can internalize what a teaspoon or tablespoon looks like in the crook of your hand, you can zip through your recipes without having to rattle around in your drawers for your measuring spoon set.  (And you know how that goes:  you find them, then realize the size you’re looking for has fallen off the ring, and then you can’t get it in the mouth of your spice jar, and then it’s one more fiddly thing to wash, so really, it’s just a lot easier to try to master this trick.

I say “try” to master because I’m still working on it myself.  I can never quite believe that a teaspoon, let alone a tablespoon, can take up so much space in the hollow of my hand, result being that I inevitably underseason things.  So (with my newly acquired Photoshop Elements software) I decided to make this little graphic to help myself as much as anyone else.  And if you’re wondering who the lovely hand belongs to, I should note that Karen kindly modeled, so a round of thanks to her too.  Perhaps will do the trick for me, and for you as well.

And now to announce the winner of our Buitoni giveaway:  Jan, comment #18.  Congratulations!  I’ll be contacting you to get you the gift package.

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10 thoughts on “Aide-Memoire: Learning To Measure Teaspoons and Tablespoons by Sight

  1. I think you’ve got a wonderful idea in posting this. Too many watch those chefs swishing away those ings with such majestic gestures & we just sigh.

    Ok. I USED to sigh. Until in a “kinda, sorta” baking class I took, the teacher was SO nonchalant about the quantities of salt, sugar, yeast, etc. that we needed to use that I grew exasperated to the point that I finally got the courage to speak up & challenge her. This was in a foreign classroom & the folks taking the class were trying to get the skills & class diploma in order to increase their incomes. Anyway …

    I politely (ok, barely, but I was mad!) asked if I could go home & do the measurements & bring back my results. She agreed & I went home & spent a few hours (maybe 3, though prob’y more ’cause my late hubby got mad @ ME! =D). I took out all my measuring tools & started using my cheaper ings to see how much was how much for stuff from salt, fine ground vs damp sea salt (avail for pennies a lb); & sugar, both raw & refined. I got a bit carried away so even onion powder vs granules vs flakes, as well as pepper, cracked, fine ground & whole; all of it was measured & weighed & cupped in my hand. It was enlightening to say the least.

    My suggestion is that if you’re serious about gesturing like a Master Chef, get out your tools & go about the same sort of deal. Get stuff from your local discount or overstock outlet or even drugstore. Easier to be profligate w/ a spice worth $.99 for 3 ozs vs your gourmet offerings! & start pouring.

    The added benefit would be that you find out exactly which tools would be worth keeping & which need to be donated to your local toddler for play-along in the kitchen. I used to let my kids use salt as their seasoning figuring they wouldn’t eat much of it, they could really pretend they were cooking along & there wouldn’t be any bugs if I was less-than-diligent about cleaning up afterwards. They’re both enthusiastic cooks now & do it for their families. A bit too territorial abt it actually but never mind. The point is that this might even bring on a bout of shopping at a nice kitchen/restaurant supply store or maybe some place as humble as a local store. You’d be surprised at the kinds of indispensables I’ve found @ my local dollar store.

    I know. I kinda rambled. But I just got SO enthusiastic at remembering my first forage into baking & how much I learned just from such a lackadaisical teacher .. & how much I now enjoy showing off my skills!

  2. “And you know how that goes: you find them, then realize the size you’re looking for has fallen off the ring, and then you can’t get it in the mouth of your spice jar, and then it’s one more fiddly thing to wash, so really, it’s just a lot easier to try to master this trick.”

    LOL – Are you a fly on my kitchen wall?!!!

  3. This is great. I get pretty obsessive about salt, especially when making bread–in which case I’ll continue my current practice of weighing it (crystal size varies so much). I do use the size-in-hand method for just about any savory dish, maybe even going a little smaller than is right because I can always correct it later. My natural inclination if I don’t take the time to pour it into my palm is to oversalt (sigh, like this morning’s batch of rolled oats). Good post. Ken

    • I should have said that I wouldn’t try this with baking either! I’ve seen discussions about Morton’s vs. diamond crystal vs. sea salt so I do get the impression that there’s a large disparity. My store stocks Morton’s though, so that’s what I buy! Hope breakfast was better today!

  4. This is a very helpful post, Sara! I can’t believe how much is in 1 tablespoon…I tend to eyeball savory seasonings when making things like soup and chili and always have to add more to taste. Clearly, I’m underestimating the amounts! Thanks for sharing.

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