Those Pesky American Cup Measurements

I know many of us in the British Isles find the whole cup thing confusing, annoying, or downright scary.
Although I find weighing to be much a more accurate method of measuring, I don't find cup measures at all difficult to use.

Having a set of US cup measures helps. I bought these in my local cookware shop. Supermarkets have them, M&S has them, Amazon has them.
There's a quarter cup measure, a third of a cup, half a cup and a whole cup.

A cup is 8 fluid ounces (approx 240 ml)
Half a cup is 4 fluid ounces (approx 120 ml)
A third of a cup is 2⅔  fluid ounces (approx 80 ml)
A quarter of a cup is 2 fluid ounces (approx 60 ml)

It is worth remembering that in the US a pint is not 20 fl oz, but 16 fl oz. This was also the case in Britain up until the nineteenth century. If an American recipe calls for a quart (2 pints) of something it means 32 fl oz which is 4 cups or as near-as-damn-it 1 litre.

The reason it is difficult to give simple conversions for US cup measures is simple. It all depends on what you are measuring.

One cup of oats weighs just over 4 oz.

But one cup of demerara sugar weighs just over 8 oz.

How to Make Your Own Cup Measure in 10 Minutes

If you don't have a set of cup measures I am sure you will have a measuring jug which has imperial and metric measurements on it somewhere. If you have, then it is easy to make your own measuring cup or cups.

You need a plastic container which you can cut easily with scissors. It must be able to hold more than 8 fl oz of liquid. Something like a water bottle, a cream carton or milk carton. I used a large yogurt pot, the transparent kind with a removable card sleeve. This was for the sake of clarity in my pictures but I'm sure a  white pot would work just as well.

You also need a permanent marker and your measuring jug.

Pour 2 fl oz  (60 ml) of water into the jug. This is your quarter cup measure.

Pour the 2 fl oz water into your container, wait for the water to settle and carefully mark on the pot where the water level comes to. Do it on the other side of the pot too to make measuring easier. Or, if you have a steady hand mark all the way round. If you are using an opaque container you may need to set it somewhere level with the light behind in order to do mark it accurately.

Tip the 2 fl oz of water out before you add the next measurement (or you will get into a right old muddle).
Continue until you have marked all four cup measures on your container.

Trim the container down so that it can be used to measure one level cup.
NB trim really carefully, my yogurt pot split as I was cutting.

If you can be bothered it would be worth making individual cups for the smaller measures. I would use small yogurt pots for these.

Some American recipes call for butter measured in sticks. A US stick is a quarter of a pound or 4 oz. So, if, for example, the recipe calls for 1½ sticks it means 6 oz.

As for teaspoons and tablespoons, apparently there is a slight difference between UK and US spoons but  I've always used UK spoon measures with no problems.

I hope that helps someone, but honestly it is easier to just buy some measuring cups.


  1. Thank you for the clarity. I hate the cup measurements, how do you weigh butter in a cup.....? and whats more they call it a stick which is about 2 ounces - I think.
    In your picture you show your jug (with red print)......I have the half pint jug (well thats the size I call it) It has Cup Measurements, Fluid Ounces and Milliltres. I purchased the jug in Lakekand if this is any helps too?
    Julie xxxxx

  2. I love recipes that call for cup measures. I find them easy to use. I wish butter was sold in sticks in the UK.
    If you ever use Australian recipes (Bill Granger, Donna Hay) it is worth knowing that their tablespoon measure is different - 20ml.

  3. In 1972, my American sister-in-law gave me a Betty Crocker cookbook, a set of measuring spoons and some cup measures, told me about the butter sticks and since I started with them all from scratch, I have never had a problem. I find them easier to use than Imperial measurements. I still have them, even the cook book though it is in quite a few pieces now.

  4. Julie, a stick of butter is 4 oz. I say so in my post.

    Victoria, that's useful to know, thank you. A UK tbsp is only 15 ml.

  5. Sorry mis-read it........
    I make cake a very old fashioned way! I weigh the eggs in their shells first then weigh everything else to the same weight.
    Julie xxxxxx

  6. Bless your heart, I am so glad you did this because being in the US, have the opposite problem. Now, I think I can take your instructions and just turn them around to work for my measures. Thank you, thank you!!

  7. Thanks for the advice on 'sticks' of butter. I've often wondered what they weighed.

    I find cups work well for liquids and dry solids but they're hopelsss with butter.

    I have an old fashioned set of Salter weighing scales with metric weights. I like the way I can adjust them to add more ingredients to the pan.

  8. Thanks so much for this - I find it so confusing but like a lot of American recipes. So basically, a cup is a cup. Is that right? ie an English cup size is the same as an American one?


  9. Oh, yes, I am just as flustered by weights in cooking here in the US... though I think measuring by weight is more logical, by far. Our measuring system must make the rest of the world want to tear their hair out! I am going in search of a digital scale this week (don't own one) because I've been reading more UK blogs with good-looking recipes since visiting your country last spring.

    Oh, and a tip for the butter: If you have a 2 cup, or Quart liquid measure cup, you can fill it with water, then add the butter in pieces until the water level rises the amount you need. Then fish out your butter and throw out the water. This is how I measure out shortening, or coconut oil, which does not come in measured sticks.

  10. Nicki, as long as your cup measure is 8 fl oz then you can use it for American recipes.

  11. I like using cups. Actually I find them more accurate than wobbly scales and my scales, no matter where I get them and how much I pay are always wibbly wobbly and I am never happy as they always say something different as soon as you empty them. I mean they never go back to zero properly which makes you (me) doubt what you weighed originally, so you put the scales back on zero, re weigh the ingredient and then get something else other than than your original weight for those same goods. Repeat scenario until you are well and truly fed up up of your 4 different weights for the same thing. Electronic ones are even worse as they seem even more unstable. Still, I passed my Brownie cooks badge and made fairy cakes with out any scales at all and just guess work - the scales were the old style ones with weights and some of them were missing and I didn't like to ask as I was too shy. I had made them so often that I knew what the amounts looked like and did it by eye.

    Anyway that whole thing seems to be just me, with everyone else managing just fine with their scales. Conversely I find cups quick and easy. I never try and do conversions and mostly recipes are a ratio thing any way. I would use either or. Sometimes books have both measurements though and get get one or other totally wrong.

    I love your DIY cup solution. They are easy to buy in the UK now but they never used to be. I use them for measuring out portions of rice, lentils, couscous etc and working out the appropriate amount of water for them.

  12. This is all so you can make those peanut-Oreo-cookiedough confections, isn't it? ;)

  13. Lizzy Ruffles8:19 pm BST

    This is really helpful. My cheap as chips measuring cup set doesn't have a quarter cup...and that's what you get for buying kitchenalia from Asda.

  14. I've had a set of cups for several years because my two favourite cookbooks are from the US, and I think they're great! I'm not sure we don't use them more in the UK - they're so quick and easy to use!

  15. here in the U.S spoon measures are standard so buying a set of spoon measures with a set of cup measures would be a good idea.
    A U.S. tablespoon measure in NOT the same as a U.K.tablesoon.

  16. I love you! This post was awesome.

  17. Rachel F10:36 pm BST

    A really useful post - thanks - waste hours looking for internet recipes and rejecting the cup versions. Now I don't have to.

  18. Anonymous10:46 pm BST

    Sue, this is interesting. I've wondered about the stick of butter many times. My Tupperware set of cup measures has a few extra sizes, and now I'm wondering if Tupperware cup measures vary from country to country.

  19. A great tip with the home-made cup. I got into cup measures when I moved to Australia, but use a tupperware 1/4 cup scoop for everything dry (makes life very easy). As for measuring things like butter or oil, my pyrex jug has cup measures on it. I can't remember if they're on British ones though. I didn't know tablespoon measurements were different here though!

  20. AWESOME and very helpful post Sue, thanks so much. I love your scales. they are swoon worthy.
    Anne xx

  21. I love my pesky cup measurements.. I see so many yummy looking UK recipes and then I see the ingredients and I just go.. oh well.. can't make that. I'm an artist and not good at math at all.. and I could not deal with trying to convert them.

    Teresa :-)

  22. I didn't see this info anywhere, so just for fun:

    4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup

    In the US our butter is measured in both weight and volume. So a pound of butter is 4 sticks of 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) each.

    Now if only I could find just as clear an explanation on using kitchen scales :)

  23. I don't understand why using kitchen scales is difficult. You just put ingredients in them (or on them) until the needle or display registers the required amount. Most scales have both metric and imperial measurements displayed.

    I make muffins regularly. For years I used cup measures for them, but recently I started to weigh the ingredients. My muffins have been much more successful since I started weighing.

    Lizzie, a US tablespoon is 14.8ml and a UK one is 15 ml. As I said they are not so different that it spoils a recipe.

  24. Sory to harp on about this Sue but re the scales; yes they are easy to read (actually I take this back, I don't think they are) but take your ingredients off and put them back and you get a different reading. Well I do! The zero never stays static so even though you start off with zero each time, you can just touch them and they are no longer on zero even though they have nothing on them. I have had many scales and taken many back because of my problems with them. The same for bathroom scales - you can lose or gain a pound or two just by getting on and then off again. Plus no set seems calibrated in the same way, so a new set can mean as much as half a stone either way; rare but it has happened to me. I am obviously weird because everyone else manages perfectly happily. So did I before I got my first electronic scales, they were so 'off' that I have had scale issues ever since.

    One final thing about scales. The arrow showing the measure can be tapered, so do you look at the outside left or outside right or the middle which is the obvious point but the pointer can be thick and make it difficult. Sometimes they do not even taper to a proper point - depending on which way you look at them you can gain or lose ounces.

    I manage but I find them inaccurate. Obviously the faults are all mine, I appreciate that.

  25. Thanks. Very helpful, especially the sticks of butter. Will now make peanut butter cookies for a returning son. Not for myself of course.

  26. Thanks for clarifying that Sue, I never knew what a u.k. actual tablespoon measure was. Now I just have to figure out how to measure out 15mls.
    I live in the u.s. but buy many u.k. cookbooks on my frequent visits home - love the British Baking that you posted on sometime ago. The gingersnaps are to DIE for. I always bring four big tins of Lyles back with me in my stowed luggage praying all the way that I have wrapped them up enough. So far so good. There is no substitute IMHO.
    I have a digital scale which I love too - makes it much easier to use u.k. measures and also a u.k. measuring jug. Yes, a stick of butter is exactly 4oz. and the wrapping paper is graduated.
    Thanks for your wonderful post.

  27. Pati from London3:16 pm BST

    Interesting post Sue! I always use my scales as I think it is easier but last year, I bought a set of three measuring cups (in baby pink, blue and cream) at John Lewis because I loved the look of them (cheeky me!). The other day in tesco I saw a normal pink pack of plain tesco flour with the picture of a gingerbread man on it that was really cute and bought it for that reason! (Oh well!!!) x Pati

  28. Each stick of butter is a 1/2 cup (aka 4 oz.)

    I think it's just a matter of getting used to the difference. In Canada, we are supposed to be entirely metric (millilitres and grams) but almost all recipes are still in cups and fluid ounces. We no longer sell milk products in quarts or pints, so I am constantly calling my mother in law to clarify that yes, a pint is two cups and a quart is four!

  29. Laura, thanks for the Canadian perspective. I didn't know Canada was supposed to be metric. Sounds a bit like the UK, we're supposed to be metric but in practice a lot of us older chaps are still imperial.

  30. I must remember to refer back to this post when I see an American recipe I want to try. I normally just take one look at the measurements in cups and decide I'll find an English recipe. I think this could have something to do with the fact that if I'm looking a recipe up on the internet it means I have no idea what to cook for tea .... and I'm in a hurry.

  31. Finefoot12:43 am BST

    Fantastic! I can now stop asking every american visitor to my home to bring me measuring cups!!

  32. Sue, I'm sure measuring on a scale isn't rocket science, but I don't have a scale and it looks like it would take a lot of room in the kitchen and I have a tiny galley kitchen.. so that's why I don't weigh things and can't use a recipe in which things are weighed.


  33. You can get much much smaller scales than mine Teresa that will slide onto a shelf like a book. You can put a bowl directly on them, zero the display and weigh straight into your bowl.

  34. Thanks for the tip on the small scale. I'll keep an eye out for one.. since I really would like to try some of the recipes I've seen on my favorite UK blogs! :-)

  35. Judy

    I hate to tell you this, but in the states we have dry measuring cups and liquid measuring cups. there is a slight difference when baking.

  36. No don't tell me that! How slight is the difference? I've never had a problem using my set of cups for dry and wet ingerdients in American recipes.

  37. You shouldn't pander to these cup users, it only encourages them. Imperial! That is the way forward!

  38. Anonymous5:16 pm BST

    I don't worry too much about the accuracy.
    Consider (I'm an engineer - had to be exact) was it necessary to specify 454.2g of flour? Or, half a packet? If the recipe calls for 1 kilo of meat, you bought 1,17 kilos, does the dog have a lucky break?
    Prefer Jamie Oliver, and Floyds measurements. "glug" and "chunk" work OK.

    1. Never seen a recipe which specifies 454.2g of flour. I only measure when baking as I like my cakes and biscuits to taste good.

  39. Anonymous12:55 pm BST

    Thank you so much for this! I was very confused by what Americans cups were and was not sure if my cups were the correct kind so cheers! I can now make proper Russian Blinchiki using an American recipe (how ironic).

  40. 16 Nov 2012

    Just found your blog on a search for American cup measurements. Thanks for this really helpful and easy explanation. I've just bought a beehive cake tin from Amazon UK which is American with an American recipe. I should've guessed I'd need different measuring cups. Would've helped if it was mentioned on the listing. Buyer feedback for them. Thankfully, Dyas has come to the rescue with Tala measuring cups. FYI not all cups on Amazon UK under an American measuring cups search, have the measurements you mention. One has the cup size at 250ml. Also, the M&S site lists their cup size at 126ml, very confusing.

  41. Anonymous2:24 am GMT

    Thank you for this useful entry. it's helped settle a heated argument in our household regarding the use of the term "measuring jug" :0)


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