Most cooking measurements abbreviations used in recipes are reasonably intuitive, but it’s best to eliminate guesswork when dinner (or dessert) is at stake. Many professionally written recipes avoid abbreviations altogether for the sake of clarity and, probably, professionalism. However, some of the best culinary secrets are communicated on handwritten recipe cards and instructions quickly scribbled from memory, with abbreviations providing a convenient shorthand.
Teaspoons to Tablespoons
- 1 teaspoon = 1 tsp = 1 t
- 1 tablespoon = 1 Tbsp = 1 T
Note that not only does the tablespoon abbreviation include an extra “b,” it is also usually capitalized, while the “tsp” abbreviation always uses a lower case “t.” Although they are quite similar, it’s easy to decipher these different abbreviations by remembering that “table” includes a “b” while “tea” does not. Also, a tablespoon is significantly larger than a teaspoon, justifying the use of the upper case letter, which has more dignity and presence. A lower case “t” also can serve as an abbreviation for “teaspoon,” and an upper case “T” can also denote “tablespoon.”
Ounces to Cups to Pounds
- 1 ounce = 1 oz
- 1 cup = 1 c
- 1 pound = 1 lb
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If the abbreviation for “ounce” makes you think of “The Wizard of Oz,” that may be no coincidence. Currency theorists have speculated that the name is an allegory for the gold standard, which is expressed in ounces and acts as a hidden puppeteer that regulates the value of money. This may not seem particularly useful or relevant when you’re cooking, but it could be a convenient memory device to help you remember the connection between the word “ounce,” which contains no “z,” and the abbreviation “oz,” which includes the letter.
The abbreviation for “cup” is extremely straightforward and unlikely to get confused with any other unit of measurement, but the abbreviation for “pound” seems to come out of left field. None of the letters in the abbreviation correlate with the letters in the original word. The abbreviation “lb” actually comes from the Latin “libra,” which means “scale” and also represents the seventh sign of the zodiac.
There is no easy way to remember the abbreviation “lb” for “pound,” although the Latin reference to a scale is useful because a pound is one of the only units of measurement used in cooking or baking that refers to a weight measurement alone. The symbol “#”also can be used as an abbreviation for “pound.”
Other Cooking Measurement Abbreviations
- 1 gallon = 1 gal
- 1 gram = 1 g
- 1 pint = 1 pt
- 1 quart = 1 qt
These abbreviations are relatively easy to decipher because they are closely related to the complete words. Both “grams” and “gallons” start with a “g,” but it’s hard to imagine confusing them in a recipe because a gallon is so much larger than a gram. When in doubt, use common sense.
Weight vs. Volume
It’s useful to know which unit of measurement is being referred to in a recipe abbreviation, but it’s just as important to recognize which are measurements of weight and which refer to volume. Knowing the difference will help you choose the correct measuring tools and increase your odds of successfully executing your dish.
Pounds and grams measure weight, while teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, pints, quarts and gallons are measurements of volume. Ounces can be a measurement of either weight or volume, and if you’re measuring the volume of a liquid, the recipe will specify “fluid,” or “fl” ounces. Use a scale, preferably a digital version, to make accurate measurements by weight and use the appropriate measuring cups or measuring spoons to measure ingredients by volume. To convert measurements of weight to measurements of volume, or vice versa, consult a weight-to-volume conversion chart, which takes into account the different densities of various ingredients.
Devra Gartenstein is a self-taught professional cook who has authored two cookbooks: "The Accidental Vegan", and "Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes". She founded Patty Pan Cooperative, Seattle's oldest farmers market concession, and teaches regular cooking classes.