Obscure Terms of Measurement: What's a Tad, Dash or Smidgen?

Obscure Terms of Measurement: What's a Tad, Dash or Smidgen?

Following a recipe with obscure terms of measurement can sometimes feel like reading a foreign language. Even as an avid griller, you might not be savvy on the lingo. We realized that there are some confusing terms out there that need clarification — like, what is the difference between a tad and a dash? A pinch and a smidgen? Do you sprinkle or slather? Some cooks aren’t so precise and for clarity, we wanted to know how to translate those expert recipes. For those trying to interpret today’s ambiguous cooking language, we’ve put together a list of the not so accurate terms with their precise measurement.

Larger Terms of Measurement
Dollop – A dollop refers to a small amount of something that is usually a sauce or flavor enhancer and has a thicker viscosity to be served as a peak with a spoon. Usually, a dollop is asked for when serving whipped cream, ice cream, jam, sour cream or mashed potatoes.

Slather – A generous amount usually referring to the immersion of the whole item or covering the whole visible area. You can slather a cake in frosting or a rib in BBQ sauce.

Gill – ½ cup. This is an older term that is probably not used as often anymore. If you crack open an old recipe book, however, you might happen upon Gill.

Sprinkle – The equivalent of lightly dusting the whole surface area by shaking tiny bits from your hand. This is one of those terms of measurement usually used with sugar, salt, spice mixes or flour.

Drizzle — Usually being referred to the action of lightly pouring liquid or sauce (like a light rain drizzle), there isn’t really an accurate measurment for this term. The word refers to the action of drizzling sauce and the preference of the amount is up to the drizzler or the one requesting a drizzle. “That’s enough of a drizzle, thanks.”

bbq sauce on meat

Smaller Terms of Measurement
Tad – ¼ teaspoon which is a standard measurement of teaspoons in a conventional kitchen. Not originally used as an accurate form of cooking measurement, a tad became a popular way of describing the addition of just a bit of something. The eyeball was a small peak of the ingredient measured in the palm of the hand — about 3 typical pinches of said substance. Cooks eventually wanted to account for even smaller measurements and came up with a few other terms.

Dash – 1/8 teaspoon or half of a tad. Like the verb to quickly move, dash described the quickness of adding a spice (or other ingredient) from a spice bottle. A quick flick of the wrist and you (usually) have added a dash of something. To make it a bit more accurate (since some spice bottles have larger or bigger holes on the top), cooks determined a dash was larger than a pinch but smaller than a tad and settled on this exact measurement.

Pinch – 1/16 teaspoon or half of a dash. A pinch has been an ancient measurement since as long as we’ve had dexterity of our fingers. This measurement can vary from pinch to pinch, hand to hand and due to different types of ingredients and grip. The accuracy is not prime, but it has always been easy to reference without measurement tools. A very common term used with salt measurements: “add just a pinch of salt.”

* Find out more about how to salt steak properly before grilling. Smidgen – 1/32 teaspoon or half of a pinch. Now, this isn’t just a silly word, it’s actually one of many terms of measurement! Though it sounds like a fantasy elven name, smidgen has come about when even a pinch of something became too much. This might be used for rare or pungent ingredients like saffron or truffle.

wild venison leg, pumpkin mash, fennel

Very Tiny Terms of Measurement
Drop – 1/64 teaspoon or half of a smidgen. Drops became a popular term of measurment when bakers started using essence like vanilla or mint and, without needing a tool, the bottle expelled a similar sized drop when held upside down. Now, some ingredients even come in a bottle with a dropper device.

Hint – Half of a drop or a very tiny amount. A hint is used very rarely since it is so small, but it might be handy when making strong or condensed sauces like BBQ sauce or when using an ingredient like liquid smoke. This is something you don’t need very much of and just want the background of your sauce to taste a bit smoky – a hint of smoke.

Useful American Unit Conversions

1 Tbsp = 3 tsp
1 cup = 16 Tbsp
1 pint = 2 cups
1 quart = 2 pints
1 gallon = 4 quarts
1 cup = 8 fl. oz.
1 fl. oz. = 2 Tbsp

Metric to American Units
(generally, when using flour or sugar)

2g = 1 tsp
6g = 1 Tbsp
25g = 4 Tbsp
50g = 1/2 cup
100g = 1 cup


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