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Modifying a Recipe’s Serving Size

Unless you’re cooking for four or six, you’ll find that many recipes aren’t quite the right size for your needs. Often, you’ll have to make some adjustments. Here are a few tips and tricks to prepare the right amount of food whether cooking for one, ten, or however many!

Keep It Simple

The easiest way to modify a recipe is to double it or halve it. Keep your eye out for recipes that serve either twice or half as many people as you’re cooking for. When cooking for large crowds, like for 16, multiplying a 4-serving recipe by 4 might work, but it might not, says Julie Grasser of the Pampered Chef Test Kitchens: “It doesn’t work for every recipe. For example, if you’re making salsa, it’s easy to just chop up some more ingredients to get a higher yield for your 16 guests. Now, if you have to make rice for 16 and we recommend a certain vessel to cook your rice in, then that may not work. You have to ask yourself: when I quadruple this recipe will the suggested vessel be big enough to cook that rice properly?” In this case, it’s best to make two batches of eight-servings.

Exact Measurements

Some recipes are going to need exact ratios, making rounding odd conversions up or down a bad idea. For example, baking or making candy call for specific amounts – these cooking methods rely on chemical reactions that can go awry if one measurement is off by even a little bit. In these situations, you can bypass odd volume measurements by using weight instead.

Weight measurements are easier to convert and can help you get exact amounts. For example: your original recipe called for 6⅓ cups of sugar. Your conversion factor is .75, which leaves you needing 4.725 cups of sugar which is hard to measure. Instead, put a large bowl on your kitchen scale, zero it, and pour in 6⅓ cups of sugar. Use the weight as your new measurement. So, if it weighs 1200 grams, multiply that number by your conversion factor. 1200 x .75 = 900, so measure out 900 grams of sugar, and you’re all set. This method can be used for any ingredient and any recipe, but since it’s a bit time intensive, it’s best saved for those recipes that need to be carefully measured.

measure-all cups

Back to Basics

The first step in modifying any recipe is doing some basic math. Don’t fret, it’s easy if you follow this simple guide. First, divide the number of servings you need by the number the recipe makes. So, if you need two servings and the recipe makes four: 2 ÷ 4 =.5. If you need eight servings and the recipe makes six: 8 ÷ 6 = 1.3. This is your conversion factor which you’ll use to find out how much of each ingredient you’ll need. Second, multiply each ingredient in your recipe by the conversion factor. Third, round up or down a little bit when conversions are hard to measure.

Let’s say you’re making an oatmeal recipe, but you only need three servings instead of four. It contains 2 cups oats, 3¼ cups water, 2 tablespoons cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. So, you’d find your conversion factor, in this case, .75 (3 ÷ 4), and you’d multiply each ingredient amount by that number. So, 2 cups x .75 is 1.5 cups, 3¼ cups x .75 is 2.34 cups (use 2⅓ cups), and 2 tablespoons x .75 is 1.5 tablespoons. Some ingredients, like spices can be adjusted depending on the flavor you want.

Round Down, Except for Baking

Unless you’re baking, when in doubt, round down. Most of the time, you can add a little bit more of one ingredient or another down the line if it seems like too little.

Baking, however, is a different story, as the amount usually has to be exact for the dish to come out right. In this case, try to get the adjusted measurement as close as possible. See the section on “Exact Measurements” for more tips on how to do this. Some types of measurements ask you to add a pinch or a dash of something. Usually these ingredients are spices, so adjust it according to how much you like it or how strong it is.

Easy Read Measuring Cup Set

Increasing or Decreasing Servings in a Pressure Cooker

When making any type of grain in a pressure cooker, like rice, oats, or quinoa, you don’t need to adjust the cooking time, just the amount of liquid. Just make sure not to go past the ⅔ fill line. This handy cooking guide gives you the best way to cook beans, grains, rice, vegetables, meats, and poultry in a pressure cooker.

“Cooking meat in a pressure cooker requires a little more nuance,” says Tim Hagedorn of the Pampered Chef Test Kitchens. “If you’re cooking 4-6 oz. chicken breasts, or 4 lbs. of cubed meat, you don’t need to adjust the time or the amount of liquid. That’s because it will take the same amount of time to cook 15 pieces of meat or 30 pieces of meat if they’re all the same size. However, if the recipe calls for a 4 lb. roast, but you want to cook an 8 lb. roast, you’ll need to adjust the time. This requires a bit of math which looks like this: a 3 lb. brisket takes 60 minutes, so, it takes 20 minutes per pound. Therefore, a 5 lb. brisket would take 100 minutes.” When cooking meat, use a meat thermometer to make sure the right temperature has been reached (don’t go by look) before you serve it.

This post has been updated since it was originally published in December 2015.

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