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Switching to metric for the inept


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I've decided to switch to metric. Call it a New Year's resolution, whatever, but it starts now.

It's not a value judgment. I've just found that culinary professionals are doing it, and so a lot of stuff that comes across my desk now assumes metric: nearly all professional pastry recipes measure in metric weights, the low-temperature-cooking literature uses degrees C, and of course just about anything published outside the United States uses metric. Not to mention, the Thermapen, which seems to be the premier food thermometer on the market, forces you to choose between F and C when you buy one -- there's no switch.

The main category of non-metric food literature at this point is amateur cookbooks and magazines published in the US (plus recipe websites with a core US audience -- though I'm pleased to say that our RecipeGullet database displays all recipes in either system). But I mostly read those sources for ideas, not for actual recipes that I'm going to follow. The recipes I'm likely to follow these days are mostly in metric.

So, I'm going to make the change, and I could use some help. Here's what I'm trying to accomplish:

Yes, I know how to convert using various mathematical formulas. Yes, I know how to convert using Google or any of a zillion other online tools. But I don't want to be operating at that level. I want to internalize metric cookery so I don't have to look anything up. So, I'm most interested in:

1 - Conversion tips and tricks that go beyond computation. For example are their mnemonics, quick-and-dirty abbreviated brainless formulas, etc.?

2 - Basic tables of the most common conversions (common oven temps, common volume measures, etc.) such that I can create a one-sheet guide to stick on the refrigerator.

3 - Tales of success or woe, inspiration or warning, from others who've tried to switch over.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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100 grams is a serving of cheese or meat at a charcuterie...a little less than a 1/4 lb

that what you mean?

Tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

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100 grams is a serving of cheese or meat at a charcuterie...a little less than a 1/4 lb

that what you mean?

Tracey

Interestingly this is the first thing I learned when we Canucks switched over -- a million years ago? Anyway it's a no-brainer now because I can multiply 100 by 4 and come up with approx 1lb, etc. etc. because I still think in non-metric! :shock:

I also know that 250ml of liquid is approx 1 cup and can work up and down from that.

The one thing that still escapes me is how we use ml for canned goods! I still could not tell you what a 28 oz can of tomatoes is in ml! Every time I have to look that one up.

Here's a neat site for ball park conversions.

Edited to add link.

Edited by Anna N (log)

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I'm with you Fat Guy. I recently moved overseas and was forced into Metric Conversion, and I am sick of running back and forth to my computer to check and recheck weight conversions for recipes I am trying to convert.

I would LOVE some tips on how to make that go faster and smoother.

Anyway, I just bought a fancy new scale and bookmarked some websites containing convesion tables and have just starting trying to create new habits.

Point being, Tips would be appreciated from this front too!

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250ml of liquid = 1 cup and 100g = 1/4 pound are exactly the sort of quick conversions I'm looking for, if they're usable. My concern, however, is that these conversions may be insufficiently accurate for any but the most flexible recipes.

For example, according to Google, 100g = 3.527oz, whereas 1/4 lb is of course 4oz. That's something on the order of a 12% error, which is more than I'm comfortable with for, certainly, baking.

Now, the 250ml measure seems a bit more usable. 250 ml = 1.056 cups. Thats a little less than a 6% error, which to me is almost not worth caring about in any recipe that doesn't depend on a very intricate chemical reaction. I think, however, that I'd be more comfortable with shorthand formulas that produce conversion errors of less than 5%.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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250ml of liquid = 1 cup and 100g = 1/4 pound are exactly the sort of quick conversions I'm looking for, if they're usable. My concern, however, is that these conversions may be insufficiently accurate for any but the most flexible recipes.

For example, according to Google, 100g = 3.527oz, whereas 1/4 lb is of course 4oz. That's something on the order of a 12% error, which is more than I'm comfortable with for, certainly, baking.

Now, the 250ml measure seems a bit more usable. 250 ml = 1.056 cups. Thats a little less than a 6% error, which to me is almost not worth caring about in any recipe that doesn't depend on a very intricate chemical reaction. I think, however, that I'd be more comfortable with shorthand formulas that produce conversion errors of less than 5%.

I always remember the number 30 and it seems to work out pretty good for me.

30ml = 1 fluid ounce actually 1oz = 29.56ml 1.5% error

30g = 1 ounce actually 1oz = 28.4g 5.5% error

Your right about temperature however since the temperature conversion involves a ratio and an offset there's no real easy way to remember a couple of numbers and get an accurate conversion. The only advantage is that when you're shopping etc. you don't normally have to worry about temperature conversions they're only done when you're home cooking.

I've learned that artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

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I don't even bother with milliliters ... I simply weigh everything and record the gram measurements. I've gotten very good with the whole gram -> pound -> gram conversion (having done so much bread), but I agree that the temperature conversion can be a little tricky. If I come across a recipe in non-metric form, the first time I try it out, I will measure everything out, weigh it, and annotate the recipe accordingly. From that point forward, it's all about the grams.

What becomes difficult is when a non-baker asks me for a recipe. I don't go backwards for them. If they want to do it themselves, then that's fine, but I usually tell them to go out and buy a digital scale -- they're only $30.

A couple more obvious ones ...

1 tbsp of any oil = 14 grams

1/4 tsp of salt = 1.5 grams, 1 tsp of salt (sea salt) = 6 grams

1 whole large egg = 50 grams

1 large egg yolk = 20 grams

1 large egg white = 30 grams

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hey when a customer at my old job asked for 100 grams of ham one day, I was just amazed to find a use for the knowledge of how many grams are in 1/8 of an ounce :blink:

for a rough C to F I have always used C x 1.8 + 32...thats usually just for the weather if I miss the F temp on the bank's Time and Temp sign

and usually you can go even rougher like say 5C would be 10 plus 32 so 42...its really 41 in an online calculator

T

Edited by rooftop1000 (log)

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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I'm pretty sure C x 1.8 + 32 is the exact formula, not just a rough estimate. The C x 2 + 32 estimate works really well for the temperatures at which humans dwell, however it becomes wildly inaccurate when you try to use it for oven temperatures. For example, 200 C by the rough estimate works out to 432 F, but it's actually 392 F -- too big an error for baking. I'm actually wondering if simple doubling/halving would work well for an oven-temperature conversion. I'd have to test it on a variety of numbers.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Doubling the C figure, oddly, works well enough for typical oven and frying temps. Otherwise, Steven, just use the system for a while and it'll start to feel normal. A great advantage of metrics is that 100g of dried pasta is a smaller and much better portion than 4 ounces.

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I'm pretty sure C x 1.8 + 32 is the exact formula, not just a rough estimate. The C x 2 + 32 estimate works really well for the temperatures at which humans dwell, however it becomes wildly inaccurate when you try to use it for oven temperatures. For example, 200 C by the rough estimate works out to 432 F, but it's actually 392 F -- too big an error for baking. I'm actually wondering if simple doubling/halving would work well for an oven-temperature conversion. I'd have to test it on a variety of numbers.

why don't you just use a celcius thermometer........you've already mixed the ingredients, the oven is labeled in F , you can only trust an oven or a thermemeter so far anyway.....you don't need a conversion table, just calibrate your oven.....

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Right, the oven temperatures can't really be "switched" to metric because my oven dial is in degrees F. It's not like I'm going to go out and get a replacement dial with metric markings. So for oven temperatures the exercise is somewhat academic.

Still, in order for me to make things work out for me and the metric system I'm going to need to be conversant with both scales. That means, for example, that I need to be able to look at a European recipe that calls for an oven temperature of 180 C and I need to be able to do a quick cheat conversion. And, as luck would have it, doubling is an excellent cheat (in this case, the exact conversion for 180 C would be 356 F, so doubling to get 360 F is totally acceptable).

Working in the other direction, here are the real equivalents for the most common oven temperatures (which also covers deep frying temperatures) if you round the C to the nearest whole number:

225 F = 107 C

275 F = 135 C

325 F = 163 C

375 F = 191 C

425 F = 218 C

475 F = 246 C

As far as I can tell, that means if you use the simple halving/doubling formula in the normal oven-temperatures range your margin of error always stays within 5%. Also, at 325 it's just about perfect. So, since doubling/halving as oven/frying shorthand passes my 5% test, it sounds like I should adopt that one.

Now, another area where I need temperature help is in the area of meat doneness. Here, the doubling cheat won't work. So, are there any good systems for remembering rare, medium rare, medium, etc., for meat?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Stephen

I bet you have a polder thermometer for oven roasting/baking. The polder can be calibrated in metric ie celcius which is a great way to get use to temp conversion when roasting or baking. I spent a year converting until my youngest son pointed out the teeny weeny almost microscopic (I needed new glasses I guess :laugh: ) button on the bottom for Celsius or Fahrenheit read out.

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When I moved to Canada 5 years ago, I had an awful time trying to figure out the metric conversions. It took me forever to realize that 1000 grams is a kilo.

Temps here are in celcius too and a woman on an an air canada flight told me to add 15 to the celcius and then double that and thats the approximate temp in Farenheit.

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I do have a Centigrade-Fahrenheit sheet stuck on my refrigerator door - I must have printed it out from the internet but it's been there for so long.... Very useful when cooking sous-vide for the first time with a waterproof thermometer stuck through the bag (I have not yet found a reasonably priced waterproof thermometer that measures in centigrade).

I hate with a passion volume measurements for dry ingredients. Even weights in ounces as opposed to grams are irritating. A few years ago I was given a Kitchen Calc which will do all the conversions in an instant and now I can keep my scale permanently set to metric.

Ruth Friedman

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You guys think you have it hard.

Try me, when I came to this country in '57 I knew nothing but metric, and then you come with this sh.. of teaspoons (your citizens don't even drink real tea, and they only have one kind of spoon for coffee and tea, and Soup spoons are little round bowls, vs the European kind).

Then someone told and showed me these four little aluminium watchyoumacallit . and cups had nothing to do with drinking cups. Confused ? What do you mean ?

Anyway over the years it somhow became natural to use both systems in one head, mine.

But I do use the most niftyist gadget a little business card size calculator by Texas Instruments I - 1895 II , with automatic converting capabilities of metric to and from any entered number referring to 20 different convertabilities.

Example:

Press 729, enter 'from Metric', click desired 'oz' and Voila: 25.714285

Same with C/F ,ft/m, Cubics, Distances etc.

Best advise I ever gave at Christmas.

Peter
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1 quart = 1 litre = 1000 ml

(actually 1 quart = 0.946 litres, so slightly more than 5% error, but quarts aren't a precision measurement anyway)

Also, Google is your friend when it comes to conversions. I use it all the time. Just type eg "1 quart to litres" or "212 F to C" and the answer will come out.

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Having had to switch the other way around, here's what I use:

an oz is 30gm/30mL

a pound is half a kg

a pint is half a litre

a quart is a litre

a gallon is 4 litres

50C is fish, 60C is meat, 70C is poultry

150C is a low oven, 200C is a medium oven, 250C is a hot oven

PS: I am a guy.

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Is it necessary to switch entirely? I learned to use imperial weights during my pastry apprenticeship at a hotel in SF, at my next hotel (in New York) they used metric for weights but farenheit for temperatures. When I moved to Hong Kong I continued using metric weights and switched to Celsius for temperatures for some things (ovens and the weather). but just last night I was tempering chocolate and I still used farenheit for the melting, cooling and working temperatures because that's the way I first learned and besides, my Taylor thermometer only has farenheit measurements on the dial.

I'm no longer cooking professionally but for home recipes I use teaspoons and tablespoons for small amounts of dry ingredients (ie 1 tsp baking soda) - I don't bother to weigh those. I use weights if it gets past five grams.

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I don't think it's even possible to switch entirely. If you live in the US, the US customary system (which is not synonymous with Imperial or English) isn't something you can just ignore. It's how ovens are marked, it's how various measuring devices measure, it's how nearly all non-professional recipes are written, etc. So the best one can hope for is to be conversant with both systems.

For myself, however, I've been converting all my (very few) frequently used recipes into SI (that's the official name of the metric system, from the French Système International d'Unités or International System of Units). For pastry-and-baking recipes, where it's typical to combine all the ingredients in a bowl on a scale, I'm using grams for everything -- even liquid -- as tino27 does and as many professional sources do.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My in-head auto-conversion stash (as a metric user):

1 fl oz ~ 30ml

1 oz ~ 30g

1 pint ~ 500ml

1 quart ~ 1l

2.2lb ~ 1kg

350º ~ 180ºC

1c ~ 250ml

For baking, I'd either look up the exact conversions or use imperial instruments (iirc, my new scales have both).

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Right, the oven temperatures can't really be "switched" to metric because my oven dial is in degrees F. It's not like I'm going to go out and get a replacement dial with metric markings. So for oven temperatures the exercise is somewhat academic.

Still, in order for me to make things work out for me and the metric system I'm going to need to be conversant with both scales. That means, for example, that I need to be able to look at a European recipe that calls for an oven temperature of 180 C and I need to be able to do a quick cheat conversion. And, as luck would have it, doubling is an excellent cheat (in this case, the exact conversion for 180 C would be 356 F, so doubling to get 360 F is totally acceptable).

Working in the other direction, here are the real equivalents for the most common oven temperatures (which also covers deep frying temperatures) if you round the C to the nearest whole number:

225 F = 107 C

275 F = 135 C

325 F = 163 C

375 F = 191 C

425 F = 218 C

475 F = 246 C

As far as I can tell, that means if you use the simple halving/doubling formula in the normal oven-temperatures range your margin of error always stays within 5%. Also, at 325 it's just about perfect. So, since doubling/halving as oven/frying shorthand passes my 5% test, it sounds like I should adopt that one.

Now, another area where I need temperature help is in the area of meat doneness. Here, the doubling cheat won't work. So, are there any good systems for remembering rare, medium rare, medium, etc., for meat?

Ah, but what are you going to do when the recipe says to put something in an oven pre-heated to "gas mark II"? ( :smile: )

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Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

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