Adjustable measuring cups are an old standby. We often use them in the test kitchen to measure and dispense semisolid ingredients that can be a hassle to manage, such as corn syrup or mayonnaise. Instead of struggling to scrape every last bit of these gloppy foods out of a traditional liquid or dry measuring cup, we simply fill the adjustable cup’s barrel to a specified volume marking, turn the cup over, and press down on the plunger when we're ready to dispense. The plunger scrapes out the ingredient, and one additional swipe of a rubber spatula over the plunger is all that is needed to empty the measuring cup completely.
We’ve recommended the same adjustable measuring cup for years, but we’ve received comments suggesting that our favorite model can crack and that its measurement markings can wear off if users aren’t careful. A few more brands have also introduced models, so it was time to retest. We assembled a lineup of four products, ranging in price from about $11 to about $24, and used them to measure peanut butter, shortening, honey, and molasses. Throughout our testing, we noted how they performed and how easy they were to clean. To gauge their versatility, we also measured water and flour. We tested their durability by washing them, repeatedly pushing their plungers back and forth, and dropping them on the floor from counter height. We were looking for a measuring cup that was not only easy to operate and clean but also accurate, dependable, and durable.
The cups in our lineup were all accurate and operated similarly. Each cup consisted of a clear plastic barrel with measurement markings and a plunger insert. Each plunger insert had a cylindrical base on one end that we gripped to push the plunger through the barrel and a gasket on the other end that squeegeed (and dispensed) ingredients as the plunger made its way through the barrel. The advantage of dispensing sticky ingredients with these cups was easy to see: There was no need to waste time or effort scraping them clean as we would when using a liquid or dry measuring cup, since the rubber gaskets were mostly doing that for us. Even though all the models left faint trails of residue behind after dispensing most ingredients, the amounts were insignificant.
Despite their relatively consistent performance, the cups were designed differently, and that affected how easy they were to use. Three of the models are virtually identical, with small tabs on the insides of the barrels and spiral tracks etched into the plungers’ sides; as we pushed the plungers through the barrels, the tabs slid along the tracks, resulting in a twisting motion. We found the twisting motions of these models’ plungers to be not only uncomfortable but also frustrating and awkward. Additionally, if we pushed the plungers too forcefully, the barrels jumped off their tracks and wedged against the plungers’ sides, making it nearly impossible to dispense the ingredients. We then had to stop and wrench the barrels back onto their tracks to get our ingredients where they needed to go. Conversely, the remaining model has no track, and its design allowed us to push the plunger through the barrel in a smooth, fluid motion.
Another design difference was how the cups are meant to be taken apart for cleaning. To disassemble the models with tracks, we had to push the plungers all the way through the barrels and then pull them out of the barrels’ tops. To allow for this, the plungers are designed so that the diameters of their bases are smaller than the diameters of the barrels. As a result, it was often easy to push the plungers too hard and accidentally send them flying into bowls along with the ingredients we were trying to dispense. And since the whole point of these devices is to make measuring clean and tidy, we disliked that we had to touch leftover sticky ingredients when we pulled the plungers out of the barrels’ tops. Comparatively, the trackless model was designed to be disassembled by pulling the plunger out of the bottom of the barrel. The plunger base was wider than its barrel, which prevented us from pushing the base completely through the barrel and made for much easier and cleaner disassembly.
One caveat: When we first tried to push the plunger of the trackless model through its barrel, it got stuck. The manufacturer of this model recommends coating the plunger’s gasket with a small amount of neutral oil to lubricate it. We did this a few times throughout the testing process, and once we did, we were able to operate the cup with ease.
Durability was a key factor, so we conducted three tests. First, we were interested in learning if the cups’ markings faded with repeated washings over time, a common complaint for all types of measuring cups. Two of the models we tested are dishwasher-safe, while the other two are not. We hand-washed all of them vigorously, using the abrasive side of an all-purpose kitchen sponge, 10 times. We then washed the dishwasher-safe models 10 times in the dishwasher and washed the remaining models 10 more times by hand. None of the cups’ measurement markings faded or wore off. Second, to see how well the cups held up to repeated use, we pushed all the plungers back and forth through their barrels 50 times. Every model survived this test without issue. Finally, we dropped the measuring cups onto the floor from counter height to see if they could withstand the impact. The three models with tracks held strong, but the remaining trackless model cracked.
Our previous favorite, the KitchenArt Pro 2 Cup Adjust-A-Cup, Satin, won out again. Its trackless plunger glided smoothly through its plastic barrel, neatly dispensing sticky, gloppy ingredients. A single push was all it took; we didn't have to twist the base of the plunger or pause to reset a barrel that had gone off its track. The diameter of the plunger’s base was also wider than that of the barrel, which meant that we didn’t accidentally send the plunger flying through the barrel when dispensing ingredients, and we were able to remove the plunger from the barrel without getting our fingers messy. This cup isn't intended to replace dry or liquid measuring cups, but it's accurate and can be used to measure those items in a pinch. In spite of the comments and complaints we’ve received that this cup’s markings don’t hold up to cleaning in the dishwasher, they stood up to repeated use and washing throughout our tests. You’ll need to take a little extra care when handling it, however, since its barrel cracked when we dropped it on the floor. We also found that this model glides most smoothly when a small amount of oil is occasionally applied to the plunger tip. The cup’s superior design outweighs those small inconveniences, and we still recommend it as a worthy addition to your kitchen.