Cooking and baking often require measuring out fractions of cups. A common fraction used is one-third cup. But if you don’t have a measuring cup divided into thirds, how can you measure out this amount? The answer is by using tablespoons. But exactly how many tablespoons are in a third cup? Let’s take a closer look.

## The Basics of Cup and Tablespoon Conversions

First, we need to understand the basic equivalents between cups and tablespoons:

- 1 cup = 16 tablespoons
- 1/2 cup = 8 tablespoons
- 1/4 cup = 4 tablespoons

Knowing these simple conversions allows us to figure out how many tablespoons are in a third cup. A third cup is essentially splitting a cup into three equal parts. Since we know a whole cup equals 16 tablespoons, we can divide 16 by 3 to calculate the tablespoons in a third cup.

## The Conversion

Let’s walk through the math step-by-step:

- There are 16 tablespoons in 1 whole cup
- To get a third cup, we split the cup into three equal parts
- We take the 16 tablespoons and divide it into thirds:
- 16 tablespoons / 3 = 5 1/3 tablespoons

Therefore, **a third cup equals 5 1/3 tablespoons**.

## Double Checking Our Math

To double check, let’s go backwards and multiply the 5 1/3 tablespoons by 3 to make sure we get back to 16 tablespoons:

- 5 1/3 tablespoons x 3 = 16 tablespoons

So our math is correct – 5 1/3 tablespoons times 3 equals 16 tablespoons, which is 1 whole cup.

## Examples in Cooking

To give a real life example of using this conversion, if a recipe calls for a third cup of flour, you would measure out 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of flour (1 teaspoon = 1/3 tablespoon).

Some other examples of using a third cup measurement in cooking:

- A third cup of sugar = 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of sugar
- A third cup of milk = 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of milk
- A third cup of olive oil = 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of olive oil

## When Precision Matters

In most cooking and baking scenarios, the slight imprecision of 5 1/3 tablespoons vs 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon won’t make a major difference. However, there are some instances where precision matters more:

- Baking – Baking recipes tend to require more precise measurements than stovetop cooking. The chemistry of how baked goods rise and set up depends on correct proportions.
- Small batches – When making very small batches of a recipe, small measurement differences can throw off ratios.
- Volumes under 1 teaspoon – Approximating thirds can make more of a difference when measuring very small amounts under 1 teaspoon.

In these cases, it’s best to use an actual 1/3 cup measuring utensil to get the most accurate results.

## Why Most Recipes Specify 5 Tbsp + 1 tsp

If you look at most recipes that call for a third cup measurement, you’ll notice they tend to specify “5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon” instead of “5 1/3 tablespoons.” There are a few reasons for this:

- It makes the measurement more concrete – 5 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon is unambiguous, vs trying to measure out 1/3 tablespoon.
- It’s easier to measure out – Most measuring spoons and cups will have 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon increments.
- It balances accuracy and convenience – Calling for 5 Tbsp + 1 tsp gets you close enough for most recipes rather than demanding true thirds.

So in practice, a third cup is treated as 5 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon, even though the true mathematical conversion is 5 1/3 tablespoons.

## What About a Third Cup of Liquids?

Liquid measurements can be a bit tricky when it comes to thirds. Ideally, you should use an actual measuring cup with third cup divisions. However, you can use tablespoons and teaspoons to get close with water, milk, and other thin liquids.

For a third cup of water or milk:

- 5 tablespoons = Just under 1/3 cup
- 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon = Close to an exact third cup of liquid

The trouble comes in when measuring thick liquids like honey, maple syrup, or molasses. Tablespoons of thick liquid don’t necessarily equal tablespoons of thin liquids. Your best bet is to measure these types of ingredients by weight on a food scale or use a measuring up with demarcated thirds.

## Summary

So in summary, here’s what you need to know about third cup measurements:

- A third cup is equal to 5 1/3 tablespoons
- For convenience, recipes specify a third cup as 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon
- You can measure a third cup of water with 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon
- Use an actual 1/3 cup measuring cup for thick liquids like honey or molasses
- When precision matters, use a measuring tool with demarcated thirds

Knowing how to convert between thirds of cups and tablespoons gives you more flexibility in the kitchen. You can now measure out a third cup whether you have the right measuring cup or just a set of measuring spoons. Understanding the relationship between fractions of cups to tablespoons and teaspoons is an important kitchen math and measurement skill.

## Frequently Asked Questions

### Why do measuring cups and spoons give measurements in fractions instead of decimals?

Fractions are used instead of decimals on measuring cups and spoons because fractions can be more accurate and easier to work with in the context of cooking. Dividing a cup into even thirds or fourths provides precise fractional portions for recipes. On the other hand, decimals like 0.33 cups or 0.25 cups would be more difficult to measure accurately.

### Can I measure a third cup by eyeballing it?

It’s generally not recommended to eyeball a third cup measurement. Getting an accurate portion by sight takes a lot of experience. For baked goods in particular, improper proportions from eyeballing can cause recipes to fail. Use proper measuring tools for an accurate third cup.

### Should I round 5 1/3 tablespoons to 5 tablespoons or 6 tablespoons?

Most recipes call for 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon when specifying a third cup measurement. The 1 teaspoon addition helps split the difference between rounding down to 5 tablespoons or up to 6 tablespoons. Rounding to just 5 tablespoons runs the risk of coming under the needed volume. Rounding up to 6 tablespoons could throw the recipe proportions off. Calling for 5 tbsp + 1 tsp provides a nice compromise.

### What’s an easy way to measure a third cup without any special tools?

If you don’t have measuring cups or spoons handy, an easy way to estimate a third cup is to fill any drinking glass with water until it’s 1/3 full. Then pour that water into whatever container you need a third cup measurement for. This cup of water method works for thin liquids that you can see through the glass.

### Can I use a kitchen scale to measure a third cup instead of measuring cups and spoons?

Yes, you can use a food scale to measure out a third cup by weight instead. For water, a third cup weighs approximately 2.7 ounces. For other ingredients, look up the weight of a third cup measurement. Using a scale can provide more consistent precision than trying to divide cups into thirds.

## Conclusion

Understanding third cup conversions provides greater flexibility and accuracy in cooking and baking. A third cup equals 5 1/3 tablespoons. For convenience, recipes specify 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon. With some simple kitchen math and measurement knowledge, you can confidently measure thirds for recipes using tools you have on hand. Whether you use measuring cups, spoons, or a food scale, you’ll get a better intuitive sense of portions and ingredient ratios.