2009-08-01

Disher (aka ice cream scoop) sizes

Update: Also see my post on dishers for left-handed use.

To ensure that cookies, cupcakes, and muffins bake evenly, one of the steps should be to divide the dough or batter into uniform quantities. For the best way to do this, the common advice is to use portion-control tools. These are known as dishers in the food-service industry, although to the rest of us they look like ice cream scoops. In addition to their use in baking, dishers can also ensure consistent portioning of meatballs or hamburger patties. You can buy them at your local restaurant-supply store.

In the US, commercial-grade dishers are denominated in sizes (numbers) that represent quart fractions—for example, a No. 12 disher should hold 1/12 of a quart (in other words, it takes 12 scoops to fill a quart), a No. 16 holds 1/16 quart, etc. Using this standard, we can create a chart of disher sizes and their equivalent nominal volumes, in both US customary and metric units:

* Color codes are only available on dishers with plastic handles.
Size Color* fl oz tbsp cup  (fraction) mL
6 White 5.33 10.7 0.667  (2/3) 158
8 Gray 4.00 8.00 0.500  (1/2) 118
10 Ivory 3.20 6.40 0.400 94.6
12 Green 2.67 5.33 0.333  (1/3) 78.9
16 Blue 2.00 4.00 0.250  (1/4) 59.1
20 Yellow 1.60 3.20 0.200 47.3
24 Red 1.33 2.67 0.167 39.4
30 Black 1.07 2.13 0.133 31.5
40 Orchid 0.800 1.60 0.100 23.7
50 Rust 0.640 1.28 0.0800 18.9
60 Pink 0.533 1.07 0.0667 15.8
70 Plum 0.457 0.914 0.0571 13.5
100 Orange 0.320 0.640 0.0400 9.46

You'll notice there are gaps between sizes. As far as I know, these are the only ones available for the US food-service market, and not all manufacturers make this entire size range. But that's not the problem. The real problem is that the quart-fraction standard is only followed loosely, and actual disher capacities vary both from the nominal size and among different manufacturers. How far off are these scoop sizes, you ask? Let's look at the numbers.

The following table contains a semi-random sampling of product lines and shows how much the scoops' specified capacities deviate from nominal sizes. These calculations are based on the manufacturers' specifications, which I've collected into a spreadsheet you can either view online (HTML) or download (Excel, with formulas). The file is also available in Google Spreadsheets format if you're logged in to a Google account. In addition to the manufacturers' specifications and my calculations, the spreadsheet also contains details such as the dishers' scoop diameters shown in both inches and centimeters.

Deviation of specified capacity from nominal size. Bold indicates sizes accurate to within 2%. Details.
Size Adcraft (PDF) Fox Run Hamilton Beach Johnson Rose Norpro OXO Vollrath (metal) Vollrath (plastic) Zeroll
6 12.5% 12.6% 12.5% 0.0% 12.6%
8 0.0% 0.0% 9.0% 8.3% 0.0% 0.0% 9.0%
10 17.2% 0.3% 14.6% 2.3% 1.6% 0.3%
12 21.9% 4.3% 25.0% 3.1% 0.0% 4.3%
16 37.5% 0.0% 3.5% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 3.5%
20 56.3% 0.0% 10.6% 4.2% 6.3% 6.3% 6.3% 1.6% 10.6%
24 31.3% 11.8% 0.0% 3.1% 0.0% 11.8%
30 17.2% 3.4% 6.3% 6.3% 17.2% 6.3% 3.4%
40 9.4% 6.3% 15.0% 16.7% 6.3% 9.4% 6.3% 11.3%
50 2.3% 0.0% 2.3% 1.6%
60 5.5% 6.3% 37.5% 5.5% 0.6%
70 9.4% 0.6% 6.0% 0.6%
100 17.2% 0.0% 4.2% 17.2% 0.0%

As you can see, disher size accuracy can be way off the mark. In this table, scoops accurate to within 2% of the nominal size are highlighted in bold. If this seems to be too tight of an allowance for size variations, think about it this way: a 12-inch ruler that's off by 2% will be either too long or too short by roughly a quarter of an inch, making for a potential variation of nearly half an inch from one ruler to the next.

While it's possible that dishers are made to match nominal sizes but their true capacities are rounded off for publication formatting (thus calculations based on published specifications will show more deviation than actually exists), seeing that there is no uniformity even within one manufacturer's own two product lines leads me to believe this is not the case, since there is no reason to think different rounding standards would be used here. Moreover, by comparing the ratios between sizes, one is likely to find that manufacturers' guidance for real-world applications (e.g., hamburger patties) further deviate from both the nominal and specified volumes. Makes one wonder which numbers are really right.

Please note, however, that in spite of these discrepancies, inaccurate dishers aren't necessarily defective or inferior. This is because dishers are primarily portioning tools instead of measuring tools, so if you find some that fit your recipes, there's not much point to worrying about whether they match some fixed standard or not. You just need to be aware that size designations are not reliable indicators of actual capacity, and dishers of identical (nominal) size from different manufacturers may hold different amounts of material.

Now, how do you know which dishers will fit your recipes without buying every size and trying them? That's a good question. From what I've seen, recipes generally don't tell you that. At least for muffins and cupcakes, since standard muffin tins have a capacity of 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz., or 8 tbsp) per pocket, we should figure to place only about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter in each to avoid overflowing during baking—in other words, #12 and #16 (nominal size) should work in most cases. However, I've also seen recipes that exceed this quantity to deliberately create overflowing muffin tops, so exceptions do exist.

THE TAKEAWAY

Disher (ice cream scoop) sizes can be inconsistent, so it's better to know their actual (or at least specified) capacities than to rely on nominal sizes. In terms of nominal size, 12 and 16 should, in principle, fit most muffin and cupcake recipes.

6 comments:

  1. Great blog! I've been looking for info regarding standard scoop size. It was really hard. Good thing I was able to find your blog. BTW, here in Manila, we have scoop # 14. It's hard to find suppliers of this size. Even in your chart, I do not see #14 scooper. Anyway,thanks!

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  2. Great blog you have going here... I shall back for more! :) Love Lucie x

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  3. Thanks, very helpful!

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  4. I bake professionally and I wonder if some manufacturers are looking for compatibility within their own lines. For example, we use the #6 and #16 plastic vollrath dishers at work, and two level #16 scoops will completely fill the #6, when one would think that should be the case with the #8. To those considering home disher use, I have used two with great success. the #16 and the #70. one #16 for muffins and ice cream, two #16 scoops for burgers, and the #70 for roux's. hope this helps

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Found your blog because I'm trying to figure out which size Zeroll ice cream scoop to order.

    I realize your post is referring to the spring-handle dishers. Unlike those dishers, the iconic Zeroll with "antifreeze" in the handle is not designed to hold a level scoop of anything; it's designed to roll the ice cream into a ball. It uses a different sizing system, where the size # is the number of double scoop servings in a gallon of ice cream, e.g. #10 = 20 single scoops/gallon, #30 = 60 single scoops/gallon. Each size has different color end cap on the aluminum handle. On most retail websites, the colors are associated w/ ounces, which in this case is NOT volume (fluid ounces) but rather weight. Of course, it's only an average weight since the amount of air in ice cream, sorbet, gelato, etc, varies widely; imho that makes it rather useless. Give the diameter of the ball of ice cream in inches/cm would be more useful. In case someone else finds your post while looking for info on Zeroll scoops, they should check the Zeroll website -- they have a useful chart.

    BTW, I have some Piazza dishers and love them. They are made in Italy, which is a big plus since I try to buy kitchen equipment made in the US or the EU.

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