We measure many things in the kitchen — we use scales, measuring cups, measuring spoons, liquid measuring cups, and timers all to our advantage — but one tool of measure is often overlooked in building a better tool jar: the ruler.
Now, a ruler isn't meant to ensure that all your potato cubes are the exact same dimensions (although, good for you if you do try that); instead a nice, straight edge in the kitchen will help you make better sauces and make more consistently shaped, baked, and sliced baked goods.
A Metal Ruler to Rule Them All
While almost any ruler (or even a small tape measure) could be put to use in the kitchen, a simple metal straight-edged ruler is best for the home cook. It is easy to wipe clean, won't warp in hot water, and lies flat.
Make sure the ruler does not have a nonstick backing (bonus points if the ruler is two-sided), is easy to read, and that the measurement starts right at the end of the ruler (no rounded edge or spacing).
Pro Tip: Surprisingly you'll have the most luck shopping for these rulers at a home improvement store.
Use a Ruler to Measure a Sauce
To ensure that a sauce or glaze is reduced by half, stick the ruler into the pan when you first put it on the stove. Measure again after the suggested cooking time frame.
While this may seem like an overzealous step to the well-versed cook, this practice is great for training the eyes of new cooks. It is also nice to use when making more costly sauces — say, a balsamic reduction — to ensure that the sauce is the right strength and not overcooked before it has cooled.
You can use the same trick when recipes ask you to "cover the beans with an inch of water." Again, a simple step to ensure success.
Use a Ruler to Measure Pans
Sometimes pan size is non-negotiable, and how else will you know if your hand-me-down tart pan is actually 10 inches? Pan sizes do vary by manufacturer, so double checking the pan size can keep you from drying out a casserole baked in a wider, deeper casserole dish.
Pro Tip: Measure pots and pans on their bottom rather than across the top for the most accurate measurement.
Use a Ruler to Measure Dough Diameter & Thickness
Yes, that thin-crust pizza dough really needs to be rolled to 10 inches in diameter. Better biscuits come from measuring the thickness of the dough.
The sharp edge of the metal ruler can also be used to divide dough in a pinch. Many professional bakers also use a ruler when leveling and splitting layer cakes to make sure that each layer is the same thickness. You can also run a knife or a pizza cutter right up against the edge of a ruler while cutting doughs for croissants or pizza roll-ups.
Use a Ruler to Measure Servings
You don't need a fancy pie server to get 12 slices of the exact same width — you just need a ruler and a sharp knife. Measuring cookie bars, quick bread, and even bread can be made more consistent with a kitchen ruler. Give the ruler a light coat of oil and set it right onto sticky caramels to measure bite sized-caramels or billowy marshmallows.
Do you keep a ruler in the kitchen?