Serious Eats / Eric King

You probably have an ice cream scoop at home, but if it’s just a simple, standard dipper made out of uninterrupted metal, then it’s perfect for mainly one task. That task is digging vanilla ice cream out of a tub, curling it into a sphere, and then hoping it pops out into a bowl or cone without a fight. And they’re great—there’s a reason that ice cream shops all over use them! But what if I told you that you might also need a *portion scoop* (or several) in your kitchen? 

Sort of like the whole “rectangle-square” principle, all portion scoops *could* be ice cream scoops, but not all ice cream scoops are portion scoops. These tools have also come to be known as cookie scoops, and in more professional settings, they’re referred to as dishers. They’re popular in restaurants and cafeterias because each scoop scrapes up an exact amount of food (important for anyone keeping inventory of ingredients and servings in a given batch). In fact, they have a range of numbers and a rainbow of corresponding colors that help the user identify how much each scoop scoops (and can also help servers keep track of what food goes with each to avoid cross-contamination.) These numbers range from four all the way up to 100 and indicate how many scoops are in one quart. This colored numbering system is supposed to be universal, but I have seen different brands have different values for each scoop, so be sure to double-check. 

Serious Eats / Eric King

Perhaps most importantly, these scoops make portioning and serving faster and neater with a rim that’s perfect for scraping off excess and a spring-loaded trigger that runs a thin metal blade alongside the bowl, releasing the food inside. And there’s something to be said about the presentation of a perfectly smooth dome of mashed potatoes

How Do I Use Portion Scoops At Home? And Why Do I Own Six? 

As a baker and recipe developer, the number one task I use this tool for is doling out cookie dough. The thought of a past me caking my hands in the gloppy dough to form balls…makes me shiver. Now, I use a press disher to either scoop cookie dough right after mixing straight onto a sheet tray lined with parchment, then chill it or bake it—or I chill the dough in the bowl for an hour, and then scoop it (if it isn’t rock hard). Since you can be sure that your cookies are all the same size, you can know exactly how much to dole out for a recipe, that they’re less likely to run into one another, and that they will all take about the same time to cook. Plus, when you start with a dome of cookie dough, you’ll (hopefully) end up with an aesthetically pleasing, circular cookie. 

Portion Scoop Sizes I Recommend

Serious Eats / Eric KingWinco #40 Purple (7/8 ounce, or about 1.5 tablespoons): If I’m preparing little balls of ganache to plop inside chocolate cake batter for lava cakes, I’ll use this one. It’s also great for scooping out consistent, spherical cake pops, truffles, or rum balls with as little mess as possible.  OXO Medium Cookie Scoop: They say this is a #40 size scoop that doles out a 1.5-tablespoon size scoop, but it’s certainly bigger than the purple Winco and I’ve found that the true portion size is more like one ounce. I don’t use it very often since its gears tend to jam when faced with anything super thick (like cookie dough,) but I would use it to dole out small meatballs or falafelWinco #24 Red (1.5 ounces, or about 3 tablespoons): This is my go-to for scooping out perfectly medium-size cookies. I also love the size for topping or filling cakes with frosting (this can help you spread out the frosting evenly and prevent it from picking up any crumbs.)Vintage Brass Disher (1.5 ounces, or about 3 tablespoons): I found this on Etsy and despite being old, it is much sturdier than the other squeeze-handled OXO. It serves all the same purposes as the red Winco. Winco #20 Yellow (2 ounces, or about 3.5 tablespoons): This is what I reach for when I want cookies to be on the larger side. Winco #16 Blue (2.75 ounces, about 1/3 cup): This makes filling muffin and cupcake tins super easy and drip-free. Depending on the recipe, sometimes I can get away with one scoop or one and a half. I also love using it to evenly distribute batter between two or three round cake pans

What Can a Portion Scoop Be Used For? 

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

A quick list:

Scooping out dough for perfectly shaped cookiesDoling out meatballs or falafel Evenly and cleanly filling muffin or cupcake tinsEvenly and cleanly filling cake tins Portioning out frosting onto cakes and cupcakes Scooping out even servings of a sticky side like mashed potatoes Serving ice cream, duh!

Portion Scoop Types, In Brief

Serious Eats / Vick Wasik

Some portion scoops are known as press dishers. These have a handle with a bowl at the end, and a spring mechanism in the middle which, when the trigger is pressed, forces a thin piece of metal to scrape along the inside of the bowl, releasing whatever food is inside. Instead of pressing a trigger, squeeze-handle dishers work by….well, squeezing the handle. The gear mechanism that makes the blade rotate is a bit different on these, but they essentially work the same way.

I prefer press dishers (the ones with a trigger on the side) over squeeze handle dishers. In my experience, they are easier to use against hard foods like ice cream and chilled cookie dough. With squeeze-handle dishers, the teeth of the trigger tend to “skip” over the teeth of the gear that turns the blade, which takes it out of alignment and makes it useless. After that, it’s very difficult to get the blade back in alignment. That being said, for softer foods, these have no problem—and it could be argued that squeezing your hand is more ergonomic and faster than reaching your thumb up and pressing the trigger down.   

FAQs

What’s the best portion scoop? 

My favorite type of portion scoop is the press disher, the one with a trigger on the side. These have been the most sturdy and reliable in my kitchen over the years. I bought four different sizes at a restaurant supply store in New York, all of them from Winco, and they have never failed me.  

What’s the difference between a portion scoop, cookie scoop, press disher, and ice cream scoop?

A portion scoop and a cookie scoop are the same thing, some companies just market them for doling out cookie dough—but you can use them for so many other tasks. A press disher is a type of portion scoop that, unlike a squeeze-handle disher, has a trigger on the side that you press with your thumb. Any of these could be considered an ice cream scoop if they’re…scooping ice cream. But a plain scoop with a handle and a bowl, that’s also called a dipper, and often these have antifreeze fluid trapped inside to make it easier to scoop and release ice cream.

Why We’re the Experts

Eric King is a recipe developer, photographer, food stylist, and content creator.He has a B.S. in magazine journalism from Syracuse University.He runs a baking blog called easygayoven and has developed, styled, and photographed recipes for Netflix Family.He has reviewed many items for serious eats, including bench scrapersa smart stand mixerwine tumblers, and more.

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