I occasionally find myself with a lump of dough which I want to divide into three equally sized pieces (like for making 3 pizza bases). I could weigh it but it typically means getting the scales out and dirty and having to cut pieces off and re-knead them into the dough. Eye-balling kinda works but sometimes I'm a fair bit off.

So I was wondering if there is a nice technique which doesn't require additional tools like a scale to divide a lump of dough into three equally sized pieces?

  • How equal are we taking about? There are times when I'm expected to make piles of things that weight .15 pounds. I've done it enough times that I can get within .01 just by the amount of space I know it should take up. – Carl Oct 25 '15 at 3:02
  • @Carl: not super accurate. Usually I have 750g so three pieces of 250g at the target. I guess being within 5% is good enough. – ChrisWue Oct 25 '15 at 6:15
  • This isn't a hack, but if you persist in using a scale, your eye-balling will get more accurate with practice. I make pizza dough and other doughs which I split into 2 or more pieces for storage, and weighing them (over the years) has given me a pretty good eye for dividing them up accurately when I do it without the scale. – Dan C Oct 26 '15 at 17:50
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    Split it into 4 pieces and throw one away. – Ali Caglayan Oct 28 '15 at 19:03
  • To build on @AliCaglayan's comment, you can split into 4 pieces, then divide one of those pieces into thirds again. Since it's much smaller, it should be much easier to eyeball. (or you could repeat until one of the sections is no longer worth splitting.) – Tim S. Mar 2 '16 at 21:48
up vote 18 down vote accepted

You could measure it out using your hand. Roll out the dough to be close to the width of three hands, and then cut each piece at the width of your hand. It is fairly easy to make an even roll, and the width of your hand is fairly constant, so that should make for three closely sized lumps of dough.

Added: Another variant using a measuring trick, is to first make an even roll, then use the tip of your digits(/fingers) not including the thumb to make a line of dots along the length of the roll. Then you can count the dots and divide by three.

Another trick: make an evenly roll, lay it down in a S-form and push it together. It works quite well after a bit of practice. Main advantage: you can add more "loops" to make 4, 5, and more parts. The roll needs to be thinner and thinner, so there is some natural limit to it but even I with my all-thumbs hands can manage up to 7.

  • This is a pretty neat generic solution. I'll go with @holroy's answer since it's slightly less effort for this particular case but I'll keep this in my backpocket :) – ChrisWue Oct 25 '15 at 17:53

Divide by three

Why not using the simple fact that cos(60°) = 1/2?

Put your dough in the form of a circle, make sure you know the centre point. From there you draw a horizontal line to the right, and in the middle of that line, you draw a perpendicular line up and down. Like this, you find two points, one above and one beneath. Together with the outmost left point of your circle, this forms the edges of the third parts you are looking for (I'm trying to find out how to attach a picture to this answer)

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    This is ridiculously impractical and requires far more estimation and accuracy than the obvious answer of just rolling the dough into a cylinder and cutting it so the smaller piece is half the size of the larger piece. – David Richerby Oct 27 '15 at 11:03
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    This is actually ridiculously easy. I wish I thought of it. It sounds complicated when you describe it in trigonometric terms, but poke the center with your finger and lay a straight edge across that halfway point (above) and then cut from the center to where your edge falls outside the circle. Try it; it takes seconds, and it works very well.. – Robert Cartaino Oct 27 '15 at 13:31
  • This should be an example in a kids math textbook as a practical use of geometry. Nice. – Minnow Oct 29 '15 at 16:02
  • This is probably easier than it first looks indeed - I'll give this a go next time I do pizza. – ChrisWue Oct 29 '15 at 20:22

Here's an old math trick that makes dividing dough into thirds easy.

  • Flatten your dough into a bit of a disk and mark the center point as a reference.
  • Find a convenient object with an "edge" that is slightly larger than the radius of your dough and flatten your dough a bit further until it is about that size.
    (You can use a ruler, but I find an index card or a spatula edge to be about right)
  • Using that edge as a reference, you can "walk" the outside of the circle, marking off equal lengths as you go.
  • When you're done, you will find six equally-spaced marks along the ouside of your dough which will form the points of a perfect hexagon.
  • Cutting from the center of your dough to every other point you made should divide the dough into equal thirds.

enter image description hereenter image description here

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    Nice idea since it works with other round things as well - like cakes. – ChrisWue Oct 25 '15 at 17:49
  • If your disk is small enough you can even use your stretched fingers (e.g. thumb and pinkie) to first "grab" the radius and then "walk" along the edge, like you would with a compass. – Stephie Mar 1 '16 at 21:09

Try fashioning an equilateral (all 3 sides of the same lenght) triangle with the dough. Make sure it is level (height needs to be uniform). Then, simply cut the dough in half from each angle of the triangle (so 3 cuts). You'll get 6 pieces of equal mass. Add these pieces 2 by two and you get 3 pieces of equal mass.

[EDIT, since it was requested in the comments, here's a little addendum : if you don't want 6 pieces, simply don't make cuts all the way through in length. Stop cutting at 2/3 of the length between the corner and the opposing side of the triangle (see picture). You really don't need to be accurate there.]

enter image description here

The solution doesn't remove the need to be accurate, but makes being accurate easier (the geometrical form will favor accuracy, as it is more visual than simply guessing the size of each piece).

Choose any other geometrical form if you need to make more pieces (a square for 4 pieces, etc...)

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    If you have made a triangle, you can just cut in the corners, and have your the pieces... – holroy Oct 25 '15 at 11:08
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    Isn't cutting at the corner the same thing as cutting at the angles? – takeshi2010 Oct 25 '15 at 11:21
  • Why do you then get 6 pieces, which needs to be doubled to get the wanted three pieces? Something is off in your explanation. – holroy Oct 25 '15 at 11:24
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    @holroy Every time you make a cut from a corner to the opposite side, you divide it in two. Since there are three corners, 3 x 2 = 6. I don't think his explanation was unclear. I can see how the method can be improved with your suggestion though (simply cut from each corner to the centre point of the triangle to be left with 3 pieces). – JBentley Oct 25 '15 at 14:54
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    Interesting idea, unfortunately shaping the dough into a triangle is fairly involved - dough is much easier to roll up or put into a circular shape. – ChrisWue Oct 25 '15 at 17:50

Start with a square. Divide it into four sub-squares. Set aside three of the sub-squares. Divide the remaining sub-square into four sub-sub-squares. Add one sub-sub-square to each of the three intact sub-squares. Divide the remaining sub-sub-square into four sub^N-squares. Continue the process until one of the remaining sub^N-squares is so small that you don't care if it isn't perfectly divided into thirds.

  • This looks weird at first but is in fact THE answer to the question, working to any amount of precision the asker cares for. There's no need to even start with a square; one can start with a dough ball. Much more practical, IMO, than rolling dough into a disc and doing geometry! The big background assumption is that one can divide into halves (and hence, fourths), of course. Very few iterations produce a rather negligible leftover of dough, and it is up to you how small the leftover is. Admittedly, one has to reknead, but that is somehow what most methods offered here have in common. – anemone Oct 26 '15 at 21:03

Assuming that you can split the dough in half accurately:

  1. Split the dough into quarters in three steps. Save three doughs.
  2. Repeat step 1 with the leftover piece. Add a new piece to each saved dough.
  3. Repeat step 2 until you feel comfortable with splitting the remaining piece in three. Add the pieces to your doughs. You will have three equally sized doughs within your margin of error.
  • This would require re-kneading though wouldn't it? – Adam Mar 4 '16 at 0:21

Divide to three pieces arbitrarily, then just cut away and eat slices from the currently biggest part until all three pieces are equal.

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    I'll reserve that for cake splitting :) – ChrisWue Oct 26 '15 at 18:44

Break off a piece such that the remaining piece is twice as large. Then break that large piece in half.

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    Easier said than done ... – ChrisWue Oct 25 '15 at 8:36
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    It's actually not that hard, easier than trying to make a specific shape. – Carl Oct 25 '15 at 20:33
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    Well, maybe it wasn't clear from my question but I'm aware that with thirds one part is half the size of the other two parts combined. I'm looking for a technique which allows me to do this consistently. "Just do it" isn't all that helpful. – ChrisWue Oct 25 '15 at 21:35
  • Buh? So this highly practical answer gets voted down to -4 but the answer that says you should make your dough into a circle, mark the centre, draw a straight line through the centre, divide one half of that line in two, draw a perpendicular bisector, then use the points where that bisector meets the circumference to mark off three equal sectors of the circle is tooooootally OK and +2? Sometimes, the internet does the most ridiculous things. – David Richerby Oct 27 '15 at 11:00
  • I think I should have explained it better. The fact is, that once the op has done this countless times, he/she is going to be able to rip a piece of dough off and just know by it's size/weight whether it falls in the margin of one third. Holroy's answer is a great step towards that instinct. – Carl Oct 27 '15 at 16:32

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