Steel Cut Oats | How to Cook the Perfect Bowl
Maybe I have old-fashioned taste in breakfast, but if I could only have one morning meal for the rest of my life, it would be a bowl of steel cut oatmeal. Today, I’m going to be sharing how to cook steel cut oats that are creamy and perfect every time. They’re endlessly customizable, never mushy, and can be made ahead for healthy breakfasts all week. If you think oatmeal is bland, unappealing, or (as one reader expressed) you “just can’t get into it,” this foolproof steel cut oats recipe is worth another chance.
Growing up, we always had a box of fruity-flavored oatmeal packets stuffed under the bottom shelf of our pantry. They were sugary (that part I didn’t mind) and microwaved up into a kind of slop that would change tints depending upon what flavor of fruit it was supposed to imitate. Strawberry was a dull, sad pink; blueberry was gray; peach was…well, we never did figure out what to call that color.
Then, I became older and wiser. I bought the oatmeal packets without the sugar. They tasted terrible. No wonder people thought oatmeal was terrible!
Then, at long last, I was in a cute cafe where I spotted something called “steel cut oats” at the top of the menu. Feeling somewhat magnanimous (but mostly curious) I decided to give this steel cut oatmeal business a chance.
SOUL MATES. In place of the bland, textureless muck that had been my prior bowls of oatmeal, steel cut oats were thick and creamy, pleasantly chewy and nutty, and left me feeling satisfied in a deep, wholesome way that I thought was reserved only for those who practice yoga.
The difference between steel cut oats and the instant oatmeal I had been eating is like comparing different foods.
Are Steel Cut Oats the Same as Rolled Oats or Instant Oatmeal?
In the sense that all come from the same grain, yes. How they are processed, however, is different, which is why making a bowl of oatmeal with each of the different types of oats yields different results.
- Steel Cut Oats: The best bowl of oatmeal. The oats are left whole and cut into pieces with a steel mill. Steel cut oats are the least processed and therefore maintain the best texture when cooked. They also take the longest amount of time to cook (as you will see, it’s worth waiting).
- Rolled Oats: A respectable though not otherworldly bowl of oatmeal. The oats are steamed and pressed flat. If you are in a big hurry and need breakfast in a few minutes, rolled oats are reliable option. They are also my favorite for baking (steel cut oats stay way too crunchy).
- Instant Oats: Just say no to a bowl of instant oatmeal. These are rolled oats that are cut into small pieces. By the time you heat them, they lose all texture (hence, mushy). Instant oats work nicely in some recipes where you don’t want the oatmeal to maintain its complete texture, like these Healthy No Bake Cookies, but would not be a good choice for a tasty breakfast.
If you’d like to make overnight oats, I recommend this overnight steel cut oats recipe, which is served cold and one of my favorite make-ahead breakfasts during the warmer months. If you are are cooking for a crowd, these slow cooker steel cut oats are another option.
For a cozy, everyday breakfast, however, a steaming, creamy bowl of classic stove top steel cut oatmeal is my forever love.
How to Cook Steel Cut Oats
STEP ONE: Pick Your Liquid.
- For every 1 cup of steel cut oats, you’ll need 2 1/2 to 3 cups of liquid, depending upon how thick you’d like them to be (less liquid = thicker steel cut oatmeal).
- I like to do a mix of water and milk to make the steel cut oats extra creamy. You can use any kind of milk you like. I typically opt for almond milk (perfect if you need vegan steel cut oats). If you are feeling indulgent (or are Ina Garten or the Pioneer Woman), whole milk is indisputably delicious.
STEP TWO: Place the Liquid, Oats, and SALT in a Saucepan.
- Note the emphasis on salt above. Add a good pinch for each cup of steel cut oats.
- I always recommend kosher salt, which has a clean taste. Also, because the grains are larger, you’ll more easily avoid over salting your food.
- Salt won’t make the oats taste salty. Rather, it wakes up their flavor and helps ensure the oats are not at all bland.
STEP THREE: Bring to a Boil, Reduce to a Simmer.
- Let the oats simmer for about 20 minutes to start. You don’t need to babysit them. Simply stir the oats every now and then to make sure they aren’t sticking to the bottom and to remind yourself how delicious this bowl of steel cut oatmeal is going to be.
STEP FOUR: Choose Your Texture.
- Once the oats have been simmering 20 minutes, they’ll need about 5 to 10 minutes of additional simmering to reach their ideal texture.
- “Ideal” is defined by YOU, the oatmeal chef! Like your oats more chewy? Stop cooking them sooner. Softer, thicker, and creamier is more your style? Let them go the full half hour. Thirty minutes is my personal steel cut oatmeal sweet spot.
- The steel cut oats will continue to thicken as they cool, so don’t panic if they seem too thin.
STEP FIVE: Top ’Em Off!
- This is the fun part. Steel cut oats are a healthy blank canvas for any of your favorite toppings and mix-ins. Fresh fruit, nuts, peanut butter or almond butter, and chia seeds are some of my go-tos.
How to Store Steel Cut Oats
Since steel cut oatmeal takes longer to make than I typically have time for on an average weekday morning, I like to make a double batch on weekends and store it for healthy breakfasts all week long.
- To refrigerate: If you are super organized or want to be able easily grab a single serving, portion the oatmeal into individual containers. You can also just put it all into one giant container, then scoop your desired amount into a bowl the morning you heat it up. Steel cut oatmeal can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
- To freeze: Portion your desired amount of the cooked steel cut oats into your container of choice. Freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
How to Reheat Steel Cut Oats
- Place the steel cut oatmeal in a microwave-safe bowl or in a saucepan. Add a good splash of milk or water. Reheat gently in the microwave or on the stovetop, stirring a few times throughout and adding more liquid as needed to keep it from drying out.
- Note on portions: Oatmeal quadruples when it’s reheated. OK, don’t quote me on that exact math, but I find that by the time the oats absorb the extra liquid, I end up with a much larger serving than it appeared when I first scooped it into my bowl.
Questions? Thoughts? Confessions of oatmeal love (or hate!)? LET ME KNOW!
I’d love to hear what you think about steel cut oats, along with any of your favorite toppings.
- 2 1/2 cups water plus additional as needed
- 1 cup milk any kind you like (I use unsweetened almond milk)
- 1 cup steel cut oats
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt do not omit this!
- Toppings and mix-ins of choice see blog post above for suggestions
Place 2 1/2 cups water and milk in a medium/large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat.
As soon as the liquid boils, stir in the oats and salt. Return the mixture to a steady boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low so that the oats are at a gentle simmer. Don’t walk away from the pot at this point, as oats sometimes like to boil over. If your oats start to foam up and you are concerned, lift the pan right off the heat and let it settle down a bit before returning the pan to the heat to finish cooking.
Let the oats gently simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping along the bottom of the pan to prevent sticking. At this point, judge how chewy or creamy you’d like your oatmeal. For softer, creamier oats, continue cooking for 5 to 10 additional minutes, stirring every few minutes until the oatmeal is as tender as you like. If the oatmeal becomes thicker than you’d like, splash in a little extra water or milk to thin it out to your desired consistency.
Remove the oatmeal from the heat and let sit a few minutes to finish thickening. Enjoy hot with any of your favorite toppings.
- Leftover steel cut oatmeal is a meal-pepper’s dream! Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, either as one large batch or in individual portions. Oatmeal will thicken as it chills. Reheat gently in the microwave or on the stove with an extra splash of liquid to thin it back out.
- Steel cut oats are also very freezer friendly. Freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
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