Steel Cut Oats: Worth the Time?

Oatmeal has always been a favorite breakfast food in my house. Not the instant, which always tastes as if it had been made in the Play-Doh factory, the old-fashioned. Yes, they took a little longer to cook, but it could be done in five minutes. I cook oatmeal in milk, it gives a much richer taste. But milk means you have to stir, so 5 minutes is about all I could handle.

steel-cut oatsMy niece introduced me to steel-cut oats. I was astonished to find that they were not flat or flaked. These oats are still grain-shaped.  (You can see both flakes and steel-cut in the photo.)

The taste was completely different–sort of nutty, like wheat berries, and an incredible taste treat. They also filled me up completely for three hours, making it easy to pass up the donuts, eclairs and other breakfast goodies in my clients’ kitchens.

Steel-cut oats take forever to cook. The package I have said “about 10 minutes.” Only if you need to break out a few annoying molars. It takes a full 20 minutes to cook steel-cut oats. If you are cooking more than one serving, you can count on 30. I just don’t have 30 extra minutes in the morning, so I began to experiment with shortcuts.

Here are two that work really well:

1. Stir and run method. Put the milk (or water) into a deep saucepan, add the oats (follow directions on the can) and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once they have boiled for 30 seconds, you can turn the burner to warm (if you have an annoying electric stove) or the lowest gas setting. Then go take a shower or get dressed. Do not desert the oats. Check in once in a while to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot. You probably will have to add more. I add water, even when cooking with milk, give it a quick stir, and go put on my makeup. By the time I’m ready for breakfast, the oats are done perfectly.

2. Cook two servings at once, following the instructions above. Eat one serving, and put the other one in a covered container. If you are covering the container with plastic wrap, make sure the wrap touches the top of the oatmeal to prevent milk skin from forming. The next morning, you simply pour a little milk or water into a pan and warm up the oatmeal. You cannot tell the difference in taste or texture.

Update: There are more than 95 comments so far with excellent suggestions, please browse them to learn so much more!

From the comment sent in by Jan: Before you got to bed, put a half cup of steel cut oats and cover with water. The next morning, drain the water, add milk (or cook in water) and bring to a gentle boil. Takes about 5 minutes to cook. Best suggestion yet!

Don’t reheat in the microwave, you will be eating dense, chewy little rubber bullets. Mix in dried cherries, fresh raspberries, or cut up crystalized ginger. Add sugar, honey, or syrup. Or just eat it plain.

You might also enjoy: Bulgur Wheat: Side dish, Main dish, Salad

–Image: Quinn McDonald.

Quinn is a writer and certified creativity coach.
Follow Quinn on Twitter.

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105 thoughts on “Steel Cut Oats: Worth the Time?

  1. Landed here on a seach for new ways to make tasty steele cut oats. I cook mine in unsweetened almond milk. They taste great with a bit of brown sugar and fresh cinnamon. I didn’t read through every post, but I wanted to add the almond milk idea for the vegans.

  2. I just started eating steel cut oats after reading an old magazine article. Actor Ryan Reynolds transformed his body for a couple of films and credits a great diet and workout regimen with Steel Cut Oats.

    I love the fact that my snack cravings are curbed and I like the texture. I have found through trial and error that getting water up to boiling temp, adding oats and about 1/4 of cold water/milk and reducing heat to simmer cooks perfect oats everytime. In the meantime I shower and get ready for work.

    On workout days I like to add about 1/8 cup of protein powder as well to thicken and also sweeten the taste.

    a dash of cinnamon and honey works well too.

    Best wishes.

  3. I have cooked steel cut oats in a crock pot overnight for many years with success. Then, my crock pot broke and I threw it away. Now, when I cook the steel cut oats in a different crock pot, they are rubbery and taste discusting. So, I tried a different crock pot and they also turned out rubbery. Has any one else had this problem? I think that maybe my first crock pot was made out of better materials.

    • I’m not a friend of crock pots, finding them great to hide red-unglazed clay pots. Crock pot technology has changed over the years. They now have “fuzzy logic” ones that know how to cook grains like rice. The logic doesn’t seem to include steel-cut oats. I suggest you cook them in water for about 20 minutes at night, then cool the pot and leave them in the fridge overnight. The next morning, add milk, and whatever additions you like (fruit and nuts) and reheat. It works for me. You get good taste, and just the right texture.

  4. I make steel cut oatmeal and love it. I make 6 servings altogether each time I make
    it. I then put it into 6 -1 cup bowls and store it in the frig. until
    needed(every morning). My husband and I both eat it for breakfast every morning.
    We use 1 Tbsp. brown sugar and a handful of walnuts to make it delicious.

    • Steel cut oats do contain some plant fat, and in time it can go rancid. Kept in a dry, dark, cool place, in a glass jar (essentially air tight and moth-proof) they easily keep for one to two years. That’s just taste, I don’t know what happens to the nutritional value.

  5. I have a cookbook that suggests toasting the oats first, for flavor and cutting down on the cooking time.

    I buy a large bulk bag of oats and put them on a cookie sheet in the oven when I get home to toast them. Then it only takes about 10-15 to cook 2-3 servings in the morning. The other bonus is that toasting brings out a more nutty flavor.

    • Toasting sounds good, but the whole blog post was written because people don’t want breakfast to take 15 minutes to prepare. I’ve recently seen pre-cooked bacon in the grocery!

  6. Soak the steel cut oats in a good ale overnight. Then cook them for 4 minutes, using water or milk. Much more flavorful.

  7. I cook several days of steel-cut oats in one pot and just portion them out for the week. There is a little difference, but not enough to make it worth cooking every morning. I like them pretty firm so i don’t more than 15 or 20 minutes. If you don’t mind a mushier texture, you can also cook them in a mini-crockpot overnight, but I like mine to be a little firmer. I also add diced apples and a ton of cinnamon. A little vanilla or almond extract is a nice touch too.

  8. you do not need to cook steel cut oats. I just pour a cup of hot water over them at night and let them soak overnight. a teaspoon of agave nectar and some rasberrys. Perfect.

    • Different steel-cut oats need different soaking times. I cook mine in milk, so that eliminates the “let them soak overnight” approach. Although others have suggested it, it still sounds like a trip to the dentist to me.

  9. Oh yea I forgot to say hot or cold water. So I just add water at room temperature. I enjoy the crunch. I would like to get the unprocessed kind. I have strong jaws and teeth!

  10. Pingback: Oats « My Life at UW-Madison

  11. My recommendation on steel cut oats is to slow cook them over night in a crock pot. Elton Brown on the Food Network has a great recipe for doing this. I would get a crock pot that has a timer so you can cook them to your liking. You can add in walnuts and dried fruit as well. I add salt at the very end before I scoop them into a bowl. Elton mentioned its better to add salt at the very end of the cooking process. Check the Food Network’s recipe listing at their web site for Steel Cut Oats (Elton Brown). This way you can get going right away in the morning and just prepare them before you go to bed.

    Instant Oatmeal has nothing on Steel Cut Oats. They are an absolute treat.

  12. The thermos method works very well for me. 4 portions boiling water to one portion oats. Put hot tap water in the thermos for about ten minutes or so to preheat it.

    In the morning it’s generally warm, not hot. I like mine a bit warmer, so I briefly nuke it. Adding some chopped dried apricots and walnuts gives it some added flavor and texture.

    One fun aspect is that the oatmeal just slides out of the thermos, and cleaning it is simple, as the oats don’t stick to the walls of the thermos.

  13. I don’t cook my steel cut oats. I just put them in a bowl with agave nectar and cinnamon cover with boiling water and stir. I let it sit for about a min then cover with soy milk and eat. Yum.

    • You aren’t eating steel cut oats, or you have steel teeth. Covering real steel-cut oats for a minute with boiling water will not soften them. Maybe yours are partially processed.

      • My bag says “Steel Cut Oats” They are chewy for sure. But I like them that way. I bought them at Whole Foods. I have a friend who eats them raw in her cereal. She does not cook them at all. They are not partially processed.

        • My steel cut oats are as hard as gravel, and soaking them for a minute in boiling water just makes them into hot, wet gravel. Must be the different brands.
          As long as you can chew them–enjoy them!

      • I dont cook them. Place in a bowl and add water. Quic cook steel cut from Trader Joes. Where do I buy unprocessed steel cut?

        • That word “quick” is a code word for “lack of flavor.” Real unprocessed steel-cut oats need soaking or cooking. As I don’t know what state you are in, or what country, I can’t help you finding a location to buy them. You might want to ask at organic markets, large grocery stores, or specialty stores in your area.

  14. Is anyone who’s been reading this diabetic? I’ve not yet tried steel cut oats because rolled oats made my blood glucose skyrocket in the morning. I used to love eating oatmeal and miss it dearly. I’m just curious if anyone has any experience as to whether or not steel cut have spiked their levels like rolled oats do. Many thanks in advance for any input!

    • I’ve checked with the official site of the American Diabetic Association: http://www.diabetes.org/ and found various anecdotal reports. Because the forum posts vary widely, from people who say that oat bran lowers their blood sugar, to people saying oatmeal AND oatbran spike theirs, this is a questions to ask your dietician or doctor. This post was really about cutting down the time in cooking steel cut oats, and I’d hesitate to let unverified reports pass as advice here.

  15. The best way is to put them in a rice cooker and they are done in 15-20 minutes and you don’t have to worry about them at all! Use 1/2 cup oats & 1 cup water for 2 servings.

  16. The way I cook my steel-cut oats is as follows:
    4 cups water
    1 cup steel cut oats
    1 teaspoon sea salt
    Add these 3 ingredients to the crock pot, put it on low and cook about 4 hours or until liquid is absorbed. I do look in and stir them 2-3 times during cooking so it doesn’t look foamy on the top. This makes enough to serve my family for about 2-3 days. I keep it in the fridge and we just heat it in the microwave the next morning and add whatever toppings we each like.

    • This is about what I do. I used 3 cups of water, 1 cup of whole milk, and 1 cup of steel cut oats. I put in the crock pot for about 4 hours and then put it in the fridge. The next morning, we scoop out 1 cup portions, top with crumbled brown suger, cinnamon, 1 tsp. butter, and a splash of milk. Reheat on high for 1 minute. Delicious!

  17. hey, rose lady: i love steel cut oats, too! have cook those babies in a veggie/rice steamer with water for about 30 mins or so. delish. i also top my yogurt and fruit with a handful……..yum!!! wendy

  18. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s SO much easier to clean up after cooking steel cut oats. With rolled oats, you get that gluey substance on the pans and bowls that has to be soaked and scrubbed away, but with steel cut everything washes up normally. I make a batch of four-five servings at a time and then have oatmeal for breakfast all week…and I haven’t noticed any change in texture when microwaving leftovers; they come out perfect after two or three minutes. I use agave syrup as a sweetener and whatever fruit I have on hand – usually bananas that are over-ripe. Or I skip sweetener, add a little salt and put a fried egg on top.

  19. I am an avid HATER of traditional oatmeal!! I “finally” tried steel cut oats this week and can’t BELIEVE how good they are!! We bring 4 cups of water and 1/4 tsp of salt to a boil. Put 1 cup of oats in, turn the heat off and let it sit overnight and they’ll be ready in the morning. We put brown sugar, butter and cream in our individual bowls and it’s YUMMY! Steel Cut Oats has made me a believer!

    • Steel-cut oats taste entirely different than flat oats. It’s amazing. Like a totally different thing. The combination of brown sugar, butter and cream would make a boot taste yummy. It’s amazing on steel-cut oats.

  20. Maybe you should try and see how Jamba Juice makes their breakfast oatmeal. Very good and they have to slow cook many servings at one time.

  21. I’ve got one of those wide mouth thermos bottles that holds a pint. 4 tablespoons of the oatmeal, 2 tablespoons of dried mixed fruit, then top it off withn boiling water is my formula. By the time I get to work it’s good to go. A little sugar or sweetner don’t hurt. It keeps my cardiologist happy (well, not so mad at me).

  22. Just cook them in the microwave for 5 minutes in water. Then add salt (stir into the oats until the texture is consistent), top with fresh berries (especially raspberries and/or blueberries) and drizzle with honey. Bon appetit!

  23. I have to tell you, after our coaching session, I told some friends about your fifteen minutes of fame re: your “Steel-cut oats: Are they worth the time?” article, and my friends laughed, and then someone said, “So…..ARE they worth it?”

    So I guess I’m gonna have to give ’em a try.
    :^D

    • You certainly have enough suggestions in these comments to cook a different version for a year! And yes, they ARE worth it. The texture is firm and nutty, and the taste is wonderful!

  24. I didn’t have the time to read through all 25 posts… but if you have a Trader Joe’s store in your area they sell and excellent Frozen Steel Cut Oatmeal. Takes about 3 minutes to make – I usually add berries or honey & it’s really good for a quick nutritious breakfast!

  25. My favorite way to eat steel cut oats is: soak in raw milk in the fridge overnight, then cook until hot with an occasional stir while I’m stumbling around getting ready in the morning. Adding frozen blueberries is a treat, especially mid-winter when I can only dream of fresh picked fruit. Not everyone has or wants access to raw milk, but I find that both the flavors of the milk and the oats are accentuated when cooked together. With or without a small handful of dried or frozen fruit, it is divine!

  26. For microwave cooking at work I use 1/4 oats, 3/4c hot water from the coffee machine tap. Cook 3 minutes at 40% power and 2 minutes at 20% power. This keeps it from overflowing my bowl. I cover and let sit for a few minutes and stir.

      • I’ve been cooking steel cut oats in the microwave at work for a year now. (Coach’s Oats from Costco) I use 1/3 c oats, add 1 c water from the coffee pot and cook at high for 2 minutes – in a 9 cup microwave bowl so it doesn’t spill over. Usually add raisins, walnuts and a bit of brown sugar since I can store them at work – for a treat I’ll bring in fresh blueberries. After reading these posts I’m wondering if they could be even better – but I can’t beat this convenience.

  27. I have the Quick Cooking Steel Cuts oats from Trader Joe’s, and they cook up in 5-7 minutes while still tasting “real”.

  28. Question – if you soak the grains overnight then pour off the water in the morning, are you losing vitamins and minerals down the drain?

    • Probably. Most of the suggestions actually soaked the grain and then cooked it in the soaking water, milk or juice. Saves it all, but even cooking destroys some vitamins. We normally get those in other places, though. –Q

      • What if we don’t pour off the water, but boil the oats in the same water? Will that retain the nutrients?

        • Depends on the brand of oats. Some oats need some rinsing. I’ve found insect parts in some brands. Boiling also destroys some nutrients, but since I love steel-cut oats, I give ’em a quick rinse, let them soak in milk overnight, refrigerated, and cook for 10 minutes or less and they are done.

  29. If you have a crock-pot you can combine the oats and water and let the crock-pot do the work. Just place the setting on the lowest level and turn them on before you go to bed. When you get up in the morning the oats will be ready to go. I had to experiment a few time until I got the water/oat mixture correct. I have been using this method for about 3yrs now and have yet to find a more continent way to have a healthy and hot breakfast. I also like to add some dried cranberries for sweetness and crushed walnuts to add some protein and omega 3 to my breakfast.

  30. I have a VERY small kitchen (living in New York City), and put my McCann’s Irish Steel Cut Oats on the stove, and then do the dishes (oh, to have a dishwasher!)that tend to stack up during the week. I can usually time it out, where I can make 1-2 servings in the time it takes to finish all the dishes, so I have nice, clean bowls and spoons to eat my freshly cooked oats!

  31. People who eat instant oatmeal make me feel like a sorrowful parson, watching someone slide toward eternal perdition. You don’t have to! You just don’t. I’m a recent convert to steel-cut, but the old-fashioned is much, much better than instant, and I would always just put it in boiling water and turn off the heat. By the time I was done stirring in the honey, fruit, cinnamon and so forth, it would be ready to eat. How much more instant does it need to be? I beg of you, my poor wandering lambs, don’t eat instant oatmeal.

    • Yes. Yes. Yes. There is no shortcut to good taste. Instant oatmeal is a flat, over-sugared, over-salted disappointment. Sort of like Mickey Rourke in mid-life. The tiny time investment yields such wonderful results in taste and enjoyment. -Q

  32. I too love oatmeal! I was turned on to the Steel Cut variety about a year ago, but just got around to trying them last week………OMG! The rich, nutty flavor is matchless! I too will never go back to the “Old Fashioned” oats, even though those were the only ones I could eat (hated the instant).

    Great news………I found a 5 minute version of the Steel Cuts by McCanns…..I got them at Publix. Not sure if you have that grocery brand near you, but if your in a time crunch, they’re the way to go! Nothing beats the slow cooked original Steel Cuts, but in this microwave society…….I keep a can of both on the shelf!

    • We don’t have Publix here, although my parents-in-law in Florida do. I’ve found that you can get a really good flavor from a faster-cooking product that has 8 grains in it. No wheat. “Bob’s Red Mill” is the brand. Not instant, but cooks in about 10 minutes, which is fine with me. But steel-cut oats still have my approval, and I’m sticking with all the shortcuts listed in the comments to trim the time off the original. -Q

  33. What I do is set the oats up the night before. Bring the water to a boil, add the oats. Give ’em a good stir, turn off the heat, put a lid on.

    The next morning, all you have to do is heat ’em up and eat ’em up. Steel cut oats are a favorite breakfast.

    —Many people who left comments had that great idea, too, Noel. It really works. -Q

  34. Toast them in a little butter over low heat till they browned, then add four parts water to every one part steel cut oats, a heaping teaspoon of molasses, and teaspoon of cinnamon, bring to a boil, then cover the pot and shut off the heat, let it sit for a few hours. Done. You can add raisins and sugar to taste. You don’t need a crock pot.

    —Thanks for another good suggestion. There are a lot of comments on this post, and I don’t expect you to read them all, but the crock pot got introduced when people were making suggestions that don’t need to be watched and cut down cooking time. Your recipe sounds yummy, and for those of us who are not molasses fans, we can substitute honey. -Q

  35. Wow!! I love oatmeal and have thought that instant was the best thing since sliced bread!! LOL. I haven’t journeyed out past that so I wonder if I would like “steel cut” oatmeal….i’m going to look for some and try it!! And thanks for all of the suggestions!!!

    –You’ll love steel cut oats, Alona B!

    • You’ll love them. I would barely eat regular oatmeal before. Now we are eating steel cut oats for breakfast about 1/3 of the time. My oldest child is 3 and he loves it with raisins.

  36. Has anyone tried making them with vanilla soy milk? That’s how I make my old-fashioned oats. It’s a great option for those of us with lactose problems. I would love a recipe if anyone out there has one.

    —I’ve made it with both vanilla soy milk and almond milk–the kind made from almonds, not necessarily flavored with them. I soak the oats in the milk overnight, and the next day, give it a good stir and bring to a simmer, then cook for about 5 minutes. I do this while making coffee, so the coffee and oats are ready together. –Q

  37. Try soaking them overnight for quicker cooking time.
    —That was mentioned several times already. –Q

  38. I have a fabulous slow cooker recipe for steel cut oats. You add diced apples and cinnamon and cook for a few hrs. I make a batch and freeze it in 1c portions so that I can have it for breakfast anytime. It’s still pretty good when you thaw and reheat.
    Recipe is at home but email me if you’re interested and I’ll find it.

    —I’ve gotten tons of recipes from this post. . .and have tried most of them, including one with apples, raisins and cinnamon that is to die for! -Q

  39. I have been adding 1/4 – 1/3 cup, uncooked, to my oatmeal bread recipe. It adds a wonderful crunch. Thanks for introducing me to them!

    –Sounds yummy. Do you need to add more liquid? -Q

  40. You want to make the Oats even more flavorful, Place them in an ungreased of “slightly” olive oiled fry pan for a few minutes on high, to roast them, Like nuts. It brings out a wonderful flavor when cooked in the method above.

    —Great idea! Sounds yummy. -Q

  41. I’ve also cooked them overnight in a good quality hot thermos. You add the HOT water and oats and seal, by morning there done.

    –that seems to be a popular way to make them. Are they easy to get out of the thermos? -Q

  42. I just love steel cut oats and will never go back to instant or old fashioned again, they taste like paste now..

    —It’s a great taste that’s easy to love! -Q

  43. I’ve been using a rice cooker without porridge setting. Approx 1 cup steel cut oats to 4 cups water works for me.

    But here’s where it gets tricky. 2 cups oats only needs about 6 cups water.

    Also, I find that reheating in the microwave is not so bad.

    Additions: raisins and nuts (pecans, walnuts) are great! Raisins are especially good because they plump up and add a lot of sweetness.

    –Oats and flour recipes traditionally can’t be doubled–just as you said. Raisins are yummy additions, did you add just a few or enough to have to adjust the water? Oh, and can you use milk in a rice cooker?
    -Q

  44. Instead of purchasing packaged steel cut oats for upwards of $4, I buy the bulk variety at Whole Foods for about .99 a pound.

    —Once you know you love them, and which kind you love most, buying in bulk makes a lot of sense. -Q

  45. I use a rice maker. It’s not any faster but it’s super easy and you can set the timer so it’s done whenever you’re ready to eat – even overnight so it’s ready when you wake up. Use 1 cup oats to 2 1/4 cups water. Set your rice maker to the ‘porridge’ setting if it has one. Then push the start button and forget about it till it’s done.

  46. Has anyone ever tried cooking steel cut oats overnight in the crockpot on Low??? I have a small crockpot and plan on trying it tonight. Do you think I could add raisins?

    —I’ve heard that it works. I don’t own a crockpot, so I can’t prove it. Don’t know how “small” a crockpot is, but steel oats do expand a bit when cooking. Don’t use more than 1/3 the capacity of the pot the first time. Raisins are tough, so if you are putting the whole thing together late at night, add them then. Or, put them in for the last 15 minutes or so while you are getting ready the next morning. They will plump up and get warm, but are less likely to disintegrate. –Q

  47. I’d heard of a different kind of shortcut, where you soak the oats overnight and then it is a quicker cook in the am. I’ll have to see if I can find the tip again (recipes are still in need of organizing!) or else I’ll have to write to my English chef friend again and ask her what it was: she turned out Scottish oatmeal (steel cut) in an amazingly quick period of time.

    ====> Genius! This really works. I did it last night. I used a cup of steel-cut oats, poured two cups of water over them, and put the bowl in the fridge. The oats don’t expand much, nor did they soak up all the water. I drained most of the water, poured milk over them and cooked them for about 5 minutes–perfection! The best answer yet. Thanks for letting me know! —Q

  48. I’ll have to grab some steel-cut oats next time I’m at Trader Joe’s and give them a try. I, too, am a big fan of the old fashioned, cooked breakfast cereal, but my choice has always been Cream of Wheat – and definitely made with milk. With real maple syrup added, it’s my main comfort food – eaten any time of day or night, and nearly any season.

    Though in July and August I substitute ice cream – then it’s too hot to cook, even way up north.

    ===> Are you listening Ben & Jerry? Cream of Wheat Treat ice cream–with a ribbon of maple syrup. Yum!
    -Q

    • I love Cream of Wheat, I may be up for the ice cream flavor. I, too, am very interested in these steel cut oats. Dr. Oz, and those who lose weight, rave about these oats.

      Off to grocery shop….and thinking, I might buy some Goat Milk.

      • Cream of Wheat is *very* different from steel cut oats. Texture, flavor, cooking time are all different. Ice cream flavors? You might want to ease into steel cut oats if you like ice-cream flavored cream of wheat. Try it with a fruit topping, maybe. Steel cut oats are not processed and have a natural flavor, so it might take a while to get used to them.

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