Genius Recipes

Weekday Steel-Cut Oats in 7 Minutes, Thanks to a Genius Shortcut

And with less mess! (Plus, all the naturally sweet ways to jazz it up.)

May 27, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

It’s 7 a.m. What I want is the strength and staying power of chewy, creamy, whole-grain nubbles of steel-cut oats. What I get is the quick-cook kind, zapped in haste at the last possible minute. If I’m lucky, it doesn’t explode in the microwave.

While I’ll never pass judgment on the panic-button sort, given how many times it’s spontaneously righted a shaky morning (or night) and tasted perfectly good, I’m nonetheless thrilled there’s a shortcut to the steel-cut oats of my dreams—one that will deliver them in a casual seven minutes instead of 30, and with more color and life than I’d ever thought to stir into my porridge before.

Steel-cut oatmeal, is that you? Photo by Anna Billingskog.

The recipe comes from Maria Speck, author of Simply Ancient Grains and our foremost expert on both making the most of whole grains and fitting them into our busy lives. Much like her shortcut polenta that I highlighted as a Genius Recipe in 2016, this technique relies on thinking ahead (we can do it!) to shave off far more time later on.

The night before you want your quick, creamy, package instruction-defying oats, simply pour boiling water over them. For extra flavor and natural sweetness, Maria adds a cinnamon stick and a handful of dried cranberries; you could infuse whatever you’d like: star anise, strips of orange peel, even a bay leaf or Parmesan rind for savory oats.

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But why do soaked oats need dramatically less active cooking time? As Maria discovered after writing to food scientist Harold McGee, grains rely more on the absorption of water than heat to cook through—and the boiling water at the beginning is a particularly good jumpstart. So by the time you’re looking for breakfast, your steeped, infused oats are just about ready to eat. (And if you don’t end up with seven minutes to cook them—no worries! You can pop them in the fridge to buy another day or so.)

Mid-soak oats. Photo by moi/Kristen Miglore

In the morning, you’ll add in a bit more liquid—here it’s milk and water, but it could be juice or stock instead—and finish cooking the oats, watching them go from just-plumped to creamy and porridgey, fast. You could keep it simple and comforting, using this basic technique to make oatmeal just the way you’ve always liked it.

Or you could follow Maria’s artful lead, adding frozen or fresh berries for brightness and tang, more dried fruit for pockets of soft, winey chew, and just a tablespoon of raw sugar for four to six servings—with the rest of the ingredients’ natural sweetness, it’s all you’ll need. Finally, the toppings: toasted pistachios, Greek yogurt, more berries, a sprinkle of cinnamon (or—you know where I’m going with this—anything you’d like).

Toppings for consideration. Photo by moi/Kristen Miglore

The speed and thrill of this recipe were more than enough to sell me—not to mention it’s one of maybe four things my daughter has been excited to eat this week—but then Maria revealed the real inspiration:

“I don’t know how it is for you, Kristen, but when I cook steel-cut oats for 30 minutes, my stove is a veritable mess,” Maria told me in the video above. “I was just totally helpless—I love steel-cut oats and they were just always boiling over.”

With the oats having done most of their cooking on their own time, the final simmer is swift and tidy. Which means, of course, the poor microwave is spared, too.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Gene naddeo
    Gene naddeo
  • StevenJC123
  • Janet Drewis
    Janet Drewis
  • Kellyhat
  • Nancy H.
    Nancy H.
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Gene N. January 31, 2021
Much ado about nothing folks....3min.,....6min.....26min how much regimentation do you have in your lives that this makes a difference? I can’t wait for the mother-ship to rescue me from this nut house
StevenJC123 January 31, 2021
I’m a huge fan of the simpler preparation, however, after trying this “genius” recipe, I'm sticking to the traditional method - here’s why:

(1) Because the theoretical 8 minutes saved are all passive (note: it STILL took me longer than 7 minutes to cook the pre-soaked oats in the AM so I believe it actually saves less).

(2) Because it requires you to engage with the recipe twice vs. once.

(3) Because it promotes/stimulates digestive activities at a time when digestive activities should be winding down.

(4) Because it locks you into having to finish/eat oats in the morning vs. being able to wake up and decide what you are in the mood for (maybe it's just fruit and nuts, maybe you want pancakes, and maybe you want to skip breakfast all together).

Yes, I know, if you change your mind you can stick half-cooked oats (that have been sitting in the temperature danger zone for how many hours???) in the fridge and engage with the recipe a third time (how much time are you now saving???)!

While I appreciate the intention behind this recipe, my vote it to veto this as a “genius” recipe and just make them in the morning, if you wish.

P.S. If I was ABSOLUTELY certain that I wanted to eat oats in the morning, and I did not have 8 passive minutes to spare, I’d just follow some of the methods others described in the comments by boiling them for a few min the night before, leaving them stove top, and either eat them in their already slightly warmed state or quickly reheat and eat!

Culinary rant complete ;-)
Janet D. August 13, 2020
Thanks Kristen,I’m such a huge fan of you. I too eat oatmeal and steel cut everyday. I do always soak them the night before but I use 1/2 oat and 1/2 steel cut with Chia and hemp. I’ve also baked them but got tired of them. I still do that if I have company that’s stays for a long stretch.
Peanut butter or Almond butter is also good. I usually toast Sliced Almonds/ walnuts and have them in a jar so I always have them on hand to sprinkle on Anything. I’ve also
cut apples and cooked it along with the oatmeal. I’ve also used Monkfruit for a little added sugar or maple syrup. Thanks for all your wonderful Genius recipes 🙏
Kellyhat June 12, 2020
I have always wanted to like oatmeal, but never have until I tried this recipe!! So very good!! Thank you!
Nancy H. June 1, 2020
Noticed that there are just a couple of endorsements for savory oatmeal - it's the best! After a lot of prodding, I finally convinced my cream-and-maple-syrup-loving husband to try it my way and now he won't go back to the sweet! After we cook the oats (Bob's quick-cooking groats), we stir in a couple of tbsp. pesto sauce, crumble in some tart Greek feta, add chopped fresh grape or sun-dried tomatoes and maybe some leftover roasted veg - really anything that you fancy would work. A somewhat similar vibe to risotto, but way healthier and SO delicious :)))
Matt M. May 29, 2020
I've got your 7 minutes beat.
Night before, boil water, add oats, cover and turn off. Oats are done by morning. Sometimes they are still warm. I make enough for 4 servings, put remainders in portioned servings in the fridge. Microwave those when ready for use.
No boil over, no extensive prep. Use residual heat for cooking.
Erika May 28, 2020
I add 1/2 t apple cider vinegar to my soaking oats to remove phytates (anti nutrients). I do this with dry beans also.
Mr A. May 28, 2020
Cooking oats of any kind works well in the microwave if one uses a lower power setting. This works because the microwave cycles on and off on frequency that represents the power setting you select. For old-fashioned rolled oats, for example, I set my cooking time at eight minutes, with a power setting at 30%. If the water and oats are in a moderately large bowl, this will cook the oats completely without boiling over. For steel-cut, set the time at about 10 minutes at 30% power. When the microwave cycles "on" it only runs for about 20 seconds before cycling off; not long enough for a boil-over to occur.
Vivian May 28, 2020
Love the recipe for quick steel oats and can’t wait to made it tonight (if I remember). I’ll just have to set a timer to remind myself. 😊
Holly May 28, 2020
I followed your directions perfectly but had to cook it 22 minutes this AM to complete it. Hmm. BUT, it was delicious with the frozen wild blueberries I substituted for the raspberries. Will definitely do this again. Really delicious!!
Dave May 28, 2020
If you're going to the trouble of doing any work the night before, why not just use a rice cooker and set the timer for a 6AM finish ? I use a "Z" machine and add 2 cups of SC Oats, 1 TBSP of cinnamon, 1 Tsp of Turmeric, 2 TBSP of Brown sugar, generous handful of raisins (or dried cranberries, apples or cherries), mix well and fill the inner pot to the highest mark (5+). Set the machine to "porridge", set the timer for desired finish time, and enjoy in the morning. Add more fruit (fresh or dried), milk and even Greek Yogurt if desired before serving. Leftovers can be refrigerated and quickly reheated in your microwave. This provides 6-8 breakfasts for us.
Mrmcintire May 28, 2020
I cook steel cut oats overnight. Bring liquid to boil (I use equal parts almond milk and water) with 4:1 ratio to oats. Pour oats into boiling liquid and cook for one minute. Cover with tight-fitting lid and turn the heat off. Let sit for 8-10 hours. Liquid is fully absorbed. You can then store it in the fridge for easily a week. Best part is EASY cleanup of the pan!
Gene N. May 28, 2020
Bob’s Red Mill....sold everywhere....makes a quick cooking (7 minutes) steel cut oats.
They’re great!
leslie May 28, 2020
Yes! And I have his rolled oats as well (12 minutes including 2 minutes standing). But I am a Scots traditionalist and eat my oats salted, with butter and milk.... none of that sweet stuff (sugar and fruit) for me.
Leesat May 28, 2020
Thank you for sharing this recipe and loved the sweet video with your daughter as the star. I'm excited to try this as I LOVE steel cut oats. I think I'll try it with cinnamon, cardamon, dates, and maybe some maple syrup for sweetener. Coconut milk might be interesting to try too. Thanks so much!
piggledy May 28, 2020
What a great idea! I usually fix ours in the rice cooker, and time it to be done at 6 am, but this sounds like it may be a game changer. I’ll do this tomorrow evening, and see if it is any different. Thanks for the idea! It is so nice to find little tweaks that make things better. I so prefer the rice cooker oats to my husband’s last minute oats cooked in a bowl in the microwave. I agree with Philip M., whole oats are good, too. I sometimes use half steel cut and half whole oats. It is possible to buy 25# bags of Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats, for an excellent price at WINCO or at a restaurant supply. Or, if you live in Portland, at Bob’s Red Mill. I also agree with those who like a savory oatmeal, it can be a bit like congee. Yes, we really do like our oats!
kelly May 27, 2020
I have never had to cook steel cut oats for 30 minutes. I eat them almost every day for breakfast. It takes more like 15-20 minutes to cook them, depending on if I am paying attention to them. Usually I am getting dressed while the oats cook. I stir in a spoonful of almond butter and slice a banana, add some oat milk and breakfast is served
Philip M. May 27, 2020
This is nothing new. When my father would eat thisas a youngster, he taught us to add water to whole oats, not even partially cut oats, and soak overnite; no different than whole beans that need soaking overnite. Then add what you want in the morning, and cook over the stove. It was real quick. Try buying whole oats, completely round grains, and hold back eating steel cut oats, and see if you like that better. It's worth the experience.
Matt M. May 29, 2020
Look for oat groats.
Philip M. May 27, 2020
This is nothing new. When my father would eat thisas a youngster, he taught us to add water to whole oats, not even partially cut oats, and soak overnite; no different than whole beans that need soaking overnite. Then add what you want in the morning, and cook over the stove.
@withgrace June 8, 2020
Agree. I was surprised by Maria's comments about developing this method. It's been on the McCann's website for years and is truly genius. See:
Elizabeth G. May 27, 2020
If you're going to be doing this overnight, then this method is a lot more complicated than the general overnight method. Boil about 4 cups of water, add in a cup of steel cut oats, and cook for 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the heat and go to bed. The next morning, your oats are done and all you need to do is heat them up, either on the stove top or in a microwave. Significantly less time than this method, and still no risk of them boiling over.
Peaches May 27, 2020
Growing up with an anti-oatmeal mother I'm a recent convert to oatmeal for breakfast. I've only done baked before (from NYT recipe), so am looking forward to trying this method too.
Lucille F. May 29, 2020
Love baked oatmeal. I have made baked oatmeal with steel cut oats and rolled oats. I especially love pumpkin baked oatmeal with a crunchy almond topping!