Oats in All Their Many Forms

May 22, 2012

Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're talking about oats. 


All oats begin their lives as groats, before they're cut, rolled, or steamed. How the groats are processed is what determines their different tastes, textures, and yes, cooking times.

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Let’s get down to the grain and see what sets steel-cut oats, rolled oats, quick oats, and instant oats apart:

Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats 

How they're made: Groats are chopped with steel blades.
How to cook them:
Slowly! These grain take about 40 minutes over low, low heat in a pot or in a slow cooker -- this keeps them thick and chewy.
A flavor trick:
Toast them with butter in a pot before cooking them to bring out their nuttiness.
Good for:
Adding to granola.
Not so good for:
Using in baking because they take so darn long to hydrate. 

Rolled Oats

Rolled oats (or old-fashioned oats)

How they're made: Whole oat groats are toasted, hulled, steamed, and flattened to cook evenly and more quickly.
How to cook them:
In as little as 5 minutes on the stovetop (or 3 in the microwave), they're creamy and ready to eat. But due to all of the processing they go through, they lose some of the sweet, nutty flavor of oat groats.
Good for:
Baking! Cookies, rolls, granola bars, and tarts often call for rolled oats, lending baked goods of all kinds that familiar hearty, chewy texture. 

Quick-Cooking Oats

Quick-cooking oats

How they're made: Basically the same process as rolled oats, but these ones are roughly cut beforehand.
How to cook them:
Ready in literally 1 minute, these oats are built for convenience. Stir them into boiling water on the stovetop (or combine with cold water and microwave, if that's how you roll).
Make them at home:
In a pinch, quick-cooking oats can be made by pulsing rolled oats in a food processor a few times.
Good to know:
In baking recipes, if the type of oats isn't specified, quick-cooking can be used interchangeably with rolled oats. Try them in these easy-to-throw-together flapjacks

Instant Oats

Instant oats 

How they're made: These oats are cut even more finely and flattened even more thinly than quick-cooking oats, and they're pre-cooked. They're pulverized really.
How to cook them: With the addition of boiling water, these oats are ready in, well, an instant.
Not so good for: Considering the additives found in most instant oats, it's probably best to forgo them altogether -- or at least save them for your next camping trip.

A few more tips:

Oats on the run: Fortunately for those who roll out of bed and run out the door in the morning, instant oats aren't the only option. Oats can be made ahead of time by soaking the grains overnight in boiling water and heating them in the morning. Or, better yet, prepare for the week by cooking a big batch of oatmeal, storing it in the fridge, and reheating it in the microwave or on the stovetop with a little milk or water. 

Nutritional Know-How: Oats contain vitamin B, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. They also contain mineral-blocking phytates, but these can be minimized by soaking oats prior to cooking them -- hence overnight oats.

To salt or not to salt? We're pro-salt. Season oats with a big pinch of salt, similar to how you would season pasta water.

Toppings, sweet or savory: We like both. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Steel-cut oats with ricotta, pistachio, and raisins
Baked blueberry oatmeal
Overnight miso porridge
Oat risotto with peas
Oats with mushrooms (serve it with roasted chicken)

How do you like your oats?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • jpat
  • HeatherM
  • btglenn
  • GoodFoodie
  • 1natalplum
I'm Laura Loesch-Quintin, a food writer and photographer, as well as the voice behind the recipe blog gourmette•nyc. Originally from Philadelphia, I was raised in a French-American household where vinaigrette, cornichons, and clafoutis were (and still are) staples. When not cooking, writing, or photographing, I can usually be found exploring the food markets of New York City.


jpat October 30, 2012
here is a great savory oatmeal salad

HeatherM May 27, 2012
If I seasoned my oats the way I season pasta water, they would not be edible.
btglenn May 24, 2012
I use old-fashioned oats as a basis for Muesli, the Swiss cereal. Mix a half cup of dry oats with chopped nuts, raisins, and cut up fruit. I add rough-grated apples. Add a cup of milk, soy, or almond milk and let stand until the oats soften -- about an hour or so.
GoodFoodie May 24, 2012
Question about steel oats: how to add to granola? Cook, dry again then add?? Uncooked would be too crunchy, no?
gourmettenyc May 25, 2012
Good question. No need to cook and dry steel-cut oats before adding them to granola. However, your baking time may be a bit longer. And, yes, steel-cut oats will add a pleasant crunchiness to your granola.
1natalplum May 24, 2012
For my everyday oatmeal, I favor extra-thick rolled oats (available in bulk at health food stores and also from Bob's Red Mill). I dry toast 1 1/2 cups in a large saucepan, then add 2 cups of water and 1/8 tsp salt. Cook uncovered over low heat till the water is evaporated and the oats are just beginning to stick. Stir, cover and leave off heat for five minutes to release. Fluff and serve to six hungry people. These outs come out separate, like fluffy rice and are nice and chewy. Great with almond milk, fruit, nuts and maple syrup!
SophieL May 23, 2012
I love oatmeal and am always on the hunt for the best-tasting recipes and brand. I highly recommend Farm to Table, an online mail order outfit that makes the most delicious "Ultimate Organic Oatmeal." And Aarti Sequeira's Pumpkin Oatmeal recipe is yummy, made with pumpkin puree and almond milk. A nice change from steel cut oats, also a favorite.
pmporter May 23, 2012
For a lazy Sunday morning, I make steel cut oats without all that stove top stirring by pouring them into a baking dish, adding the required amount of milk instead of water, then whatever I ultimately want in my oats: brown sugar or maple syrup, blueberries fresh or dried or any other fruit -- dried apricots is good, cinnamon, vanilla, whatever I please. Bake in the oven and when it's done, in about 45 minutes, it is divine.
Miafoodie May 29, 2012
Pat, do you cover the dish and then bake in 350 oven??
WishWorks May 23, 2012
I make this up for w weeks worth of quick breakfests

2 3/4 old fashioned oats, uncooked
2/3 packed brown sugar or use half of the sweetner as Stevia
3/4 cup dried cranberries, or mix it up with raisens
1 tesp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tesp salt (optional)
3-1/3 cups milk, I use soy milk
4 egg whites or the whole egg or 1/2 cup egg substitute
1 Tbls vanilla
you can also add 1/2 cup wheat bran for more fiber
serve with yogurt and fruit for a nice change!
WishWorks May 23, 2012
It would help to tell you that you just mix it all up in a big bowl and also that the recipe needs to be baked in a 8 inch glass dish, sprayed lightly for quick release with cooking oil.
Bake at 350 F for around 60 minutes or until the center is set and firm to the touch!
Around 280 calories a serving based on 8 servings.
swent45 May 23, 2012
Look for Bob's Red Mill Steel Cut Oats from Oregon, which won the 16th Annual “Golden Spurtle” World Porridge Making Championships in Scotland in 2009.I believe they were the first non-Scottish steel cut oats producer to win the trophy. The oats have a very good, nutty taste and take about 20 minutes to cook. The company also produces a quick cooking steel cut oats, which I haven't tried.
kvass2 May 23, 2012
You missed 'Wild Oats" . A product available from Robin Hood Mills. These oats are harvest from
between the rows of wheat. Usually they are fed to livestock but some years ago the Canadian
Government offered twenty thousand dollars for a company to bring them to market. It turns out
they have a higher protein value to other oats. They are good for making cookies.
btglenn May 23, 2012
I use old fashioned oats as a basis for Muesli. The oats are not cooked, but soften in the milk added to a mixture of nuts, raisins, fruit, etc., for a tasty, healthy dish developed by the Swiss. An already boxed version (sans milk(you can use soy or almond substitutes)) is packaged as Familia, with or without sugar.
softenbrownsugar May 23, 2012
I enjoyed this article too! I don't think anyone stated anything about using oats in suet. I make homemade suet, and it calls for cornmeal and 4 cups of quick cooking oats, and since I only had old fashioned oats the last time I made suet, I was a little afraid the oats would be too tough for the birds to digest. This makes me think it doesn't matter. :o)
berkopat May 23, 2012
Which type of oats is recommended for topping a fruit crisp?
gourmettenyc May 23, 2012
Rolled oats or quick-cooking oats are best for fruits crisps.
lmiller100 May 23, 2012
Baked Blueberry Oatmeal link above is broken? (Links to Miso..., also)
gourmettenyc May 23, 2012
Sorry about that. The link is now working!
MarthaP May 23, 2012
Does anyone know if allowing a bread dough containing oats to rise overnight accomplishes the same nutritional task as soaking oats before cooking? Also, if you want to toast your oats before cooking with them, would you toast, then soak overnight? Or soak, then toast?
Christina @. May 23, 2012
Costco carries Coach's Oats, which I use for oatmeal and baking. It is different than all the above noted types of oatmeal. I think it's work adding to the list; a cross between steel cut and old fashioned? I love the texture...check it out if you go to Costco.
aquarius May 23, 2012
Good to know. What quanity must we buy?
GoodFoodie May 25, 2012
My Costco sells Quaker Old Fashioned Oats in 10 lb boxes, and we go through it! Never seen Coach's Oats.
NBrush May 23, 2012
Since I rather not have sugar or anything else sweet first thing in the morning, I've been making oatmeal mixed with scrambled eggs and white miso and cook it slightly underdone. It tastes a little chewy but works well with the eggs.
Trillinchick May 23, 2012
I poach eggs and top the oatmeal with them, allowing the oatmeal to serve as "toast" carbs. I'll have to try adding the white miso. ;-)
GoodFoodie May 24, 2012
That sounds so funky I will have to try it!
gt9 May 23, 2012
Here is a great healthy recipe for "Oatmeal on the Run" from Chris Johnson of On Target Living. Very healthy and no cooking required.
1/3 to 1/2 cup of rolled oats
1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh or frozen fruit
1 tablespoon of slivered almonds
2 teaspoons of lemon flavored cod liver oil
1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed
1/2 cup or so of almond or soy milk
1 dash of cinnamon
Place all the ingredients in a small bowl with a lid. Let it stand in the refrigerator overnight of for at least 10 minutes prior to eating. No cooking required. Fast, easy, healthy and it tastes good! Give this a try.
Lynne L. May 23, 2012
I was hoping to see an explanation of which of the various food processing companies produce a healthy oat. I have heard that some of the food companies have 'genetically altered' oats that are not a healthy option for your diet. For example, I heard that Quaker produces these 'genetically altered' oats and I should not eat this brand. In fact, what I thought was a healthy breakfast - Quaker oatmeal - is not. Which brand should I buy? How do I know who's using a 'genetically altered' oat (or groat) and who's using the real deal?
Trillinchick May 23, 2012
Please check with more than one source on the healthfulness of Quaker Oats. I have eaten the "old-fashioned" version all my life, and would be lost without it! I like it with chopped walnuts and a few chopped dried or fresh fruit bits (NOT MacDonald's sugary mush). I love it with a little Laura Schuddder's natural (crunchy) peanut butter and a tiny bit of brown sugar - a little like a warm cookie in a bowl. I only recently discovered I like a little warm dairy added. ;-)
tastelifetwice May 23, 2012
Love this article! I've used steel-cut for "Scottish oats" called for in a recipe to make oatcakes, and they didn't really come together- I suspect I now know why. Also, a recipe to add on here would be skirlie, toasted steel-cut oats sauteed with onions- good with meat or starchy dishes. :-)