Food and Nutrition

How To Cook Steel-Cut Oats, The Anti-Inflammatory Breakfast Dietitians Can’t Get Enough Of

Emily Laurence

Photo: Stocksy/Nataša Mandić
As far as healthy foods go, oatmeal is pretty basic. It isn't mashed up and served at parties like avocados. It isn't colorful like smoothies or beet-based hummus. And it isn't ever-evolving like plant-based meat. But you know what oatmeal is? Reliable, nutrient-rich, and endlessly customizable—and these traits certainly count for a lot.

Registered dietitians' and doctors' love affair with oatmeal has been a long-lasting one for good reason. Oats benefit essentially every part of the body. Besides, similar to pasta, oatmeal's mild flavor profile makes it super versatile so you can customize it with herbs, nut butters, and other ingredients that only enhance its nutritional density.

When you peruse the oat options at the grocery store, you'll see that there are a few different types to choose from: instant, rolled, and steel-cut. Instant oats are pre-cooked and boiled so they take less time to cook. Rolled oats are steamed and pressed when they're processed. This helps them cook faster and absorb more liquid. (If you're baking with oats, this is the one to go with.) As for steel-cut oats, this type takes the longest to cook (between 20 and 30 minutes), but it's so worth it. Steel-cut oats are made by the oat groats being chopped instead of rolled. This makes their texture similar to rice, with an alluringly toasty, nutty flavor.

All three oat varieties make for a delicious and healthy breakfast. Want to give steel-cut oats a try? Detailed here are instructions of exactly how to cook steel-cut oats, recipe ideas, and the health benefits of working them into your meal rotation.

What are the health benefits of oats?

Whatever type of oats you go for, you'll be benefiting your gut microbiome, cardiovascular health, and so much more. Here are some of the biggest benefits to be aware of:

1. Oats are a good source of fiber.

A quarter-cup of steel-cut oats has four grams of fiber, a nutrient that's crucial for the body to function properly. Fiber keeps the digestive tract running properly, protects against chronic inflammation, and is also linked to keeping the immune system in tip-top shape.

2. They provide the body with energy.

Besides those four grams of fiber, a quarter-cup of steel-cut oats has five grams of protein. That means it will give your body enough energy to power through the next few hours while keeping you full.

3. Oats are full of antioxidants that fight inflammation.

Another nutrient oats are full of is antioxidants, which are linked to supporting both brain and heart health. This is because antioxidants help fight chronic inflammation, protecting the body from free radicals. We come into contact with free radicals through environmental toxins, like pollution, and over time, exposure to them can damage cell DNA. That's why it's so important to fill up on antioxidant-rich foods, like steel-cut oats.

4. They keep blood sugar levels steady.

Ever have one of those days where you feel all over the place? You're energized and in a good mood and then an hour later you just completely crash? That's not going to happen with oats. Instead, oats help keep blood sugar levels steady, which in turn will keep your energy and mood steady too.

5. Oats are good for the skin.

Steel-cut oats have nutrients that support the inner workings of the body, sure, but they also work from the inside out benefitting the skin too. This is because oats have vitamin E, zinc, and silica, which are all linked to skin health. Oatmeal is often a topical remedy for inflamed skin for this reason; it's that effective!

How to cook steel-cut oats

As previously mentioned, steel-cut oats take longer to make than instant and rolled oats, but that doesn't mean cooking 'em up is hard (it's not). Here's how to do it, step-by-step:

1. Mix your steel-cut oats with water, milk, or alternative milk.

There are a couple different options when it comes to what liquid to cook your oats in. Using water will give the oats more texture and a nuttier taste, while using milk (or alternative milk) will make the end result smoother and creamier. Either one is great—there's no wrong option here—it just comes down to personal preference.

Besides deciding what liquid to go with, you also need to decide how much you want to use. The typical liquid to steel-cut oats ratio is 2.5 cups of liquid per cup of oats. If you want extra-creamy oatmeal, add another half cup of liquid.

2. Simmer the oats.

Pour the liquid into a saucepan on the stove and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the oats and a pinch of salt, stir, and reduce the heat to low and bring the oats to a simmer, allowing them to soak up the liquid. Over time, they'll get softer and chewier. This takes between 20 and 30 minutes. The longer you cook your oats, the chewier the texture will be. Sporadically stir the oats so they don't stick to the bottom of the pan.

3. While you cook, incorporate other spices into your steel-cut oats.

While your oats are cooking on the stove, think about the flavor profile you want your meal to have and add in the spices and herbs that will help you get there. Want something warming and sweet? Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom. Prefer a savory bowl of oats? Try basil and dried sage. There's no shortage of ways to experiment.

4. Once your oats are cooked, add your other ingredients on top.

When your steel-cut oats are done cooking, pour them into a bowl. Then, add in any other ingredients you want to round out your meal. Again, this can be sweet or savory. Greek yogurt and fruit, eggs and veggies...the versatility of steel-cut oats is part of what makes them so great.

5. Save your leftovers for later.

Batch-cooking your steel-cut oats is a great idea because it means you'll have breakfast taken care of for the next couple of days. To store them, wait until they completely cool and then transfer them to an air-tight container and place it in the fridge for up to one week. You can also store your cooked steel-cut oats in the freezer, extending their shelf-life to about three months. You'll just have to give them time to thaw before reheating them.

If you need some ideas of what to pair with your oats, keep reading for some delicious ideas.

5 steel-cut oats recipe ideas

cinnamon banana oats
Photo: Fit Foodie Finds

1. Cinnamon-banana steel-cut oats

If you've never made steel-cut oats before, this is a great recipe to follow and try. The toppings are simple and tend to be crowd-pleasers: banana, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Add nut butter for extra protein and creaminess.

Get the recipe: cinnamon-banana steel-cut oats

pumpkin pie oats
Photo: Pick Up Limes

2. Pumpkin pie oats

Try this recipe once and you'll have it on repeat all fall long. Pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, vanilla, and banana are cooked right along with the oats. Flaxseeds are also incorporated, which ups the fiber and protein even more.

Get the recipe: pumpkin pie oats

how to make steel-cut oats
Photo: Indian Healthy Recipes

3. Lentil and steel-cut oats

Steel-cut oats don't have to be regulated to breakfast. Here, they're used to make a flavorful dinner jam-packed with other fiber-rich ingredients like lentils and mixed veggies. Turmeric, cumin, bay leaf, chili powder, and ginger are all integrated as well for taste and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Get the recipe: lentil and steel-cut oats

savory-oatmeals-cookie-kate
Photo: Cookie+Kate

4. Steel-cut oats and eggs

Another savory way to enjoy your steel-cut oats is by pairing them with egg and sauteed veggies, like in this recipe. Pro tip: add nutritional yeast for an unexpected hit of cheesiness.

Get the recipe: steel-cut oats and eggs

savory oats
Photo: Sweet Potato Soul

5. Steel-cut oats and sweet potato

This oat-based dish is both sweet *and* savory. Cooking the oats in vegetables broth and combining them with baked sweet potatoes, tahini, miso paste, and mushrooms add unexpected layers of flavor that hit just right.

Get the recipe: steel-cut oats and sweet potato 

Once you know how to cook steel-cut oats, the options of the meals you can create with them are truly endless—experimenting is part of the fun! Whatever you end up in your bowl, you'll be benefiting your body in a whole lot of ways. And chances are, no one will call your meal basic.

Get more healthy recipe ideas—and share your own favorites—in Well+Good's Cook With Us Facebook group.

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