How to Cook Oatmeal

A hot bowl of oatmeal can come in many forms, from quick-cooking oats to steel-cut oats cooked in a slow cooker. Check out three ways to cook oatmeal plus a bevy of flavor boosters.


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The Scottish were growing and eating oats centuries ago, even when the English were only feeding them to livestock. This was because oats were so well suited to Scotland's cool, rainy weather and short growing season. When the Scottish settled in Vermont, they brought oats along, but the groats required soaking and cooking, so oatmeal was not exactly a convenient breakfast. Today oatmeal is a popular and healthful anytime meal -- in fact, January is National Oatmeal Month and the time of year when the most oats are purchased.

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Shopping for Oats

Oats go through a process where they are cleaned, toasted, and hulled before they are suitable for eating. After this, they are called oat groats. From here they are processed to create the following options.

  • Rolled oats: Also called old-fashioned oats, rolled oats are steamed and flattened with large rollers into flakes (shown above). They take about 5 minutes to cook on the stovetop (some brands take longer).
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  • Quick-cooking rolled oats: These oats are cut into pieces and rolled thinner (shown in the bowl above) so they cook in about 1 minute on the stovetop (some brands take longer).
  • Instant oats: These oats are precooked and dried before rolling, so they can be rehydrated by adding boiling water.
  • Steel-cut oats: Also called Irish oats, Scotch oats, or pinhead oats, steel-cut oats are cut into several pieces and steamed but not rolled. They offer a chewier consistency. They take about 25 minutes to cook on the stovetop, or they and can be cooked in a slow cooker (directions below).

Oats for Your Health

While oats have a variety of healthful attributes, including unique antioxidants that are thought to help reduce cardiovascular disease, they are also a whole grain that offers a good source of fiber. One serving of oatmeal (1/2 cup dry) has about 4 grams of dietary fiber and 2 grams of soluble fiber. According to the Mayo Clinic, 10 grams or more of soluble fiber per day helps decrease your total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Since almost all forms of oats contain the bran, endosperm, and germ, they are equally nutritious.

How to Make Oatmeal with Rolled Oats

  • Stovetop: For four servings, in a medium saucepan bring 3-1/4 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to boiling. Stir in 2 cups rolled oats (old-fashioned). Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat. If desired, cover and let stand for 2 minutes before serving. This allows the oats to absorb any remaining liquid.

Tip: For creamier oatmeal, add the oats to the pan along with the water and salt.

  • Microwave: For one serving, in a medium microwave-safe bowl combine 1 cup water, 1/2 cup rolled oats, and a dash of salt. Microwave on 100 percent power (high) for 2-1/2 to 3 minutes. Stir before serving.

How to Make Oatmeal with Quick-Cooking Oats

  • Stovetop: For four servings, in a medium saucepan bring 3-1/2 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon salt to boiling. Stir in 2 cups quick-cooking oats. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat. If desired, cover and let stand about 30 seconds before serving. This allows the oats to absorb any remaining liquid.

Tip: For creamier oatmeal, add the oats to the pan along with the water and salt.

  • Microwave: For one serving, in a medium microwave-safe bowl combine 1 cup water, 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats, and a dash of salt. Microwave on 100 percent power (high) for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes. Stir before serving.

How to Make Oatmeal with Steel-Cut Oats

  • Stovetop: For six servings (2/3 cup each), in a large saucepan bring 4 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to boiling. Stir in 1-1/3 cups steel-cut oats. Cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes or until the oats are just tender and the liquid is nearly absorbed.  
  • Make-ahead directions: Prepare as above. Place cooked oatmeal in an airtight container and chill for up to 3 days. Place 2/3 cup chilled cooked oatmeal in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, covered with waxed paper, on 100 percent power (high) for 50 to 60 seconds or until heated, stirring once.
  • Slow cooker oatmeal: In a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker combine 6 cups water, 2 cups steel-cut oats, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 7 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 3-1/2 hours. (Shown above topped with dried fruit.)
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Flavor Boosters

Add these toppers to cooked oatmeal.

  • Sweeteners such as brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, or agave syrup
  • Dried fruit such as tropical fruit bits, chopped dates, dried cherries, raisins, currants, dried cranberries, snipped dried apple slices, and/or snipped dried apricots
  • Fresh blueberries, sliced bananas, and/or sliced strawberries
  • Chopped nuts, including pecans, hazelnuts, walnuts, or almonds
  • Shredded or flaked coconut
  • Milk, half-and-half, Greek yogurt, vanilla yogurt, almond milk, rice milk, or soy milk
  • Pumpkin butter or
  • Cinnamon applesauce
  • Sprinkle of ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, or apple pie seasoning
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