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How to Make the Best Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a comforting, nutritious breakfast any time of year and lucky for us it’s simple to make! That said, I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of gluey, bland oats and … life is just too short.

So today I’m excited to share my tips and tricks to ensure you always have truly superior oatmeal at your breakfast table.

What's the Difference Between Steel Cut, Rolled, and Instant Oats

Choose the Right Oats

In my cookbook Whole Grain Mornings, I talk about oatmeal and the importance of choosing the right oats.

Here’s the lowdown: all oats begin as a whole grain oat groat. If you’ve ever cooked farro or barley, an oat groat bears a close resemblance.

But once the oat groat is cracked, rolled, and sometimes steamed, it transforms into one of the versions we’re more familiar with: steel cut oats, rolled oats or quick cooking oats.

  • Steel Cut Oats: Occasionally marketed as Irish or Scottish oats, steel cut oats are made when the whole oat groat is chopped into tiny pieces. These are my favorite oats to use for oatmeal as they yield a toothsome, chewy texture and don’t break down like other oats when cooked. (In other words: no gummy oatmeal here!) Steel cut oats definitely take the longest to cook, so they’re typically not a part of my weekday routine, but come the weekend, they’re always on the agenda.
  • Rolled Oats: Often called old-fashioned oats, these are the oats you often reach for when making a regular bowl of oatmeal for breakfast or when making oatmeal cookies. They’re made by steaming and rolling out the oat groat, so they’re flat and thin in nature and cook much more quickly than steel cut oats.
  • Quick Cooking or Instant Oats: You know those little packets of flavored oatmeal you buy in the store? Those are typically quick cooking or instant oats. These are rolled oats that have been even further processed: they’re typically pre-cooked, dried, and then rolled. These aren’t a great candidate for awesome oatmeal as they don’t hold their shape or texture well and typically end up pretty mushy.

Is Oatmeal Gluten-Free?

Oats are considered a gluten-free grain. The confusion comes in for folks with the packaging and processing of oats.

Oats are sometimes packaged in facilities that also package other grains containing gluten, in which case there could be cross-contamination. Or, when being rolled and processed, a plant could use the same machinery they use to process, say, barley or another grain containing gluten.

So if you’re extremely sensitive to gluten, it’s a good idea to be safe and purchase certified gluten-free oats, typically guaranteed to be processed and packaged in a safe facility.

Easy Oatmeal Recipe

The Best Pot for Oatmeal

Oats need a little bit of real estate to cook well, so it’s always best to use a larger pot than you think you need so they can cook in an thin layer. If you can swing this, you’ll have more of a toothsome porridge than if you used a small pot where they’re all jammed on top of one another and you have to stir more frequently (and vigorous stirring can be the enemy of delicious oatmeal).

Toast Your Oats

A common complaint with oatmeal is that it’s mushy and gluey, and I’ve certainly had my fair share of this type of warm cereal. But when I moved in with my now-husband Sam, he introduced me to the fine (and simple) art of toasting your oats in a little bit of butter before making your porridge.

This draws out their nutty flavor and also helps them keep their integrity in the hot cooking liquid so they don’t just collapse into one another. It’s the only way we do it around here.

Do this for either steel cut or rolled oats!

Don’t Stir Your Oats!

Somewhere at some point in time, people began to think that you should really vigorously stir your oatmeal and porridge. But if you do this, you will 100% of the time have gummy, unglamorous porridge.

Stirring oats (and most grains) will slowly break them down; they’ll lose their shape and delicious, slightly chewy porridge will elude you forever.

How To Make Overnight Oatmeal

Dress ‘Em Up!

True oatmeal enthusiasts have strong preferences about how they choose to top their morning oats. Traditionally, a little brown sugar or maple syrup is popular, but don’t feel limited or constrained!

Here are a few of our favorite toppings:

  • Toasted nuts like pecans, walnuts or almonds
  • Fresh sliced fruit like berries, bananas or sliced pears
  • Peanut butter, almond butter or sunflower butter
  • Chia or flax seeds
  • Dried fruit like cranberries, raisins, dried cherries, chopped dates, apricots or coconut flakes
  • Tahini or miso for a savory spin!
  • Chocolate chips (why not?!)

Steel Cut Oats in the Instant Pot stir the oats

Can You Make Oatmeal in a Pressure Cooker?

Steel cut oats cook really well in a Pressure Cooker, like an Instant Pot. Steel cut oats take anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes on the stovetop to cook, but only take around 30 minutes in the pressure cooker – plus you can get on with your morning rather than tending to the pot on the stove.

How To Make Overnight Oatmeal

Overnight Oats for Busy Mornings

For busy families or anyone with a little extra hustle in their morning, overnight oats can be a real savior. At the simplest level, you simply combine the oats and water and pop in the refrigerator overnight; the next morning, you microwave and dress up your oats (fresh berries, toasted nuts or seeds, maybe a little maple syrup) and get on your way.

How to Reheat Oatmeal

Both steel cut oats and regular rolled oats reheat beautifully! In fact, I often make a big pot on the weekends with the intention of reheating it for a few mornings during the work week.

When reheating, simply add a bit more milk or water (start with a few teaspoons and you can increase from there as needed) and warm on the stovetop over low heat (or in the microwave) until the oatmeal is warm and creamy.

More Great Breakfasts with Oatmeal!

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