What Are Steel Cut Oats (And How Do You Cook Them)?

Image: iStock

If you're a fan of porridge you might have seen a different breed of oats appearing on supermarket shelves: the super charged STEEL CUT OATS.

But what are steel cut oats? How are they different from regular rolled oats? And more importantly — how the hell do you cook them?

What The Hell Are They?

Steel cut oats are, simply put, the most unrefined version of oats you can cook and eat. All porridge starts out as a groat — a whole, unbroken grain. Traditional oats are 'rolled' groats, hence the term 'rolled oats'. Microwaveable oats are rolled, then chopped for easier cooking and those sachet abominations are put through some sort of blender or something I don't know. Just ignore that trash forever.

Steel cut oats are literally groats that have been chopped into smaller pieces. Super unrefined. Back home in Scotland I've seen them called 'pinhead' oats, but in Australia they're called 'steel cut oats' and they're popping up with increased regularity on supermarket shelves.

You should buy a tin.

The Differences

This isn't one of those 'organic vs regular' style differentiations. There's actually a sizeable difference between rolled and steel cut oats in taste and texture.

Rolled oats have the potential (when overcooked) to transform into a gelatinous blob. Even when cooked correctly, it tends to have a mushy consistency. That doesn't happen with steel cut oats. Compared to their rolled counterparts, they have a chunkier, almost crunchy texture. More importantly the flavour is different: nuttier, more distinct.

Given their lack of processing, steel cut oats also take longer to prepare. Microwaveable oats can be ready in three minutes in a microwave. It typically takes me around 40 minutes to make a pot of steel cut oats.

But trust me, the extra effort is worth it.


My preferred method of cooking steel cut oats can basically be summed up in a single tweet.

This tweet:

But since Lifehacker doesn't have a 140 character limit, I'll expand a little.

Steel cut oats — in my opinion — cook best with a one to four oats to liquid ratio. I begin by softening the oats up by frying them with a little bit of butter — unsalted if possible. Fry until the oats have absorbed the butter and everything smells super good.

Then start adding some water. At this point you're only adding three times the amount of oats you added. So, for easy counting: one cup of oat = three cups of water.

Bring the water to the boil then lower the heat. Let it simmer like that for around 30 minutes with the lid on. I recommend giving it a stir every 10 minutes or so. By this point the oats should be thickened up.

At this point you want to add a single cup of full-fat milk and a small pinch of salt.

Now bung the heat up a little, take off the lid and stir constantly for the next ten or so minutes.

Voila, the perfect bowl of steel cut oats.

The Toppings

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My dad eats it plain with just a little bit of added salt. My dad is a monster.

I eat it with blueberries, chia seeds, and an indulgent serving of maple syrup.

But the world's your oyster — do whatever you choose. Bananas, strawberries, honey. My wife eats it with powdered milk, walnuts, strawberries and honey. Utterly ridiculous.

Which Brand?

Oats are oats generally, but I do recommend the Red Tractor brand of steel cut oats. I also recommend avoiding Uncle Toby's steel cut variety. They advertise as taking ten minutes to cook and there's a reason for that: the groats are chopped too finely and it ruins the texture. Urgh.

Additional Tips

• Steel cut oats take a long time to cook, but the good news: they keep in the fridge. Unlike rolled oats, you can chuck them in the fridge, take them out a few days later, heat in the microwave and bam — the tast just as good, if not better than before.

• For this reason it works well as a breakfast for work. I cook steel cut oats on the weekend, bring in a massive tupperware container on the Monday, and I have breakfast for three to four days.

• The nutritional value of steel cut oats is much the same as regular oats but... they have a lower GI. You're going to feel fuller for longer when eat steel cut oats. Another good reason to jump on the bandwagon.


    Mind Blown, I thought they were just a wanky gimmick that companies charge more for!

    I prefer Quick Oats, they taste just as good and I can be at the table with a spoonful in my mouth in less than five minutes. The only difference is that they have been Par Boiled, which simply means they have been partially cooked and then dried. The trick, at least for me, is to cook them in milk instead of water, Mmm Mmm. The idea of smothering them in an "indulgent serving of maple syrup" near make me wanna upchuck.

    Last edited 06/03/17 10:53 am

    "It typically takes me around 40 minutes to make a pot of steel cut oats."

    Nope. Not sure what your morning looks like, but it's a no from me. If something in my life takes 40 minutes to get ready, it better bring me to climax.

      "Steel cut oats take a long time to cook, but the good news: they keep in the fridge. Unlike rolled oats, you can chuck them in the fridge, take them out a few days later, heat in the microwave and bam — the tast just as good, if not better than before."

    wow what a way to turn something reasonably healthy into junk food - fry it in butter then add salt, milk, and maple syrup?

    As someone how while growing up was only expose to Uncle Toby's oats, steal cut just doesn't cut it for me. I coudlnt eat more than a spoolful without gagging on it, perhaps it wasnt prepared properly, but then i don't care, regular oats with milk and a bit o sugar is divine for me.

    If your adding milk and other stuff to it i doubt that GI difference between steel cut and any other kind (besides the presweetened/flavoured types) is relevant at all, and its pretty insignificant to begin with.

    Since the ONLY real difference is taste/texture, which is highly subjective i think "But trust me, the extra effort is worth it." is over selling it a bit. Even if it only took an extra 10 minutes total i just cant see it as being worth it.

      That's because you haven't tried it.

      It's not even really like traditional oats. Its like a completely different food. It's not like the different between wholegrain bread and white bread or something like that -- it literally has a different taste and texture.

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