Oatmeal is healthy, inexpensive, and as versatile as it gets. It's a satisfying morning breakfast that's filling without being too heavy. We love oatmeal because you can make a large batch, but personalize each bowl to your mood or what's in your pantry: brown sugar and cinnamon for a cold winter day, juicy stone fruit in the summer, or even cheese and a soft-poached egg for a savory twist.
Here's everything you need to know about oatmeal, from the different varieties to tips and techniques that will help you take your oatmeal game to a whole new level! Now you have no excuse not to bring oatmeal back to the breakfast table.
What Are the Different Kinds of Oatmeal?
Oatmeal is made out of oat groats (or grain berries) that are toasted to make them shelf stable. The oatmeal section at the store may seem a bit overwhelming, but the differences in varieties really come down to how the oats are processed. Basically, the thinner the oats are rolled, the faster they cook and the softer the texture of the cooked oatmeal.
- Steel-cut oats - Groats split into a few pieces that are sometimes also called Irish oats; takes the longest to cook.
- Old-fashioned and rolled oats - Groats that are steamed, rolled, and then dried.
- Quick-cooking oats - Groats rolled thinner than old-fashioned oats so they cook faster.
- Instant oats - Goats rolled the thinnest so they cook the fastest; the softest in texture.
The Best Tips for Cooking Great Oatmeal
How you like your oatmeal can be quite subjective: some like it very creamy, while others like the oats to still retain a bit of bite. No matter how you like your oatmeal, here are some tips to make your oatmeal even tastier — try toasting your oats first for extra-deep flavor, use a mix of steel-cut and rolled oats for great texture, and remember to resist the urge to stir while the oatmeal is cooking so it doesn't turn mushy.
Speed Up Steel-Cut Oatmeal
Since steel-cut oats go through minimal processing, they do take the longest to cook. Speed up the process by starting the oatmeal the evening before, or try our method for making steel-cut oats in just 30 minutes!
Conquer Your Morning with Make-Ahead Oatmeal
Oatmeal is the perfect make-ahead breakfast; making a big batch doesn't require much more effort and time than a single serving, and you can make one batch at the beginning of the week and eat it for a few days.
Make oatmeal in individual servings in jars for the ultimate in convenience, or put together your own flavored instant oatmeal packets to save both time and money. Freezing cooked oatmeal is a great way to make it last even longer, and you can even freeze it in single servings that you heat and eat as needed.
4 More (Non-Stovetop) Methods for Oatmeal
Don't want to turn on the stove and stand there stirring a pot of oatmeal in the morning? No problem! Delicious oatmeal can be made in the oven, slow cooker, or rice cooker. Or give the original no-cook oatmeal dish, muesli, a whirl — all you have to do is soak oats, dried fruit, and nuts overnight.
Brown sugar, dried fruit, and nuts are requisite oatmeal toppings, but there are so many other fun options out there. Try roasted fruit, espresso powder, chocolate chips, or chia seeds to make breakfast a lot more fun and interesting.
Remember that oatmeal is not inherently a sweet dish. Think of it as a savory porridge and all the toppings that can go on it: cheese, bacon, soft-cooked eggs, and even a drizzle of soy sauce and Sriracha to break up the sweet breakfast monotony.
One final tip: If you love steel-cut oats, and the old-timey tins they come in, save them and reuse them as fun storage around the house!
(Image credits: Christine Gallary; Emma Christensen; Faith Durand; Kimberly Hasselbrink/The Year in Food; McCann's)