5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking Any Grain

published Jan 14, 2016
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

It’s always the simplest foods that end up throwing you a curve ball, and grains are the quintessential example. Thanks to their versatility, they make it into most meal plans — that pot of rice you make on the weekend working its way into lunches and dinners throughout the week.

But even if you’ve made quinoa a thousand times, there’s still that one day you burn it, over-salt it, or cook it until it’s a mushy goo. Here are five mistakes to avoid so you never lose out on the perfect pot of grain.

1. Not adding salt when cooking.

When it comes to seasoning, think of cooking grains the same way you would pasta. Without adding salt to the water, expect a pot of flavorless, bland grains.

Follow this tip: As with pasta, generously salt the water before cooking your grains. It will elevate the natural flavor of the grain, and leave it tasting not so bland.

2. Treating all grains the same.

Not all grains are created equal. While they all have the same general cooking process, one size does not fit all. Cook times as well as liquid-to-grain ratio can vary from grain to grain, so what works for one grain might not work for another.

Follow this tip: Before stepping in front of the stove, make sure you’re using the right liquid-to-grain ratio, and have your timer set for the right cook time for the specific grain you’re making.

3. Cooking grains over high heat.

High heat is not a catch-all cooking temperature — and it especially doesn’t work when preparing a batch of grains. Cooking continuously over high heat causes too much of the cooking liquid to evaporate during cooking, which leaves the grains undercooked.

Follow this tip: To ensure evenly, well-cooked grains, once the mixture comes to a boil, lower the heat and continue cooking the grains at a simmer.

4. Not covering the pan during cooking.

Covering the pan during cooking is a simple (and important) step — one that may seem small and insignificant enough to skip over it. And if we’re being honest, I bypassed covering the saucepan with a lid for a long time. Thankfully after many a batch of undercooked grains, I’ve learned my lesson.

Follow this tip: After the liquid in the pan comes to a boil, cover with a lid as you reduce the heat to a simmer. Keeping the pan covered prevents excess water from evaporating, which gives you tender, evenly cooked grains.

5. Overcooking your grains.

While the process for cooking grains is similar from one grain to the next, the cook time is not universal. Cook times can vary based on the grain and even the age of the grain.

Follow this tip: Keep an eye on grains as they cook — especially if you’re trying something new. For well-cooked grains, keep them over the heat just until soft and tender.

What are your best tips for cooking grains?