What Are Steel-Cut Oats?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Steel cut oats

Westend61 / Getty Images

Over the last century, steel-cut oats have been a breakfast staple, often laden with fresh or dried fruit, cream, brown sugar, or butter. But before it was just a morning food, steel-cut oats could be had at any meal, often with a savory topper such as sauteed mushrooms, steamed greens, and sausage. No matter how it's eaten, steel-cut oats are a healthy, hearty, and easy to make dish that comes in a shelf-stable can or box for easy access. 

What Are Steel-Cut Oats?

Steel-cut oats come from chopped whole oat groats, the inner kernel of the inedible hull of the grain stalk. They get cut into pinhead-sized pieces that help give cooked steel-cut oats a courser texture than rolled oats. The name steel-cut oats comes from the steel blades used to process the food, though sometimes the ingredient also comes under the moniker Irish oats, coarse oats, or pinhead oats.

Porridge has been a popular food for centuries, and it is often a type of oatmeal. Chances are, steel-cut oats were the only type of oats available eons ago. In fact, quick oats weren't introduced until 1922 when Quaker Oats debuted the first. Scotland, Ireland, and Britain have been known for their oats and were some of the first peoples to make porridge. Today, steel-cut oats are still called porridge in those countries, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Finland, and Scandinavia. Oatmeal is a popular name in the United States and Canada. 

Steel-cut oats are hailed as a hearty, healthy, and inexpensive food that people all over the world eat, both as a breakfast staple and for other meals. The dish, once cooked, can be topped with almost anything from sweeter ingredients like brown sugar, raisins, and fresh berries to savory goodies such as cheeses, salt, and pepper, roasted chicken, spinach, and more. 

How to Use Steel-Cut Oats

The best way to prepare a cup of steel-cut oats is to bring 3 or 4 cups of water to boil. The amount of water depends on how thick one wants the oatmeal to be; less for richer, more sticky oats, and more for thinner, easier to stir oats. Once the water boils, add the cup of steel-cut oats, stir, and reduce the heat. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to finish the dish and it's best to start tasting it at the 20-minute mark until it's the desired consistency.

Steel-cut oats are not commonly used in baking for items like oatmeal cookies since the tough oats won't cook through without first being boiled. They can be cooked in the oven, in a slow cooker, or in a pressure cooker.

Getty Images/OlgaMiltsova 
Getty Images/haha21 
steel-cut oats
Getty Images/OksanaKiian 
steel cut oats
Getty Images/haha2 
steel-cut oats
Getty Images/sbossert 

What Does It Taste Like?

The overall flavor profile of steel-cut oats proves a bit bland, but not in a bad way. There are subtle nutty hints and a grainy undertone, but the dish is a lot lighter in flavor than say barley or wheat. A lot of the actual flavor oatmeal gets comes from the ingredients on top. More than taste, the most prominent aspect to steel-cut oats is the texture, which is mushy and sometimes a bit lumpy. The exact texture will depend on how long the oats are cooked and how much liquid is added.

Steel-Cut Oats Recipes 

The best part about oatmeal is adding toppings to it in order to create a sweet or savory masterpiece. But first, make sure to master cooking a great bowl of steel-cut oats. 

Where to Buy Steel-Cut Oats

Sourcing steel-cut oats isn't hard since they are found pre-bagged or boxed in many large and specialty grocery stores. Some of the most common packaged brands include Mccann's Steel-Cut Irish Oatmeal, Bob's Red Mill Steel Cut Oats, and Arrowhead Mills Steel Cut Oats. Some spots, such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other shops that feature bulk foods have them available to purchase by the ounce. 


It's easy to store steel-cut oats as long as there is a cool, dry place to put them. Some brands come in convenient cans that seal easily after opening, but if the food is bagged it's best to put it in an air-tight container after opening. Steel-cut oats will keep a long time if stored this way, up to two years. They can also be stored in the refrigerator if your kitchen is especially sunny or warm.

Nutrition and Benefits 

Aside from the ease of cooking steel-cut oats, eaters revel in the nutritional aspect. A serving of steel-cut oats contains essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, selenium, folate, and zinc and enough fiber to make up about 15 percent of the daily nutritional suggestion. There's also plant protein, iron, and resistant starch, something that's known to help regulate blood sugar. 


There's not a lot of variety when it comes to steel-cut oats—it's all from the same plant, prepared the same way and features cut pieces of the oat groat. But there are different names steel-cut oats can be called depending on where they are being eaten. In the UK, steel-cut oats are often called porridge, whereas in Ireland the names Irish oatmeal or pinhead oats is used. Scottish oatmeal is not the same thing. Though it comes from the same plant, this oatmeal is stone ground.