What Are Steel-Cut Oats?

A Guide to Buying and Cooking Steel-Cut Oats

A bowl of uncooked, steel cut oats.

The Spruce/Bahareh Niati

Steel-cut oats are hailed as a hearty and inexpensive food that is eaten all over the world, mainly as a breakfast staple. Known as porridge in certain countries, they are easy to make, and once cooked, can be topped with both sweet and savory ingredients. Steel-cut oats are sold in shelf-stable canisters or boxes and are readily available at supermarkets and online retailers.

Fast Facts

  • Also Known As: porridge
  • Enjoyed As: hot breakfast cereal

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 are cut into pinhead-sized pieces by steel blades (hence the name), which helps give cooked steel-cut oats a courser texture than rolled oats. Steel-cut oats are also known as Irish oats, coarse oats, or pinhead oats.

Since quick oats weren't introduced until 1922 when Quaker Oats debuted their version, steel-cut oats were most likely the only type of oats available until then. Scotland, Ireland, and Britain are known for their oats and were some of the first cuisines to include porridge. Today, steel-cut oats are still called porridge in those countries, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Finland, and Scandinavia, while they are referred to as oatmeal in the United States and Canada. Keep in mind that Scottish oatmeal is not the same; though it comes from the same plant, this oatmeal is stone ground. 

Steel-cut oats remain to be a breakfast staple, often topped with fresh or dried fruit, cream, brown sugar, or butter. But before it mainly made its appearance as a morning food, steel-cut oats were enjoyed at any meal, often with a savory topper such as sauteed mushrooms, steamed greens, and sausage.

Steel-Cut Oats vs. Rolled Oats

These two types of oats differ when it comes to the manufacturing process, cooking time, taste, and texture, as well as how they are used in recipes. Of all of the varieties of oats, steel-cut oats are processed the least, leaving much of the bran intact, resulting in a coarse texture. Rolled oats, on the other hand, are flatted during production, making the oat soft, flaky, and able to absorb more liquid than steel-cut.

Because of these processing differences, the cooking time for each style of oat varies; while rolled oats may take five minutes to make, steel-cut needs nearly half an hour on the stovetop, and benefits from a long, slow cooking time. The result is that rolled oats have a soft, somewhat mushy texture while steel-cut oats are firm. Steel-cut oats also retain more of their nutty flavor compared to rolled oats.

Although both types of oats are used to make a warm breakfast cereal, they are incorporated into different types of recipes when cooking and baking. Steel-cut oat's texture makes it ideal for adding into rice dishes or as a binder for meatloaf, whereas rolled oats are used in cookies, breads, and other baked goods, as well as in fruit crisps.

How to Cook With Steel-Cut Oats

The best way to prepare a cup of steel-cut oats is to add them to boiling water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. The ratio of oats to water is 1 to 3 or 4 cups. The amount of water depends on how thick you want the oatmeal to be; use less for richer, more sticky oats, and more water for thinner, easier-to-stir oats. Once the water boils, add the cup of steel-cut oats, stir, and reduce the heat. Start tasting it at the 20-minute mark and cook until it's the desired consistency, which can take up to 30 minutes. The exact texture—which can range from firm to slightly mushy to lumpy—will depend on how long the oats are cooked and how much liquid is added. Steel-cut oats can be cooked in the oven, in a slow cooker, or in a pressure cooker.

Once made into a porridge, the oats are topped with sweet ingredients like brown sugar, raisins, and fresh berries or savory toppings such as cheeses, roasted chicken, and spinach. This type of oat is not commonly used in baking oatmeal cookies since the tough oats won't cook through without first being boiled.

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What Do They 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 barley or wheat. The actual flavor of a bowl of oatmeal often comes from the ingredients mixed in and on top.

Steel-Cut Oats Recipes 

Once you master cooking a perfect bowl of steel-cut oats, you can have fun adding flavors and new textures with sweet or savory additions and toppings.

Where to Buy Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats can be found in canisters or boxes in many large and specialty grocery stores. Some of the most common packaged brands include Quaker Oats, Mccann's Steel-Cut Irish Oatmeal, Bob's Red Mill, and Arrowhead Mills. Some stores, such as Whole Foods, Sprouts, and other shops that feature bulk foods have them available to purchase by the ounce. 


Steel-cut oats should be stored in a cool, dry place such as a cupboard or the pantry. Some brands come in convenient canisters that seal easily after opening, but if the oats come in a bag, it's best to transfer them to an air-tight container after opening. Steel-cut oats will keep up to two years when stored this way. They can also be stored in the refrigerator if your kitchen is especially sunny or warm.