What Are Steel Cut Oats?

And how are they different from rolled oats?

February 08, 2023

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Dry Organic Steel Cut Oats Ready to Cook

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Dry Organic Steel Cut Oats Ready to Cook

Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

You might be familiar with steel cut oats in your morning bowl of oatmeal. This versatile, heart-healthy grain goes way beyond breakfast. But what exactly is it? Here, we break down the difference between steel cut and rolled oats, share our ideal oats-to-water ratio and give you our best sweet and savory steel cut oats recipes.

What Are Steel Cut Oats?

Steel cut oats are toasted groats (whole, husked oat kernels) that have been cut into two to three pinhead-size pieces with steel blades. Steel cut oats are also known as Irish oats, pinhead oats or coarse oats. Steel cut oats are rich in fiber, including high levels of soluble fiber which has been shown to help lower cholesterol.

Steel Cut and Rolled Oats

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Steel Cut and Rolled Oats

Photo by: Michelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

Michelle Lee Photography/Getty Images

Steel Cut vs Rolled Oats: What's the Difference?

Both steel cut and rolled oats start out as whole oats, with the grain and husk intact. But their manufacturing process differs, which yields different cook times, taste and texture. Both steel cut and rolled oats are used to make oatmeal, but beyond breakfast, their distinct taste and texture make them better suited to different cooking applications. Here are the main differences between steel cut oats and rolled oats.

  • Manufacturing process: Once the husk is removed, the groats are cut into two to three small pieces with steel blades to make steel cut oats. To make rolled oats, the groats are steamed and flattened between heavy rollers.
  • Taste: Steel cut oats have a nutty flavor, whereas rolled oats have a mild, toasty oat flavor. After rolled oats are steamed and flattened, they’re dried in a kiln to add flavor and to deactivate a naturally occurring enzyme in the oat that can break down fats into fatty acids (the fats can cause the oats to taste rancid).
  • Water ratio: Since steel cut oats are unprocessed, they require more liquid to cook. A 1/4 cup of steel cut oats requires 3/4 to 1 cup of water whereas a 1/4 cup of rolled oats needs 1/2 cup of water.
  • Cook time: Steel cut oats also take much longer to cook than rolled oats (or any other type of oat). Steel cut oats can take up to 40 minutes to cook on the stovetop and require frequent stirring. Rolled oats only need to be stirred occasionally and take about 5 minutes to cook on the stovetop. Steel cut oats can be cooked overnight in a slow cooker, but the stove top method yields maximum chewiness.
  • Texture: Steel cut oat’s unprocessed nature gives them a coarse, chewy texture when cooked, whereas cooked rolled oats have a creamier, softer texture and a smoother consistency.
  • Culinary applications: Rolled oats tend to be better for baking than steel cut oats. Steel cut oats can’t be used in most baking recipes because they don’t soften in a batter or dough.
  • Purchasing: It’s best to purchase a quantity of steel cut oats you know you’ll use within a month. Because steel-cut oats aren’t heat treated like rolled oats, the enzyme that causes fast spoiling isn’t deactivated. So, if they sit around too long, they’ll smell and taste rancid.

For a primer on different types of oats, check out What Are Rolled Oats?.

Detailed close-up image of steel cut oats, shown to reduce cholesterol when eaten for breakfast daily.

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Detailed close-up image of steel cut oats, shown to reduce cholesterol when eaten for breakfast daily.

Photo by: HQPhotos/Getty Images

HQPhotos/Getty Images

Are Steel Cut Oats Gluten Free?

Yes, steel cut oats are gluten-free. Under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s gluten-free labelling regulations, oats are considered a gluten-free grain. However, since oats are often processed with other grains, it’s best to check packaging for certified gluten-free labelling if you’re gluten-sensitive or have celiac disease.

Steel Cut Oats to Water Ratio

The ideal steel cut oats to water ratio is 1/4 cup oats to 3/4 cup water. If you prefer your cooked oats to have a runnier consistency, bump up the water to 1 cup.

Recipes for Steel Cut Oats

To ensure a creamy consistency and reduce cook time, this recipe calls for soaking steel cut oats overnight in milk. In the morning, the oats are gently simmered with salt and cinnamon sticks and stirred frequently till softened. Adding vanilla, currants and sugar during the final simmer lends a creamy, sweet finish.

Photo by: Armando Rafael

Armando Rafael

Steel-cut oats make an ideal blank canvas for your morning bowl of oatmeal. Here, toasted almonds and juicy blueberries cooked in butter team up to give basic oatmeal a toasty crunch and jammy flourish.

Weeknight Cooking (Healthy_Light_Etc)

Photo by: RYAN DAUSCH

RYAN DAUSCH

This recipe is proof that steel cut oats can lean savory, too. Their hearty texture stands up to simmering in chicken stock. It provides a sturdy, flavorful base for crisp prosciutto and poached eggs, all pulled together with a toasted garlic-tomato sauce.

Food Network Kitchen's Corn and Oat Risotto For Whole Grains as seen on Food Network

Food Network Kitchen's Corn and Oat Risotto For Whole Grains as seen on Food Network

Photo by: Stephen Johnson ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Stephen Johnson, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Steel cut oats aren’t just for breakfast. Here, they step in for Arborio rice to form the foundation of this homey, heart-healthy take on risotto. Try topping it with grilled shrimp or blackened catfish to complement the sweet, fresh corn kernels studded throughout.

Typically, steel cut oats don’t work in baking recipes, but this savory whole grain bread recipe is one of the exceptions. Steel cut oats are a natural complement to whole wheat flour and flax seed, and give the loaf a nutty flavor and chewy texture.

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