What’s the Difference Between Steel Cut and Quick-Cook Oats?

Updated: Apr. 05, 2023

Navigate the breakfast aisle like a pro.

There are many reasons to love a big bowl of oatmeal in the morning. The creamy dish is filling, nutritious and a welcome warmth on chilly days.

However, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it can be tricky to buy the best oats for your morning routine. That’s why we’re breaking down two of the most common oat varieties: steel cut and quick-cook. It’s time to learn the difference once and for all.

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What are steel cut oats?

 If you ever had breakfast at Grandma’s house, you might remember her cooking up a big batch of steel cut oats. This old-fashioned variety is less processed than other types of oats. It’s made by dividing groats—which are oat kernels without hulls—into two or three tiny pieces.

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Steel cut oats take anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes to cook, but they can be made in advance and refrigerated up to a week.

When cooked, steel cut oats have a thick, chewy texture. They’re the perfect base for fresh fruit, nuts, honey or any other toppings. A ¼-cup serving of uncooked oats has about 150 calories and 5 grams of protein, plus healthy amounts of fiber and iron.

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What are quick-cook oats?

Quick-cook oats are likely a little more familiar. Like steel cut, quick oats start off as groats, but they’re more processed. The oats are precooked, then dried, flattened and chopped into pieces.

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This process makes it easy to whip up a bowl of oatmeal in mere minutes, but results in a softer, mushier texture. At the grocery store, you can find quick-cook oats on their own, but also in flavored, microwaveable packets.

Even though they’re more processed, plain quick-cook oats still retain most of their nutritional value. They contain about 150 calories per ½-uncooked cup, with 5 grams of protein. Quick-cook oats are also a good source of iron and fiber.

What’s the difference between steel cut and quick-cook oats?

The main differences between steel cut and quick-cook oats is texture. Steel cut oats absorb more liquid than their pre-processed counterparts, but they also maintain their shape. Each oat is still visible after cooking. Quick-cook oats tend to bind together, resulting in a creamy, porridge-like consistency.

Steel cut oats also take much longer to cook. They need about half an hour on the stovetop, while quick-cook oats can be popped in the microwave for a few minutes.

Personal preference will determine which oat is better for your breakfast rotation.

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Are there other types of oats?

Steel cut and quick-cook are not the only types of oats you can buy. According to the Whole Grain Council, there are six different kinds!

  • Whole Groats: The full oat kernel after it’s been cleaned and de-hulled, oftentimes used in salads, stews and pilafs.
  • Steel Cut Oats: Groats that are cut into uniform pieces with a steel blade.
  • Scottish Oats: Groats that are ground with a stone, creating different-sized pieces.
  • Regular Rolled Oats: Groats that are steamed and rolled into flakes. Ideal for baking.
  • Quick-Cook Rolled Oats: Groats that are rolled super thin, steamed longer or chopped into pieces.
  • Oat Flour: Ground-up groats that can be used in baking or as a thickener.

Psst! These are the big benefits of eating oatmeal.

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