Perfectly thick, fluffy bowls of oats are well within your reach.
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Despite being one of the oldest and most pervasive breakfast foods, oatmeal has gotten a bad rap over the years for being a sticky, stale, and undeniably unglamorous dish. One of the main culprits behind oatmeal’s fall from glory is the pre-portioned, artificially flavored oatmeal packets that account for many people’s only encounters with homemade oats.

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For most starter cooks, graduating beyond those dusty paper packets can be a big moment in their kitchen career. And while saving a little time in the morning by relying on those single-portion packets doesn’t seem like such a crime, you’re robbing yourself of the true flavor and nutrient potential of oatmeal that’s been made from scratch. While packaged oatmeals usually contain high amounts of sugar and artificial ingredients, oatmeal in its essential form is a healthy whole grain that is high in protein and soluble fiber, which can potentially help lower cholesterol.

The good news is that making oatmeal from scratch is a super simple process, and once you’ve nailed it a few times you’ll never have to rely on a recipe again. Just like learning to boil pasta or make a perfect pot of rice, mastering the art of stovetop oatmeal will open you up to a world of sweet and savory possibilities. You’ll quickly discover that perfectly thick, fluffy bowls of oats are well within your reach and require minimal effort.

While there are many potential ways of preparing oats—from Instant Pot Oatmeal to the Pinterest-friendly overnight method, no method will give you as much control over this humble ingredient than cooking it on your stove.

The first step in the oatmeal-making process is choosing the right kind of oats for your needs. We’d recommend skipping the quick-cooking variety and sticking to the classic rolled oats or steel-cut options for the best possible results. Though steel-cut oats will take longer to prepare than the old-fashioned rolled, this toasted variety of oats will result in a slightly chewier but still-creamy texture that’s well worth the wait. Depending on the type of oats you select, the liquid quantities and cooking methods vary slightly, per the instructions below.

Rolled Oats

For every cup of rolled oats you’re preparing, use 2 cups of water, milk, or a combination of the two. Combine your oats and liquid together in your pot and begin cooking over medium-low heat. Stir the oats frequently, bringing the pot to a simmer, and allow the oats to cook for 3-4 minutes until they’ve softened and the mixture has begun to thicken. Then, mix in the flavor additions of your choice—butter, sugar, salt, spices, etc.—and let the oats continue cooking for a couple minutes until they’ve reached your desired consistency.

Steel-Cut Oats

When preparing steel-cut oats, it’s best to use water as your liquid base—milk can be added at the end for extra creaminess—adding 4 cups of liquid for every cup of oats you’re preparing. Rather than combing the water and oats prior to heating, bring the water to a full boil before adding your oats to the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-low, allowing the oats to cook at a simmer for 20-30 minutes. Stir the mixture occasionally, and if all the liquid has dissipated before your oats are fully soft, add a small amount of water or milk to the pot, cooking until the mixture has reached a perfectly creamy consistency.

Once your stovetop oats have been prepared, then you can get adventurous with the seasonings and toppings, playing around with flavor combinations like Banana Nut Oatmeal and Chai Oatmeal. For a fun seasonal twist, try cooking your oats in apple cider, which will infuse some classic sweet fall flavors into your breakfast.

Whether you opt for a simple cinnamon and sugar mixture, or play around with some adventurous savory oat combinations, breaking free from the paper packet and learning to prepare oats from scratch will bring you one big step closer to being a master home cook.