How to Cook Oatmeal on the Stove, in the Instant Pot, and More

It’s time to perfect your go-to bowl of oatmeal.


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A creamy, warm bowl of oatmeal to kickstart the day is one of life’s simple pleasures, and it can be cooked in a variety of easy ways, even enlisting the help of your favorite kitchen appliances. But if you haven’t made much oatmeal, or if you’re still trying to perfect it, getting the ratio of oats to liquid just right can seem daunting. The general consensus seems to sound a lot like this: “I don’t want it to be mushy,” or “It’s not creamy enough/thick enough/loose enough.” The truth is, the consistency of oatmeal itself is mostly a personal preference. Some prefer a thick and creamy mixture, while others enjoy a loose and milky option. Play around with how much liquid you add while cooking, and remember that as oatmeal rests, it thickens, and you can always pour in a bit more milk of your choice to loosen the mixture. 

To cook a quick and creamy bowl of oatmeal, old-fashioned rolled oats, sometimes just called rolled oats, is often the way to go. The oats are flat, quick-cooking, and absorb a good amount of liquid as they cook. They retain their shape and have a slight chew. However, some prefer the bite and heartier texture of steel-cut oats—aka Irish or Scottish oats. Steer clear of instant oats if mushy oatmeal is what you’re trying to avoid.

Unless otherwise mentioned, the tips below for how to cook oatmeal use old-fashioned rolled oats. Feel free to use all water or all milk of your choice (dairy or non-dairy), or a mix of both water and milk. 

How to Cook Oatmeal on the Stove

Making a pot of oatmeal on the stove is incredibly simple. You’ll have to stir often, which is a low lift since rolled oats cook so quickly, but if you’re using all milk for a super-creamy result watch the pot closely to make sure there are no spills. 

  1. Bring ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats, ½ cup milk of your choice, ½ cup water, and a small pinch of salt to a boil over medium-high in a small saucepan. 
  2. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring often, until thickened and oats are tender, 5 to 8 minutes. 
  3. Remove from heat and set aside for about 2 minutes to thicken, if desired. Add a splash of milk and toppings as desired.

How to Cook Oatmeal in the Microwave

It really couldn’t be easier to cook oatmeal in the microwave and it’s a shortcut worth taking for a speedy breakfast with no pot to clean. Cooking oatmeal in the microwave yields tender oats and a creamy bowl of comfort. There is no sacrificing texture or flavor, and it’s done in minutes. To avoid an overflowing disaster, make sure to use a good size cereal bowl. Too often, good oats are lost in the process when mugs or small bowls are used. 

  1. Combine ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats, ½ cup milk of your choice, ½ cup water, and a small pinch of salt in a medium microwave-safe bowl. 
  2. Microwave on HIGH until thickened and oats are tender, 2 to 3 minutes; stir before serving and set aside to thicken, if desired. Add a splash of milk and toppings as desired.

How to Cook Oatmeal in the Instant Pot

For all Instant Pot devotees, this one is for you. It takes just as long to cook oatmeal in the microwave, but because the Instant Pot needs time to release the pressure it actually takes longer to cook than the stovetop or microwave method. Although it doesn’t quite cut the cooking time in half, using the Instant Pot to cook oatmeal becomes a great option if you’re making oatmeal for more than just one or two people, or if you want to make a big batch to keep in the refrigerator for the week (see below for six servings). Plus, there is no stirring at all involved, so you don’t have to watch and stir a pot. 

  1. Stir together 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, 3½ cups milk of your choice, 3½ cups water, and a pinch of salt in an Instant Pot.
  2. Lock lid and turn steam-release handle to sealing position. Select the “Pressure Cook” setting and cook at high pressure for 2 minutes. (It will take a few extra minutes to come up to pressure). 
  3. Carefully quick release the pressure. Remove the lid when the pressure has fully released. 
  4. Serve with a splash of milk and toppings, if desired.

How to Cook Oatmeal in the Air Fryer

Is there anything an air fryer can’t do? Cooking oatmeal in an air fryer is a great excuse to use the countertop appliance, and might become your go-to way to cook oatmeal if you’re already leaning on the device to whip up meals. It’s a hands-off method to make oatmeal in a set-it-and-forget-it kind of way.

  1. Preheat the air fryer to 300 degrees.
  2. Lightly coat a 1-quart baking dish with butter or cooking spray. 
  3. Mix 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, ¾ cup milk of choice, ¾ cup water, and a small pinch of salt until well combined.  
  4. Carefully place the baking dish into the air fryer basket and cook for 15 minutes. 
  5. Carefully remove the dish from the basket. Stir and set aside for 2 to 3 minutes to thicken. Serve with a splash of milk and toppings, if desired.

How to Cook Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats are processed differently than rolled oats, which is why they take longer to cook. This oat is processed by chopping the whole oat groat so it looks more like a grain than the flat rolled oat you might be most familiar with. The result is still a creamy bowl of oatmeal, yet with more texture and bite than a bowl made with rolled oats. Because steel-cut oats take longer to cook, it’s worth making a bigger batch to serve 4 to 6. 

  1. Bring 1½ cups milk of your choice, 1½ cups water, and a pinch of salt to a boil over medium-high in a large saucepan. 
  2. Stir in 1 cup steel-cut oats. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and oats are tender, about 25 minutes. Serve with a splash of milk and toppings, if desired.

Oatmeal Recipes

Wake up your oatmeal routine with these six irresistible yet easy recipes. 

Tropical Instant Oatmeal Mix

Tropical Instant Oatmeal Mix
Victor Protasio

Keep a batch of this instant oatmeal mix on the counter for easy, breezy mornings. Many ready-made oatmeal mixes are packed with lots of sugar but are low on mix-ins. This easy DIY instant oatmeal mix features coconut, mango, pumpkin, and chia seeds for a bright and nourishing breakfast.

Big Batch Morning Glory Baked Oatmeal

Baked Oatmeal
Greg DuPree

The beauty of baked oatmeal is that it can soak up flavors better than stovetop oatmeal, it can be sliced and served, and it’s perfect for feeding a crowd. The addition of eggs not only helps to hold the mixture together in a delightfully fluffy way, but also renders a pudding-like texture. 

Berry Baked Oatmeal

Berry Baked Oatmeal
Victor Protasio

Can’t get enough baked oatmeal? Try this berry-studded version. All it takes is 15 minutes to assemble, and the oven does the rest of the work. Serve this for brunch at home, or make it to enjoy throughout the week. A major bonus, use whichever berries you have on hand, even frozen.

Savory Oatmeal With Spinach and Poached Eggs

A savory oatmeal with egg and spinach is the breakfast you didn’t know you needed in your life. Get the recipe for Savory Oatmeal With Spinach and Poached Eggs.
Greg DuPree

Oatmeal doesn’t have to be sweet. For those who prefer a savory breakfast or a cozy, nourishing bowl of something warm for dinner, this savory oatmeal is one to try. Cooking the oats in the skillet with the onions gives them a risotto-like texture, while Parmesan adds a touch of umami and richness. A handful of fresh spinach that subtly wilts on top with the heat of the oatmeal and jammy poached eggs makes this savory oatmeal a satisfying and balanced meal. 

Maple, Pear, and Pecan Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oats

Two bowls of maple, pear, and pecan steel-cut oats displayed on a table with two spoons.
Brie Passano

If you’re looking for more ways to use your slow cooker this is one breakfast recipe you don’t want to miss out on. Creamy oats are sweetened with maple syrup and spiced with ground ginger and cinnamon for an autumnal bowl of comfort. Simply set it and forget it and wake up to a nourishing breakfast. 

Make-Ahead Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bars

Make-Ahead Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bars
Jennifer Causey

Technically, this recipe is not a warm bowl of oatmeal, but it is an energizing breakfast bar worth making immediately. Old-fashioned rolled oats are mixed with nut butter, maple syrup, nuts, and dried fruit for a tasty bar that makes a convenient grab-and-go breakfast.

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