February 3, 2023
Dust off that canister of oats and learn how to make oatmeal so good you’ll crave it every morning or any time of day.
While it’s a simple thing to do, there are a few methods, and the perfect bowl isn’t always accomplished by following the directions on the back of the container, so let’s get started!
This post covers the best cooking methods and some incredible topping ideas that will make you excited to eat more oatmeal.
The Best Oatmeal Recipe
The best bowl of cooked oatmeal will have a creamy, hearty consistency you can sink your spoon into. It’s not goopy or runny, the oat flakes are noticeable, and it can always be enhanced with your favorite toppings –you’ll find a list of them further down.
By the end of this post, your mornings of sad oats will be gone, and you’ll soon figure out how to enjoy a nutritious bowl of oatmeal just they way you like it.
*Before we get started, let me clarify that this post is centered around old-fashioned and quick-cooking instant oats. Steel-cut oats are a whole different story.
What do You Need to Make Oatmeal
Here’s what you’ll need to make that classic bowl of creamy oatmeal you can top with your favorite toppings:
- Oats: either old-fashioned or quick cooking, also known as rolled oats or instant
- Liquid: water and/or milk (dairy or non-dairy)
- Salt: just a pinch and optional to enhance the flavor.
*If using milk, make sure to only use half the amount and the rest water. Using all milk to cook the oats will make them too thick, and you’ll need to add more liquid.
How to Make Oatmeal on the Stove
The trick to great oatmeal with a nice texture and consistency is in the method ie. how you cook it.
Here is how to make oatmeal on the stovetop:
- Combine the oats, water, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. *If using quick oats, they will need to cook for only 3 minutes.
- Once the oats are thickened and smooth, remove them from the heat, and serve in a bowl with your favorite toppings.
Bonus tip: soak the saucepan with water immediately to make cleanup a breeze. No one likes a shoulder workout trying to scrape dried oat residue off its surface.
Bringing the oatmeal and liquids to a boil together will result in a creamier consistency. If you wait to add the oats until the water is boiling, the oats will be a little more textured.
Making Oatmeal in the Microwave
Cooking your oats in the microwave is a convenient option with one less thing to wash and speeds up the cooking time. Here’s how to do it:
- Combine the oats, water or milk, and salt in a medium microwave-safe bowl.
- Top the bowl with a microwave-safe plate or cover (to minimize any messes).
- Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes or until the mixture is creamy. *If using quick oats- they only need to be microwaved for 1-2 minutes.
- Using oven mitts, remove the bowl from the microwave and stir in your choice of ingredients or add-ins.
Bonus tip: keep an eye on the microwave, especially during the last minute of cooking, stop the microwave to give the oat mixture a couple of stirs to prevent the oatmeal from overflowing.
Ratio of Water to Oatmeal
The optimal ratio of water to oats is 2:1. This translates to 1 cup of water for ½ cup of oats. This is for both old-fashioned and instant oats.
Which Oats Should You Use to Make Oatmeal?
To make oats using the directions and tips above, you’ll want to stick to old-fashioned (rolled) or quick (instant) oats.
Steel-cut oats are also great to make oatmeal but have a much longer cooking time -about 25 minutes and a different water-to-oat 4:1 ratio.
Are Quick Oats and Instant Oats the Same Thing?
Quick and instant oats are the same oat. Both have been steamed and rolled very thinly and cut into smaller flakes. This thinner texture and smaller size, compared to old-fashioned oats, help them cook faster and give the oatmeal a smoother texture.
Are Old-Fashioned Oats and Rolled Oats the Same Thing?
Both old-fashioned oats and rolled oats are the same larger flattened oat flake that also has a thicker texture. When cooked, the oatmeal has a heartier texture and takes 5-7 minutes to cook.
These thicker oats, old-fashioned/rolled oats, are the best to use in all the overnight oats recipes.
How to Thicken Oatmeal
If your cooked oats are runnier than you like, there are a few ways to thicken oatmeal. Each of these options can add nutrition to your oatmeal bowl as well as enhance its flavor.
Some ways you can thicken oatmeal are:
- Protein Powder: quickly absorbs extra moisture! Stir in 1 tablespoon at a time, mix well, wait a minute, and repeat until you reach the desired consistency.
- Coconut Flour: is highly absorbent and adds extra fiber. Add 1 teaspoon of coconut flour, mix it well, and let it sit for 1 minute. Stir and check for consistency.
- Flax Meal: stir 1 teaspoon into cooked oatmeal and let the mixture rest for 2 minutes. This adds omega-3s and fiber.
- Nut Butter: a favorite! Add 1 tablespoon of any nut/seed butter to your oats and stir to combine. You should see the texture thicken after a minute. This also works with peanut butter powder.
Favorite Oatmeal Toppings
A bowl of oatmeal can be exciting to eat, and never feel repetitive when you add one of these toppings!
Some to try:
- Fruit: sliced bananas, blueberries, diced strawberries, diced apples, diced peaches.
- Protein: a dollop of Greek yogurt or scoop of protein powder (stir this one into the oats!).
- Healthy fats: any nut butter or nut-butter alternative, chopped nuts, coconut flakes, flax seeds, or chia seeds.
- Sweeteners: brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, homemade fruit syrup, chocolate chips, and even roasted strawberries!
- Spices: cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and nutmeg.
- Savory: a fried egg, roasted veggies, crispy bacon, and/or cheese!
My personal oatmeal combination: a scoop of protein powder and blueberries stirred into the mix, topped with plenty of peanut butter. It’s heavenly!
Another way to make oatmeal exciting and topping rich is by trying one of these savory oatmeal recipes.
Oats, like pancakes, make the perfect base for delicious toppings. Go beyond this list with one of these 50+ pancake toppings you can also use to top your oats!
More Ways to Make Oatmeal
Oats are one of the most versatile ingredients in the kitchen, and you can make an epic bowl of oatmeal in other ways beyond the microwave or stovetop.
Overnight oats are soaked in milk and different add-ins overnight until they turn into an irresistible breakfast you can enjoy straight from the fridge.
Baked oatmeal is in a league of its own! You mix oats with milk, eggs, honey, and some kind of fruit, and then bake the mixture for a cake-like oat bowl that tastes like dessert but is good for you.
The slow cooker method works best with steel-cut oats.
Want to try oatmeal using one of these methods and others? Start with one of the recipes below:
- Bananas Foster Overnight Oats
- Strawberry Overnight Oats
- Blueberry Baked Oatmeal
- Pumpkin Baked Oatmeal
- Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oats
- Instant Oatmeal Packs
How to Make Oatmeal
- ½ cup old-fashioned oats
- 1 cup water or milk, any
- Pinch of salt
- Greek yogurt
- Sliced strawberries
- Almond butter
- Add the oats, water or milk, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, occasionally stirring for 3 to 5 minutes or until the desired consistency is reached.
- Remove from heat and top with your choice of toppings.