Differences Between Different Kinds of Oats

Rolled oats? Steel-cut oats? Quick oats? What’s the difference?

You’re not the only person confused by all the different types of oats out there on grocery store shelves. Each is processed in a different way, and this affects the cooking method and time. Here’s our rough guide to the varieties you’re most likely to have in your pantry. They all begin as groats, so we’ll start there:

  • Oat groats are the oat grain that has been cleaned and hulled to remove the outer husk. This is the most basic, least processed type of oats, and they’re not commonly found in kitchens.
  • Steel-cut oats are groats that have been sliced into 2 or 3 pieces but not rolled. Cooking time is about 30 minutes, and they will have a chewy texture when ready to eat.
  • Rolled oats are groats that have been steamed and flattened with huge rollers to form large flakes. These are sometimes called old-fashioned oats or regular rolled oats. They take about 15 minutes to cook.
  • Quick-cooking rolled oats are groats that have been cut into several pieces before being steamed and flattened into thinner flakes. They cook in about 5 minutes. Rolled oats and quick-cooking oats are often interchangeable in recipes.
  • Instant oats are even smaller pieces of rolled oats, cut finer and rolled even thinner so they cook very quickly. These cannot be interchanged with other oats in recipes.


There may be variations in the thickness of the oat flakes from brand to brand. Remember that swapping one type for another in a recipe may completely alter the result, changing the taste, texture, cooking time and overall consistency.


The kind of oats you choose to have on hand in the pantry will depend on what you most commonly make with oats. If you do a lot of baking, rolled oats or quick-cooking oats are probably the most useful to have around, as they’re the types most commonly called for in recipes.


Regardless of the type, know that oats can and do go stale. They should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. If you’re not going to use up your oats within four months, freeze them in a sealed container.