Life School
Life School
How To Cook Grains 🌾📓

How To Cook Grains 🌾📓

This post is 778 words, a 3 min and 6 second reading time. It is the third lesson of Simmering, Steaming, & Poaching (How to Boil Water II). It is also a part of the MaxF Meal Prep Collection.

📍 Introduction: 

Knowing how to cook grains is an invaluable skillset worth having in your back pocket. When you memorize the main principles of cooking grains, you can: 

  • Buy in bulk & store grains in containers without instructions. 

  • Save money. Pre-cooked/frozen grains are marked up significantly. 

  • Get into a flow. Savor the experience of cooking without referring to directions frequently.

There are three primary approaches to cooking grains - simmering, steaming & boiling. Each method hydrates & cooks the grains. They vary in the way they approach temperature, water & time. 

☝️ The 3 Primary Cooking Methods:

  1. Simmer: Creates porridge consistency. Recommended method for oatmeal, polenta/grits & quinoa. Requires regular attention & stirring.  

  2. Steam: Creates tender & fluffy consistency. Best for brown & white rice. Requires a snug lid & careful measuring of water. 

  3. Boil: Best for hearty grains (e.g., barley, farro). Requires some monitoring. Mesh sieve/fine strainer required. 

🧂 Ingredients: 

  • Grain 

  • Water or stock 

  • Salt (optional)

⚙️ Gear:

  • Stockpot & lid 

  • Fine mesh sieve (optional) 

✅ Instructions: 

Simmering Method: 

  1. Bring water to a boil.

  2. Slowly pour in grain and reduce heat to a gentle simmer (e.g., steady & gentle "champagne bubbles") 

  3. Occasionally taste and add water if necessary (e.g., to thin porridge & avoid scorching). 

  4. Stir occasionally until water is absorbed by the grain and desired consistency is achieved. 

Steam Method:

  1. Bring water and grain to a boil over high heat.

  2. Reduce to medium-low for a gentle simmer.

  3. Cover, and simmer until liquid absorbed.

  4. Turn off heat and let rest covered for 10 minutes; fluff with a fork.

Boil Method:  

  1. Boil a pot of water and add salt so that you can taste it (e.g., light seawater flavor).

  2. Add grains.

  3. Bring to a low boil and taste every ~5-10 min until done (~10-30 min). 

  4. When desired tenderness is reached (e.g., al denté), drain in a fine-mesh sieve/strainer. 

  5. Return to pot, cover & rest for 10 minutes.

  6. Fluff with fork & serve.  

📓 Grain Cooking Reference Guide 

📝 Notes Tips & Tricks


  • Most grains (and especially rice & unwashed quinoa) benefit from being rinsed before cooking. This removes debris & dust, making for fluffier, cleaner-tasting grains.  

  • To rinse, put grain in a bowl, cover with water, swish around with your hands, then pour the water off. Repeat until the water runs clear, then pour through a strainer.

  • Grains typically expand ~2-3x when cooking. A typical serving size for a side is ½ cup cooked, and thus ~¼ cup dry. For a grain bowl, assume 1 cup cooked, so ~½ cup dry. 

  • For added flavor, cook with broth (e.g., chicken, vegetable). Alternatively, for a quick hack, use part of a bouillon cube (like these). 

  • Salt & seasoning is personal, but a rough guide is ½ teaspoon salt per 1 cup uncooked.  

  • Stirring spoons: if using a nonstick pot, do not use a metal spoon as it can scratch the surface. If using plastic, ensure it is sufficiently heat-proof, or it may melt. Wooden & silicone are recommended. 


  • If the grain is too al denté: return to a covered pot to "carry-over" for a few min. To soften further, add some water, cover, and place on a low flame for 5-10 min. 

  • If the grain is overcooked (e.g., mushy): spread it out in a single layer on a plate or sheet tray to accelerate cooling and evaporation. 

  • A mushy outside & tough interior means that the grain is not fully cooked and needs more time. It may be the result of cooking too hot/fast. Better to cook more slowly at a lower temp.  

  • For fail-proof results, consider investing in a rice cooker. They work for all grains, including oatmeal. Reduce water slightly (e.g., 1:1 for rice) because little water is lost. 

Serving & Storage: 

  • To meal-prep a grain for multiple purposes/flavor profiles, keep flavorings to a minimum during cooking & dress the grains before serving. 

  • Popular dressings/additions include: chopped herbs (e.g., parsley, cilantro, dill) or nuts, olive oil, salt, lemon, cheese.

  • Storage: grains last ~4 days refrigerated in airtight containers. Use the sniff test to know when they have gone bad. To prevent sticking, add a drizzle of olive oil. 

  • To freeze, let grains cool and then pack in airtight containers. They keep for ~4-6 months. 

  • For meal prep, consider the size of the storage container. Double portions work well for small households. 

🛍 Purchasing Recommendations

🎓 Further Study


✏️ Did you like this lesson? Loved it! ⭐️ · Pretty good 🤷‍♂️ · Could be better 😐

🎧 Prefer to listen? Subscribe on iTunesSpotify, or Overcast.

🎳 Lesson Team: Michelle Tandler (Research) & April Word (Expert Chef)

🍳 Want to learn more? Check out the Table of Contents.