Skip to main content

Get instant access to everything. 2-Week Free Trial

Make 2021 the year of “Why not?” in the kitchen with Digital All Access. Get all our recipes, videos, and up-to-date ratings and cook anything with confidence.

Get Free Access ▸

Everything You Need to Know about Cooking Whole Grains

By Keith Dresser Published

A perfect pot of tender-chewy grains is the foundation for an abundance of dishes.

Wide selections of whole grains, such as wheat berries, spelt, and kamut, are becoming more common at supermarkets and online—and that’s great news for cooks. Whole grains, or grains that have been minimally processed and still contain their bran and germ, are a livelier (and more nutritious) alternative to rice or pasta, lending a satisfying chew and earthy, nutty depth to casseroles, soups, and sides. Keep a stash of them on hand and you’ll have a wholesome base for countless dishes, from spelt salad with pickled fennel, pea greens, and mint to warm kamut with carrots and pomegranite. I selected nine varieties of hearty grains and got to work to find a simple cooking method that would suit them all.

Whole-grain cookery typically falls into two categories: the pilaf method and the pasta method. The former calls for simmering a measured amount of grains in a specific amount of water in a covered pot until the water is absorbed and the grains are tender; the latter involves boiling the grains in an abundance of water that is later drained off.

The Truth About Phytates

It’s common knowledge that whole grains are packed with fiber and protein—but they also contain controversial compounds called phytates. 

I quickly discovered that the pilaf method was frustratingly inconsistent: It worked well for shorter‑cooking choices such as einkorn, but longer-cooking grains such as triticale turned out uneven. Because the kernels soaked up most of the liquid early in the cooking process, only those that fully hydrated at the start softened completely, while those that didn’t initially absorb enough liquid remained firm.

While we've provided recommendations, free to swap in your favorite whole grain in any of the recipes below.

The pasta method offered significant improvements. With a full 2 quarts of boiling salted water in the pot, the liquid could penetrate the grains evenly from all sides, softening them uniformly. Plus, since the large volume of water allowed the grains to absorb water more readily than the small amount of water used in the pilaf method, these grains cooked faster. And for even speedier results, a pressure cooker is the way to go: Using one reduced the cooking times by at least 50 percent.

One more thing: If you have the time (and the forethought), it’s a good idea to soak the raw kernels overnight. In addition to speeding up the cooking time, this step helps prevent blowouts. A bag of grains is likely to contain kernels with different moisture levels, and soaking equalizes the amount of liquid in each grain, so they stay intact during cooking.

Guide to Whole-Grain Cookery

This chart contains all you need to know to cook some of our favorite hearty whole grains. The grains featured here are largely interchangeable—while we’ve provided recommendations in the recipes here, feel free to swap in whichever grain you have on hand. The recipes can be scaled up by increasing the amounts proportionally. The cooking times will remain the same.

*Note that pressure cooking is not recommended for einkorn and soaked emmer, as they cook too quickly.

 

STOVETOP METHOD

Rinse and drain grains before cooking. Bring 2 quarts water to boil in large saucepan. Stir in 1 cup grains and 2 teaspoons table salt. Return to boil; reduce heat; and gently boil until tender, following times given. Drain well. Spread on rimmed baking sheet and let cool for at least 15 minutes before using.

 

PRESSURE-COOKER METHOD

Rinse and drain grains before cooking. Combine 1 cup grains with 1 quart water, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (this helps prevent foaming), and 1 teaspoon table salt. Bring to high pressure over high heat. (If using a multicooker, select high pressure-cook function.) Reduce heat to maintain high pressure and cook following the times given. Remove from heat and allow pressure to drop naturally, about 10 minutes. Check for doneness. If grains are still firm, return to simmer and cook until tender. Drain well. Spread on rimmed baking sheet and let cool for at least 15 minutes before using.

 

STORAGE: 

Store raw grains in the freezer. Cooked grains can be refrigerated for up to two days or frozen for up to three months.

 

SOAKING (optional, reduces cooking time):

Cover the grains with water and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours.

 

Recipe Wheat Berry Salad with Radicchio, Dried Cherries, and Pecans

A perfect pot of tender-chewy grains is the foundation for an abundance of dishes.

Recipe Spelt Salad with Pickled Fennel, Pea Greens, and Mint

A perfect pot of tender-chewy grains is the foundation for an abundance of dishes.

Recipe Warm Kamut with Carrots and Pomegranate

A perfect pot of tender-chewy grains is the foundation for an abundance of dishes.

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.