Kitchen 101: A Quick Guide to Cooking Whole Grains

Breakfast around here is pretty standard; cracked wheat bagels, bowls of spelt or oats, maybe the occasional *exotic* quick bread or muffin baked with other flavorful flours. But lately, for our other meals we really try to incorporate other grains; maybe corn tortillas for lunch, rice bowls for dinner and big leafy green salads with helpings of quinoa, farro, or barley tossed in. I’ve experimented more and more with cooking -and baking – with a variety of grains because I’m 100% confident that this isn’t just more interesting for our palates or my interest in adventuring through food; it’s good for our bodies, our nutrition, and is easy on our lifestyle and wallet as well. So, we’ve been substituting farro for rice, quinoa for pasta, and tossing millet, or barley into warming bowls of porridge. We feel good, every meal feels more interesting and tastes different with these new ingredients! I look forward to sharing some of these new concoctions with you in the coming weeks, and this little guide is all part of that.

If you walk into any well-stocked grocery store or market, you’ll have a whole cornucopia of grains available to you….all with different flavors, textures, and qualities that are not only nutritious, delicious, and (if food is your bag as it is mine,) exciting. Quinoa, barley, farro, rice, bulgur, millet…even the different types of quinoa! And rice! There are so many possibilities its mind-boggling. And, unfortunately, so too can be the different techniques, cooking times, and preparations for each.

I’ve pulled together this little Whole Grain Cooking Guide originally to organize myself in the kitchen. I’m sharing it with you here hoping that it will help you as a quick reference for how to cook each grain, as well as to give you ideas for where to use them. Most often, we use a rice cooker to cook whole grains which makes mixing them up even more easy. Sometime after breakfast, I typically toss a large batch of quinoa, rice, farro, barley, whathaveyou into our rice cooker with the recommended amount of water and a pinch of salt. I hit the start button, go about my business and the grains are usually ready in time for lunch and especially in time for dinner. (If you don’t already own a rice cooker, I love this model but even a $20 version will do the trick. I can’t recommend buying one enough.) I recommend cooking grains in large batches; they’ll keep for 3-4 days refrigerated in an airtight container. So, I’ll use some of that big pot of quinoa in our salad for dinner, I’ll mix a bit into my porridge for breakfast the next day,  and use the rest to make a quinoa skillet bread later in the week. This way, with just a few moments of forethought (and some passive cook time in the rice cooker) you have a super-nutritious ingredient at the ready for your whole week. A freed up chef is a more adventurous chef and with the added convenience of a rice cooker, I’ve found that I’m more likely to try new and different grains because the cooking is self-monitored and I can basically fire and forget. (Which, buys me more time to bake and experiment with whole grains…more on that soon though.)

Regardless of whether you’re using a rice cooker, for the most part, cooking whole grains is similar to cooking rice; you put the grains in a dry pot, add an amount of water or broth, bring to a boil and cook until the liquid has been absorbed. The amount of time it takes to cook the grain depends on the grain, and this is something to consider when picking which grains to work in to your cooking repertoire; quinoa, rice and oats cook fastest and we use these a lot. Farro, barley, spelt and the like take a little longer (but this will bother you less if you can toss them in a rice cooker and forget about them!) If you do choose to use a rice cooker, always use the same amount of water you’d use if you were cooking grains in a pot, and you can expect about the same amount of cooking time, depending on your rice cooker model. The recommended amount of water, and the anticipated cooking time for each grain is listed below. Remember, the value of a rice cooker isn’t faster cooking. The cooking time for the grains might be the same, but the difference is you needn’t babysit the cooking process.

A Little Bowl of Whole Grain

In the guide below, I’ve given you cooking directions, cooking times, and applications for some of my favorite grains to work with — there are a whole slew more but these make their way into my kitchen most often. These directions apply if you’re making grains on the stove in a pot, or in a rice cooker. For the most part, they grains themselves are interchangeable; you could make any salad recipe on this site or on your brain with spelt, farro, quinoa or bulgur….but the different grains will add their own “ness” to the recipe itself. Some of the grains listed below must be soaked overnight; this pre-soaks fully hydrates the grains and ensures that they’re very easy to digest. I’ve listed some of my favorite recipes and applications for each as well with the hope that this guide becomes a resource in progress. I’ll update it as I add recipes to the site, and grains to the repertoire. And, I’ll back later this week with a fast new way to look at risotto (using farro!)

Are you already cooking whole grains? Do you have any other favorite grains that you use regularly? Any favorite recipes you can share? I can’t wait to hear and see how you are incorporating these tasty, different grains into your repertoire! – xo L

Grain type

Add this much liquid

Bring to a boil, then simmer for:


This grain is great (in):

1 c. Barley, hulled 3 cups liquid 45-60 minutes 2 cups in place of farro, rice or spelt
1 c. Farro 2 1/2 cups liquid 25-40 minutes 3 cups  Roasted Winter Veggie + Farro Hash
1 c. Millet, hulled 2 1/2 cups liquid 25-35 minutes 4 cups Creamy Vanilla Millet Porridge
1 c. Oats, steel cut 4 cups liquid 30 minutes 3 cups Absolutely Perfect Apple Date Multigrain Porridge
1 c. Brown Rice or Jasmine Rice 2 1/2 cups liquid 25-45 minutes (varies) 3 cups Everynight Squash + Apple Curry
1 c. spelt
4 cups liquid soak overnight then
cook 45-60 minutes
3 cups use in place of rice, barley, pasta or farro
1 c. Wheat berries 4 cups liquid soak overnight then
cook 45-60 minutes
2 1/2 cups  use in place of rice, barley, pasta or farro
1 c. Sushi Rice 2 cups liquid 25-30 minutes 3 1/2 cups Carrot Sesame Yaki Onigiri