Brown rice is a pretty basic food. So why is it ridiculously hard to cook it right?

My grains tend to end up in one of two sad states: waterlogged and mushy, or totally dried out and stuck to the bottom of the pot. Neither is what I’m going for. I’ve heard that using a rice cooker or Instant Pot could help me achieve rice perfection, but buying either one of those devices is out of the question (#tinykitchenproblems).

Of course, people have been cooking rice on the stove (or over an open fire) since forever. I figured there had to be a way to get it right using just a simple pot. Determined to find it, I reached out to Kelly Toups, RD, director of nutrition at the Oldways Whole Grains Council. If anyone could help me get this right, it was her.

Turns out, there are actually a couple of options that guarantee great brown rice—or pretty much any whole grain you want to cook. And they’re both easy. Here’s exactly what you need to do.

How to Cook Any Grain: The Basic Method

As I suspected, you can cook any whole grain on the stove in a simple pot. The key is getting the ratio of grains to water right. To cook 1 cup of brown rice, you’ll need 2 1/2 cups of water, according to Toups. Other grains need more or less water, so be sure to check before cooking. This handy chart has the answers.

Once you’ve got the grains-to-water ratio figured out, here’s what Toups says you should do:

  1. Bring the water to a boil. Again, measure out your water instead of just filling the pot. Adding too much could leave you with mushy grains. And adding too little will cause them to dry out.
  2. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add your grains. Toss in a generous pinch of salt. Then clamp the lid back on to keep too much heat or steam from escaping—your grains need this to cook.
  3. Turn on the timer. Most grains go wrong when they cook for too long. The only guaranteed way to avoid this tragic fate is to set a timer so you won’t forget when it’s time to check your pot. Different types of rice will cook at different rates—for example, long-grain rice cooks quicker than short-grain rice. But in general, it’s good to start checking your grains at the 45-minute mark. If there’s still some water left, put the lid back on and keep checking at five-minute intervals. They should be fully cooked within an hour. (See a list of cook times for other grains here.)
  4. Turn off the heat and fluff. When all the water is absorbed, turn the heat off and stir the rice gently with a fork. Then put the lid back on and let them sit for another 5 to 10 minutes before serving. This gives the grains some extra time to steam, so they’re light and fluffy. Avoid using a spoon for this—it’ll just mush the grains into a big clump.

What happens if my rice sticks?

Even with a timer and the best of intentions, it’s still possible for your grains to dry out and scorch at the bottom of the pot. But fret not—there’s still hope. Just turn off the heat, add a tablespoon or two of water, put the lid back on, and let the grains sit for five minutes. According to Toup, the extra liquid will create steaming action to moisten the grains and loosen them from the bottom of the pot.

Just for Heartier Grains: The Pasta Method

The standard stovetop method is pretty easy once you know what you’re doing. But for large, chewy grains like brown rice, farro, spelt, barley, or kamut, this option is even easier. (Steer clear of this method with tiny grains like quinoa or amaranth, though. It’ll just leave them mushy and waterlogged.)

Basically, you cook the grains exactly like pasta:

  1. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. There’s no need to measure this time.
  2. Add your grains and keep cooking. Just like pasta, you can let the water continue to boil.
  3. Set your timer. Keeping the water at a boil instead of a simmer means the rice will cook faster—typically about 35 minutes will do the trick. That’s a good time to start checking other types of grains as well. There’ll still be plenty of water left in the pot, but the texture should be al dente. If the grains still seem a little too chewy, check them again in another three to five minutes.
  4. Drain the grains. Dump everything into a colander just like a pot of spaghetti or ziti. Just like that—your grains are ready!

These days I alternate between the basic and pasta methods, depending on what I’m cooking. But both have worked like a charm—and I haven’t made a bad batch of rice (or quinoa, or farro, or anything else) since. In other words, it’s a whole (grain) new world.