whole food ~ well made

brown rice, barley and farro in bowls

Free Yourself with the Boiling Method for All Whole Grains

My husband, Benjamin, grew up on a wheat farm not far from our home. It’s a high plateau where you can see the tips of the rounded Blue Mountains in one direction and the toothy Wallowa Mountains in the other.

In our early days as a couple, we took tons of road trips–through Washington, Montana, Wyoming and Oregon–and his ability to identify crops at 65 m.p.h. growing in fields impressed this New England girl.

“That’s barley,” he would say glancing over his shoulder. Riding shotgun, I’d peer out the window and strain to identify seed heads in a roadside field. “Is that barley?” I’d ask.

Wheat stalks

“No, that’s wheat.”

Ah well, at least I could identify these whole grains in the bulk aisle at the store. Good thing, too, because I have an abiding love for every type of whole grain.

The Best Way to Cook Whole Grains

You name it…wheat berries, barley, farro, brown rice {short- or long-grain}, bulgur, millet, quinoa {technically a seed}, wild rice {technically a grass}… {And there’s a world of ancient grains I’ve yet to explore.}

A recipe for mushroom-barley ragout with or without wild mushrooms at
Cooked barley makes this mushroom ragout a quick weeknight meal.

But I do not like having to remember the ratio of water to grain for cooking them. Is it 2 1/2 cups of water for 1 cup of brown rice? And is that short- or long-grain?

To be honest, I can’t be bothered to even look it up. The good news is that I don’t have to. And neither do you!

Instead, I cook all of these grains just like pasta in a pot of salted boiling water. That way I can judge when they’re tender to the bite without having to measure the water.

brown rice, barley and farro in bowls
Clockwise from top left: pearled barley, long-grain brown rice and farro.

How much salt? I recommend 1 tablespoon of kosher salt in 12 cups {3 quarts} water. This is just a guideline for starters, so feel free to adjust this quantity up or down to suit your taste.

The Boiling Water Method

This boiling method takes out all the guesswork and so you never have crunchy, under-cooked or mushy, overcooked whole grains again. You’ll be able to cook any whole grain for the best shape and texture.

That’s right, you never have to remember a ratio again. And you can double the amount of grains for a crowd. I’ve used this boiling water method to make a barley salad for 100!

Curried bulgur recipe at
A quick-to-make grain bowl meal from cooked bulgur or rice.

Timing wise, it will all depend on the type of grain you’re cooking. Quick-cooked quinoa takes as little as 12 minutes, while rice will take 40 minutes or more.

They key is to start checking the grains before you think they’re done, so you can catch them when they become tender to the bite {al dente}. Here’s a guide to whole grain cooking times for your reference.

Then, drain well. But wait!

How to cook whole grains at
Cooked farro, drained, steamed and ready to use.

Reserve some or all of that cooking liquid. You can use this flavorful grain water as the basis for a soup, stew or risotto. This is the same way you can use bean water or pasta water in place of commercial stocks. You get the bonus of layering flavor at no extra cost with no extra packaging.

Boiling water method for the win!

There is one little step to make sure that your grains turn out just like you’d bothered with those pesky ratios: after draining, put it back in the pot and cover to steam for 10 minutes. 

Farro roasted beet & feta salad recipe at
A whole-grain winter salad loaded with vegetables.

This will ensure that there’s no extra water clinging to those grains whether you’re having them for a hearty salad now or a grain bowl on another day.


and become a forager

What’s in your grain bowl? Let me know in the comments below or tag a photo #lynnesforage on Instagram or Facebook.


  1. Pat

    great suggestions. I am trying to add more whole grains to my diet and this does the trick.

    1. Glad you found this post helpful to meet your goals, Pat.

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