Starch is a major energy store in plants. It provides most of the calories in the human diet and, as a bulk commodity, it is used across broad industry sectors. Starch synthesis and degradation are not fully understood, owing to challenging biochemistry at the liquid/solid interface and relatively limited knowledge about the nature and control of starch degradation in plants. Increased societal and commercial demand for enhanced yield and quality in starch crops requires a better understanding of starch metabolism as a whole. Here we review recent advances in understanding the roles of carbohydrate-active enzymes in starch degradation in cereal grains through complementary chemical and molecular genetics. These approaches have allowed us to start dissecting aspects of starch degradation and the interplay with cell-wall polysaccharide hydrolysis during germination. With a view to improving and diversifying the properties and uses of cereal grains, it is possible that starch degradation may be amenable to manipulation through genetic or chemical intervention at the level of cell wall metabolism, rather than simply in the starch degradation pathway per se.