Stefan Tomic via Getty ImagesMmm, freshly cooked rice that you didn't have to watch like a hawk on the stove.
As a Filipino American, a rice cooker is the No. 1 appliance used in my house. Growing up, I’d come home to the smell of rice cooking on the countertop, and when I moved out of my parents’ house it became immediately apparent that I couldn’t cook rice without one. I tried cooking rice over the stove and ended up with a soggy mess, then tried making it with an Instant Pot and got uncooked grains.
The magic of a rice cooker is that you push just one button (though fancier ones may have several buttons), and in 20 to 60 minutes you have perfectly fluffy white or brown rice. There’s no skill required to make it, and the cooking pot doubles as a storage bowl if you have any leftovers.
Whether you only eat rice a few times a week or multiple times a day (like I did growing up), a rice cooker is a game-changer. I chatted with some professional chefs to get their take on the usefulness of a rice cooker (spoiler alert: it can be used for more than just rice) and what to look for when buying one.
If you love eating rice and prepare it on a consistent basis, a rice cooker is a must-have appliance. Instead of having to boil water over the stove, stir in the rice, cover it and simmer (all while keeping your eye on a timer), all you have to do is put the rice and water in the cooking pot, place it in the cooker, and press a button. There’s no need to peek under the lid to make sure your heat isn’t too high or low, or worry about babysitting a pot to keep the rice at the bottom from burning. It’ll even keep your rice warm for hours after it’s done cooking. And some versions (like the Zojirushi in our list below) feature a delayed timer, which will let you schedule when you want your rice to cook.
“I love [a rice cooker] because it takes all the guesswork out of making perfect rice,” said Dale Talde, chef and owner of Goosefeather. “It’s a must-have appliance because even if you happen to put in too much water or not enough, it adjusts to help make perfect rice.”
For Camilla Marcus, chef and owner of the zero-waste cooking shop west~bourne, a pot of rice becomes many things over the course of a week. “I love that a pot of rice offers so many options, both sweet and savory,” she said. “For days after, I can turn leftover rice into a variety of delicious meals. The versatility of rice is especially appealing for minimizing food waste, which is a top priority in my kitchen. A rice cooker allows me to make rice quite consistently, plus it’s easier to clean and convenient to store.”
Maybe you’re just not that into rice. That’s OK — a rice cooker may still be an appliance worth having. The simplest models have one button that switches over to the warm setting when the rice is finished cooking, but fancier models have modes for porridge, steaming and even making cake.
Marcus regularly uses her rice cooker to make porridge (her brand, west~bourne, sells its own). For breakfast, she’ll cook the grains in coconut milk and top them with seasonal fruit and yogurt. For lunch or dinner, she’ll prepare a savory version with a poached egg and roasted mushrooms.
Chris Park, corporate chef of Kissaki, pointed out that you can also easily make instant noodles in a rice cooker. A basic curry is another option.
“Just assemble all your ingredients such as diced aromatics, protein of choice and corresponding stock,” he said. “You can find curry packs in most Asian groceries. Just follow the instructions listed on how much of the base to use.” If you’re using a basic rice cooker, he recommends simply starting the cooking process by pushing the button and checking in on it periodically. “A more modern and advanced rice cooker will have a program set in there for curries and stews,” he said.
If you’re planning on making rice for one or two people, there’s no need to buy a huge rice cooker with all the bells and whistles — unless, of course, cost and space aren’t a concern. You can find plenty of basic one-button models for less than $50, mid-range options around the $100 or $200 mark, and high-end rice cookers that cost hundreds of dollars.
“If you’re just trying to make life easier with a rice-based diet, then a basic one-button click on is all you need,” Park said.
“Rice cookers are great because you don’t need an expensive one to make great rice,” Marcus said. “In fact, I find the more accessible versions, which are often the smallest and make more sense for a home kitchen, are also the most durable.”
Rice cookers operate on a fairly simple mechanism (the heating element heats the cooking bowl to boiling temperature, then automatically turns down or off when the rice is done cooking), so you don’t need to buy anything too fancy for just making rice.
Aesthetics are another thing to think about, particularly if you’re planning on leaving it on the counter. Talde recommends buying something that is modern and sleek. “It’s almost a decorative piece,” he said. “You don’t need to buy a crazy expensive one, but ones that cost $150 to $200 will last you a lifetime.”
If you’re interested in making more than just rice, a rice cooker with several functions or a multicooker is your best bet. Park pointed out that a rice cooker with multiple programs and even a pressure function will be able to make a wide variety of foods — something that can be especially helpful for those with small kitchens, freeing up space over the stove or in the oven.
“Buying a rice cooker is like buying anything,” Park said. “Only buy as much rice cooker as you need. Most name brands can be reliable but stay away from obviously cheap or flimsy. Loose-topped units will get the job done, but a closing lid that snaps shut is best.”
Shopping for a rice cooker? Here are some great options.
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