You make a point to time starting the rice so that it will be done just when everything else is. You get it started, switch your focus over to the other dishes you’re in the process of cooking and then realize, just a moment too late, that you’ve forgotten the rice. Now you’ve got an unpleasant smell permeating the kitchen and a layer of gross burnt rice on the bottom of a pan that’s going to be a real pain to clean.
Or maybe you managed not to burn the rice this time, but it didn’t come out the way you like – it’s either too crunchy or too mushy. Or maybe while you were focused on something else, the water in your pot boiled over and made a big mess on the counter.
Chances are, if you do much cooking at home, you’ve had at least one of these experiences, if not all three. Rice is a great addition to a wide range of food types. In theory, it’s simple to make. Yet somehow in practice, it’s easy to mess up.
Enter the rice cooker. For anyone who makes rice with much frequency, or just wants to make sure it’s always done right on the occasions you do make it, a rice cooker is an extremely useful appliance to have around.
It will automatically turn off when the rice is done, so you don’t have to worry about burning it anytime you’re distracted. It often includes a feature to keep the rice warm after it turns off, so it will still be ready to serve, even if the other dishes you’re making take longer than expected. And many rice cookers include settings for different types of rice. If you typically make brown rice, but decide you want to branch out and give jasmine rice a try, you don’t have to worry about a learning curve – you can expect it to come out right on the first try.
However, buying a rice cooker can be a little more complicated. Which is precisely why we put together this guide to help you find the best rice cooker for your needs.
There are two main types of rice cookers you’ll come across in your search, as well as some options that include a variety of uses beyond rice making.
Conventional rice cookers are likely to satisfy most consumers. They’re often basic. Some are so simple as to only have one button to get started – you add your ingredients, press the button, and voila, it cooks your rice. You can certainly find conventional rice cookers that offer more settings than that, although in general you can expect the options to be minimal and straightforward.
Conventional rice cookers are very affordable. You can find basic models for just a little over $10, as well as more sophisticated ones for around $100. They’re designed to be very easy to use and they often cook rice quickly. They’re a definite step up from cooking rice in a pot on your stove and for most customers do the trick quite nicely.
Smart rice cookers employ “fuzzy logic” technology to sense exactly what’s needed to cook the rice perfectly and do it. That means if you screw up in the quantities you put in, you’re still likely to end up with superior rice. If you’re making rice on a hotter than usual day, the machine will change up the temperature it’s cooking at to accommodate.
For anyone who cooks rice especially often or is particular about how it comes out, smart rice cookers have a reputation for making perfect rice every time that’s superior to what you’d get from cooking it any other way. As such, they come at a much higher price tag than other models. You can find a few models that use fuzzy logic for less than $100, but for the most well respected brands making use of the technology you should expect models to start at over $100 and go up to prices in the hundreds.
In addition to costing more, smart rice cookers are also often more difficult to figure out. The fanciest models that are likely to deliver the best results can be confusing for new users – they’re a far cry from the one-button models that many customers are pleased enough with. They also cook rice more slowly than conventional rice cookers, but you can set them to cook rice early and leave the cooked rice in the “keep warm” setting for as long as you need before eating it.
Many rice cookers provide options beyond just making rice. The most common combination you’ll find is a rice cooker and steamer, but you can also find rice cookers that also work as slow cookers (or crock pots) and pressure cookers.
In many kitchens, counter space comes at a premium, so if you feel any new kitchen appliance needs to earn the space it requires, one that offers multiple functions is a good choice.
Now that you have an idea of the wide range of options that exist, the next step is to figure out what you most want in a rice cooker so you know how to pinpoint the model that makes the most sense for you. Here are the most important factors to consider.
Most of the rice cookers you look at will list the number of cups you can make right in the product name. You’ll find sizes ranging everywhere from three cups to twenty. Typically, the sizes listed aren’t the number of cooked cups of rice the rice cooker fits, but the amount of uncooked ingredients you can fit. In other words, if you buy a 3-cup rice cooker, you can expect to get one cup of uncooked rice and two cups of water in there.
How much rice you can make at one time is an important part of the equation, especially for people with large families or those who like to cook for friends frequently. You should also consider the space you have available in your kitchen. For the most part, rice cookers won’t take up all that much space on your counter, but if you already have a lot of appliances vying for counter space in your kitchen, you should still be careful to go with a model that will fit.
Many people will be happy with a simple, functional rice cooker on the lower end of the price range. If you just cook rice every once in a while, stick exclusively with white rice, and really only care about the process of making it easier, then a $12-$20 rice cooker may well suffice for all your needs.
For those who make rice multiple times a week, consider it an important part of how they experience their meals, and like to make different varieties regularly, then splurging on a nicer smart rice cooker may well be worth the higher cost. You’ll virtually be guaranteed perfect rice each time and not have to put any work into getting it right, no matter the type or quantity.
A lot of customers will want something that falls in between the two extremes. Maybe you want a few different setting options to choose from or a rice cooker that will also work as a pressure cooker. Or maybe you’re willing to spend a little more on a brand known to last. If you fall into the middle category, then researching brands and the specific features available in the different mid-priced models you consider will pay off.
It’s worth having some idea in advance of what you plan to use your rice cooker for. If you know you’ll only ever need it for white rice, you can get by with just about any model. If you want to be able to use it to steam vegetables while you’re making rice, make various types of rice and grains, or even use it as a pressure cooker or slow cooker, then you need a model that’s more versatile.
You’ll often see examples of the different ways people use their rice cookers in the customer reviews. Some models even come with recipe books that can give you an idea of what’s possible with yours. Take some time to think through what all you want your rice cooker to do for you. That will provide you with a much clearer picture of which features and settings to look for.
Some customers may be happy to go with the cheapest option, knowing it will likely need to be replaced in the near future. Most customers will want to find a rice cooker they can count on to last. The most expensive brands (those that offer fuzzy logic options) do have a reputation for making rice cookers that will be with you for a while, but some of the mid-range brands do all right on the durability front as well.
The only real way to get a feel for how likely a rice cooker is to last before you buy it is to see what other customers have to say. If a rice cooker regularly stops working within a year, you can bet someone will show up in the reviews to talk about it.
The main reason most people decide to buy a rice cooker is that it makes a regular cooking task easier. If that’s one of your main goals, then you certainly want to find a rice cooker that’s easy to use. Usually the simpler the design, the less the user has to figure out. That means those affordable, basic models with one button are going to be the easiest, but most of the models a few steps up that offer some additional settings and functionality aren’t much harder.
The smart rice cookers can sometimes be more difficult to figure out. What they’re doing is more complicated, so even though they do most of the work, getting all the input and settings just right can involve a learner’s curve.
All rice cookers beat your typical pot on one front: they’re easier to clean. If you don’t have to worry about scraping burnt rice off the bottom or cleaning up the stovetop after an overflow, then the rice cooker should already get points for ease of use. And most come with nonstick pots, which makes the cleaning even simpler.
To make sure you end up with a well-made rice cooker that lasts a while, you should make a point to go with a brand that’s reliable. To give you an idea of which brands fit the bill, we looked over the customer reviews of different models from each of the most popular rice cooker brands to provide you with a summary of what other customers are saying.
Aroma makes a range of rice cookers that usually provide other functions like slow cooking and steaming as well. Customers are on the whole very happy with their Aroma rice cookers. Many say their models make rice just right, work great as a slow cooker as well, and are a good value for the cost. We did find a few complaints about rice cookers that didn’t last very long. They were rare enough that a few people could have just ended up with lemons, but do be aware that durability is an occasional issue with this brand.
Black and Decker also sells a range of rice cookers in different sizes that get predominantly positive reviews from customers. Most reviewers describe their rice cookers as easy to use, easy to clean, and good for the cost. There are a number of durability complaints mixed in among the positive views. The general gist after looking over a lot of reviews for their rice cookers seems to be that they work great while they last, but you can’t always count on them to have a long life.
Cuisinart offers a number of rice cookers that receive mixed reviews. A healthy number of reviewers talk about loving their Cuisinart rice cooker and the quality of rice it makes, but a significant number of customers are unhappy with their rice cooker. Lots of reviewers complained about how messy their rice cookers are – they over flow during use and leave a lot of mess on the counter to clean up after. A few also complained about their rice burning and there being a layer of it stuck to the bottom. There are definitely a lot of people happy with their Cuisinart rice cookers, but the prognosis is mixed enough that you may be better served going with another brand.
Fagor makes a multi-cooker that functions as a rice cooker, pressure cooker, and slow cooker. Reviewers are nearly uniformly pleased with the appliance. They say the rice cooker function cooks rice perfectly, is easy to clean, doesn’t add any extra heat to the kitchen (which is nice in the summer), and provides a lot of functionality for the amount of counter space it uses. If you like the idea of a rice cooker that works well and provides some extra uses, the Fagor multi-cooker is a strong choice.
Hamilton Beach sells a few different models of rice cookers that most customers are happy with. Their rice cooker and steamer gets lots of points from customers for making rice well, although some aren’t as satisfied with the steamer function. Their cookers are praised for being easy to clean, easy to use, and great for the price. The main complaints customers have are about how long cooking rice takes in their units, and that the models aren’t as big as the listings seem to suggest. Otherwise, the general consensus is positive.
Panasonic makes a range of rice cookers, including some with smart “fuzzy logic” capabilities that earn consistently solid reviews. Customers say their rice cookers make great rice, are easy to use, easy to clean, and a good value for the price. There were few enough negative reviews to suggest that Panasonic puts out a product that most customers will be satisfied with.
Zojurushi sells high-end rice cookers that consistently earn 5-star reviews from customers. While the price you pay for a Zojurishu is high, customers rave about the quality of the rice they get from their cookers. They also say their rice cookers are easy to use, easy to clean, and good for making a variety of rice and grains. If you really love your rice and have the money to spend, they’re one of the best options on the market.
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not a rice cooker makes sense for you, just think back to the last time you had to clean burnt rice off the bottom of one of your pots. You can picture it can’t you? Rice cookers are affordable, they’re easy, and they present you with a finished, tasty version of one of the most common staples people include in their meals. And they save you from the fate of cleaning up burned rice ever again.