You can cook rice by boiling it in an ordinary pan. However, the results can be inconsistent. Besides, boiling rice in an ordinary pan still leaves you with the trouble of keeping an eye on it, checking at regular intervals so it is not over or under cooked, and draining out the excess water once done.
Whether you want fluffy white long-grain or toasted wild brown rice, a rice cooker tends to give better results, without the need for manual observation or excess water drainage requirements.
We've looked at hundreds of rice cookers, from simple budget models to those that offer every conceivable rice-cooking option.
Our pick of the best rice cookers have the following five contenders:
We look at rice cooker capacity, which is often described by cup. This can be confusing because some companies go by "cooked cup" whereas others go by "uncooked cup." We also look at how different machines are put together, as a well-constructed item can make rice easier to handle and the machine easier to clean.
From basic steamers to multi-functional models that use "neuro-fuzzy logic" to ensure a perfect result every time, we examine the technological aspects of various rice cookers.
The latest rice cookers don't just turn out a great product. Some can be set in the morning so the food is ready for dinner; some keep rice warm for you until you're ready to eat it; some can even handle other cooking processes.
You can buy a perfectly reasonable, basic rice cooker for not much more than the price of a family sized take-out portion, or you can pay hundreds of dollars for a deluxe model with all sorts of bells and whistles. Just what do you get for your money, and is the product worth the price?
Nina is a longtime gourmet chef, interior designer/decorator, and events planner. She has accomplished all of this in addition to maintaining a stellar career as a healthcare executive, where she helps alter the course of people’s lives via preventive care and healthy living. Nina’s hobbies include learning new recipes, planning and executing amazing dinners to impress local chefs, and hiking around the world.
The manufacturer of the Aroma 8-Cup Digital Rice Cooker considers one cup to be six ounces. Also according to the manufacturer, a cooked portion of rice is 1.5-2 times the volume of uncooked rice. Perhaps the best way to look at it is by what actual owners told us: this is an ideal machine for couples and small families. General construction wasn't faulted by our survey respondents, and all the internal parts come out easily for cleaning. However, it should be noted that the rice tray is metal and doesn't have a handle, so care should be taken when the tray gets hot.
In terms of capacity, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker is much larger than the Aroma and will produce from 4 to 20 cups of rice. It doesn't really matter how Hamilton Beach defines cup size or whether they are talking cooked or not -- in a nutshell, this machine will produce plenty! In fact, one owner complained that the only problem with the Hamilton Beach is that it's not very good at cooking smaller portions of two to three cups. Our research turned up no problems with overall construction quality, and several people mentioned that the Hamilton Beach is very easy to clean. (Again, be careful of hot metal parts.) However, a few owners did tell us that the steaming tray is a bit "flimsy."
The manufacturer of the Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 Rice Cooker actually states several measures of capacity: 5-1/2 cups dry, 10 cups cooked (both meaning 6-ounce cups). In real-world terms, these specs place the Zojirushi comfortably in the "average family" rice cooker bracket. Build quality is good, and both serving and cleaning are made easier by the rice bowl's stay-cool handles. Durability was called into question by a couple of owners who told us they encountered problems with the electronics or other components after a couple of years. These owners are what might be considered "heavy users" — those who made rice every single day — so their comments are likely to be the exception rather than the rule.
The Instant Pot IP-DUO60 Programmable Pressure Cooker is a multi-functional machine, not just a rice cooker. As such, cup capacity isn't quoted by the manufacturer. However, this appliance's pot size is six quarts — three times what you can put in the Zojirushi Rice Cooker — and should therefore be enough for the average family. As for construction, this is a complex, microprocessor-controlled unit, but it certainly isn't fragile. It comes with several safety features and is frequently described as "sturdy" by owners, who also praise how easy it is to wash up after use.
The second Zojirushi in our ratings, the NP-NVC10 Induction Pressure Cooker, has the same capacities as out first Zojirushi. However, as we'll see in a minute, it's quite a different machine. Unlike the first Zojirushi, the NP-NVC10 does not have stay-cool handles. This is a shame, but stay-cool handles aren't practical when you consider the way this model works. This is an easy-to-clean, well-constructed unit, as you might expect from a manufacturer with such a good reputation. Indeed, throughout our extensive research we found only one owner who had problems with their Zojirushi NP-NVC10 Pressure Cooker.
The Aroma 8-Cup Digital Rice Cooker is a fairly basic steamer. It's uncomplicated and easy to use: simply add rice and water, press the button for white or brown rice, and leave the machine to do its work. You could set cooking times yourself, but most users find that the presets work well. As the unit's heat comes from the bottom, it does no harm to stir the rice occasionally to ensure even cooking, but that's about your only involvement. You can also use the Aroma to steam other food items; there is a separate button for this. The manufacturer says it's great for soups, chili, and jambalaya. One customer even poached fruit in wine. A few owners complained that the Aroma lid doesn't seal very well and that hot liquid spits out occasionally, but many other users rated this machine highly, so it's possible that the faulty lid was part of a particular batch.
Like the Aroma, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker is a combination rice cooker/steamer. Its range of preset functions is similar to that of the Aroma, giving you what the manufacturer calls "one-touch cooking." Also like the Aroma, the Hamilton Beach features a separate tray so you can simultaneously steam vegetables and cook rice. There's also a separate steam option and a boil/simmer sensor that will automatically turn the machine down to simmer for the duration you choose.
The Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 Rice Cooker uses what they call "neuro-fuzzy logic" to sense the rice type and cooking style required. The machine takes this information and monitors/adjusts itself accordingly. This may sound complicated, but all you need do is press the buttons and leave the machine to do its job. The Zojirushi's sophisticated programming can handle white rice, brown rice, sushi rice, mixed rice, and porridge. The internal heating pan is bowl-shaped for more even cooking. Because it is technically a steamer, you can use the Zojirushi Rice Cooker for other foods, too.
The Instant Pot IP-DUO60 Programmable Pressure Cooker makes our top five list because it can be programmed to make great rice and so much more. The Instant Pot offers preset programs for rice, porridge, and multi-grain. You can also use it to make everything from hearty stews to yogurt. The Instant Pot is great for cooking the same healthy foods you would prepare in a steamer, but as a pressure cooker, it works faster and uses less energy than a typical steamer. It even has two different pressure settings so delicate foods aren't overcooked. It's fair to say that some owners weren't entirely happy with the way the Instant Pot cooked meat or other non-rice items, but pressure cooking isn't like normal pot cooking, so there can be something of a learning curve.
If you're looking for a rice cooker that gives you a greater range of options than just about anything else on the market, you'll probably want the Zojirushi NP-NVC10 Induction Heating Pressure Cooker. Regardless of the kind of rice you want, or the way you want it prepared, this machine will do it. It will even toast your rice if you want it crispy — perfect for some specialty recipes. In terms of technology, the Zojirushi NP-NVC10 is a leader, too. First, there's the artificial intelligence ("neuro-fuzzy logic") that senses what needs to be done and acts accordingly. Then there's the cooking pan, which is platinum-coated for better cooking results. On top of that, the Zojirushi NP-NVC10 is not just a pressure cooker; it's an induction cooker as well, yielding the most even cooking results possible. Among the enormous range of different ways you can prepare rice with this model is the "umami" setting, as well as the setting for GABA brown rice — which is claimed to be particularly beneficial to health. In fact, the only "complaint" we've heard from owners is that this machine cooks rice so well, it ruins eating it anywhere else!
Because it's a small, entry-level model, it would be unfair to expect the Aroma 8-Cup Digital Rice Cooker to be overflowing with extras, but it does have a separate steam tray in addition to a rice cooking bowl, measuring cup, serving spatula, and some recipes. Useful machine features include an automatic "keep warm" function (so your rice stays at a nice, ready-to-eat temperature) and a timer that can be set for as much as 15 hours before you actually want the rice cooked.
Apart from its larger capacity, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker has a lot in common with the Aroma. Again, there's a steamer tray, measuring cup, and spatula, but the Hamilton Beach includes a soup ladle as well. There's also a timer (of the same 15 hour duration). Rather than having a specific "keep warm" feature, the Hamilton Beach automatically keeps rice warm until you choose to turn it off.
The Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 Rice Cooker comes with a single pot, two measures, and a rice spoon with its own holder (conveniently located on the side of the machine). There are two "keep warm" options: a shorter, 5-hour option and a longer, 12-hour option. Two different timers allow you to set the Zojirushi to make porridge for breakfast, wash the bowl, re-fill it, then have rice ready in time for supper. As an added bonus, the timer also works as a normal LCD clock. The Zojirushi NS-ZCC10's foldable handle is a nice touch, as is the retractable power cord. It even plays a little tune when your rice is ready!
An LCD clock is just part of an extensive control panel on the front of the Instant Pot IP-DUO60 Programmable Pressure Cooker. The automatic cooking setting comes with a manual override option, allowing you to manipulate preset cooking times. This model also comes with a measuring cup, several spoons, and a steaming rack. As you might expect, a "keep warm" function helps keep rice at a suitable temperature. On this particular model, cooking time can be programmed as much as 24 hours in advance. When combined with the three different temperature options for sauteing and slow cooking, the Instant Pot brings remarkable versatility to any kitchen.
The Zojirushi NP-NVC10 Induction Pressure Cooker focuses on cooking perfect rice (although some owners have added other grains, like barley, with great success). Not surprisingly, it shares many common features with the other Zojirushi cooker on our shortlist: twin "keep warm" functions, two timers, LCD clock. The Zojirishi Induction Heating Pressure Cooker, however, features an additional "rice warmth" monitor that can operate while you're serving. This monitor calculates how much rice is left in the bowl and adjusts itself to maintain appropriate heat. It can even beep to tell you how long it's been keeping the rice warm (and there's a "silent" mode if you don't want reminders). The only criticism the Zojirushi Induction Heating Pressure Cooker receives is that, although it's an exceptional cooker of rice, it doesn't cook anything else, as some other machines do.
At only $29, the Aroma 8-Cup Digital Rice Cooker is a great value. It's convenient for singles, couples, and small families, it won't take up a lot of space in a small kitchen, and it can cook a variety of tasty steamed foods in addition to rice. In essence, although sold as a rice cooker, The Aroma 8-Cup is a useful all-round steamer. Owners rave about how simple it is to turn out great food and how easy it is to clean up afterwards. There have been a few issues with lid seals, spills, and leaks, and some buyers were disappointed with how small the unit actually is. For the money, however, most users in our survey found its performance to be better than they expected.
The Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker will cost you $35. For that price, you get a product that does essentially everything the Aroma does, but for a larger family. It's still not a particularly big item — roughly a foot across by a foot tall — and it weighs under nine pounds, making it convenient to move and use. Some owners we surveyed would have liked a deeper steamer basket for larger vegetables, but that would have reduced the space for rice, and rice is, after all, this machine's main purpose.
At the moment, you can get the Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 Rice Cooker for $155. That's a fair step up from the Aroma or Hamilton Beach, but Zojirushi takes rice cooking to an entirely new level. The Zojirushi rice cooker, not to be confused with the Zojirushi pressure cooker also mentioned in our top five, does a pretty good job of cooking other grains, vegetables, and fish, too. Considering the fact that it's billed as a rice cooker, however, you get quite a lot of options. Porridge for breakfast? No problem; set it the night before. Sushi rice for dinner? Set it at the same time as the porridge. Most owners will tell you the results are perfect every time. Indeed, the Zojirushi rice cooker is consistently rated as one of the top rice cookers on the market. Any popular machine is bound to gather a few complaints, but in the case of this product, most issues had to do with long-term durability in heavy-use households.
The price for the Instant Pot IP-DUO60 Programmable Pressure Cooker is $99. This machine doesn't just produce rice in a variety of different ways, it cooks a multitude of other foods, too. Because it's a pressure cooker, it can prepare food faster, and with less energy, than conventional steamers. "The pressure cooker that does it all!" is a typical owner sentiment, and the majority of the users we surveyed said that they love their Instant Pot's simplicity. This appreciation was underlined by one of our favorite comments: "Good for dads to cook healthy food!" The few complaints we encountered during our research had to do more with people being unaccustomed to pressure cooking than with equipment failures.
If you want the Zojirushi NP-NVC10 Induction Rice Cooker, you'll need to shell out around $374. OK, so this is a machine for rice aficionados, but if you want the best of any kind of kitchen gadget, you usually have to pay for it. The main consumer criticism of this model is that it's too focused. It's nearly twice the price of the Instant Pot pressure cooker, yet all it does is cook rice. However, the rice is just about perfect. If you're a rice fanatic who is wavering on the purchase of this cooker because of the cost, comments like "I can't stop just eating the rice!" and "Best on the U.S. market!" will reassure you that you're making the right decision.
By the time we arrive at these ratings, we've already discarded lots of machines and narrowed the choices down to the top five available. Singling out a "Best of the Best" model on such a prestigious shortlist can sometimes be tough. In this case, however, it isn't. The best rice cooker is the Zojirushi NP-NVC10 Induction — no question at all.
How do you justify spending $374 on something that only cooks rice? That depends on how much you like your rice. If you make white rice once in a blue moon, you'll probably prefer to shell out a smaller amount of money on an Aroma or Hamilton Beach. But if you love rice in all its many forms — and the enormous variety of mouth-watering dishes that go with it — then there's no substitute for the Zojirushi NP-NVC10.
The Zojirushi NP-NVC10 is a smart-looking unit. It has all the preset functions you could ask for, so it makes perfect rice — any kind of rice — without you having to worry about the details of preparation. White rice, brown rice, mixed rice, sushi, GABA, porridge, you name it --it's yours at the press of a button. This machine actually has a built-in brain ("neuro-fuzzy logic") to sense what's going on and adjusts itself accordingly. It also offers two timing options so you can have your rice cooked exactly how you like, exactly when you like. "Amazing" and "excellent" are words frequently used by owners, but perhaps the most telling comment was from a customer who admitted to being particularly fussy about his rice. The customer admitted that with the Zojirushi's "keep warm" and reheat functions, he could still be enjoying his rice two days after having cooked it. Our "Best of the Best" category is about the very best products on the market. If you want a rice cooker that is rated highly by even the most nit-picky of consumers, the Zojirushi NP-NVC10 Induction Heating Pressure Cooker is the perfect choice.
Our "Best Bang for Your Buck" rice cooker isn't a rice cooker at all, really. It's the Instant Pot IP-DUO60 Programmable Pressure Cooker. In addition to cooking rice particularly well, it does a whole lot more — and that's where the real value lies.
As a rice cooker, the Instant Pot is competitively priced and does an excellent job. Not exceptional maybe — not like the Zojirushi — but more than adequate for most people. Notably, it features the specialist "keep warm" function you want with a top rice cooker and a 24-hour timer (the longest preset of any of the machines on our shortlist) so you can prepare your food ahead of time.
This machine can also make soups, stews, chili, and yogurt. It can steam, saute, and perform a number of other cooking functions. It could be argued that the Aroma and Hamilton Beach can do similar things, but with the Instant Pot IP-DUO60, these capabilities are all built into the programming. Indeed, the Instant Pot gets as close to the "set it and forget it" ideal as any machine can. A couple of users had problems with it, but pressure cooking takes a bit of getting used to. The majority of owners we surveyed made positive comments, including those who were skeptical at first. We particularly appreciated the owner who said, "Throw meat into some liquid, press start, done." The Instant Pot is a very good rice cooker and deserves its place in these ratings for that function alone, but it has such an exceptional variety of other uses that we simply had to give it our "Best Bang for Your Buck" award.