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You can cook rice by boiling it in an ordinary pan. However, the results can be inconsistent. Not to mention that boiling rice in an ordinary pan leaves you with the trouble of keeping an eye on it, checking at regular intervals so it isn’t over- or undercooked, 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.
But how do you pick the best rice cooker from the hundreds available in stores and online?
At BestReviews, we've looked at hundreds of rice cookers, from simple budget models to those that offer every conceivable rice-cooking option. We've tested them in our labs, consulted experts, and talked with existing customers, all so we can bring you a fair and thorough review to help you with your purchasing decision.
At the top of the page, you'll find our five favorite rice cookers.
If you’d like more information before you buy, read on for our full shopping guide below.
If you're still on the fence about whether or not you need a rice cooker, let's examine some of the reasons why you might buy one.
If you cook rice frequently, a rice cooker will save you a lot of time and effort over the years.
Rice cookers tend to give you much better and more consistent results than most people get when cooking rice in a pot on the stove.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Zojirushi Induction Heating
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.
You can use some rice cookers to prepare other dishes.
Using a rice cooker will free up space on your stove to cook other dishes.
You can set a rice cooker and leave it to do its work – no need for constant checking or stirring.
Many rice cookers have timers, so you can set yours in the morning and come home to a pot of fluffy rice, ready to eat.
A good rice cooker should be able to make your favorite grains just the way you like them.
Rice cooker capacity is often described by cup. This can be confusing because some companies go by "cooked cup" whereas others go by "uncooked cup." However, you may also be able to find capacity listed in gallons, which might make things a little clearer.
Think about what sort of capacity you need – for instance, if you have a large family, or like to batch cook and store leftovers, you'll require a much larger capacity than if you only want to cook one or two portions of rice at a time.
Capacity in "cups" can be misleading. When it comes to describing the capacity of a rice cooker, we've found at least 2 "cup" sizes quoted by different manufacturers – six ounce and eight ounce. Check the manufacturer's definition of a cup is before buying.
High-end rice cookers aren't just glorified electric steamers; they have microchips inside that check the temperature and other conditions inside the cooking pot. They adjust accordingly to give you perfect rice every time.
Most rice cookers use either "neuro-fuzzy logic" or "induction heating" to achieve this. Induction heating is slightly superior, as the chip can even adjust for measuring errors and still give excellent results.
However, rice cookers equipped with neuro-fuzzy logic are still far more effective than your average rice cooker.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy
The Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 Rice Cooker comes with a single pot, two measuring cups, and a rice spoon with its own holder (conveniently located on the side of the machine). There are two "keep warm" options: a shorter, five hour option and a longer, twelve hour option. Two different timers allow you to set the Zojirushi to make porridge for breakfast, wash the bowl, refill it, then have rice ready in time for supper. As an added bonus, the timer also works as a normal LCD clock.
Rice cookers tend to have cooking pots made from either stainless steel or non-stick coated aluminum. If you're no stranger to pots and pans, you probably have a preference already, but both materials have pros and cons.
For the sake of durability, we prefer stainless steel. It's harder to clean if rice gets burned onto the bottom – but this shouldn't happen if you use your rice cooker correctly.
Non-stick is easier to clean, but it's not as long-lasting and some people question whether or not it contains harmful toxins.
Many rice cookers have steamer inserts, so you can steam vegetables at the same time as cooking your rice.
Many rice cookers come with a timer, so you can put the rice and water in, then delay the start of the cooking cycle for up to 23 hours (depending on the model).
This is perfect if you have limited time to cook, as it makes dinner come together much more easily, especially if you get in late from work.
It also makes breakfast a breeze, as the majority of rice cookers can be used to make porridge, too.
Non-stick cooking pots are easier to clean, but the coating will wear off over time.
Everyone has personal preferences when it comes to rice. Also, some dishes or types of rice call for different textures.
For instance, rice to go with Thai food should be soft and sticky, whereas an Indian curry might go better with a slightly firm Basmati.
Higher-end rice cookers offer a range of texture settings, so you make rice to suit all kinds of dishes.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Aroma Digital Cool-Touch
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.
There is a difference when it comes to water measurements for cooking brown rice and white rice. White rice requires about 1½ cups of water to every cup of rice, whereas brown rice requires 1¾ to 2 cups of water to every cup of rice.
Check the instruction manual to see how high you can fill the cooking pot of your rice cooker, or check for a max fill line. Rice expands a lot when it cooks, so overfilling your rice cooker could result in a mess.
After your rice cooker finishes cooking the rice, let it sit covered for about then minutes, then fluff it with a fork for the best results.
If you want to use your rice cooker to make something other than rice, you can find an abundance of suitable recipes online – don't wing it your first time out.
After your rice cooker finishes cooking the rice, let it sit covered for about ten minutes, then fluff it with a fork for the best results.
For those with a sensitive palate, avoid a bland taste by adding a little salt when putting rice in your rice cooker.
Many rice cookers have a "porridge" function. This was designed to cook traditional Asian rice porridge, which is eaten for breakfast in many countries, but can be used for regular porridge, too.
A rice cooker with a timer is a great option for busy working people, or anyone who'd like to come home to a pot full of freshly cooked rice.
Rice cookers with intelligent cooking capabilities are worth it if you have cash, but a basic rice cooker is good enough for most home cooks.
You can buy a perfectly reasonable, basic rice cooker for not much more than the price of a family sized take-out meal, or you can pay hundreds of dollars for a deluxe model with all sorts of bells and whistles.
Here's what you can expect to spend on a rice cooker and what you'll get for your money.
A basic rice cooker with just a few features, such as a timer and white vs. brown rice settings, should cost between $25 and $60, depending on the brand and capacity.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity
In terms of capacity, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker 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.
A mid-range rice cooker with more features, one that comes from a well-known brand, or a multi-cooker that can also cook rice, will cost roughly $80 to $120.
A top-of-the-line rice cooker with induction heating or neuro-fuzzy logic, plus all the texture settings and other features you could hope for, should cost about $200 to $400.
Q. What if I don’t eat my cooked rice right away?
A. Life's unpredictable, and sometimes you might plan your dinner timing perfectly but still end up with your rice cooked 30 minutes before your main entree is ready. Or something might come up to push back dinner time. But don't worry, your meal needn't be ruined – most rice cookers have a "keep warm" function that keeps your cooked rice warm without burning or overcooking it.
Q. Should I buy a rice cooker with a glass or metal lid?
A. While it isn’t our main decision factor, a glass lid can be useful for keeping an eye on how your rice is cooking. If you’re stuck between two models you like equally, we recommend the one with a glass lid.
Q. Can I cook anything other than rice in my rice cooker?
A. This depends on the make and model of rice cooker you choose. Often, the more basic rice cookers are better at cooking non-rice foods than ones with neuro-fuzzy logic or induction cooking, as these are specially designed to "know" how to cook perfect rice. Non-rice foods that you might be able to make in your rice cooker include other grains, steamed vegetables, soups, stews, and risotto.
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At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.