Even if you’re wary of single-use kitchen tools, finding the best rice cookers is worth it. Cooking rice on the stove has inherent shortcomings: burners with unpredictable heat levels, pots with varying degrees of insulation and heat conduction.
Setting your rice cooker up to cook a big batch of grains on Sunday night can make for a week of meals: filling lunch salads, quick fried-rice dinners, extra-nourishing soups and curries, crispy rice fritters, and even a rice pudding to top it all off. When you get your hands on the best rice cooker, you have a side of rice any night with almost zero effort. The countertop appliance operates at the push of a button (or two) and removes the guesswork—provided you have the right one. After testing seven of the best rice cookers, we determined that the Zojirushi Induction Heating System Rice Cooker and Warmer made the best rice, batch after batch. Read more about our top picks below. To find out how we tested each rice cooker, scroll down.
Our Favorite Rice Cooker: Zojirushi Induction Rice Cooker
This rice cooker made the best-tasting rice, no matter what type we cooked. It coaxed flavors and textures out of the grains that we didn’t know were possible. Medium-grain white rice fluffed up beautifully and had a revelatory texture. The taste was sweet and nutty and the consistency was chewy yet creamy. Short-grain brown rice cooked up in pliant, distinct kernels and long-grain basmati rice was lusciously fluffy.
In addition to producing superior rice, the machine (which has a 5.5-cup capacity) was intuitive to use, easy to clean, and every detail exuded quality. (It is made in Japan, after all.) The nonstick inner pot was the heaviest of the bunch, and the markings inside that dictate how much water to add for various types of rice were the easiest to see, contrasting white on a dark pot.
The thing that really sets this machine apart is its use of induction heating, which provides a precise, even heat source that heats the whole pot, rather than just the bottom, as in conventional rice cookers. The superiority of this heating method was evident in the quality of the rice that came out of the Zojirushi—the texture and the flavor were just next level.
As with all rice cookers, one of the great pleasures of using the Zojirushi Induction Rice Cooker was the ability to set it and forget it—and keep the rice warm for hours with the automatic Keep Warm setting. Since this model is a Micom rice cooker (micro computerized), it has the intelligence to tweak temperatures and cooking times according to feedback from the machine’s sensors. This comes in handy if your water or grain measurements are imprecise. If you added too much water, for example, the machine adjusts cooking times and temperatures so that you still won’t end up with mushy rice despite the human error.
It’s also the only one of our top picks that counts down your cooking time from start to finish, so you always know how far you are from a bowl of perfect rice. Sure, the rice cooker is pricier than most on the market due to its induction heating capability, but it completely removes the many variables and shortcomings of making rice on the stove—it’s a foolproof tool for great-tasting rice with almost no effort.
Runner-Up: Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker and Warmer
The Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker, at about $162, costs significantly less than the induction model, yet features many of the qualities we loved in the winning Zojirushi. Like its cousin, the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker is made in Japan. It comes with a similarly sturdy pot and has an intuitive, easy-to-use digital interface with a keep warm function and preprogramming options.
It also has some attractive features of its own, including a retractable cord and handles on the pot that allow you to safely lift it from the rice cooker while still warm. Like the induction model, it has an intuitive cooking system that self-corrects if your rice or water measurements are off.
One small disadvantage of the machine is that the rice cooker only gives you the remaining cooking time when the rice is about 10 minutes from finishing. The real determining factor, however, was the medium-grain white rice we cooked in the machine. The Neuro Fuzzy’s rice was also very good, but it didn’t match the sweetness and texture of the rice made in the Zojirushi Induction Rice Cooker. This ultimately brought that machine to the top spot, but whether that’s worth the extra $130 is up to you.
Budget Pick: Cuckoo 6-Cup Rice Cooker
The Cuckoo also produced rice that was close in quality to the Zojirushi Induction Rice Cooker. Plus, it cooks rice faster than the Zojirushi by close to 15 minutes and produces consistently top-tier rice for under $100, making it the best budget pick. One quirk of the Cuckoo is that the lid lifts so quickly it sometimes jerks the entire machine backward. So be gentle. Like the Neuro Fuzzy, the rice cooker only gives you the remaining cooking time when the rice is about 10 minutes from finishing.
How We Tested the Rice Cookers
In the age of the Instant Pot, it’s no surprise that rice cookers can prepare much more than rice. Three models that we tested—the Breville Risotto Plus, Aroma Housewares Digital Rice Cooker, and Hamilton Beach Rice Cooker—come with a steamer basket that you can use while you cook your rice. (And as its name suggests, the Breville Risotto Plus makes stir-free risotto and is suitable for slow-cooking.) The Instant Pot, of course, has a rice setting. And both of the winning Zojirushi models as well as the Cuckoo have menu options for porridge—plus all three can make soups and stews and even brew tea.
That said, we were here to test the rice cooker’s primary function: making rice. For the first round of testing, we made two cups of Nishiki Japanese medium-grain white rice. In the machines that performed well in that initial test, we cooked two cups of short-grain brown rice followed by two cups of long-grain white rice (basmati).
A Note on Cleaning Rice: Anyone who has ever cooked rice will tell you that rinsing the grains is part of the secret to success—washing rice removes excess starch, which keeps the rice from sticking together when it’s cooked. We followed each rice cooker’s instruction manual for rinsing, which ranged from obsessive (the Zojirushi induction model calls for around eight rinses) to casual.
Factors We Evaluated for Each Rice Cooker
Is it easy to use?
A rice cooker should make cooking rice nearly effortless with little human intervention. All seven models we tested delivered on intuitive simplicity with manuals that clearly outlined how to get started, including details on how to measure your rice, how to wash it, how much water to add to the pot, which menu setting to use, and what buttons to push to start cooking. In machines that kept the rice warm, the Warm setting clicked on soon after the rice was done cooking.
How long does it take to cook rice?
The range in cooking times varied greatly among the machines. The best rice generally took the longest to make. The Zojirushi models each took close to an hour for medium- and long-grain white rice and nearly an hour and a half for brown rice. In contrast the Instant Pot and Breville Risotto Plus, which both performed just so-so, took around 10 minutes.
What is the end result like?
We wanted to find a great rice cooker that excelled at all three types of rice we tested. We looked for evenly cooked, flavorful, perfectly textured, fluffy rice. We also aimed for flavorful grains that were cooked through without being gummy and retained bite without being too firm.
Does the rice cooker have any useful additional features?
Every rice cooker comes with a couple of key accessories: a measuring cup (don’t get confused, “one cup” in rice cooker parlance is actually a ¾-cup measure) and a rice paddle. All but the Cuckoo and the Breville had a paddle holder on the rice cooker itself—a welcome feature. A few of the rice cookers that we tested included steamer baskets, which in the case of the Hamilton Beach model, doubled as a sieve for cleaning rice. Technical features, such as the warmer or timer, make an already convenient machine even more user-friendly by allowing home cooks to plan ahead.
How easy is it to clean?
All of the rice cookers that we tested, with the exception of the Instant Pot, have inner pots with nonstick coating, which are a miracle when it comes to using your spatula or paddle to scoop out rice without leaving residue. The lids of the Zojirushi, Instant Pot, and Breville machines are also washable, an added bonus, especially for those who think simply wiping down the lid doesn’t cut it.
How much room does it take up?
The footprint of the machines varied—most of the models we tested clocked in at under a foot diameter. All told, they don’t take much more room than a food processor. Ideally, we looked for a machine that will take up the least amount of counterspace—but the quality of the rice was more important to us.
Is the rice cooker a good value?
The prices of the machines we tested varied wildly, starting at $40 and going all the way up to $260. Ultimately, the best rice cooker won regardless of price, though models like the Hamilton Beach and Cuckoo got points for performing well for their price point. Conversely, a machine like the Breville was somewhat underwhelming given its $129 cost.
Other Rice Cookers We Tested
None of these machines were an all-out fail. Even the ones that produced the more disappointing results and did not advance past the medium-grain white rice round—the Instant Pot Duo ($70), Breville Risotto Plus ($129), and Aroma Digital Rice Cooker ($40)—still made rice that was more than edible, but paled in comparison to the rice that the Zojirushi models and the Cuckoo were making. The Aroma released fumes that smelled like burning rubber, which was another strike against it.
An exciting contender was the Hamilton Beach Rice Cooker ($40), which produced impressive results with medium-grain white rice and long-grain basmati and possessed an impressive number of advanced features for a $40 machine, such as warming and preprogramming options. But it fell short with the brown rice, which was undercooked after 60 minutes. If you’re not much of a brown rice eater, this could be a good option for you.
The biggest advantage of the Instant Pot was that it took about 10 minutes to cook the medium-grain white rice versus cook times upward of 50 minutes in both Zojirushi rice cookers. But the result was gummy, difficult to fluff even with the rice paddle, and stuck to the stainless-steel pot (the only pot insert that the rice clung to since it was the only model that didn’t have a nonstick pot). And at $129, the Breville lacked the features you’d want in a rice cooker like a timer and specific settings for each type of rice, and the medium-grain white rice it made was unevenly cooked: The bottom of the rice took on some color, but the grains were too firm.
Rice cookers are especially attractive to those who seek convenience in the kitchen and enjoy a set-it-and-forget-it approach to dinner. A bowl of rice turns leftovers into a meal, and having warm rice at your disposal with minimal effort is an affordable comfort that goes a long way. If you plan to use it frequently, eating rice multiple times a week and cooking a variety of types, buy the Zojirushi Induction Rice Cooker. For a less expensive machine that’s still top quality but lacks the over-the-top deliciousness afforded by induction heating capability, buy the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker and Warmer. Finally, for an inexpensive starter rice cooker that still performs well, buy the Cuckoo Rice Cooker.
Rice Isn’t the Only Thing You Can Make in a Rice Cooker
Now that you’re up-to-speed on the best rice cookers, let’s turn our attention toward the lesser known uses for rice cookers—because it turns out rice isn't the only thing the rice cooker makes perfectly.
A few eggs, some cheese, and vegetables all mixed up in the pot—the formula is simple; you can mix it up by adding your favorite herbs, or add bits of leftover fish or chicken to add flavor and texture.
Steamed FishShirley Cheng
Steaming fish over the rice in the cooker gives you a healthy, whole meal in the time it takes to cook the rice. Marinating the fish will intensify the flavor and using liquids like beer, coconut milk, and broth will punch up the flavor of the rice.
We once thought cooking risotto in the rice cooker was sacrilege. But the results are terrific. Best of all? You can set the rice cooker and forget it. The secret here is to begin by sautéing a bit of onion and seasonings, then adding more liquid to the rice so that the results are a creamy soul-satisfying risotto to please even the fussiest Italian.
Grain BowlsAnna Stockwell
Quinoa, bulgur, farro, and all the other grains you love can be made into whole meals or used in salads for summertime dinners. Cooking grains as pilaf, or a vegetarian main course, is a no-brainer once you close the lid and let the rice cooker take over.
Perfect oatmeal, polenta, grits, and rice porridge cook without stirring in the time it takes you to take a shower and get ready for work. And if you have the Neuro Fuzzy logic machine, you can program it to have the hot porridge ready when you wake up. Doesn’t get much easier than that.
If you’re cooking for two to four family members, the rice cooker makes the perfect amount of soup. All it takes is sautéing the vegetables, adding the liquids, setting the machine and letting it simmer. A miso noodle soup cooks up in no time, and a tomato soup with ricotta dumplings is ready in less than 30 minutes.
Apple SauceCarla Lalli Music
Small-batch applesauce and other fruit sauces cook up in a jiffy, and you don’t have to make quarts of applesauce to have homemade. Cut up the fruit, add a bit of juice and sugar (if needed), and close the lid. An immersion blender will smooth out any lumps.
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Originally Appeared on Epicurious