Types of rice cookers
The best rice cookers can be simple or complex, but most top
models have a microprocessor, usually abbreviated as "micom," that allows for
more precise heating. These units may also be referred to as "fuzzy logic" rice
cookers, because the processor can adjust as it cooks to turn out the best rice
possible. Micom rice cookers typically have a variety of settings so you can
cook different types of rice, such as brown rice or rice for sushi.
If you just want to stick to white rice, or don't see
yourself using a rice cooker more than occasionally, an inexpensive rice cooker
might be all you need. Basic rice cookers are typically simple appliances: add
rice and water and push a button to start the heating process. Some also have smaller
capacities, making them a sensible choice for one- or two-person households. Of
course, at the bottom of the price range you often won't get extras such as rice-specific
cooking modes and programmable timers.
This type of rice cooker uses an electrical current to warm the entire
cooking bowl rather than a traditional heating element that warms only the
bottom of the bowl. Induction rice cookers cook much more evenly and can be
fine-tuned to prepare even the most delicate rice types. They also cook faster
than micom rice cookers, a plus for impatient cooks. On the
flipside, you'll pay a premium for consistency: induction rice cookers are the
most expensive kind on the market. Unless you're a true rice lover, you may
also find that induction rice cookers have far more settings than you'll ever
Rice cookers/steamers can do double duty: cook your rice in
the pot below while meat, fish, or veggies steam in a tray above. These
appliances are a convenient way to make a complete meal without dirtying
multiple pots and pans. The more basic models might not give you as much
control over your rice, however, since they may lack more specialized cooking
If you're not too picky about perfect rice and you need it
in a jiffy, a microwaveable rice cooker might be your best choice. These are
simple, microwaveable plastic bowls with vented lids that harness the power of
your microwave -- no special appliance required. They are among the cheapest
rice cookers you can buy, and they won't require a lot of storage space if
you're in tight quarters. However, getting consistently good rice can take some
experimenting, especially since microwave wattage can vary. Be careful, too:
Cook your rice for too long or with too little water, and you could end up with
a melted hunk of plastic instead of dinner.
The best micom rice cookers
A micom, or microcomputer, rice cooker is a good middle ground for rice
lovers who want a lot of features but don't want to overspend on a
top-of-the-line induction rice cooker. These models typically have several rice
modes and features, and they come in a wide range of capacities.
Experts and owners agree: The (Est. $165) consistently cooks perfect rice at a friendlier price
point than other fully featured rice cookers. It also earns raves for being
easy to use and clean. Editors at one well-respected test kitchen praise its
wide variety of menu settings, which include white (regular/sushi, softer or
harder), mixed, porridge, sweet, semi-brown, brown, rinse-free and quick
Having rice ready to eat when you get home is simple with the Zojirushi
NS-ZCC10's programmable timer; then, if you're delayed, it will keep the rice
warm for you without overcooking. Fine Cooking's Maryellen Driscoll is a fan of
the Neuro's memory feature, which helps the cooker automatically cook your
favorite type of rice to your taste. The ZCC10 accommodates 5½ cups of
uncooked rice, yielding 10 to 11 cups cooked. If you need to feed a big crowd,
the (Est. $190) yields 20 cups of cooked
If you want something a little sleeker than basic white, the (Est. $150) shares many of the pros
of the Neuro, and is jazzed up with a brown stainless-steel finish. It also
adds a steaming basket. The NS-TSC10 uses the same fuzzy logic technology to
cook rice, and reviewers say it is equally easy to use. TheSweethome.com's
Karen Solomon and Tim Barribeau praise this rice cooker's controls and
easy-to-clean insert. It also has a rice-paddle clip and retractable cord –
nice conveniences. The 1-liter NS-TSC10 has an uncooked capacity of 5½
cups; the (Est. $165) is the 10-cup
The NS-TSC10 has a wide range of settings: white/sushi, mixed, porridge,
sweet, brown, cake, steam, and quick cooking. Cake? Yes, that's not a typo --
you can bake cake inside this rice cooker. If you're very picky about your
rice, however, note that it lacks a few of the more specialized settings of the
Neuro, including softer or harder white rice and semi-brown rice. As for rice
quality, owners say it delivers consistently soft, tasty grains. TheSweethome.com
testers agree, but say it faltered slightly with quick-cook rice. They also
note that it can be slow, and required 46 minutes to cook a 3-cup batch of
If you don't stray too far from basic white rice, a cheap rice cooker
should be able to satisfy your needs for a lot less money. These models
typically skip a lot of added features, and many have a smaller capacity.
Still, owners say they do a good job of conveniently cooking fluffy rice.
Rice lovers who don't need extensive rice-specific settings will get
plenty of bang for their buck with the (Est. $35). It earns expert and owner praise for
quick cooking and consistent results. It also boasts an impressive 7-cup
uncooked capacity, which yields 14 cups of cooked rice – much more than
most budget-friendly rice cookers. Still not enough? The equally
budget-friendly (Est. $35) can turn out up to 20 cups of rice.
Experts with TheSweethome.com say the Hamilton Beach cooks white rice
"as delicious as models that cost four times as much," including the Zojirushi
NS-TSC10. They also appreciate the relatively quick cooking time of just over
half an hour. Owners say the push-button controls are simple to use, but they
appreciate getting some extras at this price point: brown rice and quick-cook
settings, delayed start, a keep-warm setting, and even heat/simmer and steam.
Criticisms of the Hamilton Beach are muted, but some reviewers say it is
only average for cooking brown rice, and that a pricier model may be worth the
investment for brown-rice lovers. And, as TheSweethome.com notes, it won't
allow for fine-tuning for firmer or softer rice.
If you want to stick to the basics and would be better-served by smaller
portions, the (Est. $30) is a reliable, low-cost performer that makes
enough for a typical family -- 6 cups is its total yield. It also comes with a
steaming basket, which isn't always the case among cheap rice cookers.
Using the Oster is a simple affair, since it has one-button operation.
When rice is done, a keep-warm setting automatically kicks in -- also a bonus
at this price point. There are two lights to indicate which mode the rice
cooker is in, and you'll hear a click when it switches over.
Despite its lack of fancy settings, experts say the Oster quickly
produces tasty white and sushi rice. Owners echo that sentiment, with most saying
it delivers impressively consistent results. However, a few say you're better
off sticking to white rice, and others say they had problems with burnt or
overly browned rice if they left the warm setting on for too long.
Rice-cooker buyers who don't want to overpay for capacity they don't
need should check out the (Est. $16), which makes up to 3 cups of rice – perfect for one or two
people. A 6-cup version, the (Est. $20),
is also available.
Like the Oster CKSTRCMS65, the bare-bone controls are simple to use.
Push a button to cook the rice, and when it's done, a keep-warm setting kicks
in. Indicator lights show whether rice is still cooking or ready to eat. Owners
appreciate this simplicity, though a few miss having an on/off switch.
Overall, reviewers say the Black and Decker does a good job with a
variety of rice types. But some say it spits water all over the counter, while
others say their cooker stopped working after a short period of time.
Induction heating cooks rice evenly and efficiently, using an electrical
current to heat the entire cooking pan, not just the bottom of the rice cooker.
This means that rice cooks without any clumping of the finished product. Since
the entire pan is heated, induction rice cookers are also a bit faster than
their closest fully featured competitors, micom rice cookers – but
they're also more expensive.
The (Est. $385) cooks rice to perfection, experts and owners say.
This rice cooker uses induction heating, pressure cooking, fuzzy logic and
artificial intelligence to do all of the thinking for the cook. Artificial
intelligence is a technology that "learns" from previous rice cooker
usage to adjust the cooking cycle for the best results, including addressing
seasonal water and room temperature differences to maintain rice texture and
consistency. Many reviewers say they hesitated for years before finally "biting
the bullet" and shelling out the cash for a Zojirushi induction rice cooker,
and now wish they hadn't waited so long.
There are as many menu settings on the Zojirushi NP-NVC10 as anyone will
ever need, including white (regular, soft or harder), umami, mixed,
sushi/sweet, porridge, brown, germinated brown, steam-reduce, scorch,
rinse-free and quick cooking. User rave about this rice cooker's 24-hour
programmable timer -- you can fill the pot and tell the rice cooker when to
turn the rice on so it is done when you are ready for your meal. The
platinum-infused nonstick inner cooking pan changes the water's quality to
create sweeter-tasting rice. It holds 5½ cups uncooked rice, but there
is also a 10-cup version, the (Est. $415).
Owners sing the praises of the NP-NVC10. Many say it turns out rice
that's "as good as it gets," and that the keep warm setting produces rice
that's tasty and well-textured for hours after it's cooked. However, a few
reviewers say they don't feel the NP-NVC10's performance justifies its hefty
If you have your eye on induction rice cookers but want to spend a
little less, the (Est. $235) offers
the same technology with a smaller capacity and fewer features. You won't get
the platinum-infused nonstick coating or extended keep-warm setting on this
model, or other features such as modes for soft or hard white rice, jasmine
rice, umami, sweet and semi-brown rice, steam reduce, and scorch. However, it
still has plenty of cook settings, including for white rice, quick cooking,
mixed rice, sushi rice, porridge, brown rice, germinated brown rice, and
rinse-free rice. The NP-GBC05XT has a 3-cup uncooked
capacity, which makes it a good choice for smaller families.
Owners are just as enthused about the NP-GBC05XT as they are the pricier
NP-NVC10, saying it turns out rice with excellent taste and texture, and is a
better choice for more basic rice dishes. A few complain that the detachable
power cord is too bulky and stiff, while others want a backlit display, but
overall most agree that it is worth every penny.
A rice cooker that doubles as a steamer is a wise choice for
cooks who often enjoy their rice with steamed fish or vegetables, containing
dinner prep in one easy-to-clean appliance. The only downside is that true rice
lovers may not get all the dedicated rice-cooking modes they want with these
Rice pairs perfectly with steamed meat and vegetables, and
rice cookers/steamers like the popular (Est. $30) let you take care of
both halves of your meal in one convenient appliance. Reviewers say the
stainless-steel Aroma is a versatile little appliance and a fantastic value.
You can make your whole dinner in one go, steaming meat and vegetables in the
built-in steamer tray while cooking rice below.
Experts say the Aroma is easy to use and clean,
with a digital timer, a delayed-start function, and a removable inner cooking
pot. A keep-warm function keeps rice toasty after it's done cooking. The Aroma
even aced experts' rice taste tests, turning out grains as tender as a
dedicated rice cooker model five times its price.
If you're a true rice aficionado, note that you'll
only have white and brown rice settings on this model. That doesn't bother most
owners: They've made it one of the most highly rated rice cookers at
Amazon.com, with thousands of reviews. Users praise the Aroma's consistently
good rice-cooking and added steaming abilities. However, some complain of
durability issues, saying the unit stopped working after a few uses or the rice
pan's nonstick coating started to flake off.
If you have a little more cash at your disposal,
the stainless-steel (Est. $130) packs a lot of functions into one small pot. While it
has basic rice-cooking and steaming modes, you can also make risotto or sauté
and slow-cook food. It holds up to 10 cups of uncooked rice.
Owners say the Risotto Plus is extremely easy to
use. There is no LCD display to navigate; instead, there are six single-function
buttons at the base. A keep-warm function maintains the right temperature even
after food is done, and the aluminum nonstick cooking bowl pops out for easy
cleaning. The unit also has a removable power cord to make serving dinner less
Risotto is easy to flub, but reviewers say the
Risotto Plus repeatedly aces the dish, even without the constant stirring
that's traditionally required. They also like the versatility of being able to
steam, sauté, and slow cook with the same unit. A few reviewers are
underwhelmed with the slow-cooking feature, however, saying the unit is too
small to really replace a programmable slow cooker, which we cover in a
separate report. A handful of others say rice lovers would be better served by
a dedicated rice cooker with more rice-specific modes.
Microwaveable rice cookers are simply bowls with vented
locking lids; some also double as pasta cookers or steamers. Microwaveable rice
cookers are convenient on several fronts: They're quicker than traditional
electric rice cookers, easy to clean, and small enough to toss in a cabinet
with your plates and bowls. Another big pro: they're among the cheapest rice
cookers you can buy. Just note that microwaveable rice cookers often require a
lot of experimenting before producing evenly cooked rice.
The (Est. $20) is a versatile, fully featured set at a great price, owners say. This
white 17-piece set includes a pasta draining insert,
steaming insert, pasta measurer, measuring cups and spoons, rice paddle and
locking lid. For easy storage, all parts fit inside the main rice bowl.
It holds up to 12 cups of uncooked rice.
Users say using the GMRC-500 couldn't be easier: Rinse
your rice, put it into the cooker, add water, lock the lid, and microwave.
Cooking times for white rice listed in the manual vary from 11 to 12 minutes
for 1 cup (cooked) to about 20 to 22 minutes for 8 cups. A draining insert
makes quick work of pasta, and the steamer works well for vegetables, owners
say. The GMRC-500 is dishwasher-safe in the top rack for easy cleanup.
Most reviewers say the GMRC-500 is a great way for anyone
who prizes speed to make a hearty meal, especially those who don't have a lot
of space to store bulky appliances. However, some say the 12-cup capacity is
overkill, especially for most college students. Some users also complain
there's too much trial and error involved in cooking overall; others say water
runs all over the microwave despite using recommended amounts.
If you don't want to keep track of the extra pieces
that come with the GMRC-500, the (Est. $15) is a simpler unit that keeps the focus on rice. This
cherry-red plastic unit has just four pieces: bowl, pressure chamber tray, lid,
and rice spoon. It holds 11 cups of uncooked rice.
Cooking times vary, but it takes about 12 minutes
to cook about 1 cup of long grain white rice, according to Sistema. Once you've
rinsed your rice, you simply add it to the bowl, put the pressure chamber tray
on top, lock the lid, and microwave. The pressure chamber tray helps lessen the
chance of overflow by collecting water and draining it back into the base. The
unit is freezer- and dishwasher-safe (top rack).
Reviewers say the Sistema steamer bowl feels
sturdier than some competing products, and most say it cooks rice consistently
well. We also read quite a few reviews from people who say that it's very
versatile and they have used the Sistema to cook quinoa, oatmeal and even
vegetables. Complaints echo those regarding the GMRC-500: Many reviewers have
trouble with water overflowing in the microwave, and others say directions
aren't detailed enough, leading to a lot of trial and error. However, many note
that there is a learning curve depending upon your particular microwave, so that
may be a factor in the latter complaint.
Expert & User Review Sources
There are a handful of hands-on reviews of rice cookers. Some of the
most helpful are from CooksIllustrated.com, FineCooking.com, The Sweethome.com, Techlicious.com and Wired.com, all conducted
by testers who pitted several top models against one another. Individual
reviews at SacredRice.com and Forbes.com were also helpful in
examining features in detail. Finally, user reviews at Amazon.com, Walmart.com and BedBathandBeyond.com provided the final piece of the puzzle on how
well these rice cookers fare in day-to-day use.