Rice cookers are essential to rice lovers' kitchens
To get the best-tasting rice, experts and consumers alike say a rice cooker is essential. Some are so simple, all the cook has to do is pour rice and water into the cooker's pan, shut the lid and push a button. Other rice cookers use microprocessors to cook a variety of rice types; still other rice cookers do double duty as steamers and slow cookers.
Rice cookers are defined by heating technology. Conventional rice cookers are simple appliances. You just add rice and water and push a button to start the heating process. These are fine for cooking white rice, but may not be ideal for brown rice or rice for sushi, which require different temperatures and cooking times. These grains do best in a rice cooker that has a microprocessor, sometimes called a micom rice cooker, which have a variety of cooking settings.
Induction rice cookers, which use an electrical current to warm the entire cooking bowl -- rather than a traditional heating element that warms only the bottom of the bowl – cook much more evenly and can be fine-tuned to prepare even the most delicate rice types, experts say. They're also much more expensive than other rice cooker types.
The best rice cookers have a pressurized heating. This raises the temperature to a higher level, which modifies the structure of starch in the rice grains. Rice is cooked faster, and the texture is fluffier and softer. Rice aficionados believe this makes the rice easier to digest.
Some rice cookers do more than just cook rice. Food steamers cook more slowly than a dedicated rice cooker, but they can also cook and steam meats and vegetables while they're cooking the rice, resulting in a no-fuss, one-pot meal.
Most of these rice cookers and cooker/steamers can be pre-programmed. Take a few seconds to start them in the morning, and you'll come home to perfectly cooked rice -- or a complete meal.
Rice cookers have one of the widest price ranges of any countertop appliance. You can pick up a simple unit for white rice for $20 at your local department store, or spend $700 and up for an induction rice cooker. Many of the higher-tech models fall in the $100 to $300 range and get as good reviews for performance as those that cost twice as much.
ConsumerSearch has analyzed a number of expert reviews and hundreds of owner reviews to evaluate dozens of rice cookers on their performance, ease of use and durability. We then narrowed down our results to determine the best rice cooker for any kitchen.
Best Rice Cookers
Rice cookers make a cook's job incredibly easy
Rice cookers take the guesswork out of preparing rice. A microprocessor determines how and when to adjust the temperature and heating time. Once the rice is done, the rice cooker switches to a keep-warm setting.
Expert and consumer reviewers say the Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker & Warmer NS-ZCC10 (Est. $165) is a quality choice because it consistently cooks rice perfectly. It is easy to use and clean. Menu settings include white (regular/sushi, softer or harder), mixed, porridge, sweet, semi-brown, brown, rinse-free and quick cooking. It does not have an on/off button; you must unplug it to turn it off. Having rice ready to eat when you get home is simple with the use of the rice cooker's programmable timer. You can set it in the morning so that it starts cooking the rice an hour before you get home.
Our runner-up ZElectric Rice Cooker & Warmer NS-PC10 (Est. $90) -- has many of the same attributes as the NS-ZCC10 at half the price. Consumers say, however, that this model's instructions are not clear, and they struggle to figure out how much rice and water to use. Also, the cooker does not turn off until you unplug it; the unit has only a start button, unlike the NS-ZCC10/18, which has multiple settings. Other than that, reviewers say it is also simple to use and clean, and many say it's a particularly great value considering the many years they have owned and used it.
Both Zojirushi models come in two sizes. The smaller models have the capacity for up to 5.5 cups of dry rice (10 cups cooked), the larger model takes up to 10 cups (18 cups cooked), and you can cook as little as 2 cups of dry rice.