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 truly need.
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 modes.
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.
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 Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker & Warmer (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 cooking.
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 Zojirushi NS-ZCC18 (Est. $190) yields 20 cups of cooked rice.
If you want something a little sleeker than basic white, the Zojirushi NS-TSC10 Micom Rice Cooker (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 Zojirushi NS-TSC18 (Est. $165) is the 10-cup version.
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 white rice.
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 Hamilton Beach 37549 Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer (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 Hamilton Beach 37541 Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker (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 Oster CKSTRCMS65 6-Cup Rice Cooker (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 Black and Decker RC503 (Est. $16), which makes up to 3 cups of rice – perfect for one or two people. A 6-cup version, the Black and Decker RC506 (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 Zojirushi NP-NVC10 Induction Rice Cooker and Warmer (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 Zojirushi NP-NVC18 (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 price tag.
If you have your eye on induction rice cookers but want to spend a little less, the Zojirushi NP-GBC05XT (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 appliances.
Rice pairs perfectly with steamed meat and vegetables, and rice cookers/steamers like the popular Aroma 8-Cup Digital Rice Cooker and Steamer (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 Breville BRC600XL Risotto Plus Rice and Risotto Maker (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 cumbersome.
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 Prep Solutions Microwaveable Rice and Pasta Cooker (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 Sistema Microwave Cookware Rice Steamer (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.
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.