Rice pairs perfectly with steamed meat and vegetables, and rice cookers/steamers let you take care of both halves of your meal in one convenient appliance, and none are more popular than the Aroma 8-Cup Digital Rice Cooker and Steamer (Est. $30). Reviewers say this 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. This stainless steel unit is also fairly compact, measuring roughly 9 by 8½ by 9 inches.
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 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 sautŽ and slow-cook food. Fortunately, the stainless-steel Risotto Plus is still relatively compact at 10 by 12½ by 11½ inches. 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, sautŽ, 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. That makes them an ideal choice in dorms or offices where storage space is limited. Another big pro: they're among the cheapest rice cookers you can buy, and come in a range of sizes that accommodate anyone from a single student to a big family.
For all of their conveniences, users say the big downside is that microwaveable rice cookers often require a lot of experimenting before producing evenly cooked rice. The wattage of your typical home microwave varies, so you may have to tweak the guidelines you get with the rice cooker a great deal. 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 Prep Solutions Microwaveable Rice and Pasta Cooker (Est. $15) 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, which is roughly 9 by 7 by 6.5 inches. It holds up to 12 cups of rice (uncooked).
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 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 10.9 Cup Rice Steamer Bowl (Est. $15) is a simpler unit that keeps the focus on rice. It has just four pieces: bowl, pressure chamber tray, lid, and rice spoon. This cherry red plastic unit is 8½ by 6½ by 8½ inches.
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.