What the best rice cooker has
- Easy-to-use controls. Basic rice cookers often offer one-touch operation. Pricier models will have digital controls, but they should still be intuitive enough to require only a few brief glances at the manual.
- A digital timer. Models with digital controls should have a timer that can tell your rice cooker to switch on at a specified time and let you know how much time is left until your meal is ready.
- An easy-to-clean bowl. A rice cooker at any price point should have a nonstick insert that is easy to clean with a sponge, soap, and water. Some inserts are also dishwasher-safe, while plastic microwaveable rice cookers can be cleaned on the top rack of the dishwasher. Some models may feature stainless-steel inserts that are a bit more durable, but these are usually harder to clean.
- A stay-cool exterior. The outside of your rice cooker shouldn't burn your fingers when the appliance is on. If you plan to serve rice directly from the rice cooker, make sure any handles stay cool to the touch.
- An automatic keep-warm setting. Many rice cookers will automatically keep your rice warm after it's done cooking. It's a nice feature to have if you don't want to eat right away.
- A quick-cook setting. If you're opting for a more advanced, fully featured rice cooker, make sure it has a quick-cook setting you can use when you're pressed for time.
- Specific modes for different kinds of rice. If you rarely eat anything other than white rice, this might not be necessary. However, if you're a real rice lover, you'll want a rice cooker that takes the guesswork out of cooking different kinds of rice.
- An included measuring cup and rice spatula. At a minimum, your rice cooker should come with a rice measuring cup and rice spatula. A spatula holder on the side of the rice cooker is a nice bonus.
- A compatible steamer basket. A steamer basket or tray is nice to have, though not necessary if you don't want to cook meat or vegetables at the same time your rice is cooking.
- A removable or retractable power cord. This convenient feature makes your rice cooker easier to store. It also lets you turn your rice cooker into a portable server without dragging a long power cord behind.
Know before you go
How often will you cook rice? With the wide price range and selection of rice cookers, you need to determine just how serious a rice cook you are. If you only eat white rice occasionally, a simple cooker probably will meet your needs. However, if you consider yourself an aficionado who eats rice daily, you likely will want to consider rice cookers with induction heating or a microprocessor, as well as a variety of rice settings.
Do you want a model that does more than cook rice? Rice cookers don't take up a lot of room. If you have an especially small kitchen, though, you might want to consider a multi-purpose cooker that also serves as a steamer and slow cooker. Pressurized rice cookers don't release steam, so they can be used in almost any room of the house.
How many people will be eating rice? Figure about a cup of uncooked rice per person. You won't need a rice cooker with a 10-cup capacity if you're only feeding two people; a 3-cup model (the smallest available) would probably be just fine. Consider stepping up to a 5- to 6-cup rice cooker for a family of 4 to 6, and an 8- to 10-cup cooker for a bigger crowd. Remember: Rice measuring cups are not the same size as standard U.S. cups -- they are about three-fourths the size.