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.