If you love rice like I do and want to consistently cook fluffy, flavorful, well-separated great tasting rice, then you need a rice cooker.
No more cooking rice over the stovetop trying to figure out why your rice sometimes comes out burnt on the edges, or mushy, or too crispy, or too soft.
I’m not a great cook but I pair rice with a lot of meals and oftentimes just want something simple and easy to use without spending a bunch of time preparing rice.
I can turn my attention to the rest of my dinner and wont have to spend even more time cleaning up as rice cookers are pretty simple to clean. As you can probably tell by now, I’m as much of a fan of rice cookers as I was when I got my first toaster and electric kettle.
A good rice cooker takes the guesswork out of cooking rice and will make great tasting rice at the push of a button every single time. Moreover, once finished cooking, it will keep your rice warm for several hours up to a few days depending on the cooker.
If you’re in a rush, the best rice cooker under $50 is the Aroma Housewares Digital Rice Cooker (ARC-5000SB), the best overall rice cooker is the Zojirushi NS-ZCC18, and the best high end rice cooker (if it’s within your budget) is the Zojirushi NP-HCC10XH.
What To Look For In a Rice Cooker
As rice is a staple in Asian cultures, it makes sense that rice cookers were first invented in Japan some 60 years ago and the Japanese and Koreans have been manufacturing the best rice cookers on the market ever since.
That said, there are still plenty of good rice cookers manufactured all over the world. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a rice cooker.
Speed: How fast does it cook the rice? As a rule of thumb, usually the longer it takes to make something, be it food or anything else, the better the finished product. The same is true of rice cookers. That said, if you’re in a hurry, you don’t want to wait around all day so having the option of cooking rice in 30 minutes tops was a requirement in our selection criteria.
Usually, there is a quick cook option for under 30 minutes, options for choosing the style of rice being cooked and adjustable settings in the crispiness or softness of how you would like your grains cooked, which may take an hour or more of cooking time.
Cooking Performance: Who cares how fast your rice is cooked if the end product doesn’t taste good, right? The ability to cook different types of rice such as millet, long grain rice, brown rice or quinoa and produce batch after batch of flavorful and evenly cooked rice is most important. On second thought, this should probably be #1
Ease of use: You have enough things to worry about, trying to figure out how to use a rice cooker shouldn’t be one of them. It should be dead simple to operate and take no more than two or three pushes of a button to start cooking.
Keep Warm: Maybe the rice is done cooking before the other parts of the meal, or someone is running late for dinner, or you just want to eat later or the following day? A good rice cooker should not only heat your rice evenly an all sides but keep the rice warm and ready for consumption for plenty of time as well.
Fuzzy logic: We’ll spare you the long definition of this mathematical term but just know that when used in the context of rice cookers, it means that there is computer chip that is used to adjust the settings within the rice cooker to account for different variations in food, temperature and water levels.
Most high end models are equipped with this feature (that might come under different branded names such as Micom) giving them the ability to cook different types of rice and different types of foods because the rice cooker is basically smart enough to know the difference and configure itself accordingly.
Price: You get what you pay for. If you eat rice infrequently and are on a budget than there you should be fine with a rice cooker less than $50. If, however, you want a long term cooker that’s equipped with the ability to cook different kinds of rice perfectly with a host of other useful options as well, then you should invest in a higher end model.
Now that you know what to look for, let’s take a look at the best rice cookers available today.
1. Zojirushi NS-ZCC18 Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker and Warmer
The Zojirushi NS ZCC18 rice cooker is widely regarded as a modern classic and one of the best (selling) rice cookers you can buy.
The Zojirushu cooks any type of grain I throw at it, uses its fuzzy logic micro computer brain to tweak cooking settings on the fly, and delivers fluffy and evenly cooked rice every single time.
Design: It has a smooth white exterior finish with aluminum inner non stick inside container with handles on the inner pan as well as the outer body to facilitate transport. It also has a retractable power cord, a spatula, removable inner lid for easy cleaning and a capacity of 5.5 cups which should be more than enough for a family of four.
Functionality: As the name implies, what sets this apart is its fuzzy logic feature: It’s foolproof. You can mess up the ratio of water to rice and the Zojirushi’s smart enough to make adjustments to moisture and temperature in order to compensate and turn out great tasting rice using its triple heaters that cook your rice evenly on all sides.
Keep warm: Once cooked, it can maintain your perfectly cooked rice at an even temperature for 12 hours, 8 hours at a lower temperature, and then quickly re-heated to bring it back to serving temperature.
Bottom line, if you’re a demanding customer who is after top quality flavor and texture, you really can’t beat the Zojirushi. Thousands of people on Amazon seem to think so too.
Downsides? Of course, its functions are limited to cooking rice so you cant steam vegetables or make protein in it. The other downside is that it is slow and takes a long time to cook. Technically, you could use the timer up to 13 hours to begin cooking well in advance but still, be prepared to wait up to 40 minutes for rice perfection. Full review here
2. Tiger JBV-A10U 5.5-Cup Micom Rice Cooker
The Tiger is also another established Japanese brand. This isn’t just a rice cooker – it’s also a slow cooker, steamer and warmer that can make vegetables and/or protein thanks to its upper tray. You can have a whole meal prepared by one device.
Functionality: It has its own cooking logic system called Micom that helps control the cooking process by adjusting time and temperature in order to adjust for the type of food being cooked.
Design: A white solid body with clear LED screen that allow for push button navigation and operation to choose between cooking plain rice, brown rice, steaming or synchronized cooking. It too has an easy to clean non stick inner pan and detachable steam cap.
This model has a 5.5 cup capacity but there is also a model with a bigger 10 cup capacity for larger families or frequent rice eaters.
Downsides: Unfortunately, theres no notification to let you know when your food is ready, the lid isnt removable for easy cleaning, and most importantly, the rice was good, but not nearly as good as the Zojirushi or Cuckoo rice cookers.
Bottom line: Still, this is an affordable option for many consumers and it has excellent ratings on Amazon. Full review here.
3. Cuckoo CR-0631F Rice Cooker
Cuckoo is the best selling rice cooker brand in South Korea. And for good reason. Their most popular model the Cuckoo CR-0631 is a highly rated cooker that makes the best brown rice of all the rice cookers. And it makes both brown and white rice about 10 minutes faster than the Zojirushi cookers.
Design: This is a pressurized cooker (hence the 20 minute cooking time) with a sleek and cute pink and white design with voice navigation buttons on the front of the display.
It has a nonstick inner coating aluminum pot that should make cleaning a breeze and the pot has a flat bottom with curved sides to ensure even cooking all around.
Capacity: It has a relatively small capacity of only 3 cups (uncooked, 6 cups cooked) rice so this will only be suitable for couples or infrequent rice eaters.
Downside: It’s not foolproof so you have to measure the rice to water appropriately but so long as you do, it can make any type of rice. The downside of course is that it cannot be used to do anything other than make rice.
Bottom line: Still, this a popular choice among rice cookers because it offers great performance at around $100, making it an Amazon’s choice.
4. Hamilton Beach 37518 Rice Cooker
The Hamilton Beach 37518 Rice Cooker is a very affordable rice cooker that has many of the same features as higher end cookers.
Functionality: It can make a variety of rices: from white rice to brown, rice, short or long grain, grits, cream, quinoa and more. It is also a versatile device allowing you to make more than just rice as it has the ability to steam, heat, and simmer food as well. And it’s really fast.
The Hamilton Beach rice cooker is a compact cooker with a stainless steel and black design with an 4 cup (uncooked rice) capacity
Design: It has a 6 button navigation menu with digital LED display, timer delay for up to 15 hours, keep warm settings, a non stick plastic container that doubles as a sieve and notifies you when your food is ready.
Downside: It can certainly make a variety of foods, just not as well as other rice cookers. The rice isn’t as fluffy, puffed, and well separated. Additionally, due to the thin metal interior and plastic parts, there maybe durability issues over the long run.
Still, you won’t find a cheaper rice cooker on the market so it may be a good deal if you just need the basics. Read full review of the Hamilton Beach Rice Cooker here.
5. Panasonic SR-DF101 Rice Cooker
This is a small and compact rice cooker that packs a powerful punch. It offers the versatility of being able to cook rice as well as steam vegetables in its upper tray.
Capacity: 5 cups of uncooked rice, 10 cups of cooked rice, which should be enough to feed a family of four.
Design: It has an intuitive and easy to operate navigation display that allows you to easily navigate cooking modes, up to six of them such as steaming, white or brown rice, soup and quick cook settings allowing you to make a variety of grains.
Functionality: It has its own fuzzy logic technology as well making adjustments to time and temperature on the fly so it produces great tasting rice – but perhaps not the best rice amongst these rice cookers.
Once rice is done cooking, it has a keep warm setting for up to 12 hours, which is certainly lower than other rice cookers, but could be all you need as well.
Bottom line: this is a good budget option and entry level rice cooker for college kids, young couples or anyone on a budget. A good value.
6. Zojirushi Induction Rice Cooker NP-HCC10XH
This is a Mercedes Benz of rice cookers but made in Japan of course.. It is a powerful rice cooker for consumers with demanding tastes who want perfection from their rice. It produces flavorful, evenly cooked, fluffy and textured rice no matter what type of grains you throw at it – brown rice, basmati, jasmine or white rice.
Design: Just by looking at it, you can tell that it has a smooth stainless steel brushed quality and durable design with a bright LCD display and button navigation.
It of course has a nonstick pot with markings to denote water and rice levels, but it doesn’t really matter because its cooking logic will adjust its cooking parameters to ensure your rice comes out perfect even if you mess up the ratios.
Functionality: What’s special about this rice cooker is its induction heating cooking method. Basically, this means that the heat source is consistent throughout the whole rice cooker (as opposed to just heating from the bottom) producing precise and evenly cooked rice.
It has the expected keep warm setting that can be extended automatically, a timer and the durability to last several years. Make no doubt about it, it’s a pricey option and its limited to just cooking rice. But it does its one job better than anything else.
Bottom line: Get this if you want one of the best rice cookers you can buy and you eat a variety of different grains on a frequent basis (more than twice a week). It’s the best rice cooker out there. Otherwise, save your money as there are cheaper options.
7. Aroma Housewares ARC-914SBD Rice Cooker and Steamer
With over 10,00 reviews, the Aroma ARC rice cooker may be the most popular rice cooker on Amazon.
Design: It comes in either a stainless steel and black design or a solid all white outer body. It has a stay-cool touch control panel, a non-removable hinged lid that locks in moisture and steam, and a capacity that ranges from 4 cup uncooked rice capacity.
The inner container unfortunately is made of glazed non ceramic so rice tends to get stuck to the bottom of the pot.
Timer delay up to 15 hours as well, keep warm settings, a notification beep and fast rice cooking of all kinds in about 30 minutes.
The downsides: The rice is just ok, but not nearly as good as some of the aforementioned rice cookers from Cuckoo and Zojirushi. Durability issues because of the ceramic inner pot, non removable lid, and overall construction of the rice cooker.
It is obviously a popular choice as evidenced by the number of reviews on Amazon, but there were some really harsh ones complaining that the Aroma leaks steam and spits hot water. Apparently, these don’t last more than a year.
Bottom line: people either love it or hate it and this seems to be either a great deal for some people, or a disaster for others. Nowhere in between. Read full review of the Aroma Rice Cooker here.
Other Important Features of Rice Cookers
Cleanliness: Pretty much all rice cookers have a removable nonstick inner cooking pot made of stainless steel or aluminum, and a plastic or metal steamer basket for vegetables or protein. This makes cleaning a breeze.
Lid: preferably removable as well for simpler cleaning. Most importantly, a lid that is tightly sealed to prevent too much steam from escaping the unit when cooking and potentially burning little ones.
Paddle: Preferably with a paddle holder on the cooker itself to scoop out the rice when finished.
Size: How big of a footprint does it have? Is it a small appliance that wont take up kitchen countertop space or a huge unit that needs ample space? This will usually depend on capacity so if you’re used to cooking rice for the whole family, expect a larger unit and vice versa if you’re cooking for yourself.
Speaking of capacity, it is generally measured in cups. Not the cups that we are used to, but in cup sizes that come with all rice cookers, which are roughly 3/4 the size of a normal cup size.
So a large family would need a rice cooker with a capacity of 10 cups while a 6 cup cooker should be more than enough for a couple.
Notification: Does it have a cute jingle that lets you know when your rice is ready?
Manufacturing: It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Japanese brands and for good reason. Rice is a staple in Japanese culture so they spent decades ensuring that they got it right. If you’ve heard of German engineering, when it comes to rice cookers, Japanese engineering is every bit as good.
The point is that the Zojirushi and Tiger brands made in Japan (not China or elsewhere) have proven to be the gold standard in rice cookers.
Assuming you want a product made with precision, care and high quality materials designed for the strictest standards of Japanese culture, you’re going to want a rice cooker that was made in Japan.
How A Rice Cooker Works
How do rice cookers manage to turn out perfectly good white rice, brown rice, proteins or steamed vegetables? Here’s a high level overview:
There are four parts:
- The outer body
- Inner cooking pot/container
- Heating plate underneath the inner cooking pot.
- A small spring loaded thermometer that keeps tabs on the heat temperature inside the rice cooker and continually adjusts itself as needed.
You first pour in the rice and water and the unit starts to steam as the grains start soaking up the hot water.
As the water evaporates and your rice is done cooking, the thermometer adjusts to lower the heat and switch to a keep warm setting so as not to overcook your rice.
It’s actually pretty neat as the induction heating method is used in some cookers to evenly distribute heat throughout the cooker to ensure that you don’t burn the bottom of the rice and undercook the rest.