A rice cooker can be a useful addition to any kitchen’s arsenal of appliances. Just add rice, water, and perhaps a little salt, and a rice cooker can produce a perfect product every time, with no further intervention.
Rice, of course, has been a staple of the human diet since the crop was first domesticated more than 10,000 years ago in the Yangtze Valley of China. Various specialised steaming pots were developed through history but the first commercially-successful, electric rice cooker dates only from 1956 when Toshiba brought a machine to market in Japan. The Toshiba machine, and all subsequent rice cookers, had three essential parts: a heating element; a cooking bowl and a thermostat. Modern cookers have added many features such as ‘keep warm’ or ‘delayed start’ but, at heart, they remain a vessel where rice absorbs heated water without scorching.
One thing we’ve learned from our research is that it will almost always require some experimentation to discover the ideal cooking time and liquid quantities for the different types of rice you generally eat, and this is doubly true if you hope to use your cooker for other grains or products such as polenta; couscous; bulgur wheat or pulses. However, once you’ve ‘calibrated’ your recipes, you can begin to enjoy the versatility of your machine and produce perfectly-cooked rice and other products on a consistent basis.
In the first instance, your pick of rice cooker will depend on your family’s size and appetite for rice, and perhaps the available space on your kitchen counter. Cooker-size is usually quoted in litres (of cooked rice) so you will start by assessing the likely demand for cooked rice at regular meals or when entertaining. Typical appliances are 0.8 L (around 3 cups, more than enough for an average family meal) and 1.8 L (about 8 cups, good for parties).
After capacity, it’s worth thinking about other features you might find useful or desirable: many cookers have non-stick pots or digital features such as delayed start and pre-set cook times. In making our picks we have researched reviews and considered durability and brand reputation.
Finally, it comes down to price. Can you find the appliance you want at a price you can afford? Our best choices for 2017 include rice cookers from a variety of price points.
Best Rice Cookers
Sistema Microwave Rice Steamer
Strictly, the Sistema is a microwavable pot, rather than a stand-alone rice cooker, but we’ve included it for its design and price. Made of bright red, phthalate- and BPA-free plastic, it has a large 2.6 L capacity and is dishwasher-safe. A matching serving spoon is included in the package. Typically it will take between 12 and 15 minutes to cook 1 ½ cups of rice. However, this is not a set-it-and-forget-it device and it will require some experimentation with cooking times and quantities in your home microwave.
SQ Professional Stainless Steel Rice Cooker
A competitively priced, entry-level rice cooker, the SQ has a removable aluminium cooking bowl seated in a brushed steel exterior and fitted with a glass lid. It has a modest 0.8 L capacity and two heating modes: cook and keep-warm, which is engaged automatically when the thermostat detects that cooking is complete. It is power rated at 350 watts and measures approximately 22 cm, across and top-to-bottom. It is delivered with a measuring cup and rice scoop.
Lloytron Kitchen Perfected Automatic Non-Stick Rice Cooker
Another everyday, family rice cooker, we like the Lloytron for its design and its easy-to-clean, non-stick, removable cooking pot. It has two controls: heat and keep warm, and LED indicator lights. The keep warm mode is automatically engaged when the rice is cooked. It uses 350 watts and has a 0.8 L capacity, usually sufficient for four good-sized servings. It is 24 cm high and 23 cm across, at its widest. A measuring cup and spatula are included with the appliance.
VonShef 1.8 L Rice Cooker
The VonShef is a larger, solid machine; a good all-rounder at a great price. It features a removable, non-stick cooking pot and an automatic keep-warm function. An insulated, lock-tight lid opens with the push of a button. It is 30 cm high and 30 cm across, which may be a space issue in a smaller kitchen, but it does have a detachable power cord that can be stored inside the pot when not in use. The VonShef is available in a black or white finish and is power-rated at 560 watts. It comes with a steam tray, measuring cup and serving spoon.
Crock Pot 1.8 L Digital Rice Cooker
Crock Pot is a well-built, reliable pick that can be used in a variety of one-pot cooking situations. It has both white- and brown-rice functions and you are also able to saute in the pot; the steamer tray enables you to add meat, fish or vegetables along with your rice. The keep-warm feature engages automatically when the rice is cooked. The gun-metal-grey design is cauldron-shaped with six control buttons in a plaque-shaped panel mounted on the front of the unit. The cooker is 32 cm high, measuring 29 cm across at its widest and the non-stick pot and tempered glass lid are dishwasher safe. The manufacturer includes a recipe book, measuring cup and stirrer-paddle in the package.
Hamilton Beach Digital Rice Cooker
We are drawn to the Hamilton Beach Rice Cooker by its features, large capacity and positive reviews: one user claimed ‘it changed my life’. The manufacturer has extended the usefulness and versatility of the unit by including three settings for different grains (white rice; quick rice and whole grains) and for cooking cycles (heat/simmer; steam/cook and keep warm). The front-mounted digital control panel also includes a delay-time button (to begin cooking after a pre-determined time up to 15 hours) and a cook-time button. The non-stick cooking bowl and glass lid are dishwasher safe and the exterior finish is brushed stainless steel. The cylindrical-shaped cooker is over 33 cm tall and 31 cm in diameter, and is delivered with a measuring cup, steamer tray and scoop.
Zojirushi Rice Cooker NS-TSQ18
Zojirushi is a Japanese brand that we have chosen to feature because it represents the pinnacle of rice cooker design and function. It has a 10-cup capacity and ‘micro-computerized fuzzy logic’ is deployed to ensure perfectly cooked rice every time. Unusually, the unit, is rectangular, with curved edges and a digital control panel on top featuring clock and timer functions. Pre-set cooking modes include four types of rice but also porridge and cake. It measures 38 cm front-to-back and is 28 cm high and 25 cm wide. It draws 820 watts of power via a retractable power cord. Included accessories are a steaming basket; non-stick spatula and measuring cup. This is a beautiful, versatile and very expensive machine.