The Best Rice Cookers

After testing multiple rice cookers with friends and a panel of Japanese chefs, we recommend the $40 Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer for people who cook rice once in a while. But if you enjoy brown rice, cook rice multiple times a week, or like less-common rice-cooking methods like sticky rice or rice porridge, it’s probably worth investing in a high-end rice cooker—namely the $150 Zojirushi NS-TSC10.

Last Updated: October 26, 2015
After testing eight additional rice cookers this summer and fall, we have a new top pick, the 14-cup Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer ($40). This is the smaller version of our former (and now discontinued) favorite and a great choice if you mostly make white rice. If you cook a lot of brown rice, or want a higher-end cooker with more features, we highly recommend the Cuckoo CRP-G1015F 10 Cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker, which cooks in half the time of our former favorite frequent-use cooker, the Zojirushi NS-TSC10 5-1/2-Cup (Uncooked) Micom Rice Cooker and Warmer ($149). Look for our fully updated guide in about a month.
Expand Most Recent Updates
August 21, 2015: The Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer is getting harder to find. It's out of stock on the Hamilton Beach website but currently available at Bed Bath and Beyond for $50 with free shipping. We're looking into whether the company is phasing this model out, and we're currently testing new rice cookers. Check back in the next month or so for a full update.

Special thanks go to our white rice testing panel, the chefs from Japanese restaurant Ken Ken Ramen. Heading the panel were chefs Takahiro Hori and Yuichiro Aramki—both are Japanese and have years of experience under their belts, including time making sushi. Alongside them were other restaurant employees and co-owner Robert Patterson. Between the panelists’ backgrounds and their restaurant’s menu (which involves bento boxes and Japanese curries) they were a group extremely knowledgeable in the ins and outs of rice.

Who should get this?

To be absolutely clear, not everyone needs a high-end rice cooker or a rice cooker when a pot will do.
To be absolutely clear, not everyone needs a high-end rice cooker or a rice cooker when a pot will do. What really won us away with the Zojirushi was that it made perfect white rice and the best-tasting brown rice I’ve ever had, so if you eat rice all the time (like multiple times a week), it’s worth investing in. But if you only eat rice infrequently (and especially if you don’t cook brown rice) a $40 model will do 75% of the job—more than enough for most people. And if rice is a once-a-month kind of deal, your stove still does an excellent job, especially if you keep an eye on it.

On rice itself


With rice having tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of varieties and cultivars, we figured it would be worth a bit of time to discuss rice itself.

The major subspecies of Oryza sativa are japonica, which is the stickier short grain, and indica, which is long-grained. There are many, many more subspecies, including sub-varieties, as well as grains that are similar to rice but not quite the same (such as wild rice, which isn’t actually rice).

Brown and white rice are technically the same thing. It’s just that brown rice has had just the outer husk removed, whereas white rice also has the bran and germ stripped away. Brown rice is more healthful than white rice, but it’s also harder to prepare and it spoils more easily.

If you go into the supermarket and just grab a random supermarket-brand “white rice”, you’ll probably be picking up some variety of long-grain rice, though we’re not sure exactly what cultivar. It won’t be as clumpy as traditional Japanese-style rice, but it will be lighter and probably fluffier.

If you’re looking to cook a specific dish or style, you’ll be faced with a wall of different rice types, each tied to a different cuisine. Japanese cooking tends to lean towards short-grain rices, like the readily available and California-grown Nishiki. In fact, writer Harris Salat told me that most people in Japan eat rice grown in the United States, and for a while, it was so desired in parts of Asia that it had to be smuggled into the continent.

There are other varieties beyond Japanese rice, too. Indian and Thai foods rely on long-grained rices, like Basmati and Jasmine respectively. Chinese food tends to be pretty flexible, but fairly often uses Jasmine. Iranian cuisine has its own traditional rice types, but you can use Basmati as it’s easier to find. African rice is problematic compared to Asian rices, as it can shatter and has lower yields, but it’s more successful in varying climates and conditions, leading to the creation of New Rice for Africa to address the shortfalls. If you’re keen to cook a traditional Spanish paella, you’ll probably look to Bomba or Calasparra rice—they’re super absorbent rices that can remain al dente even after soaking up broth (Arborio,  generally used for risotto, will also do for a far lower cost). Many Americans were even raised on the bizarre spectre of parboiled quick rice like Uncle Ben’s.

Why a rice cooker? (and a brief history of)

Rice cookers are intriguing inventions, ones that have substantially changed the lives of millions of people.
Rice cookers are intriguing inventions, ones that have substantially changed the lives of millions of people¹. There’s a reason these things are ubiquitous. When you think about it–able to quickly, easily, and with little or no attention cook the staple foodstuff of half the world–you begin to understand why rice cookers are dramatically important devices.

There are those who would argue that a rice cooker doesn’t impart quite the same flavor as traditional methods. James Beard award winner Chef Saipin Chutima of the restaurant Lotus of Siam told me (through her daughter, who translated) that cooking rice by hand creates a far better final product, but agreed that the convenience factor was worth it for some people. We would go further to say that it’s worth it for the vast majority of people who don’t want to spend years learning the intricacies of cooking rice perfectly over a stove.

Fuchsia Dunlop, the first western chef trained at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and author of Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, agrees with this assessment. She told me: “A good rice cooker offers a failsafe way of making perfect rice, every time. I find it invaluable. The best thing is that it quietly makes the rice and keeps it warm so you can devote your full attention to cooking the other dishes. Apart from measuring rice and water, and rinsing the rice, you don’t have to think about it: it’s just ready when you want it. Purists might insist that rice is best parboiled and then left to slow-cook, lid tightly on, over a wood fire–which gives the traditional, rustic guoba (rice crust). But rice-cooker rice is really fantastic.”

A rice cooker is also perfect for people who don’t cook often or who don’t enjoy it. Those who balk at cooking instructions more complicated than “microwave on high” can make an entire meal in a rice cooker by simply cooking the rice and putting some fish and veggies in the steamer tray. (Roger Ebert wrote a book on this kind of rice-cooker cooking called The Pot and How To Use It.)

It’s also an order of magnitude easier to clean a rice cooker than a cooking pot. If you cook rice perfectly, then it’s not too hard to do the washing up. But God help you if you burn it. As the Sweethome’s own Ganda Suthivarakom put it, “I’ve burnt rice in the pot plenty of times, especially with a cheap pot, and there are few things more onerous to clean than burnt rice.” You’ll never have to face that with a rice cooker—they all have non-stick coatings so a quick wipe with hot, soapy water does the job.

How they work

Rice cookers come in (more or less) two varieties. There are the super basic ones, where you hit a switch/button, it cooks the rice, and then the cooker switches over to warm mode. These tend to be affordable, fast, and very simple to use. The technique behind them is brilliant in its simplicity. You have a pot of rice and water in the machine. The water is brought to a boil, and while it’s boiling, the temperature inside the rice cooker is a constant 100°C. Once the water has totally evaporated, the temperature spikes, which triggers the machine to stop cooking. And your rice is done.

…a faster cooker isn’t necessarily better. They’re also a lot more expensive.
Higher-end ones, however, are much more complex. Powered by “fuzzy logic”² and full-on microprocessors running behind the scenes, they are capable of a more nuanced view on temperature, adjusting it variably over the cooking cycle. But these cookers tend to be a bit slower, so you’ll be waiting longer for your rice to finish. (Although that time often includes built-in soaking and resting times; these more nuanced cooking cycles tend to make rice that tastes pretty good. So a faster cooker isn’t necessarily better.) They’re also a lot more expensive.

While rice cookers are now extremely common worldwide, they sprung from Japan and are closely linked with traditional Japanese rice cooking.

Of course, a rice cooker can’t do everything for you, no matter how automatic. When I talked to Japanese food writer and restaurateur Harris Salat, he told me that traditional rice preparation involves rinsing the rice, soaking it, cooking it, then letting it steam and rest, all before fluffing and serving. He explained that the washing allows the rice to absorb the moisture more easily, letting it penetrate the dry grain at its center. It also serves to wash off the excess starch that can make the final product gummy. A good rice cooker massively simplifies that by doing most of the heavy lifting for you but you should still be rinsing your rice first (probably three times).

What makes a good rice cooker?

With these two types of rice cooker, you’re facing vastly different prices. A basic unit will probably cost you less than $50 and lack bells and whistles. A smart rice cooker, on the other hand, can be had for anything from less than $100 to an astonishing $1,000. But as the price rises, so too do the unnecessary features.

For a cheap rice cooker, what you need is fairly straightforward: a good white rice mode, a brown rice mode, a steam mode (and an accompanying steam basket), and a time delay so that you can put off the cooking for a few hours. But really, it all boils down to (ha!) how well it cooks the rice—and how that gels with the types of rice that you want cooked.

Not all affordable rice cookers have these. There are even cheaper, basic rice cookers that have almost nothing more than a glass top and a single switch between cook and warm. These glass-topped models are problematic, as explained in Cook’s Illustrated’s 2007 piece (which is offline right now, but viewable through the cache), as they don’t keep as tight a seal as an all-in-one. That leads to uneven cooking and overly-quick cooling. Also, these don’t allow for the fact that white and brown rice require different cooking times or that you might want to use your cooker for something other than rice. So we passed on these in our search.

In our tests, the biggest difference we found between the low-end and high-end rice cookers…was how well they cook brown rice.
In our tests, the biggest difference we found between the low-end and high-end rice cookers (apart from the additional features we’ll delve into in a second) was how well they cook brown rice. When it came to white rice, low-end and high-end cookers were pretty close in quality, but for brown rice, the expensive ones did a massively better job. They produce fluffier, softer rice that’s just miles better. And for some people, that alone is worth the difference.

At the $100-200 mark, you should have a few standard options that are available on all smart rice cookers: settings for white rice, brown rice, quick cook (speeds up the cooking process at the cost of texture), sticky rice, porridge/congee, mixed rice, and a steamer basket for cooking other things at the same time as your rice. That gives you a lot more options for cooking various rice types than a low-end cooker offers, and if you’re a rice-heavy household you might enjoy that.

Above the $200 mark, manufacturers start tucking in new fancy features into high-end cookers that are of dubious value. You might not even be able to notice what they add to your rice. These are things like spherical heating or induction elements so that the rice is cooked from all sides; pressure cookers to speed up the process; strange additions to the cooking pot, like Zojirushi’s “Platinum infused nonstick inner cooking pan” or Panasonic’s “dimpled ‘Binchotan’ coated aluminum.”

unscorchedriceThe more expensive models also tend to add features for rice that sound nice, but fall pretty clearly under the banner of unneeded. High-end units by Zojirushi, for instance, have a scorch mode (to add crust to your rice), umami mode (which is meant to make the rice more flavorful) and GABA mode (which is meant to make brown rice more healthy, but takes hours longer to cook). Tiger rice cookers can also have GABA, as well as ultra mode (makes rice more “yummy”), Okoge (another name for scorch), oatmeal, and semi-polished rice. These are all remarkably obscure and mostly useless for the majority of people.  They bump the price considerably, and unless you really obsessively know your rice, you probably won’t be able to tell the taste difference between “umami” and normally cooked rice.

There are also some settings that seem to have been added to the low- to mid-end models which aren’t super useful, but they don’t seem to drive up the price, so you can take ‘em or leave ‘em. An example: baking modes—for when you feel the deep and abiding desire to bake a cake in your rice cooker.

How we picked

Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of good and recent rice cooker reviews. There was a period around 2007-2009 where rice cookers saw a spike in popularity, and many mainstream news sources reviewed the things. Cook’s Illustrated, for example, had a full roundup with a Sanyo recommendation, but that seems to have been pulled off their site. Most of the other reviews leaned towards Zojirushis for the top pick. However, since then the market has changed dramatically and many of those choices no longer hold. This is complicated by some changes in brands that have happened since those reviews and the proliferation of low-end models from popular kitchenware makers.

Amongst the cheap rice cookers, their basic simplicity means that just about every homeware company on the planet makes one. You could walk into any big box store (even some pharmacies) and be assaulted with a dozen or so different low-end brands. However, for the fuzzy logic rice cookers, the market is devoted to just a scant handful of choices—most Japanese.

The biggest name in the business is Zojirushi, who are famed for their rice cookers and have been at the forefront of the high-end rice cooker industry for a very long time. Tiger is likewise a long-established Japanese brand with a legacy of rice cookers. Both Sanyo and Panasonic have a history of offering similar features to the Zojirushi and Tiger models at a substantially lower price. However, Panasonic bought out Sanyo in 2010, so Sanyo cookers aren’t around any more—making our job a bit more difficult, as the affordable Sanyo rice cooker was the top of a few good reviews of the options. Panasonic is still making these things though, and they’re still a lot more affordable than the ones offered by Zojirushi or Tiger.

In order to get a firm grasp on what we needed to look for in a rice cooker, we turned to the experts. We talked to award-winning authors and chefs, like Harris Salat, Naomi Duguid, Saipin Chutima, and Fuchsia Dunlop to understand what makes good rice (and what would make a good rice cooker). We delved into the preparation of rice, the history of rice as a foodstuff, and regional variations in preparation in order to understand how best to analyze what makes rice good.

It had to be able to handle both brown and white rice, have a steamer basket, be able to set a timer for delayed cooking, and to be able to keep your rice warm…
For this review, we went diving into the extensive catalogs of Zojirushi, Tiger, and Panasonic in order to pick the one we best thought met the needs of an everyday user. A pick had to be able to handle both brown and white rice, have a steamer basket, be able to set a timer for delayed cooking, and keep rice warm when it was cooked for a substantial body of time.

While steamer baskets may seem like a small feature to demand for the recommendation, they’re actually incredibly useful. They massively expand the variety of what you can use your rice cooker for. Without one, you can kludge your way into making soups, stews, and other grains in the rice cooker’s pot. But with one in place, you can cook the rest of your meal alongside the rice. Most commonly, you can steam vegetables and fish towards the end of the rice cooking cycle. My cheap rice cooker that I’ve had for years serves just as often as a dumpling steamer as it does its original purpose. Hell, you can even use steamer baskets to cook rice in a different way: steaming Thai sticky rice rather than boiling it. It means your rice cooker can now function in the place of a steam basket or dedicated electric steamer.

And we wanted all those things from a more affordable option.


In terms of capacity, we opted for models around the five-cup size, which has the capacity to feed up to a family of five. Bizarrely, rice cookers function on a different measuring system than anything else on the planet, so when I say five cups, I don’t mean measuring cups. Rice cookers have two measurements, uncooked capacity and cooked capacity—the latter is double the former. The cup, however, is smaller than a measuring cup, clocking in at about ¾ of a cup in size. This cup is based on a traditional Japanese measure known as a gō — the amount of rice one person will have with their meal. So a five-cup rice cooker will produce approximately enough rice for a five-person meal. Most of the units we review here also come in a larger size. If you’re just cooking for yourself, there are also even smaller ones, but you can cook less in a bigger rice cooker and have that overhead for when you are entertaining or want leftovers.

Zojirushi’s lineup is broad and challenging to parse. Out of fourteen models, we were able to ignore the super-expensive induction heating and pressure cooking NP-NVC10/18, NP-HBC10/18, and NP-GBC05 as they’re too niche for most people. We were focusing on high-end rice cookers from the company, so we were also able to cut the super basic NS-PC10/18, NS-RNC10/18A, and NHS-06/10/18 (which were also more expensive than basic models from other companies). That left a short list of eight models that make up the Micom line, of which six were the appropriate size that we wanted. Of those six, only two had a steamer basket, the NL-AAC10/18 and NS-TSC10/18.

Both of these models have excellent reviews on Amazon, but the newer AAC10 only has two, as it’s fairly new on the market. The TSC10 has an average of 4.6 stars on Amazon for 81 reviews, with just a single person rating it less than three stars. The few negative reviews that it has seem mostly concerned with the amount of time it takes to cook. And the single one-star review? The person blew it up by plugging it into the wrong voltage. The vast majority of the reviews have nothing but praise for how good the rice tastes, how easy it is to use, and how long it’ll keep the rice warm for.

For Tiger, we were able to likewise narrow down the field. The company has eleven rice cookers available; seven are fuzzy logic. We were able to skip the JKJ-G and JKH-G for being high-end induction cookers. Only four models matched the cooking volume we wanted. Of those, the Tiger JBA-B10U is lacking basic features like a clock timer, and the JBA-A10U was lacking a removable inner lid for easy cleaning. Of the remaining two, the JAH-T10U was the more affordable, lacking only the longer keep warm cycle of the more expensive model.

On Panasonic’s end, there are far fewer high-end rice cookers, and only four of them have LCD controls allowing for timers. The MGS102 isn’t readily available for purchase, and the MS183 and MS103 are identical apart from capacity. We ended up opting for the DE103 over the MS103, as the DE103 matched most other high-end rice cookers feature-for-feature and still managed to clock in at less than $100. The MS103’s only real advantage was a superfluously fancy cooking pot and some longer cook times. Both the MS103 and DE103 are well reviewed on Amazon, with an average of 4.3 and 4.2 stars respectively. They’re both widely lauded for high quality rice, flexibility and low price, though people do complain a bit about unclear manuals, and not everyone’s a fan that you can’t take off the lid liner.

Really, these two models are almost identical, both with almost exactly the same reviews on Amazon. So we opted for the one that was the closest features match to the other smart rice cookers we reviewed, rather than the one that matched closest on price. Also, when I talked to Panasonic directly, they said they “think the DE103 has all the features necessary for the ‘average’ rice cooker user at a better price.”

So which did we test?

For simple rice cooker testing, we opted for the two most popular simple rice cookers from Amazon that still had all the necessary features, the Aroma ARC-914SBD Digital Rice Cooker and Food Steamer and Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer. Both have extensive positive reviews.

For the smart cookers, we chose the Panasonic SR-DE103 5-Cup “Fuzzy Logic” Rice Cooker, the Tiger JAH-T10U Micom, and the Zojirushi NL-AAC10 Micom Rice Cooker (Uncooked) and Warmer and the the $150 NS-TSC10.

The Zojirushis deserve a bit of picking apart. They have two models that are almost identical: the $200 NL-AAC10 and the $150 NS-TSC10. The difference? The NL-AAC10 is newer, looks slightly better, and is made in Japan. The NS-TSC10 is crafted in China, and has an extra (but mostly useless) mode for baking cakes. Zojirushi also told us that the two units are “made the exact same way in terms of quality, just made in a different location” and “they will cook identically.”

Zojirushi was only able to send us the newer, more expensive model for review, and that was the one that we pitted head-to-head against other models in our main testing. However, in the interest of comparison, we got our hands on the NS-TSC10, and put the two rice cookers against one another to double check. They cooked rice in almost identical amounts of time, and the final results were all but indistinguishable by taste.

So you can save $50 with the $150 NS-TSC10 and get a more fully tricked-out rice cooker.

How to prepare rice for cooking


From left to right: dry, rinsed, and washed rice.

The preparation of rice itself is a cause for nearly as much debate as which rice cooker to use. If you’re going very traditional, it’s a rather long and intensive process to prepare the rice before it even gets anywhere near a heating element.

If you’re interested in just what it takes, I recommend these two excellent articles by Harris Salat where he delves into the details of how to ready your rice.

The particulars of how you prepare rice have become a significant part of Japanese food culture. In Japan, chefs go through years of training before being allowed to fully prepare the rice at sushi restaurants, and a true itamae (head chef) is said to be able to prepare a piece of nigiri with every grain of rice pointing the same direction.

Chef Takahiro Hori of San Francisco’s Ken Ken Ramen restaurant (known for ramen but also bento boxes at lunch) took me aside and showed me how they prepare the rice for their bento boxes and curries. He explained that properly washing rice is one of the most important things you can do to improve the flavor and texture of white rice, and that involves rinsing it a number of times, washing it gently using either the edge of your hand or your fingertips dozens of times, rinsing it again, and then letting it soak before cooking. Chef Saipin was also clear on the point that the water should be room temperature or very slightly cool, so that it doesn’t start to slightly cook while it waits.


Rinsing the rice clears off any rice starch, dust, particulate matter or general unpleasantness that may be stuck to the outside of the grains.
I’m willing to bet that most home cooks aren’t particularly dead-set on cooking rice to that level of precision (or taking that much time). So for our tests we opted for a more common approach to rice preparation: rinsing the rice fully with water three times³, and then cooking it with the amount of water recommended by the rice cooker manufacturer. It’s a lot less time intensive and it does the job well.

Rinsing the rice clears off any rice starch, dust, particulate matter or general unpleasantness that may be stuck to the outside of the grains. For white rice, it’s crucial so that your rice doesn’t end up a globby, clumpy mess due to excess rice starch. For brown rice, it’s more for cleaning it as you would most foodstuffs.

Testing procedures

We did a focused taste testing on just white rice, tapping chefs and workers at Ken Ken Ramen.

For our testing, we wanted to primarily use a Japanese style of rice, since these devices began in Japan and function best in Japanese cooking methods. Japanese rices are readily available to most home cooks and reliable. Editor Brian Lam, who grew up in Chinese food restaurants in Hong Kong and New York but has spent about a year in Japan, also had the opinion that it would be better to focus on Japanese rice. He says, “I have never once heard Chinese people talk about the quality of rice, whereas my Japanese friends seem to be mildly obsessed over it.”

To that end, we opted to go with Nishiki brand rice, which is the most widely used brand in the United States, available in most markets and supermarkets. Chef Takahiro Hori told me that it’s so well known for being utterly and reliably good that many sushi chefs use it due to its consistent cooking and quality.

Our testing procedures for the rice cookers were threefold: time, temperature, and taste. With all five rice cookers (three high-end, two low), we tested how quickly they cooked a variety of rices, how they maintained temperature during a keep warm cycle, and we blindly taste tested to see which sorts people preferred.

Speed didn’t really matter. For the timing tests, all five rice cookers were used to cook both brown and white rice. The tests were run in three repetitions of cooking three cups of rice, with one run each of the minimum and maximum amount of rice that each cooker could take. The high-end rice cookers were also timed cooking sticky rice, congee/rice porridge, and quick cooked white rice. This was to get a feel for how long you would be waiting for your rice to be done; after all, if two rice cookers make equally good rice but one takes much longer than the other, it’s worth opting for the faster of the two. And, generally speaking, there doesn’t seem to have been much of a difference in rice quality if it was cooked by the slowest or the fastest, so it’s all about convenience.

After each cooking test, the rice was upended onto a board to look for scorch marks or sticking at the bottom.

ricetaste3For the temperature tests, we again cooked three cups of white rice, but then kicked in the keep warm mode of the rice cookers and measured the temperature hourly to make sure it was being kept at a food safe levels.

Blind taste testing was done in two stages. We tested once with a group of laypeople, having them try both brown and white rice cooked in all of the cookers (and a stove) and rank their preferences. This gave a general view of what everyday folks liked, folks with a broad range of backgrounds, ethnicities, and cooking skills. The second test was with a group of food professionals from a Japanese restaurant, who lent their culinary expertise.

The pick

For most people, most of the time, the Hamilton Beach will make fantastically good white rice for just $40 if you’re only going to cook rice once a week or less or aren’t that serious about brown rice.
For most people, most of the time, the Hamilton Beach will make fantastically good white rice for just $40 if you’re only going to cook rice once a week or less or aren’t that serious about brown rice.

The Hamilton Beach rice cooker might not have fancy features, but it held its own in our taste test against more expensive units despite its bargain basement price. While it didn’t produce the absolute favorite white rice in our testing, what we discovered was that when it comes to white rice, the difference between models is tiny for the most part, even for trained chefs, and there’s a lot tied to personal preference.

This rice cooker is a little different from some of the others we reviewed in its size. It can take between two and 10 cups of uncooked rice, making up to 20 cups of cooked rice—enough to feed a small army. However, when filled to capacity, it takes a long time to cook, and the rice texture really suffers.

(Chef Taka told me that usually you don’t want to use rice cookers above around 75% capacity, and food writer Naomi Duguid explained to me that when you cook these huge volumes of rice, the weight of the rice itself crushes the individual grains while they cook, changing the texture.)

The Hamilton Beach is not a fancy device. You put in the rice, rinse it, fill up the water to the appropriate line on the side and hit “white rice” or “brown rice”. Then it beeps when it’s done and you have fantastic rice just waiting for you. If you want to pre-soak the rice before cooking (which makes for much better end result), you can use the “delay start” to let it soak a while first. Unfortunately, the smallest increment the delay start does is one hour, so you’ll be waiting a little while longer for it to be done. But the final result will be worth it.

When it came to white rice, the laypeople rated it first overall, beating all the other rice cookers and the stovetop option. They called it “light and refreshing,” “fluffy and smooth,” praised its texture, and one commented on the “elegant grain separation.” Amongst the pros, it came second for firmness, third for clumping and fluffiness, and was overall the best of the affordable rice cookers. Head chef Taka of Ken Ken restaurant rated it his second favorite rice overall, beating out even the restaurant’s own rice cooker in a blind taste test, and he especially praised its firmness, fluffiness, and clumping.

When it comes to speed, the Hamilton Beach is on the fast side for white rice, taking an average of just less than 38 minutes to cook a three-cup batch (on par with our step-up model’s quick cook mode) and about an hour and twenty minutes for a load of brown rice (which was around the middle of the pack). Again, speed was not a big indicator of quality, nor was there a huge delta in timing between the tested models.

It also has a dedicated steam mode for non-rice cooking, a boil-then-simmer function, and a delay timer so you can set up your rice first thing in the morning and have it start cooking just before you get home.

The Hamilton Beach has around a 10.5-inch diameter circular footprint. That’s smaller than most of the high-end rice cookers, even though it has double the maximum capacity.

It’s also the only rice cooker we tested that officially said most of its parts could go through the dishwasher. To clean it, all you have to do is pop off the lid liner: that, the steamer basket, and the paddle and ladle can all go in the dishwasher. The rice bowl, vent cap, and condensation collector all need to be hand-washed but are very easy to clean, come out easily, and snap back into place quickly. It also wouldn’t hurt to give the cooker a wipe down every now and then, too.

The Hamilton Beach has a one-year limited warranty.


…like all the other affordable rice cookers, couldn’t hold up to the higher-end ones when it came to brown rice.
When cooking brown rice, the Hamilton could have done better. The Hamilton Beach, like all the other affordable rice cookers, couldn’t hold up to the higher-end ones when it came to brown rice. While the Hamilton Beach did fractionally better than the Aroma, it was overall rated much worse for brown rice than the high-end cookers. The comments weren’t overly negative nor were they amazing, with people saying it had “good consistency” and “al dente.” It was generally called out for a “crunchy texture” and “bland flavor” (and one person said it “tastes healthy”, which you can interpret as you like). The Zojirushi brown rice, on the other hand, was called soft and moist with a good texture.

The Hamilton Beach lacks a few bells and whistles compared to more expensive models, but to be honest, I didn’t miss most of them. I didn’t need specific modes for mixed rice or sticky rice, or different alarm tones to signify the cooker had finished. The one feature I would have really liked to have seen is a countdown timer—all the other rice cookers we tested will tell you about 15 minutes in advance when it’s predicted to be finished cooking, so that you have an idea how long you’re going to wait.

If you eat rice more than once a week or make a lot of brown rice

Also Great
Zojirushi NS-TSC10 5-1/2-Cup (Uncooked) Micom Rice Cooker and Warmer, 1.0-Liter
Worth the extra money if you eat rice at least a few times a week and want the best-tasting brown rice.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $150.

If you’re serious about rice, if you eat rice multiple times a week, or you want the best damn brown rice you can possibly imagine, then it’s worth investing in a high-end model. We recommend the Zojirushi NS-TSC10. The $150 seems pretty stiff compared to the Hamilton Beach, and you won’t notice a huge difference in white rice from the cheaper model, but it’s for everything else where the money makes a difference.

The restaurant professionals overall liked the Zojirushi best when it came to white rice, and the home cooks all thought that a high-end rice cooker did a much better job than a cheap one when it came to brown. The Zojirushi also did an excellent job with sticky rice and rice porridge. The big downside is speed; the Zojirushi tends to be slower. It’s tempting to say that it takes longer to cook better rice, but the Tiger model had equally good brown rice and was much faster.

If you’re pressed for time, there’s a special “quick rice” mode, which cooks rice much faster at the cost of texture. The Hamilton does not have that, but its normal mode is about the same speed (just less than 40 minutes). It stands to reason if you let the Hamilton soak, its cook times will be similar.

The Zojirushi is also fantastic to use. The rice level markings on the inside are white against the black metal of the bowl making them extremely easy to read, and it has different scales for different rice types. As soon as you start the rice cooking, the model will give you an estimate of when it’ll be done. Most rice cookers will keep rice warm for up to 12 hours, this one also has a special, low heat keep warm mode that can keep it for up to 24 hours (though I’m guessing it won’t be quite as delicious then).

If you eat a lot of rice, especially brown rice, it’s totally worth it. The layperson tasters praised it for being very soft and moist, with a “good texture.” People were a bit more split on flavor, however, with one person calling it “good” but another saying it had a slightly burnt aftertaste. Overall, they rated it second for brown rice, behind the Tiger, which we disliked for other reasons (more on that later). It’s also nice that the cooking bowl has separate markings for white rice, brown rice and a few others, so you know exactly where to fill the line up to.

The Zojirushi was the slowest of the lot when it came to white rice, clocking in at just more than 49 minutes for a three-cup batch, and it was second slowest for brown rice, taking an hour and 46 minutes for a batch. You would think that this is because slow cooking the brown rice is better, but the other favorite for brown rice, the Tiger, was the fastest of the lot.

The Zojirushi NS-TSC10 has a one-year limited warranty, with a large network of service centers and a parts store.

It also has a special clip for holding your rice paddle in place (ooooh!) and a retractable rather than detachable power cord (aaaaah!).

And it plays “twinkle, twinkle, little star” when your rice is finished.

[Initially in our testing, Zojirushi sent us an AAC10 unit. However, we were able to get our hands on the TSC10, and put the two units head to head. They came out with rice that was indistinguishable from one another and almost identical cooking times.]


There are, however, two major downsides. The price—$150 isn’t to be sneezed at. If you’re cooking rice multiple times a week, it’s a decent investment, as it makes the process much simpler and there’s no worry about burning the stuff. But that’s more than most need to spend. The other drawback is speed—it was one of the slowest of the rice cookers, although that slower speed may have something to do with the quality. Even with great final results,  you’re still waiting 50 minutes for white rice, or an hour and 45 for brown. You could always use the timer to prep the rice first thing in the morning and have it ready when you come home, or use the keep warm function to cook early and have it at temperature all day, but neither will be quite as good as freshly-cooked rice.

The competition

The Tiger JAH-T10U is another high-end rice cooker that’s competitive with the Zojirushi, but it was marred by some design flaws and performance that was not quite as good as the Zojirushi. For $170, the Tiger still produced very good rice; it was quicker to cook brown rice than the Zojirushi and had an even better cooking pot. But the restaurant professionals didn’t like the white rice as much; it was much trickier to take apart/reassemble for cooking; when it’s done cooking your rice, the noise it makes is so quiet that it’s extremely easy to miss; the lid gets hotter than most of the other models; and it tends to have a ring of stuck rice in the pot if you don’t turn it out right. There’s no reason to pay more and get something worse than our high-end pick.

The Panasonic SR-DE103 was the most affordable of the high-end machines at just $90, but unfortunately the pros really disliked the rice from it, universally ranking it low, especially for clumping and taste. It’s also extremely slow to cook brown rice, could hold less of the stuff than the competition, had a problem with scorching brown rice, did a very poor job with sticky rice, and its bowl is harder to read and use than the other high-end models’. That said, the home cooks really liked its white rice (myself included), and it’s very quick to cook white rice. It’s a possible alternative if you want to spend less than $100, but there’s not enough to recommend it over a really good high-end model.

The Aroma ARC-914SBD is another super-affordable rice cooker with just a $30 price tag and a tiny footprint and a four-cup maximum capacity. Unfortunately, its rice wasn’t really up to scratch, with home cooks rating it bottom of the barrel for both white and brown rice and the pros likewise disliking it (barring one ex-sushi chef who was a fan). It also has a tendency to gather condensation on top of the lid, and while it was very quick to cook both brown and white rice, its brown rice was really poor.

If you don’t want a rice cooker at all

Rice cookers are far from the only way to cook rice. For one, just cooking it in a pot can be really good, especially with white rice.
Rice cookers are far from the only way to cook rice. For one, just cooking it in a pot can be really good, especially with white rice. In our non-professional taste test, people rated stovetop rice in the middle of the pack for quality, so it’s on par with a rice cooker. If you’re willing to take the time to rinse, clean, soak, cook, and then let the rice stand, you’ll get very good results. But you have to know enough about what you’re doing not to burn or undercook it.

There are other ways of cooking rice, too. One chef I talked to swore by using a cheap clay pot for rice over a gas stove. Another used a gohangama, a traditional Japanese stoneware rice cooker. There are as many ways of cooking rice as you can imagine. Chef Saipin swears that using a pot over a charcoal fire (not firewood, it has to be charcoal), and cooking it at a very low temperature will give you the best possible rice. There’s also the pasta method, where you boil the rice in huge amounts of water, then strain it, and let it steam to a finish in its own heat. This method will take a lot of nutrients out of rice and is kind of lazy.

If you want to get crazy, apparently you can use a bain marie to cook excellent rice, and according to Naomi Duguid, it’s especially good for very delicate types, as you can spread them out thinly enough to cook en masse.

There are also microwave rice cookers, but these are tricky to use properly, as they rely on your microwave’s own strength to heat and microwaves can be intensely variable in how well they work. Also, you can get the same results by using a covered glass bowl in the microwave, according to Cook’s Illustrated, so why bother?

If you don’t want to buy a rice cooker, just do a bit of research into the best way to cook rice and learn to do it yourself. Chef Saipin argued that the traditional methods make for better rice, which is fluffier and softer. You just have to have the patience to wait for it. (Though she also argued that cooking over charcoal was the best possible way to do it, which might be a bit much for most).

Wrapping it up

For most people, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer is the perfect rice cooker. For just $40, it cooks fluffy white rice with an excellent bite quickly. However, if you’re cooking rice multiple times a week or are a devotee of brown rice, it’s worth investing in a Zojirushi NS-TSC10.  While the $150 asking price is a bit stiff, it makes superb white and brown rice (as well as many other types), and has a much more robust set of extra features.


1) When talking to Naomi Duguid, James Beard Award winner and author of Seductions of Rice, she mentioned that in many rural parts of Asia, when a village gets power, the first things a family saves up for is a rice cooker, as it can dramatically improve people’s lives. Traditionally, the women of the house are expected to prepare rice for every meal, and while it’s not particularly difficult to cook rice, it is time-consuming and requires vigilance. And if you’re in a situation where you have limited or traditional cooking facilities, it can be excruciatingly hot work (especially in summer) and take up a cooking element that might otherwise be used for other foods.

Duguid told me about talking to rural villagers in Japan in villages where everyone had bought rice cookers as soon as they could. And while they admit the rice wasn’t quite as good as when it was done traditionally, the massive convenience of using a rice cooker more than made up for that.

This was an idea mirrored by fellow James Beard Award winner Chef Saipin Chutima, who told me (through her daughter, who translated) that rice cooker rice couldn’t measure up to properly stove-cooked rice, and that if people would take the time to learn how to do it properly, they’d make much better rice. Of course, Chutima also acknowledged that for many people, the ease and speed of a rice cooker were worth it.

2) As an aside, the use of the term “fuzzy logic” as a synonym for high-end is perhaps a bit misleading. Aroma told us even their most affordable rice cookers are powered by fuzzy logic for better cooking, though it’s not marketed as a selling point. So we’ll pretty much stick with saying high-end or low-end to save confusion.

3) Most of the rice sold in America is fortified, with extra vitamins coating the rice, and washing loses much of that. Rice is fortified to protect against beriberi, which is primarily caused by vitamin B1 deficiency. In all honesty, if you’re eating a relatively balanced diet, you’re not going to have much trouble getting enough B1—but if it worries you, skip the rinsing stage. Your rice will just turn out a fair bit worse for it.

Test results

When it came to timing testing, there was an awful lot of variation when it came to brown rice, but not so much to white. Here’s a table of the results:






Hamilton Beach

3c white rice (avg)






minimum white rice






maximum white rice






3c brown rice (avg)






min brown rice






max brown rice

(n/a, 3c max)





3c quick rice






1c rice porridge






3c sticky rice






There are a couple of interesting things in that table. For one, the time difference between the slowest and the fastest rice cookers for white rice was only around 11 minutes, so it probably won’t ruin your dinner to wait a few more minutes to finish cooking. Also, generally speaking, there wasn’t a huge time differential between cooking the minimum amount of rice and the maximum. However, when it comes to brown rice, you’re looking at a range of almost 40 minutes between the rice cookers, which is substantial.

Curiously, the Panasonic, which was the quickest of the high-end rice cookers when it came to white rice, was also the slowest when it came to brown.

I talked to a number of manufacturers about how they treat the different types of rice, to account for the way that brown and white rice have to be cooked differently. Aroma told me that “The Brown Rice function uses a specialized cooking cycle which includes a longer soak time to compensate for the extra bran-layer.” However, the folks at Zojirushi went even deeper into detail, and explained why the rice from their rice cooker might take longer than a simple one, but had a better texture:

“…because brown rice still has the bran intact, it takes longer to cook through the hard bran. When using conventional rice cookers, you get the cooker to cook longer by adding more water than when cooking white rice. However, this often produces mushy brown rice because the rice starts to disintegrate by being cooked in boiling water for a long time. The brown rice setting on our Micom rice cookers compensate for this by cooking the rice at a lower temperature (or, more technically, by turning the heating element on and off). By cooking slowly under a slightly lower temperature than boiling, it allows the rice to cook all the way through the center without compromising the outside part of the rice.”

That was a fact borne out by our blind taste tests, where our layperson panel almost all preferred the brown rice that came from a high-end cooker than from a basic model. Most of the high-end rice cookers were seen as on par with one another, as with the low-end. The Tiger took top honors in that category, with the Zojirushi and Panasonic coming second and third, but with only a hair’s breadth between them.

According to our layperson panel, there was much less difference between the various white rice offerings than there was with brown rice, which lead to white rice being seen as much more on par. Overall, they preferred the rice from the Hamilton Beach, then the Panasonic, and then from a stovetop. However, all the options were fairly closely lumped. Curiously, white rice from the Zojirushi was very divisive, with half the respondents putting it in one of the top two positions, and the other half in the bottom two.

Our taste test with professional restaurant workers showed a quite different view of white rice. Overall, the Zojirushi was the best rated by them in how the rice clumped, its firmness, and second best for taste, and was ranked the top overall of the entire lot. But, for one-fifth the price, the Hamilton Beach came second for firmness, third for clumping and fluffiness, and was overall the best of the affordable rice cookers. Head chef Taka of Ken Ken rated it his second favorite rice overall, beating out even the restaurant’s own rice cooker in a blind taste test.

However, all the folks at the restaurant agreed that it’s extremely hard to rate white rice like this, as a lot comes down to personal preference, and there are a huge number of other variables apart from just the rice cooker. For instance, one of the other chefs, who trained at sushi restaurants in Japan, liked the rice from the super affordable Aroma rice cooker more than any other — but everyone else rated it near the bottom.

When it came to cooking temperatures, all of the rice cookers behaved almost identically. Just as the rice finished cooking, it was sitting at a temperature near 100°C, and then dropped to between 70-76°C, where it maintained over the course of the test. The Hamilton Beach rice cooker was the warmest of the lot, sitting near the top of that range, while the others were were at the bottom.

I asked Zojirushi why this temperature was used. They told me “it’s the ideal temperature between keeping rice warm, and making sure it still tastes good. It’s what we settled on after almost 40 years of making rice warmers. Keeping rice warm, and keeping it in a way it still tastes good is a fine line. The higher the temperature, the quicker the rice dries up, but the rice tastes better hotter.”

The Zojirushi model has the option of both a normal keep warm mode (which runs at this heat for up to 12 hours), or a cooler, extended keep warm mode that can run for up to 24 hours at around 60°C, which is the coolest you’ll want to keep food safe from nasty growths.

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  1. Chef at Lotus of Siam Restaurant, Saipin Chutima, Interview
  2. Japanese Food Writer and Restaurateur, Harris Salat, Interview
  3. Food Writer and Author, Naomi Duguid, Interview
  4. Chef and Food Writer, Fuchsia Dunlop, Interview
  5. Rice Cookers, Cook's Illustrated, October 22, 2007
    "Achieving perfect rice is surprisingly challenging even for an accomplished cook. The same cooking technique that delivers excellent long-grain white rice needs adjusting to produce perfect brown or sushi rice. Enter rice cookers, promising to produce well-cooked rice every time and to keep it warm until ready to serve."
  6. Harris Salat, Washing Rice, The Japanese Food Report, January 25, 2010

Originally published: August 21, 2013

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