The Best Rice Cooker

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After more than 100 hours of research and testing, cooking more than 200 pounds of rice, and talking with rice experts specializing in Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cuisine, we recommend the Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer for most people. It’s an outstanding value that’s well-suited to most households that want the ease and convenience of no-fuss, no-burning cooked rice. It makes delicious short-grain and medium-grain white rice—the variety most commonly made in a cooker—faster and better tasting than models 10 times the price. It offers features you tend not to see on rice cookers at this price, most notably a delay-start mode, stay-warm functions, an insulated lid to hold in steam, large capacity, and a heavy, quality cooking pot. It’s by far the best low-priced cooker we’ve found.

Last Updated: May 9, 2016
The Instant Pot is a three-in-one cooking device that has been getting enthusiastic consumer and editorial reviews. We’ve added it to our What to look forward to section, and we expect to test it later this summer.
Expand Most Recent Updates
February 22, 2016: We tested 10 rice cookers for this update and found the Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer (the replacement for our former top pick) is the best for most people. If you want to make a lot of brown rice or highly value fast cook times, we recommend the Cuckoo CRP-G1015F 10-cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker. If the Cuckoo sells out, we’d buy the Zojirushi NS-TSC10.
December 11, 2015: We’ve added our new top picks, after testing all summer and fall. Look for our fully updated guide in January but for now our new top picks are listed below.
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.
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.
Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer
This simple, well-designed machine makes delicious Japanese rice comparable to or better than models costing 10 times the price.

For this update, we built upon our original 2013 review by bringing in a variety of cookers with higher-end technology—such as induction heating and pressure cooking—to see how they’d stack up to simpler models. In large part, we found that if you mostly cook white rice, you don’t need a more expensive machine. For most people, the very moderately priced Hamilton Beach does everything you’d want at a budget price.

Also Great
Cuckoo 10-Cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker
Pressurized cooking, substantial construction, and lightning-fast delicious results make this the right cooker for the demanding cook and the serious rice eater.

If you make rice a couple times a week or are particularly discerning about rice texture and flavor, consider the Cuckoo CRP-G1015F 10-cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker. Because it’s a pressure cooker, it makes both white and brown rice far faster than the competition. We found that the texture and flavor of the cooked rice is also unsurpassed by similar cookers at this price. It’s built more solidly than the Hamilton Beach and offers more cooking options, but that’s only worth the significant extra cost if you make rice a couple times a week.

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $142.

Zojirushi NS-TSC10
This is the only cooker we found that did a great job at all types of rice. But it cooks almost twice as slow as the Cuckoo.

In 2013 we chose the Zojirushi NS-TSC10 for those who want to cook brown rice or cook rice frequently. It’s still one of the best machines available and was the only machine we found that makes short-grain, brown, and long-grain white rice well. Zojirushi is a very well-known and trusted brand in rice cookers, and their machines are built to last. That said, this is also a very slow machine. (It’ll cost you nearly two hours for a batch of brown rice!) The Zojirushi NS-TSC10 is more versatile than our main pick (the Hamilton Beach) and also a bit cheaper than the Cuckoo, so we think it’s a good alternative should the Cuckoo sell out.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

In order to get a firm grasp on what we needed to look for in a rice cooker, we turned to the experts. For our 2013 review, we spoke with Japanese food writer and restaurateur Harris Salat; James Beard Award-winning Seductions of Rice co-author Naomi Duguid; Thai restaurateur Saipin Chutima (another James Beard Award winner); and Fuchsia Dunlop, Chinese cuisine expert and the author of Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking. For this update, we also spoke with Beth Hensperger, author of The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, as well as famed chef/restauranteurs Sunhui Chang of FuseBOX in Oakland and Sylvan Mishima Brackett of Izakaya Rintaro in San Francisco.

Additionally, we looked at online reviews (there weren’t many good ones). We researched the newest technologies and available models from the largest and the smallest manufacturers, including Zojirushi, Tiger, Aroma, Korean superstar Cuckoo, and many other smaller brands.

Karen Solomon is a food writer and cookbook author of three titles, including Asian Pickles. Solomon formerly lived in Japan, studying its culture, language, and cuisine, and she has traveled around Asia. For over 20 years she has cooked rice in a rice cooker (an ancient National SR-GE10N) at least three times a week. Tim Barribeau, who wrote our original guide, spent three months interviewing authors, researching the science of starch, doing blind taste tests with Japanese chefs and everyday people, and cooking more than 125 pounds of rice to pick the best rice cooker.

Who should get this

While rice cookers have their roots in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and other Asian cuisines, they’ve become a frequently-used tool for many international cooks, including those preparing Latin American dishes. Here in the US, rice cookers are essential to Hawaiian cookery and Cajun cuisine.

Rice cookers can dramatically improve the quality, flavor, and texture of rice. Great rice cooker rice is really, really delicious—aromatic, nutty, earthen, and with a broad depth of flavor—and quite easy to make. If you want the ease of one-step cooking with delicious results while you put together the rest of dinner, it may be time to buy one. Another bonus for many cooks: rice cooker cooking is unburnable. It’s much easier to clean a rice cooker insert than burnt-on rice in a cooking pot.

If you only eat rice infrequently (and especially if you almost always eat Japanese-style white, short-grain, or medium-grain rice) a $40 model will do more than enough. But if you plan to make a lot of brown rice or experiment with other types of grains, you may want a more advanced cooker, which can range from $100 to upwards of $400.

A rice cooker is also perfect for people who don’t cook often or who don’t enjoy it. An entire meal can be cooked in a rice cooker by simply cooking the rice and putting some meat, tofu, fish and vegetables in the steamer tray. (Roger Ebert wrote a book on this kind of rice-cooker cooking called The Pot and How To Use It.) Many rice cookers can now make polenta, slow-cook stews, or steam things like tamales or dumplings.

How we picked

While rice cookers aren’t known for being faster than cooking rice in a pot, they shouldn’t be painfully slow, either.

A good rice cooker should cook delicious, fluffy, flavorful Japanese-style rice (meaning short-grain or medium-grain white rice) evenly throughout the pot every time. The machine should be sturdy and built of quality materials to stand up over time. The lid should have a tight seal to maintain steam and temperature. It should also cook consistently: one cup of rice should taste as good as cooking rice to maximum capacity. While rice cookers aren’t known for being faster than cooking rice in a pot, they shouldn’t be painfully slow, either. A good appliance should also have some convenient features, such as delayed start, keep warm, and quick cook settings. And ideally, a good rice cooker should be easy to clean and easy to use.

For many users, these criteria are enough. But if you’re a cook who likes to make a variety of grains, your cooker should be able to make them with equal aplomb, whether it’s brown rice, GABA-style rice (brown rice soaked and germinated for hours thought to release additional nutrients), jasmine rice, long-grain rice, quinoa, millet, or more. The capability to cook a variety of grains is what separates the good cookers from the great. Be prepared to spend about $150 for a model that can accomplish this task.

Many issues haunt the poor-quality models. The cheapest models (around $20) simply turn on and off, with a keep warm setting that often turns off automatically in just a couple of hours. They have loose-fitting lids that allow steam and moisture to escape, resulting in rice that’s too wet on the bottom and too dry on top. Poor-quality models don’t maintain a steady internal temperature throughout the cooking process because the heating elements are only at the bottom of the pot, resulting in uneven rice. Low-end choices often include shoddy materials.

Higher-end models come equipped with a lot of functionality beyond just on/off. While many rice cookers simply rely on heat cooking, upmarket models weigh the rice and adjust the cooking time intelligently. Newer models also use induction cooking, meaning the cooking element creates a magnetic field that constantly transmits heat within the entire pot, not just at the bottom, for more even cooking. Some very high-end models pair induction cooking with pressure cooking for faster cooking and improved flavor and texture, but often at a tremendous price beyond the scope of most home cooks ($400 or more).

A higher-end cooker should have a keep warm function that will kick in after cooking (as will many pure electric, on/off models, though the features usually shut off after a few hours in the lower-end models). Many have quick cook functions for fast midweek cooking—an essential tool because rice cookers cook to perfection and not for speed. Many in this category also have a plethora of settings: different types of rice, doneness preferences (such as more tender or more firm), preset timers for rice so it’s ready when you are, settings for porridge (also known as congee or jook, a rice soup).

On the high end, some machines can sell for up to $800. Some of these can do everything from bake a cake to make yogurt, and Cuckoo even makes one that features control via mobile phone. Neat, but we’re not sure why you need an app to make rice. The very high-end machines often have a large countertop footprint. Note that a high price tag is not necessarily indicative of value. Buyers should beware of paying for bells and whistles that they won’t use.

Any rice cooker insert worth its salt is going to be non-stick; most have non-stick aluminum inserts. Thinner pots tend to wear out more quickly and lose some protective coating. The steaming trays of all four of the finalists that were tested extensively were plastic.

We looked for cookers with solid, tightly-sealed lids and heavy, quality cooking pots. We also selected models with a minimum five-cup cooking capacity; many users report that they make extra rice, and 5-10 cups seems like the right amount for two to four people with leftovers. We also chose to only look at models that have a brown rice option and, to help save time for busy cooks, a quick-cook setting for speed and convenience.

Our top pick from 2013, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer has since been discontinued, so we didn’t test it again this year. Instead, we re-tested our 2013 pick for frequent cooking—the Zojirushi NS-TSC10— against nine new players: the Hamilton Beach 37541 4-to-20-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer; the Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer: the Zojirushi Induction Heating System Rice Cooker & Warmer NP-HCC18; the Cuckoo CRP-G1015F 10-cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker; the Tatung TAC-11QN 11-cup Multi-Functional Stainless Steel Rice Cooker; Tiger’s 10-cup Micom Rice Cooker and Warmer with Tacook Plate and 5.5-cup Induction Heating Rice Cooker and Warmer with Tacook Plate; the 8-cup VitaClay Smart Organic Multicooker; and 3 Squares 3RC-3010S TIM3 MACHIN3 20-cup (Cooked) Rice Cooker and Multi Cooker.

How we tested

rice cooker group

Rice cooker testing at San Francisco’s Ken Ken Ramen. Photo: Tim Barribeau

For our original 2013 review, we first tested the cookers informally with some home cooks. Then we conducted a formal group taste test with the chefs from Japanese restaurant Ken Ken Ramen in San Francisco. 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 extremely knowledgeable about rice.

rice cooker testing

For the white rice tests, we rinsed rice of starch, dust, and any other particulate matter before cooking. Photo: Tim Barribeau

For this update we didn’t perform a panel testing, but in each of the 10 cookers we made a batch of Japanese white rice—likely the most critical and the most-used skill for a rice cooker. If they performed well for rice flavor, texture, and cooking speed in this test, they moved on to three other tests (see below). For the Japanese rice tests, we washed the rice of its exterior starch for one full minute and then drained for one full minute before cooking (we didn’t wash the brown or long-grain white rice). Here are details on each of the tests:

  • Test 1 – Japanese rice: We cooked 3 Japanese rice cooker cups (which are actually about ¾ cup in US measurement, or about six ounces by volume) of medium-grain Nishiki brand rice, one of the most popular and widely available brands of Japanese rice available in North America. We followed manufacturer’s instructions for water, meaning the pot was filled to the 3-cup line inside the rice cooker. After cooking, the rice sat for 10 minutes (time not included in overall in our cooking time chart) and then it was stirred before tasting. The rice was cooked on either white rice, white/sushi, plain, or glutinous settings, depending on the manufacturer.
  • Test 2 – brown rice: 3 regular cups of Lundberg brand short grain brown rice were cooked with 4½ cups water. We chose short-grain brown rice because it seems to yield much better results in a rice cooker. We also used a 1:1½ ratio of rice to water for a better texture. The rice cooker setting was either whole grain, brown, or mixed/brown, depending on the manufacturer.
  • Test 3 – long-grain rice: 3 regular cups of Mahatma brand long-grain white rice were cooked to a ratio of 1:1½ rice to water (4½ cups of water) for a better texture. Again, we used this brand because of its quality and its national availability. None of the machines had a setting for long-grain, so we selected the same settings for Japanese rice.
  • Test 4 – quick cook Japanese rice: 3 Japanese rice cooker cups (about six ounces by volume) of medium-grain Nishiki brand rice, with water to manufacturer’s instructions (filled to the 3-cup line in the pot of the rice cooker) were washed and drained as in Test 1. After cooking, the rice was stirred before tasting. We used the Quick cook setting on all machines except the Cuckoo, which does not have a quick cook function (but, thanks to its pressure cooking, cooks faster than all of the other models).

Our pick

Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer
This simple, well-designed machine makes delicious Japanese rice comparable to or better than models costing 10 times the price.

The Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer is the best value for most people because it offers tremendous functionality for the price. Above all, it makes short-grain or medium-grain white rice as delicious as models that cost four times as much. The construction feels solid, and it cooks more quickly when compared to most of the competition (it was the second fastest cooker we tested). With a 14-cup capacity, the Hamilton Beach is much larger than many other machines at this price. Additionally, it’s a pleasure to house on almost any kitchen countertop: its sleek stainless and black design makes it look like a more expensive model, and it’s more well-contained in a small footprint than most. It delivers on features that we thought a great rice cooker should have: a timer, stay-warm functions, a tight lid, and a heavy, quality cooking pot. For the majority of home cooks seeking a useful, manageable tool to make delicious white rice at a great price, it will be tough to beat this Hamilton Beach machine.

Japanese rice from the Hamilton Beach is everything that rice fans crave: aromatic, sweet, and with a texture that preserves the integrity of every grain.

The Hamilton Beach makes Japanese-style rice and quick-cooked Japanese rice on par with the Zojirushi, Tiger, and Cuckoo machines we tested that cost three or four times as much. Japanese rice from the Hamilton Beach is everything that rice fans crave: aromatic, sweet, and with a texture that preserves the integrity of every grain. Even on the quick rice setting, this machine delivers surprisingly excellent, soulful rice. Long-grain rice and brown rice are cooked satisfactorily.

Many rice cookers under $50 leave a lot to be desired. Rare is the well-priced cooker with an insulated lid to hold in steam and keep food warm for hours, but the Hamilton Beach does both with alacrity. Low-priced cookers are often single switch on/off affairs, whereas the HB has multiple advanced functions, such as settings for brown rice and quick-cooked rice. Few at this price point have the HB’s delayed start time capability or its ability to slow cook or steam cook vegetables, meat, beans, soups, and stews.

And speed! For white rice, this was the second fastest cooker we tested (after the Cuckoo); just 32-34 minutes stands between you and flawlessly-cooked rice. This was over 10 minutes faster than both the Zojirushi and the Tiger models, and only 3-5 minutes longer than the Cuckoo, the fastest model we tested. Brown rice took just an hour (nearly half the time of the Zojirushi) and the same length of time it takes to cook it on the stove.

When it comes to cooking time, the Hamilton Beach 37549 is the clear winner for the price:

Additionally, many rice cookers under $50 max out at a three-cup capacity. The Hamilton Beach’s 2-to-14-cup capacity is surely adequate for most families who make rice to feed 2 to 14 people.

If you plan to leave this cooker on your countertop, its look and overall footprint will also be a welcome addition to your kitchen. The design is black and stainless to slip seamlessly into the countertop landscape next to the toaster and the blender. Round, 10¼ inches tall, and about 9 inches in diameter, it feels smaller than the 14-inch long and rectangular Zojirushi or Tiger machines.

The Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer is very similar to our former top pick, the much larger and now discontinued Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer. In our original group tasting, our former HB pick was a favorite of both laypeople and the pro chefs. When it came to white rice, the non-pros rated it first overall, beating all the other rice cookers and the stovetop option. Amongst the pros, it came in second for firmness, third for clumping and fluffiness, and it was the best overall of the affordable rice cookers. We’re confident the 14-cup version produces white rice just as delicious as our former pick.

This rice cooker comes with a pretty standard one-year limited warranty.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

If you plan on making brown rice or long-grain rice often, you may be disappointed in the taste. These two common rice varieties were just okay in both flavor and texture in this machine. If these rices are frequently on your menu, you will likely be better served by the Cuckoo or the Zojirushi. And if your taste in rice requires high-end functionality, such as settings for firmer or softer rice, GABA rice, rice porridge, or rice with a fine sheet of crust along the bottom, this machine won’t deliver any of it.

While the quality of the machine is good for its price point, it still contains many plastic parts and a thinner metal interior pot than the higher-end Tiger, Zojirushi, and Cuckoo machines we looked at. The hinge to seal the lid requires a fairly sturdy push to click closed. But overall, the machine isn’t hard to use and the bargain price more than makes up for any minor inconveniences.

While not dealbreakers, some physical aspects of the exterior machine lid are less than optimal. For example, the lid opens up from the left side to the right, rather than lifting from front to back like all of the other machines we tested. It feels unwieldy and, if you’re serving with your right hand, it comes a little too close for comfort to the scalding-hot interior lid of the machine. All of that said, it’s simple enough to just rotate the machine for serving.

Additionally, the condensation collector isn’t always doing its job. Lift the lid after cooking and a good amount of hot steam water runs down the side near the exterior hinge of the pot; sometimes it drips onto the counter. Again, simply rotating the machine and lifting the lid from front to back seems to solve this problem easily.

Also great for frequent cooking and brown rice

Also Great
Cuckoo 10-Cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker
Pressurized cooking, substantial construction, and lightning-fast delicious results make this the right cooker for the demanding cook and the serious rice eater.

For those seeking a great machine beyond the basics, we highly recommend the Cuckoo CRP-G1015F 10-cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker. Although it’s fairly expensive, in our testing we found this made some of the most delicious rice we’ve ever made at home: flavorful, aromatic, and with a texture that preserves the integrity of every grain. What really sets this cooker apart is how fast it cooks a variety of rices. Short-grain or medium-grain white rice cooked wickedly fast—just 29 minutes, which is faster than the quick cook setting on any of the other machines that we tested. Brown rice cooks almost twice as fast as in the Zojirushi (our former pick for frequent cooking), and almost a half-hour faster than the Tiger.

The Cuckoo’s pressure cooking technology is key. Like pasta, rice cooks from the outside in. Poorly-cooked rice will get mushy on the outside before each grain is cooked all the way through. The intense pressure that builds from trapped steam inside a pressure cooker pot forces the water’s boiling point to rise, causing the rice to cook faster. The result is perfectly cooked rice all the way through.

Of course, it’s not without its flaws and drawbacks. While the Nishiki and the brown rice were outstanding, the long-grain white rice was somewhat mushy. Also, the pink color of the machine might not be appealing to everyone. If you can’t stand the idea of a pink appliance on your countertop, the company recommends the CRP-HN1059F, which looks more like a motorcycle helmet than a rice cooker. It adds Induction Heating (IH) to its pressure cooking, ostensibly for more even heating, along with a detachable inner lid, and all at a much steeper price. Like the CRP-G1015F, it also has Korean voice navigation—presumably helpful if you speak Korean; entertaining if you don’t. But if you find the voice and its little songs annoying, it can be turned off on both machines.

This particular model, one of their best sellers since 2008, is one of the few to offer pressure cooking technology at this price.

Readers of our original 2013 review recommended this Korean brand; it’s easy to overlook it, as it doesn’t have a lot of distribution beyond its US website and a third-party Amazon vendor. However, upon further digging, the brand is worth seeking out for its fast and high-quality pressure cooking machines. This particular model, one of their best sellers since 2008, is one of the few to offer pressure cooking technology at this price. (See how this Cuckoo compares with the others in our competition section.)

Many other models hover around $400, making this a great value in its class.

Cuckoo’s warranty policy is less clear than those from Hamilton Beach and Zojirushi. Cuckoo machines don’t come with a formal warranty; rather machines are subject to local retailers’ warranty policies and you can make a warranty claim on the company’s site. We called the company’s NYC service center (there’s also one in LA), and a rep told us machines are covered for one year from date of purchase. The service rep was helpful and easy to reach.

Runner-up for frequent cooking

Also Great

*At the time of publishing, the price was $142.

Zojirushi NS-TSC10
This is the only cooker we found that did a great job at all types of rice. But it cooks almost twice as slow as the Cuckoo.

If the Cuckoo is too expensive for you but you’d like a sturdier and more versatile cooker than the Hamilton Beach, the Zojirushi NS-TSC10, our upgrade pick from the 2013 review, is still a great buy.

The rice it makes is delicious, and the machine is easy to use and easy to clean. The big downside is speed: it was the slowest of the lot when it came to cooking white rice, clocking in at 46 minutes for a 3-cup batch, compared to 34 minutes for the Hamilton Beach and 29 minutes for the Cuckoo. And it was the slowest for brown rice by a landslide, taking an hour and 52 minutes, almost twice as long as the Hamilton Beach and the Cuckoo.

rice cooker zojirushi ns-tsc10

The Zojirushi NS-TSC10. Photo: Michael Hession

In our 2013 taste test, the restaurant professionals 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.

This was also the only machine that made Japanese rice, brown rice, and long-grain rice taste great. The Cuckoo, by comparison, didn’t do a great job with the long-grain white rice. The Zojirushi did not perform so well with the quick cook rice (it wasn’t nearly as good as the Hamilton Beach or the Cuckoo). The Zojirushi also comes with a one-year limited warranty, a policy that’s a bit clearer than what comes with the Cuckoo.

Care and maintenance

Rice cookers are pretty straightforward. Before use, wash the inner pot, the inner lid (if it’s detachable; on our Cuckoo pick it is not), the rice paddle, and the measuring cup. (If you lose the measuring cup that comes with your cooker, simply measure out ¾ cup of dry rice for every “cup” of rice you wish to cook.) Read the manufacturer’s instructions on these products to determine if they’re dishwasher-safe. Thanks to the non-stick nature of the device, cleanup is a snap with hot, soapy water.

Most machines also have a steam catcher that needs to be emptied after every batch of rice. These little cups will get grungy and moldy if left wet and unattended. The Zojirushi and the Cuckoo have the steam collector on the top of the device. The Hamilton Beach has it along the side at the hinge. Make sure that all product parts are dry before placing them back into the machine. The machine exterior can simply be wiped down as needed.

It’s important not to use metal utensils or anything that can scratch the nonstick coating inside the pot.

All of the rice cookers we looked at come with a plastic rice paddle; our favorites were the nubbly paddles that came with the Zojirushi and the Tiger because rice doesn’t stick to them. You don’t have to use these paddles—a wooden spoon would work as well—but it’s important not to use metal utensils or anything that can scratch the nonstick coating inside the pot.

How to prepare Japanese rice for cooking

rice cooker samples

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

The preparation of Japanese rice is a cause for nearly as much debate as which rice cooker to use. The particulars of how you prepare rice have become a significant part of Japanese food culture. If you’re interested in just what it takes, we recommend these two excellent articles by Harris Salat.

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) showed us 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 Japanese-style 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 the rice doesn’t start to slightly cook while it waits.

Most home cooks aren’t particularly dead-set on cooking rice to that level of precision. For our most recent tests we rinsed the Japanese rice under running water for one minute, drained it for a minute, then cooked it with the amount of water recommended by the rice cooker manufacturer. (We did not rinse the brown or long-grain rice.)

The competition

Our 2013 pick, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer, 20-cup (Cooked) Silver (37536), has been discontinued. We found it produced great Japanese-style white rice with good texture and flavor. We think our new Hamilton Beach pick performs just as well.

The Hamilton Beach 37541 4-to-20-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer is the larger version of our new pick, the Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer. Although it made good white rice in our tests, its 20-cup capacity seemed a bit too much for most households.

The Tiger JAX-T10U was one of the strongest performers in our latest round of tests. It has a nice thick inner pot (1½ mm for 5½ cups), 10 computerized cooking menus, two preset cooking timers, a stainless steel exterior, detachable steam cup, and a detachable inner lid. It is on-par with the winning Zojirushi when making Japanese rice, which is why it moved forward into the latter rounds of testing. But we were not impressed with its brown, long-grain, or quick rice.

The Tiger JAH-T10U we tested for our 2013 review is another high-end rice cooker that’s competitive with the high-end Zojirushi or the Cuckoo, but it was marred by some flaws in design performance. It produced very good rice; it was quicker to cook brown rice than the Zojirushi and it 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.

The Panasonic SR-DE103 was the most affordable of the high-end machines in our 2013 testing, but 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, 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, which we tested in 2013, is another super-affordable rice cooker with a low price tag, a tiny footprint, and a 4-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.

The Zojirushi Induction Heating System Rice Cooker & Warmer NP-HCC18 was a new model since we’d done our original testing, and it has an added setting for jasmine rice and an easier-to-read display. We really wanted to taste rice that had been cooked with IH to see if the technology was worth the cost. Though the rice from the NP-HCC18 was very good, we felt that the rice from our runner-up pick (the lower-end NS-TSC10) was even better. And at almost half the price, we quickly decided to hold on to our original.

The Tiger JKT-S10U, another IH cooker, was in a similar boat. Sure, it made a good batch of Japanese white rice, but not enough to garner double the price tag of the other Tiger model we tested. In this case and with the Zojirushi’s, we preferred the rice from the lower-tech machines.

The 3 Squares 3RC-3010S TIM3 MACHIN3 20-cup (Cooked) Rice Cooker and Multi Cooker is a relative newcomer, and we really loved its capabilities, its design, and its look. What we were not so enamored of, however, was the rice, which was devoid of aroma and great flavor.

Tatung is another brand, along with the Cuckoo, that was recommended by our readers from the original 2013 rice cooker review. We wanted to give the Taiwanese maker a whirl, so we ordered the TAC-11QN 11-cup Multi-Functional Stainless Steel Rice Cooker, which appeared sturdy, capable, and well-reviewed. The double-boiler pot was unique, but ultimately the cooker was loud and splattery, and the rice stuck to the bottom—an unforgivable act for a rice cooker.

As much as we wanted to love the VitaClay for its adherence to using a traditional clay pot for cooking rice, this is not one we could recommend for most users. The rice stuck to the seasoned clay, and the nub of the scalding hot interior lid was difficult to grasp.

The rest:

We looked at a number of Cuckoo models with pressure cooking technology, but found that our pick, the CRP-G1015F 10-cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker, offered the best combination of price and higher ratings. Here’s a comparison chart of our main pick against Cuckoo’s other cookers:

Model Price Color Cups English voice nav? GABA? Soup / Stew / Porridge? Remov-able lid? Auto steam clean?
CRP-FA0610F 199.99 White/grey 6 N Y N Y N
CRP-L1010F 259.99 Ivory 10 N Y Y N N
CRP-M1059F 249.99 White/red 10 N Y Y Y N
CRP-G1015F 219.99 White/pink 10 N Y N N N
CRP-N0681F 249.99 White/red 6 Y Y Y Y Y
CRP-P1009S 279.99 White/silver, black 10 Y Y Y Y Y

Cuckoo CR-0631F – A basic model without pressure cooking, this model didn’t look quite as promising as some of the other basic models we opted to test. It also was out of stock when we were doing our research.

Tatung TAC-6G-SF 6 Cups Indirect Heating Rice Cooker – Although this comes with decent reviews, we opted to test the larger version of this cooker instead.

Aroma Professional 12-cup (Cooked) Digital Egg-Shape Rice Cooker, Food Steamer and Slow Cooker – This looked promising, but but in our 2013 taste test the brand did not fare well with any of the chef or lay testers. We opted to skip testing.

Aroma Professional 20-Cup Digital Rice Cooker, Food Steamer & Slow Cooker – Another well-priced and positively reviewed model, but as above, we opted not to test based on our experience with the brand in our 2013 tests.

Zojirushi N2-ZCC10/18 – This gets great Amazon reviews, but for the price and performance, we didn’t think it looked better than the two Zojirushi machines we opted to test this round.

We were also taken with the design of the Oster models, but not enough to call them in. Most had glass lids, limited functionality, and fairly poor reviews. The same is true of the Black+Decker models, most of which were quite basic.

We also passed on other Panasonic models. As mentioned, in our 2013 testing the Panasonic SR-DE103 5-cup “Fuzzy Logic” Rice Cooker produced clumped, tasteless rice, and brown rice that stuck to the bottom of the pot. They have replaced their MGS102, MS183, and MS103 models with the 5-cup SR-DF101 and the identical 10-cup SR-DF181, but the feature list and product reviews weren’t compelling enough to call them in.

What to look forward to

The Instant Pot is a combination slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker, and yogurt maker (among other things) that has been getting rave reviews on The Kitchn and Chowhound, with almost 8,000 customer reviews and a 4.7-star rating (out of five) on Amazon as of this writing. While we’re usually skeptical of all-in-one cooking devices, we’re betting that any item with this much public support may actually deliver on the dream of a single device that can replace three or four space-hogging kitchen gadgets. We’d like to bring one in this summer for testing and see how it fares against our favorite single-function cookers.

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Sources

  1. Erin Biba, Full Steam Ahead: Picking the Right Rice Cooker, Wired, June 12, 2014
  2. Sylvan Brackett, Chef and owner of Izakaya Rintaro, Interview
  3. Sunhui Chang, Chef at FuseBOX, Intervivew
  4. Saipin Chutima, Chef at Lotus of Siam Restaurant, Interview
  5. Maryellen Driscoll, Equipment Review: High-Tech Rice Cookers, Fine Cooking
  6. Naomi Duguid, Food Writer and Author, Interview
  7. Fuchsia Dunlop, Chef and Food Writer, Interview
  8. Beth Hensperger, Food writer and author of The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, Interview
  9. Jonathan Humes, Rice Cooker Reviews, Thoroughlyreviewed.com
  10. John Quain, The Best Rice Cooker, Techlicious, June 05, 2014
  11. Harris Salat, How to cook rice, or the essence of japanese cuisine, The Japanese Food Report, October 26, 2007
  12. Harris Salat, Japanese Food Writer and Restaurateur, Interview
  13. Harris Salat, Washing Rice, The Japanese Food Report, January 25, 2010
  14. Harry Sawyers, How Induction Stoves Work: How the Heat Happens, Popular Mechanics, July 23, 2010
  15. Kim Severson, Fluffy. Tasty. Tricky. Learning to Cook a Good Pot of Rice, The New York Times, July 22, 2014
  16. Customer Service, Cuckoo
  17. Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker & Food Steamer 2–14 Cup Food Capacity, Hamilton Beach
  18. Limited Warranty for Electrical Products, Zojirushi
  19. Top Rice Cookers, BestReviews.com

Originally published: February 22, 2016

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