Help me pick out a rice cooker!
November 14, 2010 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Help me pick out a rice cooker!

I'm considering buying my wife a rice cooker for christmas, but know absolutely nothing about them (I've only ever made rice on the stove). I have absolutely no clue what my options are, or what I should be looking for / avoiding.

A quick glance through Amazon shows prices that can kind of go all over the place, so I suspect there are vast differences I should be aware of. While I'd ideally like to spend less than $100, I am totally open to spending more if there are compelling reasons to do so. Please educate me!
posted by Stunt to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
First: How big do you want it to be?
Second: Only a rice cooker, or with steamer attachment on top?
Third: Panasonic/National is the best brand.

The one where the aluminium pot comes out is actually more practical and easier to clean than the fancier floral/white appliance looking models. But you decide. Go to an Asian store and check them out first.

I've bought them for as low as $20 in an Asian store in LA suburbs for smallish one.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 3:45 PM on November 14, 2010

I have an Oster brand black one (I think it does 6 cups) that I bought at Target. It comes with a removable insert and has a little tray that can be used for steaming veggies. I don't think I spent more than $30 for it.

I like it a lot. It does what it's supposed to and I've never had any problems. All the parts are easy to clean and it isn't complicated. I have Celiac Disease, so I use mine at least three times a week. I've had it for a year and don't have a single complaint.

I really recommend one that comes apart easily for cleaning. Rice can be really sticky stuff.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:50 PM on November 14, 2010

I just got a $25 Salton model & am very disappointed , wanted it mainly for brown rice which it burns after boiling over slightly.
posted by canoehead at 3:53 PM on November 14, 2010

Best answer: I spent a lot of time researching my rice cooker purchase, and went with the Zojirushi brand, one of the computerized 'fuzzy logic' models -- they're certainly among the more expensive, but they are designed to cook rice absolutely perfectly (no brown or burnt bits on the bottom!), and to keep rice warm for a good long while (up to 12 hours, if I recall correctly). They also are known for having settings for any kind of rice (the brown rice setting, for example is amazing -- brown rice is notorious for being difficult to cook well, and ours comes out perfectly every time), and can be set to cook in advance.

It's hard to overestimate how much having a good rice cooker has changed our cooking habits. Many people certainly make do with a cheap, $20 rice cooker, and that's fine -- going from stovetop cooking to any kind of rice cooker is a huge step in quality and ease. But having absolutely perfect rice every time, and being able to keep rice warm for a long time, I think it's worth the additional expense.

Digging around, this rice cooker isn't too far outside your budget, and has all of the fanciest features (extended warming cycle, brown rice setting, rinse-free rice, etc).
posted by Eldritch at 4:02 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

You may want to consider getting a pressure cooker. It's more versatile and will cook things a lot faster. We got the Cuisinart one and it's really good.
posted by reddot at 4:05 PM on November 14, 2010

I'm on the wrong continent to advise you on brand specifics, but I can tell you some things to consider based on my super-cheap rice cooker.

- the charms of a rice cooker are it's fix-and-forget, and it's dependable.
- The Lady's right - a removable pot is the way to go, because even the nonstick pots sometimes get a little rice stuck to them and it's nice if you can soak them without fear of rusting out the heating element
- the steamer insert is a bust for us because it's too small, and it won't let us steam and make rice at the same time (which makes sense, if you think about it - the cooker is optimized for the 15 to 20 minutes it takes to make rice, which will overcook about any vegetable other than artichokes, but you can't take the lid off until the rice is done, but we didn't think about any of that in advance.)
- the smaller the volume of rice I'm making, the less accurate the timing on the rice cooker, so it's sometimes easier to plan leftovers (fried rice, scrambled eggs and rice, rice pudding)
- if I follow the instructions on ours to the letter, my rice undercooks, so I have to use a bit more water to make it perfectly (so it's dependable but took a little tuning)
- the keep-warm setting is a godsend to the cook who sometimes mistimes the main course (fix-and-forget!)
- I wish ours had an on-off or auto-off in addition to the cook-warm switch, because it would be nice to have control other than the outlet (fix-and-start-house-fire!)
posted by gingerest at 4:06 PM on November 14, 2010

Get nonstick! The little Chinese lady who sold me my rice cooker kept repeating, "no nonstick?" as I bought it. I didn't get the nonstick model, and I regret it. She was totally right.
posted by mollymayhem at 4:07 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The Lady is a designer: Not too sure how big of one I need yet, that's something I think I still need to sort out. Generally we're cooking for 2-3 people, but I suspect being able to handle a larger amount on occasion would be helpful.

Your steamer question shows how unfortunately ignorant I am on this topic, as I found myself confused and trying to look up what that would even do for me (like I said, rice in a pot on the stove is pretty much all I've ever had experience with).

Eldritch: Okay, all of that sounds fantastic and very much like something she'd want. Anything that can make perfect rice with little to no attention from her, regardless of the kind of rice used, sounds right up my alley. I'm curious, what do you gain with models even more expensive than the one you linked? Just capacity, or do more fancy things creep their way into the feature lineup?

All very good to know, thank you!
posted by Stunt at 4:14 PM on November 14, 2010

Check out these two previous questions for more input, if slightly dated. See if there are newer ones too. I'm still using the Zojirushi model I talk about in those threads and it's still perfect rice or oatmeal every time with zero fuss. Pour in ingredients using included measuring cup, fill to appropriate fill line, close top, pick type (white, brown, mixed, sushi, harder, softer, porridge, etc.), hit go. Clean up is just a quick swish of the nonstick surface and you're done. I also like the timer function, so I can wake up to the smell of oatmeal or come home to finished rice.

Mine is the 5.5 cup version, but they make a 3 cup, a 10 cup, and maybe others. Usually I just want to cook a serving or two, and in those cases it's overkill and the 3 cup would be more appropriate, but now and then I want to cook up enough rice or oatmeal for the week or to freeze or for a group and in that case it's nice to have the extra capacity. You'll see in the linked questions above that some people recommend cheap, simple units and get good results. This is the only one I've ever used so I can't compare, but I love it and don't regret paying for it. If you eat rice semi frequently, it's really convenient.
posted by kookoobirdz at 4:17 PM on November 14, 2010

Anodized aluminum is the best pot material for a rice cooker. Ours cleans up with a damp sponge and soap. Once you get comfortable with your rice cooker, you'll realize you can cook TONS of different stuff in it: irish oatmeal, coq au vin, all kinds of dim sum and steamed stuff.

We have this Aroma model and it's fantastic. It doesn't have fuzzy logic, so every once in a while, I'll get a disc of crisped rice which I use for porridge.
posted by boo_radley at 4:21 PM on November 14, 2010

I got an Aroma from Target for maybe $40 when I was diagnosed with Celiac disease, too, so I use it several times a week. I also use it to make quinoa, but I have to stay on top of it -- the white rice setting doesn't quite recognize when it's done.

Mostly, I just wanted to suggest you also get a fine-mesh strainer for rinsing rice, quinoa, etc. I got an 8 inch oxo strainer for $20 off amazon and it's made prepping the rice soooo much easier than before, which took a half dozen changes of water in a mixing bowl.
posted by sugarfish at 4:23 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I apologize for a slight derail but I have to disagree with Eldritch about rice cooker being a step up from stove-top pan. Brown rice is very easy to get right. I've cooked it hundreds of times over the last ~8 years and I can't remember a single time I got anything less than perfect rice. (I don't cook white rice though). I had a cheap rice cooker before and it wasn't any better, and was less flexible, than a good pan. I think cooker is good, though, if you tend to forget the cooking or want it kept warm.
posted by rainy at 4:24 PM on November 14, 2010

I bought this one. I never knew rice could taste so incredibly good. As you can see, it is a slow cooker too.

Sanyo and Zojirushi seem consistently to be the top rated brands.
posted by bearwife at 4:24 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

And to address your followup: Our cooker has a steamer tray that sits on the lip of the pot. Put vegetables or dumpings in it and let it go. The most important feature if you're anticipating different rice types is fuzzy logic. It's amazing. After that, maybe look for a timer feature so that it'll start unattended and go into warming mode automatically when the food's done.
posted by boo_radley at 4:25 PM on November 14, 2010

We just replaced our first rice cooker after about 25 years of two/three times a week use. We bought a Zojirushi the first time and only got rid of it after the rice started taking longer and longer to cook and the results were becoming inconsistent.

We did our research, too, and bought the same one Eldritch did, but in a slightly larger model. We cook a lot of brown rice and make rice-based casseroles in our rice cooker, so we went with the Zoji. Our local Asian supermarket sells a lot of Zojis and Panasonic/Nationals as TLaid mentioned.
posted by angiep at 4:27 PM on November 14, 2010

I have a Tiger brand with a removable non-stick inner pot and inner lid (for cleaning this is quite handy), retractable cord, keep-warm, and floral design. It makes better rice than the others I've used, but that list does not include the Zojirushi so YMMV.
posted by a halcyon day at 4:27 PM on November 14, 2010

When it comes to Rice Cookers there is only Zojirushi. They are expensive, but they are worth it. I have a little 3 cup cooker that is the best piece of cooking equipment I've ever bought. I can program it to have rice ready first thing in the morning, or when I come home from work. The rice never burns, it's always perfectly done. It even plays Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Seriously, when you get one, get one that has a timer and fuzzy logic. Don't get the cheap kind that just has a 'on' lever that pops up to 'warm' when it's done. You'll lose a good amount of rice just to scraping off the burnt ends.
posted by Caravantea at 4:28 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I like my $25 Panasonic model.
posted by twblalock at 4:29 PM on November 14, 2010

I have the same $30 Oster one from Target and I love it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:36 PM on November 14, 2010

Looking at the Zojirushi model Eldritch linked to (NS-WAC10), which costs $116 on Amazon as of today, it appears to be the same capacity and have the same functions as the one I got (NS-ZCC10), which costs $165 as of today. On Zojirushi's site, there's a model comparison grid. According to that, the only differences are that Eldritch's lacks settings for harder and softer white rice, which I have actually used to fine tune things, as well as for semi-brown, which I have never used. Eldritch's lacks stay cool plastic handles on the removable metal bowl, which mine has and which are handy, but which a couple of pot holders could substitute for if you need to lift it out while it's still hot. Eldritch's cord is removable, mine's retractable (who cares). Ours both have a keep warm cycle and an extended keep warm cycle but mine also has a reheat cycle. I forgot I had that and will continue to microwave to reheat regardless. But I think the real advantage of mine, and I think you'll both agree, is that while Eldritch's is just "white" in color, mine is "premium white". So yeah. I think that pretty much decides it. For Eldritch's. Hey wait nooo!
posted by kookoobirdz at 4:40 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have this Zojirushi (in white) mainly because it has the "GABA Brown Rice" program, where the rice's GABA amino acid is activated by keeping it at a slightly higher temperature for a bit before cooking. I love it and it's worth the cash.
posted by kcm at 4:41 PM on November 14, 2010

I don't know about their newer line but I'm using a Panasonic rice cooker that is around 30 years old. My mother gave me her old rice cooker after my sleek and modern Sanyo died after 2 years of usage. The Panasonic is indestructible. It came from a Korean household so that's 30 years of daily usage for at least twice a day (3x on Sundays) and it's still going strong!

I think this may be the modern version of the model I have.
posted by cazoo at 4:41 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Received a 10 cup Rival as a wedding gift in 1993. It probably cost $40, no nonstick coating, no "settings" aside from COOK and WARM. Not fancy, but it's been used an average of twice a month since then and still cooks perfectly. If the rice sits on WARM for too long it can stick a bit, but it soaks off in 20 minutes. No problems with burning or sticking.
posted by zombiecakes at 4:47 PM on November 14, 2010

I'm very pleased with my Aroma Fuzzy Logic Rice Cooker. It's one sixth the price of the Zojrushi (I have one of the bread machines, and I love it). Since this your first purchase, this would be a good starter for you. Most of the rice I cook is brown. This model does a great job with white, brown, and wild rice. I also use the steamer insert with this cooker, where I never did with my other cookers. Veggies, dumplings, steamed buns; they're all good.
I get some (good) bottom browning with my unit, but only because I use stocks/broth instead of water
posted by JABof72 at 5:15 PM on November 14, 2010

The information you seek is here. And it makes a neat companion gift.
posted by willpie at 5:23 PM on November 14, 2010

Response by poster: kookoobirdz: That chart is actually incredibly useful, thank you.

Okay, so from what I seem to understand, I think one of the Zojirushi models might best fit what I'm looking for. After looking at the chart it seems that the NS-WAC10 Eldritch mentioned would work out great, and isn't too expensive. There are certainly models that cost a hell of a lot more though, so I'm sure it is lacking in some regard comparatively.

There's a good chance I'll end up going with that model, but I AM curious about something. I see that a few of the higher end models say something about Neuro Fuzzy instead of just fuzzy logic. Anyone have experience with the difference? I assume those models cook better in some way, but I cant figure out any specifics.
posted by Stunt at 5:25 PM on November 14, 2010

Digging around, this rice cooker isn't too far outside your budget

Seconded - I have this very model, and it's fantastic. Does a great job on both short and long grain rice every time. My only tip would be to fluff up the rice as soon as it's done, so it doesn't clump together while it's sitting on the warming cycle.
posted by fixer at 5:28 PM on November 14, 2010

Chiming in for Zojirushi. The timer function works great for making oatmeal for breakfast.
posted by clockwork at 5:35 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've always bought the cheapest one out there (gave the larger one to a friend and bought a smaller one when I moved to a smaller kitchen) and been perfectly happy with it. What I discovered about it is that there's two critically important things to getting the right result:

1) using the right amount of water for the rice I'm cooking. Usually it's just a matter of straight-up following the directions but I have learned that brown rice took a hint more water
2) unplugging it when the cook cycle is done. While it'll theoretically keep the rice warm on a lower setting I have discovered that THAT is when the crispy bottom bits happen. Unplugging and leaving the top on keeps the rice warm enough for use in the next 20 minutes and prevents crispies.

I'm sure the more expensive ones remove the need for this kind of attention and I'd totally drop the money if we were that sort of cooks, but for us the dead cheapest one works fine. And as other have said, the improvement in ease over stovetop cooking is an order of magnitude by itself.

I have not seen anyone mention that the rice cooker - at least my cheapies - do take a hint longer than the stovetop. When you consider the time to bring water to a boil it's not MUCH longer, but you do need to account for this in your cooking or you'll find yourself waiting for the rice while everything else is already done. You'll learn quick but perhaps you can learn from my overcooked chicken breast mistakes.
posted by phearlez at 5:47 PM on November 14, 2010

I highly recommend finding one with the LEAST features possible - i.e. one button with only cook / keep warm modes. The less you have, the less there is to possibly break or go wonky on you. I've had one from an asian grocery store for the past 10 years and used (and abused) it thoroughly. It's still making perfect rice every time for me.
posted by saritonin at 5:51 PM on November 14, 2010

I received a mid-range Zojirushi rice cooker for Christmas in 2005. I've used it around twice weekly since then, and it has served me very well. It performs just as well now as it did five years ago, and I'm so glad to have it. I especially like that it cooks perfectly a single serving of rice or enough to feed a group, without any special effort from me.

My only complaint is that now I suck at cooking rice without it.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 6:01 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

According to this Engrish-tastic page, "neuro-fuzzy" is just a step up in sensitivity and accuracy of the fuzzy logic capabilities. In other applications, the "neuro" part refers to a neural network so I guess the same applies here? Jesus, this thing could probably go Mars. Hope they like rice there.
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:07 PM on November 14, 2010

My mother-in-law bought a Tiger JNP-1000 rice cooker in the Eighties. It is still working and cooking great white rice today. When we bought a house, she bought us a brand-new JNP-1000.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:59 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

+N on on the Zoj rice cookers. Well worth the money if you can afford them, and they produce significantly better results than the cheap ones.
posted by galaksit at 8:09 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a $25 3 cup Rival from Target (with a nonstick bowl). I make rice 3-4x a week, and it works well. I bought it to replace the 5x more expensive Zojirushi one my old roommate had. I have been eating rice my whole life (my Indian heritage dictates that big meals always have 3 courses -- rice with a vegetable, rice with a hot gravy/soup, and rice with yogurt). For the life of me, I cannot tell the difference between the Zoji cooked rice and the cheapo cooked rice. For brown rice, I use my brain's own fuzzy logic and have figured out how much additional water to add. Like someone said upthread, you have to unplug the cooker within 5-10 minutes of it finishing or the rice might stick (but not burn, I've never had burnt bits). I will say that I don't cook anything in mine besides rice. No steaming, no porridge, no GABA (?).
posted by bluefly at 6:31 AM on November 15, 2010

Maybe that's the pattern of usage to consider, Stunt: Is rice a staple part of your diet and are you familiar with it? Then cheapo will do :) But if its the appliance adn the trimmings, then the Zoji is one I'll confess to having eyed but dismissed. The standard National/Panasonic ones are the common ones I've seen in hawker stalls across Singapore and Malaysia, not to mention in homes so I'm confident of their reliability and ease of use. But as many have pointed out, the Zoji takes the guesswork out completely and is versatile. (might reconsider myself if i'm in the market for one again)
posted by The Lady is a designer at 6:40 AM on November 15, 2010

My experience with cheap cookers was pretty spotty. Sometimes you get a good one, sometimes you don't. My Zojirushi is terrific though. I suspect the real magic in the Zojirushi is the rounded bowl bottom more than anything else. If you get a Zoji, make sure you get one with a brown rice setting. The Zoji I have (NS-ZCC10) will also cook perfect quinoa on the white rice setting.

The only drawback I know of for the Zoji is the lithium battery in the cooker isn't user replaceable. Mine hasn't run out yet so I can't comment on what to do when it does. Also, my Zoji doesn't have a steamer basket but I haven't missed that.
posted by chairface at 8:20 AM on November 15, 2010

America's Test Kitchen recommends this one: Sanyo Electric Rice Cooker & Steamer, Model ECJ-N55W, 5 1/2 cups.
posted by killy willy at 11:02 PM on November 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the help everyone! I don't feel quite so in the dark now, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to go with the model Eldritch suggested. AskMe saves the day as usual!
posted by Stunt at 7:06 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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