Got rice [cooker]?
November 3, 2007 8:05 PM   Subscribe

I wish to end my barbaric method of cooking rice in a saucepan. I'm stuck between the Zojirushi NS-LAC05, NS-ZCC10, and NS-TGC10. I've checked the product comparisons. Will I miss not having "Extended Keep Warm" - and how is that different from the already-present "Automatic Keep Warm" anyway? What in the world is this "Rinse-Free" and "Sweet Rice" settings, and will I miss them? Is "Cake" decent? Why is picking a rice cooker so complicated?

My old rice cooker occasionally spat out globs of so-called "rice" at me before finally breaking down on me. I've now decided to invest in a decent rice cooker. Zojirushi seems to be the way to go, and I'm stuck between three and dear God I must make the perfect choice.

I cook for only myself, so the 3-cup NS-LAC05 seems the way to go in terms of size. But it lacks the bells and whistles of the other two (5 cups). If I make rice for just one person in a 5-cupper, will the rice dry up and the bottom and end up terribly dry and unluxurious?

Those well-versed with rice cookers, please enlighten me.
posted by Xere to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
If you just want plain old fashioned rice, you don't need a rice cooker with fancy settings. I used the same spartan rice cooker my dad used when he was going to college in the 1970s, and it made rice just fine.

Rinse-free setting: Sometimes, with very glutinous rice, you have to wash it before you cooking, or else it will stick to the rice cooker pot and be a pain to clean. I'm assuming you don't have to wash with this setting.

Sweet rice: If you just make plain old rice all the time, don't worry about this feature. It's for sticky rice.

Cake: For baking cakes in your rice cooker. Again, if you just want plain rice, this is unneeded.

I think the smaller and cheaper option will probably be just fine. I used a no-name brand for the longest time and never had any problem making rice.
posted by pravit at 8:12 PM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, I think rice cookers are very standard in terms of cooking efficiency. If your old rice cooker spit out globs at you, it's possible you were using it incorrectly. Did you use the proper amount of water?
posted by pravit at 8:16 PM on November 3, 2007

Before you spend $200 on a rice cooker, do have a look at this Aroma 6-cup battleaxe, or its 14 cup big brother. I'm unconvinced that you get any benefit at all from the fancier features of the Zojirushi.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:33 PM on November 3, 2007

Extended Keep Warm is like magic, nobody knows how it works but on a nice rice cooker this feature means that you can serve a batch of rice 24 hours or more after it has been cooked and the rice will still taste great.
This feature is a must-have if you eat rice every day.
The second thing you should look for is even heating. This feature makes sure that the rice is evenly cooked so it's fluffly all around.
I believe rinse free means that you can cook your rice quick and dirty without rinsing it beforehand and get a decent batch. I don't know if it actually works as advertised.
posted by SageLeVoid at 8:58 PM on November 3, 2007

I'll have to strongly disagree with people that think that a 15$ rice cooker is as good as a 150$ zojirushi.
There's a world of difference. Rice is eaten every day in Japan, so a rice cooker is the main cooking appliance in a household. This is a huge market and there's a lot of research going on in that field.
It might seems trivial to someone who eat rice only once a month and yes, you probably don't need a zorijushi in that case.
But keep in mind that the price you pay in a zorijushi is not for the cake, sweet rice or lcd screen features. You're paying for the heating system and the extremely precise sensor that tells you when you're rice is ready.
posted by SageLeVoid at 9:19 PM on November 3, 2007

I just make plain ordinary rice, sometimes white and sometimes brown, a couple times a week. I have a four-cup Aroma with one setting ("on"), and it's probably ten or fifteen years old. I've made as little as one cup of rice at a time, no problems.

I'd love a Zojirushi if my Aroma ever died, but it shows no signs of doing so despite having been dropped many times. It would be great to keep my rice warm for 24 hours, but on the other hand, it takes fifteen minutes to make a fresh batch.

I rinse my rice in a wire strainer that I bought at the dollar store; that also shows no signs of wearing out and allowing me to replace it with some fancy le Creuset strainer or some such nonsense. A "no rinse" setting would just blow my mind.

Any machine that bakes a cake for me is diabolical and must be destroyed.
posted by padraigin at 9:49 PM on November 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

We've had the best results with the lowest tech automatic rice cooker possible, a TATUNG. Look way high up on top of some dusty shelf at your local asian supermarket and you're sure to find a few stacked up.
posted by steveminutillo at 10:18 PM on November 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

my vote is for the ZCC10 just because when i was researching rice cookers last xmas, thats the one i decided to add to my amazon wishlist (where it unfortunately still remains today). this thread makes me want to go buy it myself... along with the Mr. Bento lunch jar.
posted by hummercash at 10:50 PM on November 3, 2007

Possibly horrifying to rice connoisseurs and decent cooks, but I am very happy with my cheap plastic microwave rice cooker. I found it an improvement over both my stovetop rice and my cheap electric rice cooker that spit hot starch everywhere.
posted by egret at 11:03 PM on November 3, 2007

The number one feature to look for, can the part which holds the rice be removed and placed into the dishwasher. A saucepan with a tight fitting lid and twenty minutes still works fine though, and if it can go in the dishwasher, even better.
posted by caddis at 11:06 PM on November 3, 2007

I have the NS-ZCC10 and it makes perfect rice every time, the keep warm will keep the rice ready for days. It's solidly made and has a auto retracting cord. We make sticky rice (like sushi rice) mostly...
posted by jockc at 11:12 PM on November 3, 2007

I've got the NS-ZCC10. I love it.

It does both Keep Warm and Extended Keep Warm. According to the manual, the Extended uses a slightly lower heat setting to reduce dryness, discoloration, or odor. But really, how often do you see yourself needing to keep rice warm for 12 hours, much less more than that? I had to dig out the manual because I've never had it do keep-warm for more than a few hours.

Rinse-free rice is basically a Japanese rice innovation that you're not likely to run into. Your Whole Foods will likely have one example of it but otherwise it'll all be the regular kind.

You won't use Sweet - don't worry about it.

I've never once thought to make a cake in this thing. A.) because I don't make cakes, and B.) because if I had to make a cake I'd just use the oven. But actually, now that you bring it up, hell, maybe I will make a cake in it. I don't have all the cake paraphernalia, and this would be a nice way to avoid having to buy it... if I ever had to make a cake. Also this thing is so hypervigilant about heat and done-ness, that I bet it would be impossible to screw up a cake in it, unlike in the oven.

I only cook for myself as well, and so I really have only ever cooked the minimum amount in there, which is measurement level 1 (which seems to be about 2.5 cups cooked?). You don't need to worry that it'll dry out if you're only cooking that little, but your instincts are probably right on the 3 cupper. There's just no need for all the capacity I have (cakes aside). I don't see myself ever cooking more than I do now, which is a bit much. And actually I wish I had pot markings that would let me cook less than the level 1 amount. Maybe a 3 cup model would offer that.

This is a rice cooker. You will almost certainly just cook regular rice in it. I think the bells and whistles are largely unnecessary. I cooked brown rice a couple of times. Man, what an ordeal. I didn't eat dinner till like 9 oclock because it took that stuff like 2 hours to cook. Sheesh!

The one specialty use I do use it for is cooking oatmeal. Not the Quaker rolled kind but the old-skool steelcut kind. That is a real bitch to tend to on the stove, but this thing makes effortless short work of it. I like to pour cinnamon applesauce in with mine when I get it started. And there is nothing better on a winter morning than waking up to the smell of the hearty oatmeal cooking that you set up the night before. You can set it to start cooking at a certain time so it'll be ready when you wake up. You can't beat that, especially if you have nobody else there to cook it for you.

Don't stress too much over making the perfect choice. Any of these you link to will do what you need. Get the cheapest if you're worried you'll regret buying one with features you won't wind up using. Probably you will forget pretty quickly.
posted by kookoobirdz at 12:13 AM on November 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm with pravit, Here in China, eating rice every day, we do very well with a cheap and cheerful cooker. Get one that won't break and forget the rest.
posted by Abiezer at 1:35 AM on November 4, 2007

Seconding phatkitten's recommendation of the cheap Rival cooker. We've been using an older version of that same model for years. It's great. I wouldn't trade it for all the button-festooned digital cookers in the world.

It's like toasters. You don't need to spend $200 to make toast.

Simplicity is liberating.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:02 AM on November 4, 2007

We use a microwave rice cooker like this one on the advice of my Bengali friend. Perfect rice every time.
posted by noether at 6:20 AM on November 4, 2007

One other thing I'll add is that I do like the softer/harder option on my Zojirushi. That allowed me to fine tune the texture I like.
posted by kookoobirdz at 9:31 AM on November 4, 2007

I received the NS-ZCC10 as a present last March. Next to my KitchenAid, its the most expensive thing in my kitchen, and I don't regret it at all.

It fixes absolutely perfect rice, every time, in every situation. Brown rice comes out great, long grain, short grain...doesn't matter. My favorite thing about it is the timer...throw the rice in whenever, set the timer, and you'll have perfect rice for dinner. Or, if dinner is late, it will keep your rice warm and moist for hours and hours and hours.

The other benefit of something like the Zojirushi is the ability to fix other cereals in it. We use it every weekend for breakfast...steel cut oats go in the night before, wake up to beautiful creamy oatmeal. We've tried it with grain advantage of the porridge setting is that they come out great.
posted by griffey at 9:37 AM on November 4, 2007

Put me firmly in the camp of those who say that the Zojirushi is the greatest thing to happen to rice since saffron. I had an el Cheapo model before and it did the job adequately, but I'd never go back and I absolutely don't think they are all the same. Perfectly tender brown rice every time, sticky sushi rice to exactly the degree of sticky I love every single go, aromatic basmati rice smells wafting through the kitchen when I get home from work -- its the bomb! Clean-up is easier, you can set the timer to be ready whenever you like and it pays a goofy melody when the rice is ready (my wife claims it is called the "Happy Rice Song", but she may have been drinking when she said it).

I don't think you need rinse-free (always rinse your rice!) for the reasons mentioned above. I tried the Sweet Rice and wasn't wild about it, so I'm not sure that would be be a deal-breaker for me either. The advantage of Extended Keep Warm would be that you could make the rice today and still eat it warm tomorrow. Personally, this gives me visions of my Mom demanding I turn out the lights when I leave the room and I just can't do it.

My bonus tip is to find a good Indian grocer and get some top-notch basmati. Man, I could eat that stuff all day, every day.
posted by Lame_username at 9:59 AM on November 4, 2007

Because so much of it is about forcing water to intercalate between the amylose and amylopectin polymers within rice, microwaves do an excellent and rapid job.
posted by meehawl at 10:50 AM on November 4, 2007

I have an Aroma 3 cup rice cooker, extremely cheap. It only has an on and off switch. I use it frequently but if i have the time i always use the 3-2 stove top method for rice. In my opinion stove stop rice is much better than what is made automatically. Though I am sure an expensive rice cooker would make more than exceptional rice.

I think every asian restaurant uses rice cookers. Even sushi restaurants use it, and the rice I have had when out is always great.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 5:41 PM on November 4, 2007

I agree that $ doesn't guarantee a great rice cooker. There was a comparison a few months ago of cheapo rice cookers and super expensive ones (I forget where. Anyone remember where it was posted?) I believe.. one of the cheaper ones had the best results with an expensive (Zoruishi or Sanyo, not sure) cooker coming in a close second.

As cool as it is to have a rice cooker that you can call and have it start cooking your rice, my favorite methods for delicious rice are:

A simple pressure cooker
A stone pot

..So much for bells and whistles(?) If you haven't tried it, give it a shot.
posted by s01110011 at 6:06 PM on November 4, 2007

The rinse-free and sweet settings are for (Japanese) sticky rice, which you don't need if you are using Western long-grain rice.

And yes, rice cookers are extremely important in Japan, and every house has one, like, say, toasters in American homes. Zojirushi is the leading company making cookers, and their high-end machines are indeed very complicated.
posted by zardoz at 8:06 PM on November 4, 2007

Coming way late to the game, I know - so if there is still anyone reading this, maybe you can answer this question: what's the minimum amount of rice you can make in one of the Zojirushis? I'll be cooking for one mostly, so I don't need 5.5 cups capacity - but can I just as easily make one cup in a 5.5 cup machine as in a 3 cup machine?

posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:25 PM on January 2, 2008

FoF, I have one of the lower end Zojrushis that's a 5.5 cu, and it has a water line for one cup. I have used it once as I just got it, but I made 2 cups, and it came out great.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:14 PM on January 5, 2008

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