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Feb 20, 2002 12:13 PM

Rice cooker must-haves?

  • a

Okay, I've finally come to the realization that while my trusty Krups steamer is great for steaming green beans and asparagus, it will never come close to making not too sticky, not too mushy, perfect rice, let alone even edible brown rice. I know, sometimes it takes me awhile to catch on...

Which puts me in the market for a rice cooker. After doing some initial Internet shopping, I see that they range from about $30 up to $200, with varying bells and whistles. I'm usually a "you get what you pay for" kind of shopper, but I'm having a hard time justifying another expensive kitchen appliance purchase, especially since we probably only make rice a couple of times a month.

So my questions to you are: What are the bare minimum requirements for a decent rice cooker? Can I get away with one of the mid-range $50-$60 models and still get consistently great rice, just without bells and whistles? Do any of you have specific brand/model recommendations?

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  1. I have a Japanese one, whose name currently escapes me but it has a little elephant on it and has fuzzy logic. It was $125 at Broadway Panhandler. It is worth it, especially if rice is your favorite starch. My husband doesn't really like potatoes or pasta as a side. I love putting rice on and then concentrating on whatever else I'm making.

    You could probably get away with a cheaper one. I used to have a $30 one. The key for that is, make sure the pot is non-stick. My cheap one wasn't and after a few months of use and my roommate putting the pot in the dishwasher, rice had a tendency to stick.

    2 Replies
    1. re: LisaLou

      The brand referred to is a Zojirushi (Japanese for elephant), and generally a good one. I have a Panasonic that I purchased at Costco for about $30. I don't really think there's that much difference between any of the most common brands, although the higher-end models (bigger, hard plastic casing) do some fancy keep warm sort of things.

      1. re: P

        Zojirushi, that's it. Thank you. We got ours as a wedding gift. I'm not so sure I ever would have spend that much on a rice cooker myself.

    2. I'm pretty particular about my rice, and tend to eat it at least a couple times per week. I've tried a couple rice cookers in the past, borrowed from friends, but have found that old-fashioned cooking is the best way to get it perfect, even if it does dirty up a pot and a colander. Do rice cookers really get it perfect?

      I guess this doesn't really answer your question, but I have never seen anyone outside of my family cook rice like this - anyone else use the old fashioned colander steaming process for perfect white rice?

      Blue skies,

      4 Replies
      1. re: Catherine

        question for you- what do you do with a colander when making rice? really curious. i just keep adding liquid little by little until the liquid is cooked in/off. I always thought draining extra liquid would remove flavor and starch (if that's desired in the texture).

        I haven't used my rice cooker yet from my bridal shower (I'm dying to, but we live in a New York City studio

        1. re: cypressstylepie

          I bring a LOT of salted water to a boil, boil high for 10-12 minutes, and toss into the waiting colander (the cheap aluminum kind). I then steam the rice by keeping an inch or two of lightly boiling water under the colander. It'll steam almost indefinitely, which helps out on those nights it takes a little bit longer than you thought to put everything together.

          I tend to use this method on regular long grain white rice (not converted), but cook brown/yellow/other rice in the more conventional manner. I didn't mean to say that this is the only method of cooking rice, but I've just never seen anybody else do it. Most of my friends use rice cookers or cook it in a covered pot like brown rice.

          Blue skies,

        2. re: Catherine

          One thing to recognize is that just as there is more than one kind of rice, cooking rice is not a singular monolithic process.

          If you have come to prefer the method of boiling the rice in a lot of water and then finish it by steaming in a colander you will not get rice with the same texture in a rice cooker.

          A friend in Mexico says she never gets good rice from a rice cooker. Of course she usually cooks rice by toasting it in oil in a heavy pot, sometimes with garlic, and then adding water and simmering 'til done. Her attempt to do all this in the rice cooker was a mini disaster.

          There are still lots of ways to get tasty rice from a cooker. But remember it was designed to cooker a particular range of rice preparations. Imagine using a singular appliance/approach with potatoes?


          1. re: wrayb
            Rochelle McCune

            I had a rice cooker, my husband came with a rice cooker and they both suck! (both cookers, not the hubby ;-).

            Last year, I got a Mexican clay pot that I put on the stove, heat up, add oil, add herbs, toast the rice, then pour in boiling liquid and put the lid on. I leave it on heat for about 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and let it sit for 20 minutes. Perfect rice every time.

            I have done plain fluffy rice with the clay pot and it worked out fine. I just rarely eat plain rice.

        3. I've had two rice cookers--the first one is still working but I wanted a non-stick pan.

          There are only four things (IMO, of course) that you should consider when getting a rice cooker: it should have a non-stick pot, it should stay on Warm after the rice is finished (some of them shut off when done), it should have more capacity than you think you need because it's amazing how much more rice you'll consume once you have a good rice cooker, and it should be made by an Asian manufacturer.

          One tip for brown rice is to soak it ahead of time in the liquid you'll be cooking it in. It will cook faster.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Elisa Davis

            Rice should nearly always soak for a while in the cooker before you start it. 8-10 minutes for white rice. 30 minutes or longer for brown rice.

            I don't understand the emphasis (not just by you Elisa) people make on non-stick for rice cookers. It has never been an issue for me. And this includes using the cooker for making variations including sekihan (with beans, etc.) and Indian and Mexican variations with oil and misc. flavorings added to the rice.

            Although in reference to non-stick one poster said something about dishwashing machines which which I never use for pots. Maybe that has something to do with that preference.


            1. re: wrayb

              While non-stick is a good thing to have, I don't miss it either. Our rice pot is not non-stick, but I find if after the rice cooker pops up and you let it sit for 10-20 mintues before serving, the rice will not stick too much.

              And if it does, well, that's what soaking is suppose to do.

              1. re: wrayb

                My first rice cooker (a wedding gift from my co-workers in 1980, led by a Chinese woman who knew I really wanted one)was non-stick and it was always a pain to get really clean. Plus, we always wasted a lot of the rice because it was cooked onto the pot too hard to get out.

                That rice cooker still works but I replaced it with a non-stick pan one (that also shuts off when finished, so I am not totally happy with it) and we get every grain of rice to eat including that nice crusty part along the bottom. Takes 10 seconds to clean and we sometimes use it daily.

                I use it for rice mixes, too. For something like rice-a-roni, I toss the rice/pasta mixture with a little oil and toast in the microwave, then put the toasted stuff plus water and flavor pack in the rice cooker and it's always perfect.

                As for soaking rice (and thanks for the tip, I'd never thought to soak rice as a normal part of the preparation), brown rice can soak all day and then will cook in 10-15 minutes less time--a big plus for people cooking after work.

                1. re: Elisa Davis

                  Hmmm. It is very rare that I have any problem cleaning the pot. But I was once a professional pot washer at a world famous restaurant.

                  Thank you for your mentioning soaking the brown rice all day, yes, and when it soaks a long time it seem to me that the rice grains after cooking are much more succulent. As for white rice, my Japanese mentor told me to always soak it around 10 minutes, until the rice starts to look much whiter. Long soaking of white rice can result in the rice being too soft. Although I know some who start the soak at night for the next day's breakfast.

                  1. re: wrayb

                    I always soak rice either overnight or all day. The key to not cooking soft rice is to use the correct amount of water for the amount and type of rice you are cooking, as well as to suit your personal tastes.

                    I used to have a little Zojirushi with all the bells and whistles. It was great, knowing that I had perfect hot rice waiting for me, even if I was delayed, or got up an hour or two late.

                    There are two types of rice cooker users: those who feel all the features are a waste of time, who cook their rice and eat it immediately, and think everyone should do it that way; and those who use and enjoy all the features on their precious toys.

            2. Like most Chinese-Americans, I received a rice cooker and a wok from my Mom when I got my first apartment. It was a Panasonic/National, just a simple little one without the keep warm function or a nonstick bowl. Used it for over ten years before I finally upgraded to a super-schmick Zojirushi fuzzy-logic cooker from an online clearance sale that I've been using for a couple of years now. I like it okay, but wouldn't pay full price for it. Sure the features are cool -- it comes with a timer, it makes superb brown rice, has a congee setting and a special "harder rice" setting for use in fried rice. Does everything but core a apple, but I wonder if I'm just making my life far more complicated than it need be. Doesn't really bother me since I got mine for a song, but I really haven't been recommending it to others. I just don't see that these fancy cookers deserve the high prices they go for.

              However, I do highly recommend the bargain-basement cookers that are found all over Chinatown on the cheap ($30 or so last time I looked for a reasonably sized one). Much as I like the idea of just cooking rice in a pot, I need to keep all burners free when I'm cooking for a group.

              Interesting to hear about the colander-steaming method of rice cookery. I had an ex-girlfriend who cooked rice like pasta, using the colander to drain it when it was to her liking. It always horrified me. I sure hope she isn't reading along...

              3 Replies
              1. re: Dennison

                That pasta/colander method of rice cooking is popular in New Orleans. The results are good and appropriate when using long grain rice and going for very light and fluffy rice. It can easily be abused ending with watery tasteless rice. For good results the rice needs to be just leaving the al dente stage when the switch from boil to colander is made. I haven't cooked it that way since I left New Olreans and don't remember all the details. Perhaps someone else can fill them in.

                1. re: wrayb

                  Whoa, so it is a New Orleans thing -- thanks for the info, wrayb. Makes sense, as I'm from New Orleans. :) Even still, I haven't seen too many of my New Orleans native friends cook it that way. Perhaps it's going out of style down here?

                  I've filled in some of the details in a previous post. I use a pretty light-duty pot, bring lots of salted water to a boil, and add the rice. I boil the rice till just past al dente (usually 10-12 minutes), and drain into a colander. I put 1-2 inches of water in the light duty pot, throw the colander on top, and keep the water at a light boil to steam the rice and keep it warm, for at least 15-20 minutes.

                  The colander type is pretty important. I use the cheap aluminum kind you can find at the hardware store. In college, I tried with various other types of colanders while I searched for the right type, but they didn't hold the right amount of moisture and/or heat.

                  It's nice for timing meals, as it isn't exact at all. The rice can steam almost indefinitely, but left too long, will get kind of crunchy at the edges of the colander.

                  I guess rice is a big thing in New Orleans. We grew up eating rice at least four times per week. I've never been the biggest fan of breakfast foods, so often leftover rice with a little salt started my day growing up.

                  Blue skies,

                  1. re: Catherine

                    Thanks for the details. Yes, the cheapo aluminum colander is what I learned and always saw used.

                    Different ways to eat left over rice the next morning could be a whole 'nother thread.

              2. While all the new fancy rice cooker that have function like non stick and keep warm, they are not as nice as what an old fasion electric steamer/cooker can do. When we were growing up, there are these electric pots that you put water in than you put an inner pot with rice or whatever else you want to steam. You push the on button and when all the water is gone, the cooker will shut itself off. Most of the time these cooker are large and can accommodate whole fish or other foods. Most of the time they also have a keep warm function.

                That being said. Making perfect rice is not so much the cooker as the the ratio of water to rice. Any old cheap brand from Costco or Chinatown will make you good rice if you know how much water to use.

                15 Replies
                1. re: Wendy Lai


                  And it matters if you have fresh and quality rice. While rice has reasonable shelf life (I am not knowledgable enough to start spouting recommendations) there are limits. Not that it spoils but the taste does change, usually noticably for the worse. Also, fresher rice needs less water.

                  1. re: Wendy Lai

                    So what is the best rice to water ratio for a rice cooker?

                    1. re: Carrot

                      Yes, that would be the next logical question. But the answer is not that straight forward. Different type of rice take different amount of water. Right now I'm cooking jasmin rice (I buy 25 pounds at a time), which is a long grain rice that is not as sticky as Japanese sushi rice, but not as unsticky as basmati rice. I'm using equal amount of rice to water. I think for stickier rice you would use more water (by more I mean only a few spoonsful more) and less stickier rice you use less. I think the shorter the grain the sticker they are. Also, the type of cooking methods also makes the amount of water needed vary. I find if I don't use a rice cooker and cook rice stove top (and I don't mean the cook it in water and drain it in a colander, I mean steam the rice stovetop so that when the water evorapes the rice is done, which believe you me is an art form) it would take a bit more water.

                      Oh, and to make things more complicated, different people prefer their rice differently. My mother always like hers more softer and smooshier than mine, so she uses more water...

                      The whole thing goes on and on. I would suggest if you end up using a rice cooker, to start out with one to one ratio and adjust according to your own taste.

                      1. re: Wendy Lai

                        Here's the formula for water to rice: Put rice into pan. Fill with water until the water comes to the first knuckle of your index finger when you lightly touch the surface of the rice. Bring to a boil, cook for 20 minutes covered, over low heat. Don't remove the cover until the time is up. Works for any rice (except wild) every time. The ratio of water to rice is automatically correct every time, regardless of the type of rice or the size and shape of the pan.

                        1. re: Greg Spence

                          Hey it's the first knuckle method - just the way Mom taught me - I use it til today. I make adjustments based on freshness (i.e. New Crop rice needs less water) As well as how well drained the rice is after rinsing. So those "New Crop" labels you see on rice from time to time have a direct relationship to cooking......

                          1. re: KirkK

                            Yup, that's the tried and true method that Momma taught me too. The thing is, these new-fangled super-schmick Zojirushis claim to adjust for a multitude of factors using something called neuro-fuzzy logic -- as I understand it there are all sorts of sensors that monitor conditions all through the cooking process so that the cooker can learn and automatically adjust everything so that it's perfect in the end. All I know is that there's something truly frightening about owning a rice cooker that's much smarter than I am, so I still insist on using the first knuckle method.

                            1. re: Dennison

                              But I have always wondered: are everybodies fingers are the same length? Doesn't seem that way to me.

                              1. re: wrayb

                                My mother's answer would be a long look followed by the question: You gonna analyze that rice or eat it? (Sorry, couldn't help myself -- she taught me well.)

                                The beauty of this technique is that not only are all fingers different lengths, but it works for all sizes of rice cooker containers. Rice is remarkably forgiving about small variances in water amount. Like all cooking, however, it's a skill acquired by trial and error -- I tend to adjust the water level to the top of bottom of my knuckle crease depending on how I want my rice that night like Wendy does. Or rather, I used to before this HAL-neuro-fuzzy-thing took over my kitchen. Now the rice gets cooked however the machine wants it cooked.

                                1. re: wrayb
                                  torta basilica

                                  Shaq & Kobe's rice might turn out mushy, but maybe they like it that way...

                                2. re: Dennison

                                  We use a National brand rice cooker, which I think is the Panasonic bargain basement brand and it always makes great rice, even brown or wild rice; it's also super-reliable. The cooking water does tend to spatter when cooking wild rice, though.

                                  The water amounts increase if you're using wild or brown rice, but generally for white rice, either jasmine or basmati, we use equal quantities of rice and water, and then add a quarter cup of water. So for 2 cups of uncooked rice, we put in two and a quarter cups of rice. It's foolproof.

                                  1. re: MilesP

                                    National is the standard name brand the company uses in Japan.

                                    1. re: MilesP
                                      Doug Radcliffe

                                      That makes no sense! Your method should call for 2 1/2 cups water! I think for softer rice you need more than a 50/50 mix of rice and water. I often use 1 1/2 cups water to 1 cup of rice. Not for everyone, but it works well for Red Beans & Rice. Use less of course if you want a more traditional rice. My range is 1 1/4 cups of water to 1 cup of rice as a minimum; 1 1/2 cups water as a maximum. Let your rice be your guide.

                                    2. re: Dennison

                                      That's two and a quarter cups of water. Sorry.

                                  2. re: Greg Spence

                                    I've always been skeptical of this method, tho i know it works for many people. but how can it be good for everyone when we all have fingers of different lengths?

                                  3. re: Wendy Lai

                                    Yes, I too cook different rice different ways, which I think is necessary for the "correct" result. I would add to this that American-grown sushi rice needs more water than Japanese-grown, and that the French prefer wettish, loose rice for dishes like veal blanquette. I think that people who grow up with rice one way might stick too strictly to their one-method style.