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Microwave Rice Cookers

Published March 2012

How we tested

The cookware industry is still trying to deliver on the early promise of microwaves as cooking (not simply reheating) appliances. The latest incarnation of this promise is the microwave rice cooker, which claims to produce perfect rice in a flash, without the time and mess of stovetop cooking or the counter space and expense required by electric rice cookers. These devices couldn’t be simpler—they resemble round plastic food-storage containers with vented snap-on lids. Rice and water are simply measured into the cooker, the lid is attached securely, and it’s all microwaved until the rice is done. Hoping the microwave might indeed offer a foolproof way to make rice, we tested five models ranging in price from $8.99 to $14.99 (all BPA-free), cooking one cup of long-grain white rice in each one.

But for a convenience product, it was anything but easy to get the rice cookers to work. Why? The wattage of home kitchen microwave ovens varies widely. Although the cookers come with instruction manuals, they’re intended only as guidelines. When we followed the manufacturers’ directions to cook in ovens ranging from 700 to 1200 watts, we got batch after batch of undercooked or unevenly cooked rice. It helped us to learn that microwaves penetrate only about 1 1/2 inches into food. In order to produce a fully cooked pot of rice, we needed to give heat time to transfer beyond the surface to the inner grains. Success lay in a “low and slow” approach—using a lower power setting and more cooking time—which let heat penetrate throughout the rice and allowed the starch granules to absorb water and soften to their core. After much trial and error, and many batches of wasted rice, we stumbled upon a cooking method that produced a pot of uniformly well-cooked rice, regardless of the model. Our winning formula was five minutes on full power, 15 minutes at 50 percent power, and then a five-minute rest.

Since all the cookers gave acceptable results once we’d honed our technique, our choice came down to design and quality. Many models had fussy, multiple-part lids; these were complicated to dismantle and clean—and starchy cooking liquid leaked into their crevices. Our favorite model also had a dual-layer lid (designed to trap and return condensation to the pot), but the two parts detached easily. Most of the models that we tested felt flimsy and cheap compared with our sturdier favorite. We went on to try short-grain white rice, basmati, and brown rice in the winner, as well as larger quantities (2 and 3 cups) of white long-grain rice, with consistently good results. In a side-by-side test, tasters showed an equal preference for microwaved rice and stovetop rice. We found that we could also successfully microwave rice using just a covered glass bowl and the same low-and-slow method, so a microwave rice cooker is definitely not a necessity, but it’s a fine product once you get it to work. Doing so will likely involve some experimentation, frustration, and wasted rice. But for those with limited counter space and a microwave (college students, for example), these cookers offer a convenient and affordable alternative to rice cookers and stovetop cooking.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*