Microwave Rice Cookers
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.