How we tested
At its most basic, a good rice cooker should make the task convenient and foolproof—just add a measured amount of rice and water, press a button, and walk away—and keep the rice fresh-tasting for hours. Some models also come with specialty settings and high-tech bells and whistles that supposedly lead to superior results—and they fetch correspondingly higher prices. Would we be able to find the best rice cooker at a nice price?
We purchased five cookers, priced from about $20 to about $170, in which we cooked white and brown rice (in small and large batches), as well as sushi rice. The capacity of each machine ranged from a maximum of 6 to 20 cups of cooked rice. For our testing we used the rice measuring scoop (all roughly 3/4-cup capacity) that came with each model and the water markings inside the pot (no matter the type of rice, rice cookers require slightly less water than stovetop methods to account for the lower rate of evaporation).
Testing All Types of Rice
All rice cookers work similarly: As the water reaches a boil and is absorbed by the rice, an internal thermometer detects that the rice has finished cooking and the machine then automatically switches to a keep-warm setting (we confirmed that each of the rice cookers held the rice at a food-safe temperature—in the range of 12 to 20 degrees above the required 140—for the entirety of their keep-warm cycles). When we made the smallest possible batches of white and sushi rice (1 to 2 cups uncooked), all of the machines were easy to use and performed well. Cooking brown rice and maximum-capacity batches of white rice (3 to 10 cups rice uncooked) revealed greater differences. In both tests, two machines produced grains that were cooked unevenly or were blown out and far too watery. A third machine, which had no brown rice setting, cooked the rice uniformly but tasters found it a bit dry. Our two favorites from the white and sushi rice tastings continued to excel, repeatedly turning out large and small batches of rice, both brown and white, that were evenly cooked and had a pleasant, tender chew.
What Features Were Worth It?
As for convenience features, many were either superfluous or fussy. One high-priced model comes with settings for “hard,” “soft,” and “quick-cooking” rice, as well as rice porridge—features that are useful in Asian cuisine but unnecessary for most American home cooks. Two models also included “fuzzy logic” technology, a system of sensors and thermometers that supposedly adjusts the cooking time and temperature, but the technology didn’t necessarily improve the results. In fact, one of these cookers failed the large-batch test, producing rice that was either inconsistently cooked or blown out.
The Best Rice Cooker We Tested
In the end, we liked the rice from one simpler machine at least as much as that from higher-tech machines and were happy with this winning model’s few perks: separate settings for white and brown rice (brown rice settings generally include a soaking period to soften the rice before cooking, which helps to produce more consistently cooked grains), a digital timer and audio alert, a delayed-start function, clear water line indications, and a removable lid insert that made cleanup a breeze. Best all of, it's one of the least expensive models we tested.