Best Cheap Rice Cookers
Published on By Elizabeth Sheer
Aroma ARC-150SB Review
From $37 Best
Pros: This programmable pot is immensely popular, and a smaller version was voted No. 1 by America's Test Kitchen. For the price, the Aroma ARC-150SB (starting at $37; available on Amazon) is a good value, delivering up to 20 cups of cooked rice of consistent quality. It has a few simple functions -- white rice, brown rice, and steaming. It also acts as a slow cooker. In Aroma ARC-150SB reviews on Walmart.com, consumers say they have used it to make everything from soup to casseroles to baby food. Many also like the fact that this cooker makes an audible pinging sound when switching from cook mode to warming.
Cons: Although Walmart.com identifies the Aroma ARC-150SB as a fuzzy logic pot, it is not. Unlike its high-tech cousins, this programmable model doesn't adjust the temperature to cater to the specific variety of rice that's been placed in the pot. The functions are programmed by time -- how long to cook each particular kind of rice before turning to warm. Some adjustments might be necessary when cooking long-grain basmati rice as opposed to short-grain Asian rice, for example.
Many reviews claim that this machine makes perfect rice every time, but there are a few complaints of sticking or crusting on the bottom of the pot. This cooker stays on "keep warm" for 12 hours before automatically shutting off, but several Amazon reviews note that rice left in the machine too long gets burnt. Finally, while the inner pot can be taken out for cleaning, the hinged lid is not removable. If there is a lot of condensation or the water boils over, the lid must be sponged down or wiped with a paper towel, which some users consider an onerous process.
Features: The Aroma ARC-150SB features an easy-clean nonstick cooking pot and a locking lid. It is not dishwasher-safe, but most users have found it easy to clean. A water reservoir under the lid collects condensation during cooking, a design element that helps to keep rice fluffy and appropriately dry. The cooker comes with a measuring cup and spatula, as well as a steamer basket. The instructions are clear and easy to understand, and user reviews stress the importance of reading and following them to ensure the best results. The expert reviewer behind the blog SacredRice warns that if the rice is not soaked before using the machine, it will spill over.
Takeaway: With a price tag at the low end of the Cheapism range, the Aroma ARC-150SB claims pride of place for overall value. Its large capacity, versatility, easy-to-use components, and consistently high-quality results make it a welcome addition to many homes.
Panasonic SR-DF101 Review
From $66 Best
Pros: Techlicious named this model its runner-up among all rice cookers, after a Zojirushi machine that costs about three times as much. Quite a find at the lower end of the price spectrum, the Panasonic SR-DF101 (starting at $66; available on Amazon) is a "fuzzy logic" rice cooker that takes advantage of computer technology to sense when the moisture in the rice has evaporated and moderate the cooking temperature and time to achieve optimal results. Experts say the machine's simplicity won't intimidate novices, and it makes rice with wonderful flavor and aroma. Users agree, and enthuse that it also makes brown rice, grain blends, and cereals quite well. The unit is fairly compact and easy to store.
Cons: Although the Panasonic SR-DF101 is advertised on Amazon as staying on the "keep warm" setting for up to 12 hours after cooking, the instructions recommend that rice be consumed within five hours. Some frequent rice eaters consider this time too short, preferring to keep their pots warm for days, and reviews on Amazon report that rice starts to get a bit burnt on the bottom after a few hours. In addition, several Panasonic SR-DF101 reviews mention that, although measurements are provided in the instructions, it takes a lot of experimentation to get the proportions correct. Also, there is no delay-start feature on this rice cooker, a disappointment for those who like to have food waiting for them when they get home. Another thing this model lacks is a collector for condensation. One review on Amazon advises that liquid puddles inside the lid, making quite a mess.
Features: The Panasonic SR-DF101 holds up to 5 cups of uncooked rice, yielding 10 cups cooked, which might not be enough for some households. It comes with a steamer, rice paddle, and measuring cup. The nonstick interior is easy to clean, and the hinged lid can be wiped with a towel. There are buttons for quick cooking or steaming, white rice, brown rice, and porridge or soup.
Takeaway: While the Panasonic SR-DF101 has a few issues, the prospect of getting a fuzzy logic rice cooker for such a low price was irresistible for many consumers, most of whom really like the machine. They see it as a welcome alternative to more expensive Japanese models, agreeing it's easy to operate and makes extremely good rice.
Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity 37549 Review
From $33 Good
Pros: The Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity 37549 (starting at $33; available on Amazon) was selected by The Sweethome as the best rice cooker of 2016. The site's reviewers say this programmable rice cooker has great functionality for the price, works comparatively quickly, and made excellent rice of all kinds in testing. From long-grain white rice to short-grain brown rice, the final product comes out aromatic and sweet. The rice grains stand out individually, instead of clumping together.
The steamer basket that comes with this rice cooker is cited in many consumer reviews. Users say they like to prepare full meals in this machine, with vegetables and cut-up meat thrown in. There are also positive mentions of stews, soups, and even hard boiled eggs made in this rice cooker. One of the most appreciated features of the Hamilton Beach 37549 is the delay start -- it can be set up to 15 hours ahead, which allows hot cereal in the morning or a steaming meal ready and waiting at the end of a workday.
Cons: This machine might not be ideal for large families. The Hamilton Beach 37549 claims to yield up to 14 cups of cooked rice, but several reviews on BestBuy.com note that the stated amount is deceiving. Users claim that the cooked rice can fill 14 scoops of the included 180 ml measuring cup that comes with the rice cooker, but that's not as big as a standard American cup (about 240 ml). Many say the rice cooker makes about enough for two or three people as a main course, and could feed more as a side dish. Beware of over-filling, because there are warnings from more than a few users that making rice in large batches, and sometimes even smaller ones, causes this machine to overflow. There are also a few complaints that the rice gets a bit burnt on the bottom after sitting for a time.
Features: The Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity 37549 can be programmed for six functions: white rice, whole grain, quick rice, steam, heat and simmer, and keep warm. It keeps rice warm for up to 12 hours, which is good for families who eat at separate times. It comes with a steaming tray, measuring cup, and paddle. The nonstick inner pot is dishwasher-safe, and a detachable inner lid liner helps make cleanup easy.
Takeaway: The Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity 37549 lives up to its name and is applauded for convenience, cooking different types of rice, and no-fuss cleanup. For the price, its ability to make perfect rice makes it a good choice.
Tiger JBV-A10U Review
From $70 Good
Pros: Many people who eat rice daily insist on a rice cooker that is easy to use and never burns the grains inside -- and many are confident that they have found it in the high-performing yet low-priced Tiger JBV-A10U (starting at $70; available on Amazon). Across retail sites, countless user reviews praise the excellent "restaurant quality" rice from this machine, which contains a microcomputer to ensure that rice is cooked at the ideal temperature every time. Brown rice, which is a true test for many rice cookers, comes out especially well, according to Tiger JBV-A10U reviews. This model also claims a unique synchronized cooking method for preparing other foods in the pot alongside the rice. It employs a special plate to ensure that the flavors, textures, and even colors of the foods stay distinct. A user who posted a review on Amazon was impressed that none of the color from purple carrots bled into the rice cooking below. Many others praise the unit's ability to make a full meal all in one pot.
Cons: While some like the compact size of the Tiger JBV-A10U, others are put off by the relatively small portions -- especially when the synchro-cooking function is employed, dropping the capacity from 5.5 cups to just 2 cups of uncooked rice. The main complaint lodged against this model in user reviews, however, is that it's made in China, not Japan, and does not seem to last as long as classic Tiger cookers that can be passed down to the next generation. In addition to several gripes about the coating on the nonstick pot flaking off, there are a few claims that this machine lasts only about as long as its one-year warranty. Still, other reviewers state that this Tiger model has been with the family for a number of years and is functioning perfectly well.
Features: There are four cooking modes on this appliance: plain (white rice), synchro- cooking, brown rice, and slow cook/steam. The machine keeps rice in a warming mode for up to 12 hours after it has finished cooking, although this setting is recommended only for plain rice. In addition to the standard spoon and measuring cup, the Tiger JBV-A10U also comes with a cookbook full of recipes and tips for using the (BPA-free) synchro-cooking plate. The instruction manual recommends that the nonstick inner pot be washed by hand, rather than in a dishwasher, to avoid damage to the coating.
Takeaway: Many users say this computerized model from the Japanese company Tiger offers versatility and wonderful results. While a few caution that it may not represent the same quality as some of the brand's other models, the preponderance of positive reviews and the affordable price make it a good pick.
Tiger JAZ-A18U Review
From $70 Good
Pros: While this basic on/off model eschews bells and whistles, people who eat rice frequently have found that the Tiger JAZ-A18U (starting at $70; available on Amazon) dramatically improves the quality of their rice-based meals. The rice turns out so fluffy and evenly cooked, without getting mushy or burnt on the bottom, that users come away pleased they shelled out the extra dollars instead of settling for a cheaper rice cooker or stovetop preparation. In fact, the long-term payoff of this machine is its biggest advantage, as it can keep going for decades. Many Tiger JAZ-A18U reviews at Walmart.com come from users who say they've owned this machine for years, and their parents have owned similar models for even longer. One user claimed to be buying a new one after 12 years only because the lid no longer locked as tightly as it once did.
Cons: As with all on/off rice cookers, which lack pre-programmed settings for different types of grains, it may take a bit of trial and error to get ideal results when cooking brown rice and other varieties. Some users also gripe that after a few days rice kept warming begins to go bad, although one reviewer comments on Amazon that the indefinite "keep warm" cycle is perfect for making specialty items such as black garlic, and it helps the pot double as a slow cooker for more commonplace delicacies such as ribs. Finally, there's some grumbling on Amazon that this model is Chinese and not made in Japan, suggesting it's cheaper quality, but most reviewers don't make the distinction. (The Tiger JAZ-A18U is about half the price of the Japanese-made version, which starts at about $130.)
Features: The Tiger JAZ-18U is a 10-cup rice cooker, meaning that it makes 20 cups of finished rice. Operation is as easy as can be -- press the "on" button (the only button there is), and the machine cooks the rice and switches to "keep warm" when cooking's complete. The pot will stay in this warming mode until unplugged, but the instructions recommend that rice be eaten soon after it is made. Although the machine comes with a steamer basket, it doesn't have a steaming function. Steamed vegetables can be made either on top of the rice or separately in the pot with the proper amount of water. This rice cooker also comes with a measuring cup and paddle. The power cord is retractable, and this model has a moisture collector that is easily removable for cleaning. Users say the nonstick pot cleans up with little fuss, as well.
Takeaway: The Tiger JAZ-A18U may not be the cheapest machine on the market, but many users consider it well worth the extra outlay. They say it makes large quantities of perfect product nearly every time and is liable to outlast a majority of its competitors.
Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST Review
From $22 Think Twice
Pros: For an appliance that makes up to 16 cups of cooked rice, some users say the Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST (starting at $22; available on Amazon) is a bargain. Like all on/off rice cookers, it requires some experimentation with proportions of rice and liquid, but, then again, all you have to do is press one button to get it started. The machine automatically switches to warming as soon as cooking is finished, and it stays on the "warm" cycle indefinitely until unplugged. This makes it easy to use the pot as a slow cooker, some fans say.
Cons: Some consumers who purchased the Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST from HSN lament in reviews that the instructions are sparse and do not explain how to make anything other than white rice. Even when following directions, many users have ended up with rice that's burnt or gummy, with a lot left clinging to the inside of the pot. This may be because, unlike most of the rice cookers we looked at, this model has an aluminum pot with no nonstick coating. This is a deal breaker for many; one review on Walmart.com complains that rice sticks even when the pot is oiled.
Even deferring to reviewers who assert that the Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST makes good, even flawless rice, there's a bigger issue: numerous reports that the machine stops working after a short time, sometimes just a few months. One consumer who reviewed this model on Amazon barely got to use it at all before it conked out.
Features: The Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST is a pot-style, on/off rice cooker with a removable glass lid. This is an advantage over a hinged, locking lid when it comes to cleaning. But at the same time, steam and water can come sputtering out the sides, warns a reviewer on Target.com, and this design isn't as good at holding in moisture. The pot comes with a steam tray, measuring cup, and spatula.
Takeaway: For those who quickly zero in on the ratio for making fluffy and fully edible rice with the Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST, it may seem like a great deal. But even with its low price, the expectation is that it should at least last until the one-year warranty runs out -- and by many accounts, it doesn't.
Black & Decker RC1412S Review
From $27 Think Twice
Pros: The Black & Decker RC1412S has a very low price (starting at $27; available on Amazon) and a simple one-touch on/off design. It holds 12 cups of cooked rice, and reviewers say the rice comes out very well after a bit of experimentation. One of the main advantages of this rice cooker is its speed. Several reviewers note on Amazon that it produces a full pot of rice in only 20 minutes, which is fast compared with other rice cookers and about the same amount of time it would take on the stove.
Cons: The problems with the Black & Decker RC1412S start with the instructions. Reviews on the Black & Decker site complain that directions for preparing vegetables and other steamed foods mentioned in the manual are nowhere to be found. They also say that, although there are detailed charts for cooking all types of rice -- white, yellow, brown, and wild -- they are complex enough to negate the ease and convenience associated with using a rice cooker.
In reviews on Amazon, users agree that it's not always easy to achieve the perfect consistency with this machine. While one user says it works as well as expected or even better, another notes some burning at the bottom. Unlike the usual rice cooker cup that holds 180 ml, the cup that comes with this model holds just 150 grams of rice, which is roughly 5 ounces, or about two-thirds of a standard American cup. Reviewers say this is fine for a small family, but it may not suit a larger clan.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the Black & Decker RC1421S is its longevity, or lack thereof. Despite the fact that there is a two-year warranty -- a year longer than the other inexpensive models we looked at -- several reviews on Amazon tell of units that lasted just a few months, with some breaking down after as little as two uses.
Features: Once users figure out the complicated water-to-grain matrix, all that's left is to switch on the appliance, and the rest takes care of itself. When cooking is complete, the machine switches to a warming mode to keep rice heated indefinitely -- the only way to shut it off is to pull out the plug. The Black & Decker RC1412S comes with a removable cup to catch condensation. The cup, along with the included paddle, steamer basket, and measuring cup, can be put in the dishwasher. The nonstick pot makes cleanup easy by hand.
Takeaway: Although the price of this rice cooker may be right and it can produce terrific rice with a bit of trial and error, the apparently limited shelf life of this machine makes it a non-starter for people who rely on rice as a daily meal staple.
Rice is the most widely eaten food in the world but can be tricky to prepare. While some people swear the stovetop method is easy and a special machine is unnecessary, others familiar with rice gone wrong consider a rice cooker a must-have item. The best cheap rice cookers provide insurance that rice will be fluffy, separated, and moist time after time. In addition, many function as steamers, food warmers, slow cookers, and occasionally as bread makers. We waded through expert and user reviews to determine the best affordable models. Our top picks range from simple on/off units to programmable rice cookers and even computer-enhanced models. They serve up perfectly cooked white and brown rice -- and sometimes stews and steel-cut oats, as well -- while saving users from scraping brown residue off the bottoms of their pans.
Choosing a Cheap Rice Cooker
The best rice cookers produce excellent rice: individually fluffed kernels with a tender, consistent texture throughout, and no crispy bits or soggy/pasty areas. Although there are some who claim that the results are no better and the process no simpler than cooking rice in a pot on a stovetop, many consumers -- especially those with little cooking space or without ready access to a stove -- lament not having bought one sooner.
Rice cooker prices range from $13 for a plastic microwave rice steamer to more than $400 for a top-of-the-line rice cooker by Zojirushi. Premium brand Tiger joins Zojirushi atop the rice cooker food chain, while Panasonic and Aroma occupy the lower end of the spectrum and offer some of the best rice cooker prices. Our research suggests that, for less than $100, budget-minded cooks can find a cheap electric rice cooker that prepares restaurant-quality rice, is easy to clean, and might even multitask.
All rice cookers, even the cheapest, completely take the guesswork out of making rice. They come with measuring cups and have lines on the inside of the pot to indicate how much rice and water to use. Basically, all users have to do is measure, turn on the machine, and wait for perfect rice. The differences in price depend largely on the type of machine and its features.
Micom/Fuzzy Logic Rice Cookers.In our budget price range of $75 or less, "fuzzy logic" or micro-computerized rice cookers are considered to be the best rice cookers available. Computer chips give them the ability to adjust temperature and cooking time, cutting down on much of the trial and error that usually goes into making rice (as well as porridge or oatmeal). These precise machines come with pre-programmed settings for different types of rice, various cooking modes, and sometimes specified textures. Higher-end models also boast flexible timers, digital readouts, and sleeker designs.
The best cheap "fuzzy logic" rice cooker we found is the Panasonic SR-DF101 (starting at $66). Its computerized technology typically comes with a much higher price tag and it consistently makes excellent rice (up to 10 cups). Just below this top pick is the Tiger JBV-A10U (starting at $70), which is about the same size and has an upper tray for preparing other food while the rice is cooking.
Programmable Rice Cookers.Standard programmable rice cookers don't have the same high-tech sensitivity as their computerized counterparts, but they similarly offer specialized settings for, at the very least, white vs. brown rice -- along with a much lower price tag. Some even deliver sought-after features like digital displays and delayed start.
The 20-cup family-size Aroma ARC-150SB (starting at $37) is the best cheap programmable rice cooker on our list. We also picked a 14-cup programmable model, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity 37549(starting at $33).
On/Off Electric Rice Cookers.These units feature the bare basics -- one cook mode and sometimes a keep-warm setting. In the absence of varied cook modes and settings, some experimentation is in order to get the timing and ratio of liquid to solid down pat, particularly if you branch into steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur, and other grains, beans, soups, and stews. Many do come with a steamer basket, so that vegetables and proteins can be prepared along with the rice, rounding out a meal.
For those who want the simplicity of an on/off model that can produce large quantities of rice, the 20-cup Tiger JAZ-A18U (starting at $70) is a good choice. While it may seem a tad expensive given its lack of bells and whistles, it's a durable machine from the highly respected Japanese brand. Loyal users report good results time after time, over years and years of use.
Considering we had to bump up against the top of our price range to find an on/off rice cooker that performs well, it's not surprising that two such models sit at the bottom of our ranking. The Black & Decker RC1412S (starting at $27) should be easy to use, but consumers insist the instructions are a nightmare, and the machine doesn't last very long. Some say the Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST (starting at $22) makes a lot of great rice for the price, and many add that it's very simple to use, but many reviewers say it doesn't last long enough to be worth the savings.
Induction Heating.The latest news in rice cookers is induction heating. Pots with this technology heat the whole pot instead of just the bottom, and they are extremely responsive to the temperature of the rice inside the pot. They cook faster and more evenly than other rice cookers -- and they're also way more expensive. For instance, the top-rated Zojirushi NP-NVC10, which can be programmed to cook any imaginable kind of rice, among other foods, is hard to find for less than $350 and is strictly for rice connoisseurs.
Regardless of the type of machine chosen, many users and experts stress the importance of reading and following the manufacturer's directions. Editors at Chowhound suggest that all imported rice be rinsed and/or pre-soaked, or there's the risk of a starchy mess boiling over from the machine.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Rice Cooker Reviews: What We Considered
In our research, we looked at the results of testing by experts at America's Test Kitchen and recommendations from review sites such as The Sweethome and Techilicious, as well as the devout enthusiast who helms Sacred Rice, a site dedicated to rice cooker reviews. They say almost all rice cookers can turn out small amounts of white rice easily and well. Issues arise when cooking brown rice or large quantities. As a result, the experts tend to favor the more expensive fuzzy logic and induction rice cookers. However, some of the inexpensive rice cookers we researched are such stellar performers that experts recommend them alongside upscale competitors.v
Capacity.Many consumers may be unsure whether to choose a small rice cooker or a large one. The size is measured in cups of rice. This usually refers to the amount of uncooked rice a machine holds, although sometimes it reflects the fully cooked capacity, and the specs don't always make this distinction clear.
Further, one cup in a rice cooker does not equal one standard American cup. It is usually equivalent to 180 milliliters, as opposed to the 240 ml in an American cup. (Most rice cookers come with a measuring cup, so be sure to save it. If the little cup gets lost, 180 ml is roughly equivalent to three-fourths of a cup. For those who are daring enough to measure by shorthand, a commenter on a Stack Exchange Q&A site for chefs suggests a grain-to-water ratio of 1:2 for white rice.)
With the idea of feeding a family, our picks all produce at least 10 cups of cooked rice, and the Aroma ARC-150SB and the Tiger JAZ-A18U make a hefty 20 cups. With a large rice cooker, you don't have to make the maximum amount of rice every time; you can adjust the yield for occasions that call for a smaller amount. Our top picks also offer the option to keep rice warm and ready to eat for days (see below). For single people, dorm rooms, or kitchens with very little counter space, the Panasonic SR-3NA-S (starting at $40) is a good 3-cup rice cooker (1.5 cups uncooked).
Versatility.White rice is not an automatic go-to for everyone. Many consumers are specifically searching for a rice cooker that can produce brown rice and other varieties. But finding the best rice cooker for brown rice is not always the easiest endeavor.
On/off rice cookers, like the Tiger JAZ-A18U and Panasonic SR-3NA-S, are fine for white rice, but brown rice requires fiddling with the measurements. And the jury is still out on exactly how much water should be added to this type of rice cooker to produce optimal brown rice. For example, pros at Crazy Korean Cooking suggest a grain-to-water ratio of 1:1.5 -- and they also say rice should be pre-soaked for at least three hours. Editors at EatingWell recommend a ratio of 1:2.5. In other words, getting it right may take some hands-on experimentation. And bear in mind that brown rice takes longer to cook, so the cooker may have to be turned on again after an initial cycle has been completed.
Programmable rice cookers, such as the Aroma ARC-150SB and Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity 37549, are specifically designed to cater to a wide selection of grains. Brown rice automatically cooks at a lower temperature and for a longer time than white rice. The computerized models take this a step further, sensing how to optimally cook a particular type of rice at a particular time in a particular pot. For brown rice aficionados, especially those who like to vary their repertoire (from short to long grain to brown basmati), the Panasonic SR-DF101 and Tiger JBV-A10U may be the safest bets; the Tiger model gets particularly good marks from users in this arena.
Programmable and fuzzy logic rice cookers have options for making cereals like grits and oatmeal, in addition to rice. Other grains, like quinoa, and long-cooking items such as beans also can be made in a rice cooker. Many reviewers mention using the Aroma ARC-150SB as a slow cooker to make pot roast with vegetables, pulled pork, soup, and chili. Enterprising rice cooker users have even branched out to chocolate cake, carrot cake, poached pears, mac and cheese, hard-boiled eggs, vegetable frittatas, and Korean kimchi.
The steamer basket that comes included with most rice cookers is a handy addition for making fish and vegetables, or even sweet potatoes. Gourmet Sleuth offers a helpful chart of various vegetables, how much water they require, and how long they take to cook in a rice cooker. Unlike most machines, which provide fairly simple steaming setups, the Tiger JBV-A10U has a "synchro-cooking" feature that allows food to be cooked above as the rice cooks below. A special plate insert prevents the flavors from mingling.
Cooking Time.Electric rice cookers are convenient, no doubt, but they may not save much time. Generally speaking, rice cookers take at least as long as the stovetop method, and consumers say fuzzy logic models are the biggest time hogs -- even before the rinsing and pre-soaking that's necessary for some rice varieties.
According to the owner's manual for the Panasonic SR-DF101, a fuzzy logic model, the minimum cook time for white rice in quick-cook mode is 30 minutes, and brown rice may need close to two hours. The programmable cookers are not much different -- the manual for the Aroma ARC-150SB suggests that the full 20 cups will take about 50 minutes for white rice and more than two hours for brown. Luckily, there is very little supervision required, and the machines keep rice warm for hours, so a pot can be started well ahead of mealtime. A 15-hour-delay setting on the Aroma unit and the Hamilton Beach 37549 is a boon for those who like to come home to piping-hot rice for dinner or begin their days with ready-made hot cereal.
On/off cookers such as the Tiger JAZ-A18U, Black & Decker RC1412S, Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST, and personal-size Panasonic SR-3NA-S are a bit faster -- users say they take about 20 minutes or so to produce a pot of rice, not including any initial soaking or additional steaming.
Keep Warm Setting.All of our picks have "keep warm" settings that cater to flexible meal schedules or all-day eating. Most stay on for 12 hours; the Tiger JAZ-A18U keeps rice warm until unplugged. The question is whether each machine can maintain a decent temperature for an extended period without burning the rice or imparting an "off" taste.
In reviews of the Tiger JAZ-A18U, users say rice is fine for about three days, but after that it starts going bad. The Hamilton Beach 37549 can be reprogrammed once the initial 12 hours of warming are up if additional time is desired. One user comments on Amazon that the rice keeps for several days if a bit of water is sprinkled on it daily. Some users also like that the timer on this machine counts how long it's been in warming mode. The manual for the Panasonic SR-DF101 suggests that rice be eaten within five hours to avoid a bad taste or smell.
The Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST, which stays in warming mode indefinitely, draws more than a few complaints from users who say the click it makes when it finishes cooking is barely audible, and rice left to warm in this machine tends to dry out and get hard on the bottom. The Panasonic SR-3NA-S does not have a stay-warm mode at all, but most people will probably make short work of the scant 3 cups of cooked rice after the cooker shuts off.
Cleanup.Almost all rice cookers come with a nonstick inner pot. While some consumers prefer a stainless steel or ceramic pot due to general health concerns, standard aluminum pots with nonstick coating are much easier to clean; rice seems less likely to come out brown on the bottom. The Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST, which has no coating, is a subject of many user complaints of burnt and clinging rice that's wasted and cleanups that require both soaking and scrubbing. But keep in mind that, with a nonstick pot, it's important to use a utensil that won't scratch. All the rice cookers we looked at, with the exception of the Panasonic SR-3NA-S, have a plastic paddle included (a wooden spoon will also do).
Most of the models we recommend come with hinged outer lids, but some, like the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity 37549, have a removable inner lid that detaches for cleaning. The mini-Panasonic SR-3NA-S and the Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet have completely separate glass lids that are dishwasher-safe. The Tiger JAZ-A18U, Hamilton Beach, Black & Decker, and Aroma rice cookers feature a condensation collector, a small plastic bin that channels away excess moisture and keeps it from running down the sides of the machine when the lid is opened after cooking. These also detach and wash up nicely.
Durability.The lifespan of a rice cooker depends on several factors, from how often it's used to how it's treated and maintained (e.g., damaging the lining by scooping out rice with a metal spoon). The Tiger brand is very popular among Asian consumers, some of whom say their parents have been using the same pot for 20 or 30 years. Still, virtually all cheap rice cookers have some reports of early demise, and it's not surprising that most of the models we researched carry only a one-year manufacturer's warranty. Some seem to have a much higher failure rate than others, however. We saw many reports that the Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet and the Black & Decker RC1412S stopped working after just a few uses.
Additional Products We Considered
Nordic Ware Rice Cooker Review
You can't beat the price of the Nordic Ware Microwave Rice Cooker (starting at $11, Amazon) or quibble much about its performance. This is a simple pot with a locking lid that goes into the microwave and yields good-to-excellent rice in a jiffy, according to Nordic Ware Microwave Rice Cooker reviews on Amazon. Like many basic on/off electric rice cookers, this nonelectric model requires some experimentation to master the correct proportions of rice and liquid for whatever type of rice you're cooking and however the settings on your microwave behave. Once you do, say reviews, rice emerges from this little plastic cooker fluffy and well done as if it had been prepared in an electric rice cooker. And yet, a fair number of reviews grouse about the starchy liquid that spews up out of the vent hole and leaves a mess on the turntable. A review on Epinions notes that this happens even when using less than the maximum 8 cups and advises stopping at 4; one consumer suggests placing the cooker on a dinner plate (easier to clean than the turntable).
Like electric rice cookers, the Nordic Ware model is relatively versatile. In addition to making rice, it can be used for grits, other grains, and pasta, and it's an excellent vessel for microwave-steaming vegetables. Some reviews, like one at Walmart, indicate that some consumers use it exclusively as a steamer.
The Nordic Ware Microwave Rice Cooker has an 8-cup capacity and is dishwasher-safe. It can be used to store leftovers, and most consumers say it's easy to clean.
This is a good bet for consumers who lack the space for too many kitchen appliances but like their rice fluffy and moist and ready in minutes. Indeed, some crow about having a complete meal (rice, veggies, and protein) on the table in 15 minutes.
Black & Decker HS1000 Review
Many rice cookers come with a steamer basket, but the Black & Decker HS1000 is actually a steamer with a rice cooker. Black & Decker HS1000 reviews on Amazon indicate that many consumers choose this model primarily for its ability to steam vegetables; and on this score, reviews sing its praises. Users report perfectly steamed potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and the like; the unit also has a compartment for eggs, so hard boiling is quickly accomplished. One consumer admits to being an awful cook but says the Black & Decker HS1000 (starting at $20) produces passable food; another relies on it to steam meat and fish, as well as vegetables, and says she's forgotten the stove-top methods. Rice -- white, brown, wild -- also cooks up well, report reviews, although one post on Epinions says there's something of an art to figuring out the rice thing (sticky results on occasion). Most consumers say rice is perfectly done, much like Chinese restaurant rice, with the texture consistent all the way through. One note of caution, however -- take care when removing the lid; consumers say the steam is very hot.
The steamer container sits on a base that holds the water and serves as the heating element. There's an external spout for adding water and a gauge to let you see how much is left; a few users say the unit rarely runs dry mid-steam. There's a 75-minute timer that lets you control how long you want the contents to steam; traditional rice cookers don't afford that choice.
The unit comes with a 5-cup rice basket, which some Black & Decker HS1000 reviews describe as "flimsy"; in fact, several long-time Black & Decker fans assert the quality of predecessor models bested this version. A separate flavor-scenter compartment and another for eggs rounds out the package. The steamer bowl, basket, and lid are dishwasher-safe and its oval shape can accommodate asparagus.
This is the rice cooker for people who love their steamed veggies at least as much as rice.
Panasonic SR-3NA-S Review
Pros: For consumers cooking for a small family, those living alone, or even students living in dorms, a little 3-cup rice cooker like the Panasonic SR-3NA-S (starting at $40; available on Amazon) can make a perfect amount of rice. It also doesn't demand much storage space on a counter or elsewhere, and its tiny footprint makes it easily portable and quite good for travel, as well. Several reviewers posting on Amazon rely on this little machine for healthy eating on long-haul road trips, while staying in hotels, or even making baby food while away from home.
Some Panasonic SR-3NA-S reviews say this rice cooker is almost foolproof, so much so that we were hard-pressed to find any complaints at all about the quality of the rice it serves up. The instructions suggest a lengthy process of soaking rice prior to cooking, and then allowing it to steam in the machine for an additional 30 minutes after cooking, but one reviewer notes on Amazon that rice made in this pot comes out just fine even without heeding these pointers.
Cons: While it is possible to make both white and brown rice in this machine, reviews suggest it takes some experimentation to figure out the exact proportions of rice and water necessary. Users also say the instructions included with the appliance are extremely vague. There seems to be more than a little confusion about the 1.5 cups of uncooked rice it claims to hold -- are those American cups or Japanese cups, or the cup that comes with the cooker? On Amazon, one reviewer suggests ignoring the instructions completely and going with whatever ratio is recommended on the bag of rice.
Features: The Panasonic SR-3NA-S is about as simple as a rice cooker gets. Just measure the rice and turn it on -- it turns itself off. This means that it has no warming function, which is a problem for some people who like to keep rice warm all day, although those people are likely to buy a much bigger rice cooker. For short-term heating, users just keep the lid on the pot so the steam stays in. The lid on this machine is removable for easy cleanup and made of glass, so it's possible to see the contents as they cook and settle. Despite the lack of a vent hole in the lid, there are no complaints about sticky or mushy rice after sitting. Unlike most rice cookers, this one does not come with a steamer basket or a paddle; just the measuring cup.
Takeaway: Although this small model costs as much as many larger machines, it does something that many of them can't -- it makes just enough rice when not a lot is needed, and it manages to do so flawlessly most of the time. Its durability is not in question either, as several users say they've owned this personal-size pot for years.