Best Cheap Rice Cookers

This buying guide features the best cheap rice cookers, from simple on/off and programmable rice cookers to affordable "fuzzy logic" micom rice cookers.

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

We Looked At

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).

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.

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.

Our Top Pick

Aroma ARC-150SB_1600.jpg

Aroma ARC-150SB Review

Buy at  Groupon for  $45.99

This programmable model has five settings for cooking up to 20 cups of white or brown rice. Users say even brown rice comes out fluffy, not soggy, and definitely not burnt.

Our Picks
Aroma ARC-150SB_1600.jpg

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Other Products We Reviewed

Sanyo ECJ-S35K

Sanyo ECJ-S35K Review

This rice cooker scores big for versatility and first-rate performance, according to Sanyo ECJ-S35K reviews. With its 3.5-cup capacity (7 cups cooked) and prowess with different types of rice, the Sanyo ECJ-S35 is a boon to small families that eat rice frequently. The fuzzy logic (micro-computerized) controls adjust the timing and temperature to suit the rice that's in the pot, and reviews on Amazon say rice as varied as white, brown, sweet, and wild cook evenly, thoroughly, and without scorching. (User satisfaction is not total, however, and we read a few reviews saying the finished product is pasty, dry, or mushy.) Throw in some protein -- chicken or fish, say -- and you've got a one-pot dinner.

Other uses for this budget fuzzy logic rice cooker abound. The porridge setting turns out the best steel-cut oatmeal, say Sanyo ECJ-S35K reviews, not to mention soups and stews; fill the pot with broth, meat, and vegetables, writes one busy cook, go about your business for the day and return home to a delicious meal. There's also a bread setting (baking only) that wins acclaim in some reviews (good results with sourdough and rye, cinnamon rolls and baked French toast, for example) but is mildly critiqued in others for producing a soft crust and requiring attention in the midst of bake time.

One downside with fuzzy logic technology is the length of time needed to cook a pot of rice. Some users report an hour for white rice and up to two hours for brown, although the owner's manual specifies shorter times. Still, as one Sanyo ECJ-S35K review at Beach Audio concludes, it's a small price to pay for perfect rice. You can always minimize the inconvenience by setting the timer to ensure the rice is ready when you want it (up to 24 hours in advance). If your plans change, the rice will stay warm for up to 12 hours.

The Sanyo ECJ-S35K (starting at $91) features settings for white, mixed, rinse-free, brown, sprouted brown, and sweet rice, as well as bibimbab (a Korean rice dish), porridge, and bread. There's a pre-soak option and reheat function, a quick-cook cycle that shaves about 10-13 minutes from a regular cook cycle (but overrides the fuzzy logic), and a chime that sounds 15 minutes before the rice is finished (although much appreciated by consumers, several Sanyo ECJ-S35K reviews say the chime is too soft). The titanium-lined pot is heavy enough to withstand sauteing of ingredients atop the stove before proceeding with the rice, and the retractable cord makes for easy storage. The cooker comes with a measuring cup, rice paddle, and recipe book.

The Sanyo ECJ-S35K sits at the high end of our budget price range but is cheap by fuzzy logic standards. For frugal consumers who prefer to cook rice with the aid of computerized controls, the Sanyo ECJ-S35K is a worthwhile investment.

Aroma ARC-1266F

Aroma ARC-1266F Review

Right-sized for a family, this 6-cup (12 cooked cups) rice cooker makes rice lovers happy. An Aroma ARC-1266F review on the Rice Cooker Review blog deems this model a good value, one that sells for a low price and delivers a high-quality product. The Aroma ARC-1266F (starting at $27, Amazon) is a basic on/off rice cooker with one cooking mode that produces toothsome white and brown rice, as well as grains like quinoa. In reviews on Amazon, for example, consumers write of using this machine daily. Many report taking advantage of the steamer tray for steaming vegetables and proteins (meat, poultry, fish) while the rice bubbles away below and using the keep-warm function as a slow cooker for soups and stews. Rice cooks fairly quickly in the Aroma ARC-1266F -- about 20 minutes for white rice and 30 minutes for brown, users report. Some reviews, like one on Best Rice Cooker Ratings, say the cooking instructions are a bit off and some experimentation with the proper amount of rice and liquid may be necessary. We also read a few dissenting reviews detailing mishaps ranging from a thin layer of stuck-on rice to crusting and browning when rice sits too long in keep-warm mode, starchy cooking liquid boiling over when filled to maximum capacity, and automatically switching to keep-warm before the contents are fully cooked.

The Aroma ARC-1266F features an easy-clean nonstick cooking pot and a hinged, locking lid. There's a water reservoir under the lid that collects condensation during the cooking process, a design element that helps to keep the rice fluffy and appropriately dry. The ARC-1266F comes with a measuring cup and spatula. User ARC-1266F reviews stress the importance of reading and following the directions to ensure the best results.

With a price tag at the low end of the Cheapism range, the Aroma ARC-1266F claims pride of place for the consistency of its output and feature set.

Panasonic SR-G06FG

Panasonic SR-G06FG Review

Panasonic SRG-06FG reviews say this basic, no-frills rice cooker does its job quite well. On Amazon, reviews generally describe the finished product as "awesome," tasty, and perfect. Best Rice Cooker Ratings admires the simplicity of this model, noting all that's required is measuring and rinsing the rice, putting it in the pot, adding water, affixing the lid, and pressing "cook." Despite the limits of its on/off functionality, users report the Panasonic SRG-06FG (starting at $25, Amazon) turns out appetizing pilafs, rice and beans, barley, risotto, and legumes. Consumers consider the Panasonic SRG-06FG user friendly (the small footprint is a big draw) and easy to clean. And yet, some reviews gripe about the thin metal cook pot and a nonstick lining that chips, rice that's tough and tasteless and occasionally sticks to the bottom of the pot, and spillovers of starchy cooking liquid when the cooker is filled to its maximum (3.3 cups uncooked/about 6 cups cooked). Preparing sticky rice is a no-go, asserts one review, because it requires more water than this small rice cooker can handle.

This model lacks a keep-warm mode, but leaving the lid on should hold the contents at eating temperature for a short while. In any event, some posts say letting the rice sit for about 15 minutes gets the best results. Users' Panasonic SRG-06FG reviews put the average cook time for white rice at about 20 minutes (brown rice takes longer), and you can check on the progress by peering through the glass lid. The Panasonic SRG-06FG comes with a measuring cup and scoop. The company also makes 5-, 10-, and 20-cup sizes that include more features.

For consumers who crave low-tech simplicity and bargain pricing, the Panasonic SRG-06FG is a very good deal.

Zojirushi NS-RNC10

Zojirushi NS-RNC10 Review

If you eat lots of rice and often, paying close to $100 for an on/off rice cooker that does little more than produce praiseworthy rice may not be an outlandish idea. According to Zojirushi NS-RNC10 reviews, this model can be relied upon to conjure excellent rice (especially white varieties) with the right degree of moistness and fluff every time. You can fill the pot with the appropriate proportions of rice and liquid, turn it on, and walk away, say reviews on eBay. The contents will stay fresh for hours once the cooking is done, continue reviews on Amazon, and sticking is rarely a problem; nor is the cooker likely to spew starchy water all over the counter. Fast, simple, and perfect, conclude two users posting reviews on Kohl's. Consumers also report satisfactory results with oatmeal and beans but caution there's a bit of a learning curve in figuring out how much water to use for various types of rice.

Some Zojirushi NS-RNC10 reviews, however, protest. Unhappy users grouse about burned white rice and undercooked brown, cooking that cuts out too soon and switches to keep-warm, and a keep-warm function that doesn't do its job. One review asserts you'd do just as well with a rice cooker costing a quarter of the price, and others insist earlier versions of this model were far superior.

Despite the naysayers, the Zojirushi NS-RNC10 (starting at $92, Amazon) has a few things going for it. Rice Cooker Guide says this 5-cup (10 cups cooked) on/off model offers up fluffy white rice in less 30 minutes. It's designed to keep rice warm for up to 12 hours, so even in the absence of a timer, you can get the rice going as you leave the house in the morning and come home to a warm, full pot at night. The hinged, locking lid and condensation collector help prevent boil-overs and drip-backs. A measuring cup and spatula are included, and there's a retractable cord. The nonstick cooking pot and inner lid should be washed by hand.

For a non-computerized on/off model, the Zojirushi NS-RNC10 is no bargain. But many rice aficionados associate the Zojirushi name with quality and are willing to pay the price. If this rice cooker fits your budget, go for it.

Cuisinart CRC-800

Cuisinart CRC-800 Review

The square, stainless steel design and Cuisinart name initially draw consumers to this on/off rice cooker. Cuisinart CRC-800 reviews posted at Macy's, for example, note the appealing aesthetics (pride of place on kitchen counter) and the expectations of high quality.

Plenty of Cuisinart CRC-800 reviews say it produces perfectly fluffy, moist rice in about 20 minutes, but many others groan about the mess it creates in the process. The lid doesn't seal tightly and hot, starchy water bubbles and boils over the top, report reviews on Amazon, resulting in a mess that requires plenty of effort to clean up. Carefully following the instructions for the rice-to-water ratio is no antidote, users assert. One frustrated consumer says the only solution is to let the rice cooker do its thing in the sink, which makes mop-up much easier. Another tip offered in several reviews: Use the steamer basket as a type of plug by placing it upside down underneath the lid before turning on the cooker. Rice Cooker Guide suggests stock rather than water or adding a spot of oil to minimize starchiness and foaming. Figuring out the proportions for brown rice may take a while. Among the reviews we found were several reports of limited durability and flaking of the lining in the cook pot.

The 8-cup (16 cups cooked) Cuisinart CRC-800 (starting at $76, Amazon) automatically switches to "warm" when the rice is finished cooking. Reviewers mention that they have used the machine to cook all kinds of grains, from cream of rice to quinoa, and the included stainless steel steam basket is large enough to hold a good-sized piece of salmon or vegetables for two. This model comes with a measuring cup and rice paddle and a glass lid; all the removable parts can be placed in the dishwasher. There's also a retractable cord.

Bottom line: the best thing about this model is the design. It looks good but seems to lack the substance that would make it a keeper.

Rival RC61

Rival RC61 Review

With its super cheap price and attractive red color, the simple on/off Rival RC61 (starting at $19, Amazon) looks like a good value. And it is, say Rival RC61 reviews, as long as it works. Many negative reviews, most notably posted on Amazon, say durability is limited to months and sometimes even weeks. Detractors also gripe about starchy debris that seeps out of the steam vent or between the lid and the pot (even with small amounts of rice) and an end product that's mushy or crusted. On the other hand, this on/off rice cooker boasts quite a few fans. In reviews on Target and Overstock, consumers write that it produces rice just right, in amounts suitable for one or a few eaters (think college students). They also like the results with steel-cut oats, assorted rice varieties, and the cooker's ability to keep dips and soups at eating temperature.

The Rival RC61 is listed as a 6-cup rice cooker, but unlike most other models, this means it produces 6 cups of cooked rice, which is the approximate equivalent of a 3-cup (uncooked) rice cooker. There's a keep-warm setting in addition to the on/off cook mode. It comes with a steamer basket, separate glass lid, measuring cup and plastic paddle, and a nonstick inner pot that some consumers use on top of the stove to ready ingredients like onions and ground meat prior to starting the rice-cooking cycle. The removable components should be handwashed.

The price of this electric rice cooker is certainly cheap enough, but that may not be sufficient reason to overlook its weaknesses. Some people can tolerate both mess and risk, but if that's not you, the Rival RC61 isn't the rice cooker for you, either.

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.

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_500.jpg

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.

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.

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.

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.

Buying Guide

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

Sort by:
Review Score:
Product Title
Type
Capacity (Uncooked/Cooked)
Settings
Keep Warm
Delay Start
Product Title
Type
Capacity (Uncooked/Cooked)
Settings
Keep Warm
Delay Start

Aroma ARC-150SB

$37
Programmable
10 cups/20 cups
White rice, brown rice, steam, slow cook
12 hours
15 hours

Panasonic SR-DF101

$66
Fuzzy logic
5 cups/10 cups
White rice, brown rice, quick cook/steam, porridge/soup
12 hours
No

Hamilton Beach Digital...

$33
Programmable
7 cups/14 cups
White rice, quick rice, whole grain, heat/simmer, steam cook
12 hours
15 hours

Tiger JBV-A10U

$70
Micom
5.5 cups/10 cups
Plain (white rice), brown rice, synchro-cooking, slow cook/steam
12 hours
No

Tiger JAZ-A18U

$70
On/off
10 cups/20 cups
N/A
Until unplugged
No

Black & Decker RC1412S

$27
On/off
6 cups/12 cups
N/A
Until unplugged
No

Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet...

$22
On/off
8 cups/16 cups
N/A
Until unplugged
No

Panasonic SR-3NA-S

$40
On/off
1.5 cups/3 cups
N/A
None
No