Best Cheap Rice Cookers
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.
Our Top Pick
Aroma ARC-150SB Review
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
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
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
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
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.
Black & Decker RC1412S Review
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.
Maxi-Matic Elite Gourmet ERC-008ST Review
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.