I was taught to make rice stovetop-style in a covered saucepan, oftentimes frying the grains Mexican-style before adding the liquid. I’ve made some really good rice. I’ve also ruined a lot of it.
Too much oil, too much water. “Oops! Was that rice I was making?”—mostly general user error. So, as I was happily wandering down the aisles of my neighborhood Asian market last week, a little 3-cup rice cooker called out to me. “Katie!” it said, “Take my pan and leave your rice cooking woes behind. I am perfect. Every time.” It was so convincing and cute. I bought it.
I then went home and promptly made a batch of short-grain white rice to go with our soon-to-come Beef and Brussels Sprout Stir-Fry. That little rascal wasn’t lying; the rice was perfect. Soft, a little sticky, almost creamy—we killed the whole pot. And then made another.
You could say that I am now a rice cooker convert. This little tool, which you can get for as little as $16 and as much as a few hundred, makes rice entirely hands-off. Dump it in, add the right amount of water, cover, and flip the switch. You don’t even have to remember you’re making it—once it’s done, most models automatically switch over into “warming” mode and stays nice and hot until you’re ready.
I’ve visited and dined with many friends of many cultural stripes who’ve been avid rice cooker users. I decided to ask them for their rice-cooking tidbits and wisdom. Here’s what they had to say.
- Commenters, among them desi (Indian), Latina, white, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, home cooks, and caterers, all agreed: If you eat a lot of rice, a rice cooker is worth the investment. If it’s a sporadic addition to your diet, stovetop should suffice.
- American models will let you down. The overall favorite brand was Zojirushi from Japan. My friend Irene swears by Korean rice cookers like Cuckoo brand.
- Go non-stick. Otherwise, you will have to “soak it a LOOONNNNGGG time to get the cooked-on rice to come out,” said Ed.
- Alison cautions to stay away from warming devices (aw, shucks), which can “have a tendency to grow unseen mold,” as well as aluminum rice tins within the cooker, “as this metal is no good when constantly mixed with food and high temperatures.” Kalpesh notes these tins are near impossible to replace.
- If you cook several types of rice often and are willing to wait a little longer for better rice, go for a pricier model. Brad recommended this stainless, multi-setting Zojirushi, even though it isn’t as speedy as others. “The rice it makes is fantastic, cooked perfectly at all levels. No overcooked crusty layer on the bottom. Very easy to use.”
- If your rice doesn’t come out at the consistency you prefer, tweak your water level until it does. Howard said “every bag [of rice] requires slightly different amounts of water to produce the same consistency; I’m guessing that this is depending on when they were harvested and how long they’ve been sitting on the shelves.”
- Connie says, “Don’t eat rice [grown] in the USA, it’s all most likely genetically modified and/or grown with a ton of pesticides.” She buys her rice from India, “where I know they have refused Monsanto seeds.” Howard, like many of my Asian homies, buys rice in 20-pound bulk bags from the Asian market.
- Just because you go for a rice cooker doesn’t mean you will never again cook rice stovetop. Shraddha likes stovetop rice because it lets her tone down the starch level; Young saves stovetop rice for when he’s going for the crunchy crust in dishes like bibimbap.