Rice Cooker Buyers Guide
Rice. Thinking about it makes me hungry already. I am half Japanese, and as such, I was raised eating rice.
The first time I saw a rice cooker was a gift my grandfather sent from Japan when I was 9 – it was a 5.5-cup Zojirushi model, quite advanced and sophisticated for the time. That thing is a workhorse and it still cooks perfect rice up to this day – longer than my grandparents’ marriage, to be honest!
The most flexible rice cooker is the Tiger JAX-T18U-K, with a dedicated menu setting for cooking brown rice. It also has a menu setting called tacook – yup, all lowercase letters – which allows you to cook rice and a rice dish for your rice (literal translation of “okazu” or おかず or お数 or お菜 or 御菜 for the other Japanese geeks out there). Japanese usually cook fish-, meat-, vegetable-, or tofu-based side dishes.
Tiger’s exclusive tacook function works with a tighter-fitting steaming basket. While it reduces the capacity of rice underneath, it allows you to easily cook a full meal for 2-3 people using only one appliance with the touch of one button.
The cost-benefit is good, and this is one appliance that could follow you throughout your life just as faithfully as your dog. Just make sure you get the 10-cup version (model JAX-T18U-K), so you can cook a bigger meal at once and take extra advantage of the tacook meals.
Click here to read more information about it on Amazon.
I also wrote an article about a multi-purpose rice cooker, so check that out if you want more flexibility out of your rice cooker.
What is the best rice cooker for sale now?
|Model & Verdict||Pros||Cons||Ideal For||Price|
|Best Cost-Benefit & Most Flexible|
|☑ Quick rice mode|
☑ Made in Japan
☑ Easy to clean
☑ Brown rice selector
☑ Steaming basket included
☑ LCD control panel
|⃠ No retractable cord||Foodies in a hurry|
Couples with no kids
|Click here to see today's price|
|Best of the Best & Most Specialized|
|☑ Induction heating pressure system|
☑ GABA brown rice menu setting
☑ Easy to clean
☑ Retractable cord
|⃠ Not possible to steam foods|
|Demanding foodies who love rice||Click here to see today's price|
|Best Budget & Great Starter Model|
|☑ One of the lowest prices|
☑ Somewhat versatile too (rice, soup, fondue, noodles)
☑ Steaming basket included
|⃠ No LCD control panel|
⃠ No auto-switch to warming mode
⃠ Spits sticky water when rice cooker is full
|College students||Click here to see today's price|
|Best Commercial Rice Cooker|
|☑ Biggest commercial rice cooker available at Amazon||⃠ No LCD control panel|
⃠ Rice isn’t cooked evenly when rice cooker is full
|Click here to see today's price|
If money is not an issue, the tastiest rice award goes to the Zojirushi NP-NVC10 – with the downside that this rice cooker cooks rice exclusively, meaning you won’t be able to steam vegetables at the same time you cook rice. On the other hand, it will be the best damn rice you have ever eaten in your life!
Click here to see today’s price
How do rice cookers work?
The technology is incredibly simple. Do you remember how water boils at 100°C? (Make that 212°F if you like things complicated.) And then it stays at that temperature until all the water evaporates?
All rice cookers work under the same basic principle. Once you close the lid and press the button, the rice cooker starts doing its magic and the inner temperature starts rising up to 100°C. Once the water starts boiling, the inner temperature remains at 100°C. When there is no water left, which is right when the rice is done, the temperature starts rising again. Then, a temperature sensor will change the rice cooker setting from cooking mode to heating mode and your rice cooker will beep to signal your rice is cooked to perfection.
Save time and effort with a steaming basket
In my (busy) opinion, the most important feature you should have in your rice cooker is a steaming basket. Did you know you can steam veggies in a rice cooker and eat yourself some freshly cooked greens at the same time you are cooking your rice?
For me, eating healthy, balanced food is a priority. Once the rice and veggies are done, I season my steamed veggies with some extra virgin olive oil and salt, or soy sauce and sunflower oil if I am feeling fancy, and that is it.
I also live a busy life and preparing my food quickly is very welcome too. The steaming basket also allows me to use one less pan, which also saves time doing the dishes afterward.
There are two models I recommend that offer steaming baskets: the Tiger JAX-T18U-K and the Oster 004722-000-000. I like the Tiger better than the Oster because the Tiger has a specific menu mode called Synchro-Cooking for cooking foods along the rice.
The Oster is less sophisticated and it can steam vegetables by simply opening the lid while the rice is still cooking, placing the steaming basket, and closing it so the rice cooker can finish its job. This is less optimal because it alters the pot temperature during the cooking process, and rice becomes slightly undercooked or overcooked. This is also a much cheap rice cooker, so you should take that into consideration as well – you get what you pay for.
By the way, should you lift the lid while cooking rice?
In short, no. Lifting the rice cooker lid mid-cooking will result in temperature and steam loss, which means lower-quality rice.
Loss of temperature will cause your rice cooker to waste time re-heating the pot, which will result in undercooked rice in the center of the grain, if you do not change cooking time, or overcooked rice on the outside of the grain, if you allow the rice cooker to re-heat to normal temperature and then return to normal cooking mode.
Loss of steam means that less water will enter the rice, so the rice will be dryer than optimal. Adding more water to fix this results in an extra amount of temperature loss, which reinforces the effects of the previous paragraph.
Retractable cords are very good
Simply put, you can put away the rice cooker and save counter space in as little as 5 seconds. If your rice cooker is easy to use, chances are you will use it more often. From my analysis, the only rice cooker that has a retractable cord is the Zojirushi.
Let me give you another point of view. I have owned a 3-cup Panasonic rice cooker with a detachable cord when I lived in Japan, between 2008 and 2012. The detachable cord was also practical but there is always a risk of misplacing the cord or having the stupid thing fall behind your refrigerator. (Yeah, don’t ask me how I learned about this possibility. Twice.)
Get a timer and save time
If you are leaving home at 7:15 am and you already know you will arrive at 6:20 pm, you can program your rice cooker to have your rice done at 6:40 pm, just enough time to get home, pour yourself some wine, and start preparing your steak.
Should you be late because sometimes life just happens, the rice cooker will keep your rice just as fresh for up to 12 hours due to its auto-switch to the warming function.
Both the Zojirushi NP-NVC-10 and the Tiger JAX-T18U-K have a timer function and memory for two preset times that you can pre-program, for example, for 6:30 am to eat porridge at breakfast and 6:40 pm for rice at dinner.
The less useful feature
The award goes to Zojirushi’s Cake menu setting.
Since you are very likely not in Japan, you most probably own an oven or even a toaster oven and will almost definitely use that to bake a proper cake. And even if you were in Japan, you would probably go to a pastry shop and have awesome cake there with a delicious cup of tea.
Can it cook brown rice?
Very short answer: yes, all of the best rice cookers can cook brown rice. Some of them even have dedicated menu settings. For details please see the table:
|Model||Dedicated menu setting for brown rice?||Brown Rice and Water Ratio||Cooking Time*|
|Tiger JAX-T18U-K||☑ Yes||Use the provided measuring cup to measure the rice and follow the “Brown” scale printed inside of the pot for the corresponding amount of water||67 to 79 min|
|Zojirushi NP-NVC10||☑ Yes||Use the provided measuring cup to measure the rice and follow the “Brown” scale printed inside of the pot for the corresponding amount of water||79 to 83 min|
|Oster 004722-000-000||⃠ No||2.5 cups of water per 1 cup of rice||Around 45 min|
|Aroma ARC-1033E||⃠ No||1.5 cups of water per 1 cup of rice||Around 60 min on Cook mode, plus another 20 min on Warm mode|
What is a GABA rice cooker?
This is a very important difference in favor of the Zojirushi: it has a special brown rice cooking mode called GABA Brown setting.
Some people refer to this as a GABA rice cooker. This menu setting soaks brown rice for 2 hours at 104 °F (40 °C) before start cooking the rice, which boots the levels of an amino acid called Gamma AminoButiric Acid. This GABA is believed to help lower blood pressure, improve kidney function, and relieve stress.
Also, the Zojirushi NP-NVC10 has three pressure levels and utilizes higher pressure (2.8 psig) to allow a higher cooking temperature (221 °F / 105 °C), and this has two effects on brown rice: its consistency becomes soft-yet-chewy, and it also stays softer for a longer period of time – should you choose to reheat rice later on.
What size should I buy?
I have owned 3-cup and 5.5-cup rice cookers. In my experience, I prefer the 5.5-cup because it is a capacity that accommodates your daily life throughout your life. Do you remember the Zojirushi rice cooker from 1991? These machines are “buy it for life” items. The nonstick inner coating lasts forever, too.
10-cup and 20-cup rice cookers are useful if you are throwing a party or if you have a small restaurant – the only two places I have ever seen rice cookers that big. And 3-cup rice cookers are only good if you have very limited storage and counter space in your kitchen.
However, my main recommendation is a 10-cup Tiger rice cooker because of its ability to steam foods and prepare rice at the same time. This is a one-dirty-pan solution for a warm, homemade meal, that comes with a free 26-recipe book.
After all, what is the best rice cooker?
Considering my research, my current needs, and my experience owning 3 rice cookers previously, my conclusion is that the Tiger JAX-T18U-K offers the best cost-benefit. Although you can have much of the same functionality with the cheaper Oster 004722-000-000, the balance moves towards the Tiger because:
- the Tiger is bigger and more flexible than the Oster, which allows you to prepare meals for children and/or visits throughout several stages of your life.
- the Tiger is less messy and just as easy to clean when compared to the Oster, meaning you will be much happier using it because it saves time on meal prep. Since it is practical, It will also be much less likely to be forgotten in a garage shelf gathering dust.
- the Tiger has several dedicated menu settings, automating the process further and taking off the guesswork. The Oster needs more babysitting to avoid the gooey mess when it starts boiling, and also to add the steaming basket mid-cooking.
And since this is the rice cooker I chose to buy with my own money, I also have no issues whatsoever recommending it to you with my Amazon affiliate link. Amazon is reliable, fast, and it has great prices. If anything I wrote helps you make a better purchase, buying through my affiliate link gives me a percentage at no extra cost to you and helps me buy gasoline and travel on weekends. Thanks in any case.