Rice is one of the most widely consumed grains in the world and a staple in many cultures. And there's a good reason: it’s extremely versatile, acting as a side dish or main element of many meals.
“Rice is a staple in Asian cuisine and a common denominator in all Asian cultures,” said Sherman Yeung, the executive chef and owner of Money Cat in Houston, Texas. “It’s nice to see others taking a greater interest in properly cooking it.”
But preparing the ideal fluffy rice can be tricky, especially when you consider cooking time, measurements and ratios. That’s where the rice cooker comes in handy — with just a touch of a button, it helps you get the perfect consistency and texture every time.
To learn more about how these appliances work and how to determine which one is right for you, we spoke to professional chefs, cooking teachers and food bloggers. We also highlighted their recommendations for the best ones to buy.
- Best overall rice cooker: Zojirushi NS-TSC10 5-1/2-Cup Micom Rice Cooker
- Best budget rice cooker: Black+Decker Rice Cooker
- Best high-end rice cooker: Panasonic 5-Cup Japanese Rice Cooker
How we picked the best rice cookers
Not all rice cookers are the same: They can vary from basic one-button types that cook white rice to high-tech options with multiple functions (including ones that can cook grains like quinoa and oatmeal, or steam vegetables). When shopping, our experts recommended considering the following key factors:
- Model type: A conventional rice cooker is the most basic device. It is typically more affordable than other options, and usually includes a ‘keep warm’ function and a button that cooks your rice. Smart rice cookers can automatically make small adjustments to better cook your rice and generally include more preset functions.
- Settings: This typically includes a “keep warm” button, a timer and options to cook different foods like oatmeal or vegetables.
- Ease of use: Depending on your preference, this can include clearly labeled buttons and removable, easy-to-clean inner pots.
- Cooking time: Some devices will cook rice in as little as 20 minutes, while others may take 10-25 minutes longer to get rice to its ideal consistency.
- Capacity: Usually ranges from 3 cups and 10 cups of cooked rice.
Best rice cookers to shop
Below, we compiled the best rice cookers to consider buying based on our experts’ guidance and recommendations.
All our experts recommended the Japanese brand Zojirushi for rice cookers. Both Yuki Gomi, owner of Yuki's Kitchen and author of “Sushi at Home,” and Yoko Lamn, a certified fermentation expert and founder of food blog Hakko, suggested this specific 5.5-cup model that they’ve been using for years. “It isn’t too expensive and has all the functions I need” including fast cooking, an option for brown rice and a steaming function, said Lamn.
This smart rice cooker uses “fuzzy logic,” where the device makes small adjustments along the way to cook the ideal rice. It also comes with a reheat option, and an extended function that keeps rice warm for several hours, according to the brand.
Type: Smart | Capacity: 5.5 cups | Pre-set cooking functions: 8 | Keep warm: 12 hours
Lamn also recommended this rice cooker from Tiger. “The heat efficiency is very high and the whole kiln heats up evenly, so the rice cooks evenly as well,” Lamn said. This model has a large inner pot with a nonstick ceramic coating and a function that retains the rice’s heat for up to 24 hours, according to Tiger. You’ll also find multiple settings to cook different types of grains, including porridge, brown rice and multigrain rice, along with a slow-cooking option.
Type: Smart | Capacity: 5.5 cups | Pre-set cooking functions: 12 | Keep warm: 24 hours
Gomi described this rice cooker from Panasonic as “stylish with great function” — it lets you properly cook quinoa, porridge and different types of rice. The warming setting automatically activates when cooking is done, plus its durable seven-layer inner pot is both nonstick and heat efficient, according to the brand. This model also features induction, which helps cook things evenly.
Type: Smart | Capacity: 5 cups | Pre-set cooking functions: 13 | Keep warm: 12 hours
Aroma makes rice cookers that are typically “less expensive and [more] basic” than other high-tech brands, but they are still capable of making good rice, according to Makiko Itoh, the creator of Japanese cooking site Just Hungry and author of “The Just Bento Cookbook.” This 8-cup model includes a user-friendly display with eight presets, including brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal, as well as a slow-cook option. Plus, you can steam food and vegetables via the accompanying tray while also simultaneously cooking rice. The sauté-then-simmer function also lets you cook at a high heat before automatically switching to a “simmer” mode once liquid is added, according to the brand.
Type: Smart | Capacity: 4 cups | Pre-set cooking functions: 8 | Keep warm: 12 hours
Gomi’s a fan of Toshiba’s high-quality rice cookers — specifically this 6-cup option, which includes seven pre-programmed settings for rice as well as quinoa, oatmeal and porridge. It has two programmable options that let you plan ahead and set a timer for whenever you want your meal ready, plus it also includes a “quick rice” function that cooks rice in 30 minutes, according to Toshiba.
Type: Smart | Capacity: 6 cups | Pre-set cooking functions: 8 | Keep warm: 12 hours
Although not as robust, our experts say this simple, easy-to-use rice cooker from Black & Decker is more than capable of delivering a great batch of rice. It cooks up to 6 cups of rice with just one button. Included is a measuring cup, a rice paddle and a plastic steamer basket. The indicator lights alert you when the rice is warm. Plus, the tempered-glass lid features a steam vent with handles on the top and sides.
Type: Conventional | Capacity: 6 cups | Pre-set cooking functions: None | Keep warm: About 5 hours
While the original Instant Pot already has a basic rice cooker option, this Instant Pot Zest — which Gomi recommended — is specifically designed for cooking rice. Complete with five smart programs for white and brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal, there’s also a dishwasher-safe steamer tray for vegetables, fish and more. It can make up to 8 cups of rice (or 4 cups uncooked), according to the brand.
Type: Smart | Capacity: 8 cups | Pre-set cooking functions: 5 | Keep warm: 12 hours
What exactly is a rice cooker and what are the benefits?
In 1945, Mitsubishi developed the first consumer-oriented rice cooker in Japan. About a decade later, Toshiba released the first automated electric rice cooker, followed by Zojirushi’s creation of the electric cooker we typically see today with a “keep warm” function.
Rice cookers eventually spread to several countries including Korea (which now make several popular models), and the U.S. (which produces some of the more basic and inexpensive options on the market). And the popularity of rice cookers worldwide comes as no surprise: Using one gives you flexibility to leave your kitchen without having to constantly monitor a pot on the stove, Gomi said. And unlike the stovetop method — which involves placing a 2:1 ratio of water and rice in a pot and letting it simmer until it’s cooked — you’re more likely to get the same result every time.
Today, rice cookers are a kitchen staple in many households and are “as common as a toaster in Japan [and] typically the centerpiece of our table,” according to cooking teacher and author Sonoko Sakai.
Conventional versus smart rice cookers
The experts we spoke to separated the appliance into two main categories: Conventional and smart, micro-computerized rice cookers. Conventional ones tend to be easy to use — you just add your ingredients and press a button to start. These are inexpensive and usually cook things quickly, with some having additional features like a warming function.
Smart rice cookers, on the other hand, use logic to determine the best way to cook and provide a multifunctional aspect that “eliminates the guessing work” of cooking different variations of rice, according to Lamn. These machines can also make small adjustments on their own (for example, if you mess up the ratio of ingredients to water or leave the rice in for too long). While smart rice cookers usually provide the best cooking results, they’re typically more expensive than your conventional options.
How to shop for a rice cooker
You’ll also find rice cooker options in popular kitchen appliances like pressure cookers including the Instant Pot, and slow cookers like the Crock Pot. Experts told us that the best rice cooker will depend on how you’re planning to use it and how often. Below are some main features that they recommended considering when shopping.
Your device’s ideal capacity will depend on how often you eat rice and how many people you’re hoping to feed. Rice cooker capacities can range from 3 cups up to 10 cups, according to our experts. Both Sakai and Gomi recommended a 5-cup model for families of four. The 3-cup option is great for single students or families who only occasionally eat rice, Sakai said. Larger families, as well as those who typically use rice as the main element of their meals, will likely benefit from a 7-cup or 10-cup rice cooker.
Many rice cookers are multifunctional — some have steamer functions for vegetables and dumplings and/or slow-cook options for meats, according to experts. You’ll also find multiple preset functions that can cook various types of grains, including brown rice, sushi rice, porridge and more.
One of the most important features of any rice cooker is the “keep warm” function, according to Yeung. “This is particularly handy if you are cooking for a large group and need to safely maintain your rice at a consistent, warm temperature for a long period of time,” he said. If your rice ever becomes dry, Yeung said you can “place a damp paper towel over it and reheat it.”
Another helpful feature to look for is a timer, which is great for those who want to start their meal prep early, according to Itoh. This lets you place rice and water in the pot in advance and select when you want it done by.
Ease of use
If you’re someone who occasionally eats rice, the simple design of a conventional cooker is likely all you need. Cleaning one is generally easier than a stovetop pot since the rice usually doesn’t stick to the bottom. However, some affordable models can be tougher to clean, Gomi said. Sakai recommended gently using soap and water in order to avoid scratching the inner pot. Similarly, she also recommended rinsing the rice outside of the cooker — preferably using a colander — to avoid scratching. (If you do happen to scrape it, inner pots are easy to replace and can cost less than $100, Sakai said.)
Different models will vary in terms of cooking time — some will cook rice in as little as 20 minutes, while others (typically more high-tech options) may take 10-25 minutes longer, according to our experts. Different rices will also vary in cook time. You should always refer to the device’s user manual to determine the appropriate timing.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
Yoko Lamn is a certified fermentation expert and founder of food blog Hakko.
Sonoko Sakai is a cooking teacher based in California and author of “Japanese Home Cooking: Simple Meals, Authentic Flavors.”
Why trust Select?
Mili Godio is an editor at Select who has covered a variety of home and kitchen topics, including coffee makers, vacuums, meal kit delivery and more. For this article, Godio spoke to five chefs and food bloggers about how to shop for a rice cooker, how they work and the best ones to consider. She also researched dozens of rice cookers on the market that were in line with experts’ guidance.