We have tested, cooking more than 200 pounds of rice, and talking with rice experts specializing in Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cuisine, we recommend the Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer is the best rice cooker for most people. It’s an outstanding value that’s well-suited to most households that want the ease and convenience of no-fuss, no-burning cooked rice. It makes delicious short-grain and medium-grain white rice—the variety most commonly made in a cooker—faster and better tasting than models 10 times the price. It offers features you tend not to see on rice cookers at this price, most notably a delay-start mode, stay-warm functions, an insulated lid to hold in steam, large capacity, and a heavy, quality cooking pot. It’s by far the best low-priced cooker we’ve found.
Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer is designed to be simple, well-designed machine makes delicious Japanese rice comparable to or better than models costing 10 times the price.
For this update, we built upon our original 2012 review by bringing in a variety of cookers with higher-end technology—such as induction heating and pressure cooking—to see how they’d stack up to simpler models. In large part, we found that if you mostly cook white rice, you don’t need a more expensive machine. For most people, the very moderately priced Hamilton Beach does everything you’d want at a budget price.
“This is the only cooker we found that did a great job at all types of rice. But it cooks almost twice as slow as the Cuckoo.”
In 2012 we chose the Zojirushi NS-TSC10 for those who want to cook brown rice or cook rice frequently. It’s still one of the best machines available and was the only machine we found that makes short-grain, brown, and long-grain white rice well. Zojirushi is a very well-known and trusted brand in rice cookers, and their machines are built to last. That said, this is also a very slow machine. (It’ll cost you nearly two hours for a batch of brown rice!) The Zojirushi NS-TSC10 is more versatile than our main pick (the Hamilton Beach) and also a bit cheaper than the Cuckoo, so we think it’s a good alternative should the Cuckoo sell out.
“Pressurized cooking, substantial construction, and lightning-fast delicious results make this the right cooker for the demanding cook and the serious rice eater.”
If you make rice a couple times a week or are particularly discerning about rice texture and flavor, consider the Cuckoo CRP-G1015F 10-cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker. Because it’s a pressure cooker, it makes both white and brown rice far faster than the competition. We found that the texture and flavor of the cooked rice is also unsurpassed by similar cookers at this price. It’s built more solidly than the Hamilton Beach and offers more cooking options, but that’s only worth the significant extra cost if you make rice a couple times a week.
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Who should get this
While rice cookers have their roots in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and other Asian cuisines, they’ve become a frequently-used tool for many international cooks, including those preparing Latin American dishes. Here in the US, rice cookers are essential to Hawaiian cookery and Cajun cuisine.
Rice cookers can dramatically improve the quality, flavor, and texture of rice. Great rice cooker rice is really, really delicious—aromatic, nutty, earthen, and with a broad depth of flavor—and quite easy to make. If you want the ease of one-step cooking with delicious results while you put together the rest of dinner, it may be time to buy one. Another bonus for many cooks: rice cooker cooking is unburnable. It’s much easier to clean a rice cooker insert than burnt-on rice in a cooking pot.
If you only eat rice infrequently (and especially if you almost always eat Japanese-style white, short-grain, or medium-grain rice) a $40 model will do more than enough. But if you plan to make a lot of brown rice or experiment with other types of grains, you may want a more advanced cooker, which can range from $100 to upwards of $400.
A rice cooker is also perfect for people who don’t cook often or who don’t enjoy it. An entire meal can be cooked in a rice cooker by simply cooking the rice and putting some meat, tofu, fish and vegetables in the steamer tray. (Roger Ebert wrote a book on this kind of rice-cooker cooking called The Pot and How To Use It.) Many rice cookers can now make polenta, slow-cook stews, or steam things like tamales or dumplings.
How to Choose Best Rice Cooker
A best rice cooker should cook delicious, fluffy, flavorful Japanese-style rice (meaning short-grain or medium-grain white rice) evenly throughout the pot every time. The machine should be sturdy and built of quality materials to stand up over time. The lid should have a tight seal to maintain steam and temperature. It should also cook consistently: one cup of rice should taste as good as cooking rice to maximum capacity. While rice cookers aren’t known for being faster than cooking rice in a pot, they shouldn’t be painfully slow, either. A good appliance should also have some convenient features, such as delayed start, keep warm, and quick cook settings. And ideally, a good rice cooker should be easy to clean and easy to use.
For many users, these criteria are enough. But if you’re a cook who likes to make a variety of grains, your cooker should be able to make them with equal aplomb, whether it’s brown rice, GABA-style rice (brown rice soaked and germinated for hours thought to release additional nutrients), jasmine rice, long-grain rice, quinoa, millet, or more. The capability to cook a variety of grains is what separates the good cookers from the great. Be prepared to spend about $150 for a model that can accomplish this task.
Many issues haunt the poor-quality models. The cheapest models (around $20) simply turn on and off, with a keep warm setting that often turns off automatically in just a couple of hours. They have loose-fitting lids that allow steam and moisture to escape, resulting in rice that’s too wet on the bottom and too dry on top. Poor-quality models don’t maintain a steady internal temperature throughout the cooking process because the heating elements are only at the bottom of the pot, resulting in uneven rice. Low-end choices often include shoddy materials.
Higher-end models come equipped with a lot of functionality beyond just on/off. While many rice cookers simply rely on heat cooking, upmarket models weigh the rice and adjust the cooking time intelligently. Newer models also use induction cooking, meaning the cooking element creates a magnetic field that constantly transmits heat within the entire pot, not just at the bottom, for more even cooking. Some very high-end models pair induction cooking with pressure cooking for faster cooking and improved flavor and texture, but often at a tremendous price beyond the scope of most home cooks ($400 or more).
A higher-end cooker should have a keep warm function that will kick in after cooking (as will many pure electric, on/off models, though the features usually shut off after a few hours in the lower-end models). Many have quick cook functions for fast midweek cooking—an essential tool because rice cookers cook to perfection and not for speed. Many in this category also have a plethora of settings: different types of rice, doneness preferences (such as more tender or more firm), preset timers for rice so it’s ready when you are, settings for porridge (also known as congee or jook, a rice soup).
On the high end, some machines can sell for up to $800. Some of these can do everything from bake a cake to make yogurt, and Cuckoo even makes one that features control via mobile phone. Neat, but we’re not sure why you need an app to make rice. The very high-end machines often have a large countertop footprint. Note that a high price tag is not necessarily indicative of value. Buyers should beware of paying for bells and whistles that they won’t use.
Any rice cooker insert worth its salt is going to be non-stick; most have non-stick aluminum inserts. Thinner pots tend to wear out more quickly and lose some protective coating. The steaming trays of all four of the finalists that were tested extensively were plastic.
We looked for cookers with solid, tightly-sealed lids and heavy, quality cooking pots. We also selected models with a minimum five-cup cooking capacity; many users report that they make extra rice, and 5-10 cups seems like the right amount for two to four people with leftovers. We also chose to only look at models that have a brown rice option and, to help save time for busy cooks, a quick-cook setting for speed and convenience.
Our top pick from 2012, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer has since been discontinued, so we didn’t test it again this year. Instead, we re-tested our 2012 pick for frequent cooking—the Zojirushi NS-TSC10— against nine new players: the Hamilton Beach 37541 4-to-20-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer; the Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer: the Zojirushi Induction Heating System Rice Cooker & Warmer NP-HCC18; the Cuckoo CRP-G1015F 10-cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker; the Tatung TAC-11QN 11-cup Multi-Functional Stainless Steel Rice Cooker; Tiger’s 10-cup Micom Rice Cooker and Warmer with Tacook Plate and 5.5-cup Induction Heating Rice Cooker and Warmer with Tacook Plate; the 8-cup VitaClay Smart Organic Multicooker; and 3 Squares 3RC-3010S TIM3 MACHIN3 20-cup (Cooked) Rice Cooker and Multi Cooker.
Cooking Time For Rice Cookers
When it comes to cooking time, the Hamilton Beach 37549 is the clear winner for the price:
Additionally, many rice cookers under $50 max out at a three-cup capacity. The Hamilton Beach’s 2-to-14-cup capacity is surely adequate for most families who make rice to feed 2 to 14 people.
If you plan to leave this cooker on your countertop, its look and overall footprint will also be a welcome addition to your kitchen. The design is black and stainless to slip seamlessly into the countertop landscape next to the toaster and the blender. Round, 10¼ inches tall, and about 9 inches in diameter, it feels smaller than the 14-inch long and rectangular Zojirushi or Tiger machines.
The Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer is very similar to our former top pick, the much larger and now discontinued Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Deluxe Rice Cooker/Steamer. In our original group tasting, our former HB pick was a favorite of both laypeople and the pro chefs. When it came to white rice, the non-pros rated it first overall, beating all the other rice cookers and the stovetop option. Amongst the pros, it came in second for firmness, third for clumping and fluffiness, and it was the best overall of the affordable rice cookers. We’re confident the 14-cup version produces white rice just as delicious as our former pick.
Our favorite pressure cooker, the Instant Pot, is a combination slow cooker, yogurt maker, and rice cooker (among other things). Although it’s an excellent pressure cooker, it doesn’t make for as great a rice cooker as our top picks. If you want perfect rice, this model is not for you. But if you want to save space by combining a bunch of functions into one device and don’t mind compromising a little on rice quality, the Instant Pot might be something to consider.
Our 2012 pick, the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer, 20-cup (Cooked) Silver (37536), has been discontinued. We found it produced great Japanese-style white rice with good texture and flavor. We think our new Hamilton Beach pick performs just as well.
The Hamilton Beach 37541 4-to-20-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer is the larger version of our new pick, the Hamilton Beach 37549 2-to-14-cup Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Steamer. Although it made good white rice in our tests, its 20-cup capacity seemed a bit too much for most households.
The Tiger JAX-T10U was one of the strongest performers in our latest round of tests. It has a nice thick inner pot (1½ mm for 5½ cups), 10 computerized cooking menus, two preset cooking timers, a stainless steel exterior, detachable steam cup, and a detachable inner lid. It is on-par with the winning Zojirushi when making Japanese rice, which is why it moved forward into the latter rounds of testing. But we were not impressed with its brown, long-grain, or quick rice.
The Tiger JAH-T10U we tested for our 2012 review is another high-end rice cooker that’s competitive with the high-end Zojirushi or the Cuckoo, but it was marred by some flaws in design performance. It produced very good rice; it was quicker to cook brown rice than the Zojirushi and it had an even better cooking pot. But the restaurant professionals didn’t like the white rice as much; it was much trickier to take apart/reassemble for cooking; when it’s done cooking your rice, the noise it makes is so quiet that it’s extremely easy to miss; the lid gets hotter than most of the other models; and it tends to have a ring of stuck rice in the pot if you don’t turn it out right.
The Panasonic SR-DE103 was the most affordable of the high-end machines in our 2012 testing, but the pros really disliked the rice from it, universally ranking it low, especially for clumping and taste. It’s also extremely slow to cook brown rice, could hold less of the stuff than the competition, had a problem with scorching brown rice, did a very poor job with sticky rice, and its bowl is harder to read and use than the other high-end models’. That said, the home cooks really liked its white rice, and it’s very quick to cook white rice. It’s a possible alternative if you want to spend less than $100, but there’s not enough to recommend it over a really good high-end model.
The Aroma ARC-914SBD, which we tested in 2012, is another super-affordable rice cooker with a low price tag, a tiny footprint, and a 4-cup maximum capacity. Unfortunately, its rice wasn’t really up to scratch, with home cooks rating it bottom of the barrel for both white and brown rice and the pros likewise disliking it (barring one ex-sushi chef who was a fan). It also has a tendency to gather condensation on top of the lid, and while it was very quick to cook both brown and white rice, its brown rice was really poor.
The Zojirushi Induction Heating System Rice Cooker & Warmer NP-HCC18 was a new model since we’d done our original testing, and it has an added setting for jasmine rice and an easier-to-read display. We really wanted to taste rice that had been cooked with IH to see if the technology was worth the cost. Though the rice from the NP-HCC18 was very good, we felt that the rice from our runner-up pick (the lower-end NS-TSC10) was even better. And at almost half the price, we quickly decided to hold on to our original.
The Tiger JKT-S10U, another IH cooker, was in a similar boat. Sure, it made a good batch of Japanese white rice, but not enough to garner double the price tag of the other Tiger model we tested. In this case and with the Zojirushi’s, we preferred the rice from the lower-tech machines.
The 3 Squares 3RC-3010S TIM3 MACHIN3 20-cup (Cooked) Rice Cooker and Multi Cooker is a relative newcomer, and we loved its capabilities, its design, and its look. What we were not so enamored of, however, was its rice, which was devoid of aroma and great flavor. Note: The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently issued a recall of this product for causing shocks when turned on.
Tatung is another brand, along with the Cuckoo, that was recommended by our readers from the original 2012 rice cooker review. We wanted to give the Taiwanese maker a whirl, so we ordered the TAC-11QN 11-cup Multi-Functional Stainless Steel Rice Cooker, which appeared sturdy, capable, and well-reviewed. The double-boiler pot was unique, but ultimately the cooker was loud and splattery, and the rice stuck to the bottom—an unforgivable act for a rice cooker.
As much as we wanted to love the VitaClay for its adherence to using a traditional clay pot for cooking rice, this is not one we could recommend for most users. The rice stuck to the seasoned clay, and the nub of the scalding hot interior lid was difficult to grasp.
We looked at a number of Cuckoo models with pressure cooking technology, but found that our pick, the CRP-G1015F 10-cup Electric Pressure Rice Cooker, offered the best combination of price and higher ratings. Here’s a comparison chart of our main pick against Cuckoo’s other cookers:
|Model||Color||Cups||English voice nav?||GABA?||Soup / Stew / Porridge?||Remov-able lid?||Auto steam clean?|
Cuckoo CR-0631F – A basic model without pressure cooking, this model didn’t look quite as promising as some of the other basic models we opted to test. It also was out of stock when we were doing our research.
Tatung TAC-6G-SF 6 Cups Indirect Heating Rice Cooker – Although this comes with decent reviews, we opted to test the larger version of this cooker instead.
Aroma Professional 12-cup (Cooked) Digital Egg-Shape Rice Cooker, Food Steamer and Slow Cooker – This looked promising, but but in our 2012 taste test the brand did not fare well with any of the chef or lay testers. We opted to skip testing.
Aroma Professional 20-Cup Digital Rice Cooker, Food Steamer & Slow Cooker – Another well-priced and positively reviewed model, but as above, we opted not to test based on our experience with the brand in our 2012 tests.
Zojirushi N2-ZCC10/18 – This gets great Amazon reviews, but for the price and performance, we didn’t think it looked better than the two Zojirushi machines we opted to test this round.
We also passed on other Panasonic models. As mentioned, in our 2012 testing the Panasonic SR-DE103 5-cup “Fuzzy Logic” Rice Cooker produced clumped, tasteless rice, and brown rice that stuck to the bottom of the pot. They have replaced their MGS102, MS183, and MS103 models with the 5-cup SR-DF101 and the identical 10-cup SR-DF181, but the feature list and product reviews weren’t compelling enough to call them in.