There are two kinds of people in this world: those who grew up with a rice cooker, and those who didn't. If you didn't, I extend to you my sincerest sympathies; if you did, high five!
People who are accustomed to seeing a rice cooker on their parents' kitchen counter will require no explanation for an equipment review of rice cookers; the utility and convenience of this type of device was likely demonstrated to them on a near-daily basis. A comparative review of rice cookers on the market with similar capacities and similar price points will probably be interesting, if not immediately useful, given that they likely own a rice cooker today, which they, too, use on a near-daily basis.
But those of you who didn't grow up in a household with a rice cooker may be skeptical. After all, it's fashionable to abhor unitaskers, and what could be more limited in its use than a device solely designed to cook a single grain—one that, particularly in the United States, isn't all that popular?
Needless to say, if you don't eat much rice, or if you (inexplicably) dislike rice, then this equipment review isn't for you. But if you love rice and eat a lot of it, there are few kitchen gadgets that are as useful as a rice cooker. A good rice cooker offers convenience and gustatory pleasure in equal measure: perfectly cooked rice, whenever you want it, whether it's first thing in the morning or right when you get home from work.
Our Favorites, at a Glance
The Best Rice Cooker for Most People: Hamilton Beach 37548
The Hamilton Beach 37548 rice cooker was the surprisingly strong performer in our many tests, keeping pace with rice cookers that are much more expensive. Despite having a far more rudimentary control panel than its competitors, as well as fewer presets and a more subdued exterior, it was just as good at cooking long-grain rice as it was short- and medium-grain, and was the standout winner for cooking brown rice. It also managed to cook rice in less time than any of its competitors. Given its price point and performance, we believe the Hamilton Beach 37548 is the best rice cooker for most households.
The Best Rice Cooker for Control Freaks: Cuckoo CR-0655F
While the Hamilton Beach 34758 performed excellently in all of the tests we conducted, the Cuckoo CR-0655F rice cooker was another consistently strong performer. Given its slightly higher price point relative to the Hamilton Beach, we decided to recommend the Cuckoo only for those home cooks who are quite serious about rice. Similarly, while another rice cooker performed marginally better than the Cuckoo CR-0655F, its much higher price compelled us to recommend the Cuckoo, instead.
Other than its good performance, the Cuckoo has a relatively small kitchen-counter footprint, an attractive exterior, and a number of different cooking presets, including one for germinated brown rice (GABA). While the control panel isn't as intuitive as we'd like, once you get used to operating it, the Cuckoo offers up a range of customization options, including how long to soak your rice, how long to heat it, and at what temperature to cook it, which is particularly useful for cooks who regularly purchase and eat different varieties of rice, including "new crop" rice, or rice that has been harvested relatively recently.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Good Rice Cooker
First and foremost, a good rice cooker must cook rice good well.
What do we mean by "well-cooked" rice? It depends on the variety, but generally speaking, rice should cook up evenly, so that all the rice grains in the cooker are of the same quality, and there aren't pockets of over- or under-cooked rice, or any areas of scorched rice. The rice should remain distinct grains that are soft enough to eat, but not so soft that they become mush. Long-grain rice should be fluffy and dry, while short- and medium-grain rice should cook up slightly sticky but neither water-logged nor coated with a starchy, gummy paste. Brown rice should (and we acknowledge that this is a matter of taste) cook up into individual grains with a pleasing amount of chew and very little stickiness between grains.
A good rice cooker should also be easy to use and able to cook rice in a reasonable amount of time. It doesn't matter how good the rice is if it takes more than an hour to cook.
Beyond cooking rice, a rice cooker also serves as a rice warmer, keeping cooked rice at serving temperature for long periods of time without scorching it or drying it out. Once you're done with it, a good rice cooker should be easy to clean.
Many rice cookers on the market today offer a variety of other features, such as delayed start times, the ability to cook other grains, and ancillary functions like steaming vegetables, but we didn't assess how well any of the rice cookers performed these additional functions since our primary objective was to find the best rice cooker, not the best vegetable steamer.
If you've ever been in the market for a rice cooker, you've probably realized that there are a lot of models available. Some leading companies like Zojirushi and Cukoo each produce enough options that an entire review could be consumed just by a single company's offerings.
We selected the rice cookers for testing by looking at recommended rice cookers from other publications, like The Wirecutter, as well as top sellers on Amazon. To keep the number of cookers manageable, we introduced a few criteria to narrow the field. We limited the maximum yield of cooked rice to about 15 cups, which is more than enough rice for a family of four, plus guests (and at that size, the rice cooker wouldn't take up an unreasonable amount of kitchen counter space). We removed any rice cookers that had a maximum cooked rice capacity of fewer than 10 cups. And finally, with almost no exceptions, all the rice cookers in our review cost less than $250, though we did take a couple more expensive machines for a spin, just to see how they stacked up.
We did run into one issue with Zojirushi, specifically, as we ended up with three machines that fit our criteria, and so our first order of business, therefore, was running early rounds of testing pitting its models against each other, moving forward only with our top pick from the company.
Once we had a narrowed the field down to a diverse array of rice cookers from various companies, we conducted further side-by-side rice-cooking tests with six rice cookers using both short- and medium-grain Japanese rice, medium-grain brown Japanese rice, as well as long-grain basmati, brown basmati, and jasmine rice. We tested the rice cookers at both the minimum and maximum rice-cooking quantities. For most of these tests, we cooked rice in each cooker according to the manufacturers' directions, using the measuring cup that comes with each rice cooker to measure out the rice and the fill lines within each rice cooker's pot to measure out the cooking water. We reasoned that this is the way most people would use a rice cooker—that is, they would follow the manufacturer's instructions.
This first test was enough to narrow down the field to our top three cookers. From there, we set the finalists against one another using jasmine and medium-grain Japanese rice, both according to the manufacturers' instructions and, separately, using our own pre-determined quantities of rice and water. We also tested their warming functions using short-grain rice over the course of eight hours, and we tested how well they did when cooking a flavored rice, using set quantities of rice and dashi.
Finally, when we had determined the winners, we tested them against an Instant Pot, using the Instant Pot's method for foolproof rice.
In each test, the rice used was washed and rinsed using an identical method: the dry rice was placed in a bowl, which was then filled with cold water. The rice was swirled by hand in the water 15 times and then drained, and the process was repeated seven times to ensure the rinsing water ran clear. The rice was then drained thoroughly in a fine-mesh strainer before being placed in each rice cooker's pot.
For each test, we recorded the weight of the dry rice, the weight of the rinsed rice, and the weight of the water used, as well as the amount of time it took to cook each batch of rice.
The quality of the cooked rice was assessed by me three times after cooking: immediately after the cooker stopped cooking, and five and 15 minutes after, to see how the rice evolved in that short window post-cooking. Each rice cooker lid was kept closed between assessments.
In harder-to-judge situations, as in the brown rice test and some of the later tests with the winning three rice cookers, I asked members of the Serious Eats staff to do side-by-side taste tests so that my assessment alone wasn't determining all the results.
Winnowing the Field
The first round of tests involved cooking medium-grain white Japanese rice, medium-grain brown Japanese rice, and basmati rice in each of the cookers, in varying quantities, in six different rice cookers. The results of this round left us with three rice cookers that were clearly head and shoulders above the others: the Zojirushi NP HCC10, the Cuckoo CR-0655F, and the Hamilton Beach 37548.
In the second round, we tested the Zojirushi, Cuckoo, and Hamilton Beach against one another using different varieties of white rice. For this test, we used short-grain Japanese rice, medium-grain Japanese rice, basmati rice, and jasmine rice, all of it polished (i.e. white), in varying quantities, cooking the rice according to each manufacturers' directions.
The Zojirushi performed quite well with each variety, but it did particularly well with the Japanese rice varieties. It performed excellently with the short-grain Japanese variety and with basmati rice, producing the best results in each of those rounds. However, the Zojirushi performed poorly with jasmine rice, making the worst batch in that round.
The Cuckoo performed best in the medium-grain Japanese rice test and in the jasmine test, and was a very, very close second in the short-grain test. It placed third in the basmati test.
The Hamilton Beach secured second place in the basmati test. It didn't take the top spot in any one test, but overall it did a good job in all of them, making it, on average, a very solid performer.
In every test, the Hamilton Beach cooked rice the fastest by several minutes. The Cuckoo always cooked rice second fastest, and the Zojirushi always took the longest.
We tested each of the three cookers using medium-grain brown Japanese rice and brown basmati rice.
The Hamilton Beach performed best in both brown rice tests, producing fluffy and distinct grains of brown rice that were a little firm directly after cooking, but softened to a pleasing consistency after about 15 minutes. The Cuckoo and the Zojirushi, on the other hand, produced brown rice with a mushy, sticky consistency, very reminiscent of the texture of cooked short- and medium-grain Japanese rice varieties. While I preferred the wetter, stickier brown rice results, both of the other tasters clearly chose the Hamilton Beach rice over the other two.
Both the Cuckoo and Zojirushi took well over an hour to cook the brown rice varieties, whereas the Hamilton Beach cooked both within an hour.
All three of the top rice cookers have a quick-cooking mode, one that each of the manufacturers say produces rice of a relatively inferior quality but in much less time. For this test we chose to use short-grain Japanese rice.
The Zojirushi performed best, producing rice that seemed indistinguishable from normally cooked rice, and it took 26 minutes to cook. The Cuckoo came in second place, cooking up rice that was a little on the wet side, but still perfectly palatable, in 32 minutes. The Hamilton Beach produced rice that was perfectly serviceable, but was nevertheless a little wet and starchy toward the top of the vessel and very slightly scorched on the bottom, in 29 minutes.
Given that one of the essential functions of a rice cooker is keeping cooked rice warm, we decided to test each of the three top cookers' warming functions. We cooked three cups of short-grain polished Japanese rice and, without opening the cookers, let the rice sit for eight hours before tasting.
All of the rice was piping hot and ready to be served when we opened the rice cookers, and the quality of the rice in each pot was pretty comparable, but the rice in the Zojirushi was undoubtedly the best, tasting almost like just-cooked rice. We speculate that this rice cooker's induction heating system is the reason why it performed so much better in this test, alone among the other tests.
The rice in the Cuckoo was a little more mushy than what we'd come to expect from the device, in light of other tests, but it was perfectly serviceable. The rice in the Hamilton Beach was slightly scorched—a little more scorched than in the quick-cooking test—and a little mushy but still palatable.
Finally, because rice cookers are used not just to produce plain rice, but rice dishes seasoned with flavorful liquid and other ingredients, we decided to also test how these cookers would fair if used for a recipe, rather than used strictly according to the manufacturer's instructions, so we used a fixed quantity of rice (300g) and a fixed quantity of dashi (450g).
While all the results were a little mushy, given the relatively high volume of liquid to amount of rice, the Cuckoo produced the best rice in this round, followed closely by the Hamilton Beach. The Zojirushi was a distant third, producing rice that was mushy to the point of being pasty.
In this test, the Hamilton Beach cooked the rice in the fastest time, at 36 minutes, with the Cuckoo following close behind (39 minutes) and the Zojirushi leisurely following up in the rear (49 minutes).
The Instant Pot Test
Whenever rice cooking as a topic comes up, someone will inevitably point out that you can cook rice in the Instant Pot. To pre-empt any complaints about our review of rice cookers (single-purpose machines) not including something about Instant Pots (multi-purpose cookers that are, in the end, mostly electric pressure cookers), we decided to test our top three cookers against the Instant Pot. Since each of the rice cookers had different manufacturers, and since we wanted to give the Instant Pot as fair a test as possible, we decided to use Instant Pot's guide to making perfect rice in an Instant Pot as our method for all the rice cookers.
Essentially, in this method, you rinse a fixed volume of rice in water until the water runs clear, then add the rinsed, drained rice to the pot along with the same volume of water, then you cook it.
The results of this test were definitive: This is a bad method for cooking rice in any machine, including the Instant Pot. Of all the rice in this test, the Instant Pot's rice was the worst: both under- and over-cooked at the same time. The other machines produced rice of subpar quality, in part because the method outlined by Instant Pot uses far too little water for the amount of rice.
How We Chose Our Winners
I'll note at the outset that one of the reasons we ran so many tests on these top three rice cookers is that more often than not, the quality of the rice cooked was pretty comparable, except in extreme cases, like the flavored rice test. I want to also note that once you become familiar with any of the rice cookers we considered in this test, you can use it to produce very nicely cooked rice with just a little bit of tinkering with your method.
All of which is to say, determining which one of these three rice cookers would be best for a home cook involves more than a little bit of creative reasoning. We decided that for most home cooks looking for a rice cooker, they'd want a machine that's reasonably inexpensive, one that properly produces a variety of rice types with minimal effort in a reasonable amount of time, and one that can keep the rice warm for extended periods of time without much deterioration in quality.
Taking into consideration the price points of all three of the top performers, as well as the overall similarities in the results, we found that we couldn't reasonably recommend the Zojirushi. Its performance, while quite good across the board, was not good enough that it seemed to warrant paying about $150 more than the Cuckoo or $210 more than the Hamilton Beach.
The Best Rice Cooker for Most People: Hamilton Beach 37548
While its appearance would suggest that it's nothing special, the Hamilton Beach 37548 performed just as well as, if not better than, more expensive machines. The Hamilton Beach distinguished itself above all others when it came to cooking brown rice, but it cooked every variety of rice we put into it quite well—despite having a single preset for different varieties of rice—and in every test we ran except for the test of the quick-cooking rice function, it cooked rice faster than any other machine.
If what you're looking for is a no-nonsense machine that's simple to use and puts well-cooked rice on the table in about 30 minutes, the Hamilton Beach 37548 leaves little to be desired. It has a few drawbacks: It produces minor scorching on the rice along the bottom of the cooker, which becomes more pronounced when the cooker is left on its warming setting for hours. It also comes with a flimsy rice paddle for fluffing and serving rice, which, while functional, isn't pleasing to use. Finally, the measuring cup provided is squat and shallow, which makes measuring out the rice accurately a little bit more difficult than with other models tested. That being said, the Hamilton Beach 37548 proved to be quite capable of handling varying amounts of liquid for similar quantities of rice, which means it's less susceptible to producing bad rice as a result of user error.
The cooker can handle anywhere from two to seven cups of uncooked rice, which will yield about four to 14 cups of cooked rice, although like all rice cookers, cooking the maximum amount of rice it can hold will give you subpar results.
The Hamilton Beach 37548 offers six preset modes: white rice, quick white rice, whole grain, hot cereals, steam cook, and heat/simmer (for use with rice mixes and other dishes, like soups and stews). The device comes with a steamer basket insert for steaming food.
The Best Rice Cooker for Control Freaks: Cuckoo CR-0655F
The Cuckoo CR-0655F may not have beat out all the competition in every test, but it still performed well enough for us to recommend it as the best rice cooker for those who want more control. Its main competitor for the top spot, the Zojirushi NP HCC10, did outperform the Cuckoo, but at a list price of $294*, we didn't believe that the differences in the quality of the cooked rice justified the increase in price over the Cuckoo, which costs just a little over $100.
The Cuckoo CR-0655F has a relatively straightforward control panel, particularly for cooks who plan on using the preset programs for cooking glutinous rice varieties, long-grain rice, and brown rice. The one slightly confusing element of the preset programs is that long-grain rice and brown rice share the same preset cooking program; while that may be unorthodox, it did result in the Cuckoo taking the top spot for the jasmine rice cooking test, and the second spot in the basmati test.
The Cuckoo, like the Zojirushi, has a preset program for germinated brown rice, which is also known as GABA rice, so named because the germination process increases the amount of nutritionally available gamma-aminobutyric acid.
The rice cooker also has several other functions: a steam function, for steaming dumplings and vegetables; a porridge function, for making juk/congee/okayu; a multicook function, which is essentially a slow cooker; a baby food function, which, to be frank, I don't quite understand; and a cleaning function, which sterilizes the interior.
Finally, the Cuckoo gives cooks the opportunity to customize the rice-cooking process in three different ways: you can choose how long the rice soaks in the cooker before the cooking process begins; you can choose how long to heat the rice for; and you can choose the cook temperature. You are given four preset times for the first two options, and two cooking temperatures for the final option. We believe this level of control will be appealing to some cooks out there, particularly those who regularly purchase and eat different varieties of rice, including "new crop" rice, or rice that has been harvested relatively recently.
The Cuckoo can make anywhere from four to twelve cups of cooked white rice, and four to eight cups of brown rice, making it ideal for a small family.
*This model was selling for $249.99 when we called in models for review, hence its inclusion in these tests.
Again, while we have not chosen to recommend the Zojirushi NP HCC10, it did perform quite well in our tests. Given its poor performance in the jasmine rice cooking test, and its high marks for the way it cooked Japanese rice varieties, we do think that cooks who make a lot of Japanese rice might find this Zojirushi model worth seeking out. It comes with instructions for using the preset programs to cook varieties of rice typically found in Japanese markets, but not in American markets, like polished rice with the germ still attached and two types of "semi-brown" rice.
We also want to note that Zojirushi, alone among the brands we tested, has some accommodation for those with visual impairments: The "Start" and "Cancel" buttons have a raised dot and dash, respectively, so you can start and stop the machine by touch alone, and all Zojirushi models have (quite loud) sound signals (the default is a rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star") to indicate when the cooking process has begun or ended.
Here are notes on the other models we tested for this review:
- Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy NS-ZCC10: Long the Serious Eats test kitchen rice cooker, the Neuro Fuzzy was taken out of consideration when it produced relatively mushier rice than its Zojirushi counterparts.
- Zojirushi NS-TSC10: This cooker had comparable results to the Zojirushi NP HCC10, but it took far longer to cook rice of both white and brown varieties.
- Aroma MTC-8008: The Aroma consistently produced rice that was quite wet, and had issues with even cooking for smaller quantities of rice.
- Oyama CFS-F12B: Similarly, the Oyama produced rice that was quite wet.
- Hamilton Beach 37570: The higher-end Hamilton Beach surprised us by being a middle-of-the-pack machine, in contrast to its cheaper, high-performing sibling. It did fine in the test for white rice varieties, but tasters thought it was the second-best brown-rice cooking machine in the first round of tests to winnow the field.