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Cheap Rice Cookers Buying Guide

Rice cooker prices range from $8 for a plastic microwave rice steamer to more than $400 for a top-of-the-line model by Zojirushi. In terms of price, Tiger and Zojirushi sit atop the rice cooker food chain and Sanyo, Panasonic, and Aroma occupy the bottom end.

For less than $100, budget-minded cooks can prepare restaurant-quality rice in a cheap rice cooker that's easy to clean and might even multitask.

Models with micro-computer/fuzzy logic technology, which adjusts the cooking time to suit whatever is inside, are usually too pricey to be considered a cheap rice cooker, but we found a good one: the Sanyo ECJ-S35K Micom (starting at $91), much appreciated for its ability to perfectly cook many types of rice and grains. In the one-touch, on/off cheap rice cookers category, we like the Aroma ARC-1266F (starting at $27), which users say does a mean job on rice and steamed vegetables; the Zojirushi NS-RNC10 (starting at $92), for its speed and well-cooked end product; and the Panasonic SRG-06FG (starting at $25), a no-frills cheap rice cooker that yields tasty rice and other grains, and legumes, as well. Two inexpensive rice cookers that didn't earn a spot on our list include the Cuisinart CRC-800 (starting at $76), which is plagued by reports of starchy overflows and a burnt bottom layer, and the Rival RC61 (starting at $19), which suffers from similar problems and the early demise of some units.

The price of a rice cooker depends largely on its features, which in turn affects how you use it. There's less guess work with upmarket fuzzy logic/micro-computerized (micom) rice cookers, which come with pre-programmed settings for different types of rice, various cooking modes, and sometimes specified texture; they also boast flexible timer options, digital read outs, and sleeker design. Nonprogrammable on/off models, which largely fill out the cheap rice cookers segment, feature the bare basics -- one cook mode and sometimes a keep-warm setting. In the absence of the latter, keeping the lid on is the only way to keep the contents at serving temperature. In the absence of cook modes and settings, some experimentation is in order to get the timing and ratio of liquid to solid down pat, particularly if you branch out into staples such as steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, bulghur and other grains, beans, soups, and stews.

The size of a rice cooker, cheap or otherwise, is denoted by number of cups. Rice cooker cups are not a standard U.S. measure, however; the measuring cup included with a rice cooker is usually the equivalent of 200 ml, the standard Japanese measure (an American cup is 240 ml), so you may need to adjust your menu plans accordingly. Also note that sizing is usually based on an uncooked rice measure -- a 3-cup rice cooker, for example, produces about 6 cups of cooked rice -- although some manufacturers and retailers state size by the amount of cooked rice. Rice cookers also feature non-stick inner pots, and some come with steamer baskets. Most include a measuring cup to ensure proper measurement of ingredients and a rice paddle that won't scratch the non-stick lining.

If you're used to cooking rice on the stove, you may be surprised at the slow progress of a rice cooker. Cooking times vary by the variety of rice being cooked, but cheap on/off rice cookers tend to be faster than fuzzy-logic/micom rice cookers. One big advantage of fuzzy logic rice cookers is being able to set the timer so that the rice, or whatever is inside, is ready when you are.

Rice Cookers Reviews

Rice cooker reviews indicate that consumers really like the models on our list. Many purchasers lament not having bought one sooner, although some reviews claim that the results are no better, and the process certainly not simpler, than cooking rice in a pot atop the stove. Even satisfied users -- and there are hundreds -- stress the importance of reading and following the directions, which includes using the cup measure provided and, for certain rice varieties, rinsing and pre-soaking the kernels. Reviews assert that you're likely to get marginally better results with a fuzzy logic/micom rice cooker but at the cost of a higher price tag and longer cook times.

Review continues below

On/Off Rice Cookers.

The most basic rice cookers -- that is, those with just an off/off switch and maybe a keep-warm function -- are typically the cheapest. We found several high-quality on/off rice cookers at both ends of the cheap price spectrum: the Aroma ARC-1266F (starting at $27) and Panasonic SRG-06FG (starting at $25) at the bottom, and the Zojirushi NS-RNC10 (starting at $92) grazing the top. The Aroma ARC-1266F automatically switches to keep-warm mode when cooking is complete, as does the Zojirushi NS-RNC10, which specs say keeps the contents warm and moist for up to 12 hours. The Panasonic SR-G06FG doesn't have a keep-warm function (two larger and pricier Panasonic rice cookers do), so you'll have to keep the lid on if you don't plan to serve right away.

On/off rice cookers profess to be one-trick ponies, but creative cooks find other uses for them. In rice cookers reviews of the Zojirushi NS-RNC10 on Amazon, for example, one consumer writes about throwing in some beans with the rice, preparing oatmeal with raisins, and cooking apples to a tasty end. The Panasonic SR-G06FG works for lentils and chickpeas but may require an extra on-cycle or two, says a review. Other treats that emerge from these small, low-cost appliances include one-pot meals, pilafs, soups, stews, dips, and ramen noodles and lo mein (don't cover, advises a fan of these Asian pastas). Budget rice cookers can also be used to reheat yesterday's brown rice, notes a review on Best Buy of the Rival RC61 (starting at $19) - just add a few drops of water and let it steam. An enterprising cook uses the warming function on the Cuisinart CRC-800 (starting at $76) to make yogurt, according to a review at Abe's of Maine.

Some cheap on-off rice cookers, including the Aroma ARC-1266F, Rival RC61, and Cuisinart CRC-800, come with steamer baskets or trays that can hold vegetables, fish, meat, and leftovers. If steaming foodstuffs is a high priority in your kitchen and rice a close second, the Black & Decker HS1000 Handy Steamer (starting at $20) is an option. Billed as a steamer with a 4-quart steam basket, this model steams a dinner's worth of rice, vegetables, or protein (meat, fish, chicken), and features a spot for eggs and a small compartment to hold flavorings that waft into whatever is steaming.

Fuzzy Logic/Micom Rice Cookers.

Computerized rice cookers, such as the Sanyo ECJ-S35K (starting at $91), provide set-and-forget-it ease but start at prices near the top of the Cheapism niche. LCD clocks and timers are standard for fuzzy logic rice cookers, and a computer chip controls the temperature and timing for whatever you happen to be cooking -- rice of all kinds, porridge, and with the Sanyo ECJ-S35K, even bread. The Sanyo ECJ-S35K, like other fuzzy logic rice cookers, also lets you program an end-time up to 24 hours in advance, which ensures at least part of a meal is ready when you want it. Consumers laud the convenience and performance of this model in rice cookers reviews on Amazon, saying the varied settings deliver perfect results.

Indeed, once you move into the fuzzy logic realm, the whole cooking thing becomes much more precise than with on/off rice cookers. For example, the Sanyo ECJ-S35K features keep warm, reheat, and pre-soak (necessary for certain types of rice) functions as well as menu settings for several rice varieties, porridge, and bread (baking only; the mixing and kneading is up to you). Rice cookers reviews tell of using this low-cost fuzzy logic rice cooker to prepare artichokes, corn, hard boiled eggs, bread pudding, sweet rolls, and soups in addition to the usual rices and oatmeal. The removable rice pot can also be used on the stovetop to prep ingredients for the finished dish; reviews on the Sanyo site mention browning or braising meat before adding the rice and then proceeding as usual.

Rice Cookers Performance

The best rice cookers produce excellent rice -- that is, individually-fluffed kernels with a slight bite and a consistent texture throughout, with no crispy bits or soggy/pasty areas. Some reviewers say you get better results with Asian rice varieties, such as jasmine and sushi, and warn against converted rice, but plenty of consumers also report success with brown rice and other grains.

Even in our budget price range, the best rice cookers meet the perfect-rice standard. Consumers are delighted with the fuzzy logic Sanyo ECJ-S35, whose computer-controlled settings turn out commendable sweet rice, brown rice, mixed rices, bi bim bab, hot cereal, and more. Indeed, consumers with a taste for something other than plain white rice say they chose this best rice cooker largely for its versatility. It produces perfect slow-cooked grits without having to stand and stir for minutes on end, says a review posted on Viewpoints, and, adds another consumer, it quickly reheats leftovers placed atop the rice while set in keep-warm mode. The bread-baking function is a draw for some, who use it to good effect for made-from-scratch or thawed frozen dough. A few, however, consider the bread-making function a let-down, noting the soft crust and inconvenience of having to turn the loaf half-way through the baking time.

We found one of the best rice cookers among on/off models, as well. The Aroma ARC-1266F is called upon daily in many households, according to user reviews. This best rice cooker pleases diners with properly cooked white and brown rice, each grain standing on its own; other grains, such as quinoa, and steamed vegetables also pass the taste and texture test, although several Arco ARC-1266F users gripe about a thin layer of browned rice stuck on the bottom of the pot. One consumer bought the Zojirushi NS-RNC10 after returning a fuzzy logic model and now enjoys white and brown rice several times a week. Many other consumers file similar reports about this second-best rice cooker, adding that rice stays fresh and ready to serve for hours after cooking is done; some, however, grumble about overdone and/or underdone rice, depending on the variety. Users of the Panasonic SR-G06FG generally like the tasty results, be it sushi or risotto rice, lentils or barley, even as some say, variously, that the cook cycle is too short, rice burns, the keep-warm function doesn't, and the contents sometimes boil over.

That latter complaint is commonly lobbed at the Cuisinart CRC-800. Whereas some reviewers attest to well-cooked rice, steamed vegetables, and other grains, many more protest the starchy liquid that spews up and out of the pot, creating a mess that resists easy clean up. Consumers posting comments on Macy's recommend inserting the steamer basket upside down to prevent boil-overs, and others say a dab of butter or a spot of oil mixed in with the rice also helps. Similar experiences with leaking liquids and, additionally, burnt-on crusts, mar users' assessments of the Rival RC61. This model garners divided reviews on sites such as Target, where some users praise its performance while others express their disappointment.

Rice Cooker Capacity.

The capacity of an electric rice cooker is indicated by number of cups. The specs always state the maximum amount of rice the model can hold; the smallest electric rice cookers are 3-cup size and the largest reach 30 cups. Some manufacturers use an uncooked-rice cup measure and others prefer a cooked-rice cup measure; the Panasonic SR-G06FG, for example, is billed as a 3.3-cup model that can prepare up to six cups of cooked rice while the Rival RC61is marketed as a 6-cup model that yields up to six cups of cooked rice. Retailers confuse matters, as well: Amazon considers the Aroma ARC-1266F a six-cup rice cooker (uncooked cups) while Walmart calls it a 12-cup model (cooked cups).

When rice is served as a side dish, six cups of cooked rice should be sufficient for a family of four. The larger capacity electric rice cookers we researched include the Zojirushi NS-RNC10, a 5.5-cup model that prepares about 10 cups of white rice, and the Cuisinart CRC-800, an 8-cup model that produces up to 16 cups of cooked white rice.

Remember, a rice cooker cup is smaller than the standard U.S. cup measure. Indeed, complaints about the weirdness of the cup measure and misunderstandings about the ratio of rice to water (particularly for anything other than the standard white variety) pop up frequently in reviews of all the electric rice cookers we researched. The pre-programmed settings in fuzzy logic rice cookers solve this problem effortlessly, but there's a low-tech solution for on/off electric rice cookers: Place your index finger on top of the rice and add enough water to just cover your first knuckle. (This method only works for long-grain white rice; brown rice requires more water.)

A few words to the wise: Before making your final choice, read the product description and/or specifications carefully to be sure you're getting an electric rice cooker with the capacity you want. Note that electric rice cooker specs refer to plain white rice. Also note that many consumers caution against filling electric rice cookers to the max if the cooking pot and lid are not attached to each other. A separate lid may be easy to wash, but consumers warn that an over-full pot means you'll wind up with a starchy mess all over the kitchen counter; among the models we researched, the Panasonic SR-G06FG, Cuisinart CRC-800, and Rival RC61, feature separate glass lids Electric rice cookers with locking, hinged lids, like the Aroma ARC-1266F, Zojirushi NS-RNC10, and Sanyo ECJ-S35K (a fuzzy logic rice cooker), usually don't create such messes.

Rice Cookers Cooking Time

They are a convenience in some ways, no doubt, but electric rice cookers may not save much time. Generally speaking, rice cookers take at least as long as the stovetop method, and consumers say fuzzy logic rice cookers are the biggest time hogs -- never mind the rinsing and soaking that's necessary for some rice varieties. The owner's manual for the fuzzy logic rice cooker on our list, the Sanyo ECJ-S35K, says the minimum cook time for white rice is 38 minutes and brown rice may need up to one-and-a-quarter hours. By contrast, several users of the on/off Aroma ARC-1266F report that two cups of white rice fluff up in 20 minutes while brown rice takes 30 minutes. Reviews of the Panasonic SRG-06FG, another on/off electric rice cooker, say half an hour is the norm for two cups of white rice and some put the start-to-finish time at 15 minutes for the on/off Zojirushi RNC-10. One reason consumers like the Nordic Ware Microwave Rice Cooker (starting at $11) is the speed; users report rice is ready for the table in 15 minutes flat.

Cooking rice for the right amount of time is a no-brainer with the multiple settings on fuzzy logic rice cookers, although we read some reports bemoaning the confusing directions in the included cookbook for the Sanyo ECJ-S35K. But figuring out cook times and proportions for an on/off electric rice cooker may involve trial and error and dogged sleuthing. Consumers ding the Cuisinart CRC-800 in reviews on Cooking.com for providing inadequate information about cooking times for different rice varieties. Reviews of the Panasonic STG-06FG say experimentation is in order, and one consumer says Google is a helpful source for the best ratio of rice to liquid when deviating from the standard white rice.

Rice Cookers Pot.

Nonstick cooking chambers are common on rice cookers at all price ranges and featured in all the rice cookers on our list. These nonstick pots are usually made of Teflon, so clean-up is a breeze. Most require hand washing, but the Cuisinart CRC-800 and Black & Decker HS1000 are dishwashwer-friendly. The Sanyo ECJ-S35K, our favorite cheap fuzzy logic rice cooker, boasts a titanium lining, which is the primary reason one consumer chose this model, only to notice flaking after three years of use. This doesn't seem to be a common problem with the Sanyo or the on-off Aroma ARC-1266F, but we did come across at least a few reports of flaking or chipped linings with the other electric rice cookers we researched, although usually after months or years of frequent use.

Consumers who want to avoid a chemically-coated surface altogether have far fewer choices. Some opt for the all-plastic Black & Decker HS1000, and one user even suggests substituting a Pyrex glass bowl for what the reviewer describes as a "flimsy" plastic rice basket.

Rice Cookers Durability.

How long a rice cooker will last depends on several factors, ranging from how often it's used to how it's maintained (are you damaging the lining by scooping out the rice with a metal spoon instead of a plastic or wooden utensil"highlights_bottom">

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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Rice Cookers
  2. Discount Rice Cookers Features Comparison Table
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