Best Cheap Rice Cookers
Rice is the most widely eaten food in the world, making a cheap rice cooker a must-have item in many households. Some people swear stovetop preparation is so easy that you don't need a special machine, but for anyone familiar with rice gone wrong, a low price rice cooker can be your best friend. The best cheap rice cookers are nothing short of insurance that the rice you want -- fluffy and moist -- is the rice you get time after time. Moreover, many rice cookers function as steamers, food warmers, slow cookers, and occasionally, as bread makers.
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.
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.