Best rice cookers for 2020: Oster, Tiger and more - CNET

Rice was one of the first dishes I learned to cook as an adult. I spent hours perfecting my rice cooking techn

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Rice was one of the first dishes I learned to cook as an adult. I spent hours perfecting my rice cooking technique, learning how long to soak the rice, which grain lengths I preferred, how to make sticky rice or more al dente cooked rice. Then I had kids, and all my time spent learning to make the best rice possible disappeared. Enter the rice cooker, a clever little countertop appliance that relieves you of all the complicated timing involved in perfecting your own cooked rice. Since buying it, I've used my rice cooker almost daily, whether to whip up a batch of rice for the kiddos' lunch or to make the perfect base for a mix of kimchi and garden veggies.

The benefit of an electric rice cooker is that it delivers perfect rice with little cooking time -- at least, in theory. But with so many options on the market, ranging from $20 to $200 or more, how do you know which is the best rice cooker to buy? I tested 12 of the most popular options around, covering the gamut between affordable and luxury rice cookers, and I'll update this periodically. Here are the ones you should currently consider for cooking amazingly delicious rice.

David Priest/CNET

The perfect white rice is almost a paradox: It's moist, but not mushy; it's toothsome, but not chewy. That perfect fluffy rice is tough to capture, so the quality output for this Oster rice cooker's $25 price tag is kind of crazy. No, the rice isn't perfect -- brown rice in particular comes out just slightly too chewy -- but it's head and shoulders better than other cookers under $100. It has a tempered glass lid with a vent and comes with a steaming basket.

What's more, the Oster is quick, whipping up a cup of white rice in 15 minutes and brown rice in 33 minutes. It also didn't give any of the spillage or mess of other cookers, so cleanup was faster, too.

If you love rice and eat it regularly, but don't want to break the bank, the Oster is a fantastic countertop option.

David Priest/CNET

For rice cooker elitists, Zojirushi is a household name, and the reputation is earned. The $183 Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker not only produces perfect rice in fairly large quantities, but it also allows you to personalize your rice, if you prefer it dryer or moister, along with well-calibrated settings for brown rice and other grains.

This Zojirushi rice cooker has a few downsides: Its price tag is intimidating, it takes up a significant amount of space and it takes its time making rice (a cup of white rice, for instance, takes over 40 minutes to cook). That said, raw speed is less important in many cases than a device's ability to keep rice warm and perfectly fluffy for extended periods of time, and Zojirushi is an unmatched rice maker in that regard.

If you're looking for the best rice, regardless of price, Zojirushi is my recommendation.

David Priest/CNET

Okay, maybe you're the Goldilocks consumer who doesn't need the super expensive Zojirushi, but who can afford to spend a little more than 25 bucks on your rice cooker. The $123 Tiger stainless steel rice cooker might be best for you. It's larger than the Oster, which makes it better for families, and it's the fastest rice cooker I tested, finishing a cup of white rice in a mere 13 minutes.

It's also simpler than the Zojirushi, boasting a single-switch interface, but still excellent in its output. The Tiger and Zojirushi easily produced the best rice out of the devices I tested, with the Tiger offering a slightly more toothsome bite than the Zojirushi, which may just come down to preference for most people.

One down side of the Tiger was the fact that it really is only built to cook white rice; its directions don't even include instructions on anything else. But when I threw in a cup of brown rice and just a smidge more water than the standard measurement for white rice, the end result was impressive -- only a little dryer than the Zojirushi's.

How we tested for the best rice cooker

I tested 12 rice cookers side by side, cooking one measuring cup of white rice and one measuring cup of brown rice in each, following the individual directions and using each device's standard settings for both. Almost every device recommended allowing the rice to steam for an additional 15 minutes after the cook completed, and I allowed that time for each one.

I fluffed and tasted rice from each cooker at the 15-minute mark (which, in addition to the cook time, ranged from 28 to 56 minutes), and then again after about an hour on the "warm" setting.

Because some people prefer their cooked rice at slightly different levels of moisture, I focused on the problems in each rice cooker's yield, be it inconsistency in cooking, any uncooked rice, kernels that weren't cooked through or ones that had lost their distinction and become mushy.

David Priest/CNET

The rest of the field

The 12 rice cookers I tested fell into three loose categories: small, affordable devices, midrange multicookers and specialized, high-end rice cookers.

Each small rice cooker I tested, like the $20 Imusa 3-cup and the $17 Black & Decker 3-cup mini rice cooker -- along with my favorite of the bunch from Oster -- offered decent, small servings of white rice. The Imusa and the Black & Decker both struggled a little more with brown rice and mixed rice, though.

The $30 8-cup Hamilton Beach rice cooker seems like a good deal for the size, but its rice was inconsistent, with severely undercooked sections. Zojirushi's 3-cup option also disappointed with rice that was too wet and slightly broken down, losing the distinction of well-cooked white rice.

Cuisinart's 4-cup and Black and Decker's 7-cup rice cookers were some of my least favorite because they were both so messy. Cuisinart's boiled each time I used it and Black and Decker's larger model leaked onto my counter, necessitating significant cleanup.

David Priest/CNET

When it came to the midrange multicookers, I found the cooking time to be slow and the results consistently a little off: an 8-cup Aroma rice cooker and food steamer, Instant Pot's Zest cooker and a 5-cup Panasonic all got me excited with the various functions available on their interfaces, but all three produced overcooked, slightly mushy rice, possibly due to the slow cooking.

Finally, the higher-end, specialized rice cookers from Tiger and Zojirushi were both impressive, as I noted above. It's clear these devices are carefully calibrated, and Zojirushi even offers a little bit of personalization as to how you want your white rice cooked, which was a welcome addition for my wife and me, as we have slightly different preferences.

Which rice cooker is right for you?

If you like rice, but it's not a staple of your diet, I wouldn't recommend buying a rice cooker. Cooking rice isn't difficult, and you can get great results with good technique in a pot of boiling water. That said, if you eat a lot of rice, a cooker can really streamline that cooking process and prep, allowing you to focus on the other elements of the meal.

I was surprised by the range of performance across the devices I tested, and frankly disappointed in some of them. But if you pick any of my top three, whether for the price, the pot size (big families can eat a lot of rice) or simply because you want the best rice you can get every time, you should be fully satisfied.

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