Cooking rice on the stove is so yesterday… especially when rice cookers can do a better and quicker job at getting you that perfectly fluffy rice each time. But how does a rice cooker work? Can it do more than cook rice? Is it worth buying one? We cover everything you need to know below.
What is a rice cooker?
A rice cooker is a compact benchtop appliance designed to automatically cook − boil or steam − rice with a minimum amount of effort and supervision required. A standard rice cooker consists mainly of a heat source (usually an electric heating plate in the main body), a cooking bowl, and a thermostat to measure the temperature of the cooking bowl and monitor the heat.
Why use a rice cooker?
There are so many benefits to using a rice cooker over traditional stovetop cooking, with the main one being convenience. Cooking with a rice cooker is as easy as measuring the quantity of rice and liquid (i.e. water, bone broth, etc.) you need, and turning your appliance on. When the temperature of the cooking bowl rises past a certain point, it will mean that the rice has absorbed all the water or liquid and the cooker will automatically switch to a warm setting which will mean your rice is cooked and ready to eat. Rice cookers are also ideal for meal prepping and cooking in bulk, and most models keep the rice warm until ready to serve. Did we also mention rice cookers can cook more than just rice? They also can cook other grains, like quinoa, oatmeal and even steam veggies (more on that below).
Types of rice cookers
There are basically two types of rice cookers − with and without a keep-warm function.
- Automatic rice cooker: This type cooks rice and automatically shuts the unit off when it’s ready. It’s a simple unit that typically comes with a non-stick bowl or steamer.
- Rice cooker/warmer: This type of cooker keeps your rice warm after it’s cooked by decreasing the heat to a minimum until you’re ready to serve. You have to unplug the unit to shut it off.
- Rice warmer: This appliance does not cook rice, but keeps rice that’s been cooked (either on the stove or in a simple rice cooker) at the optimum serving temperature until you’re ready to eat.
- Electric vs induction rice cooker: Electric rice cookers disperse heat solely from a bottom coil, while induction rice cookers convert the entire inner pan into a heat source to cook rice more evenly.
Read more: Rice cooker buying guide
How to use a rice cooker & cook rice (like a pro)
Before you start to use your rice cooker, make sure you have all the necessary tools on hand such as a rice paddle and measuring cup, as well as rice and water, of course.
Choose your type of rice
You’ll also need to pick the type of rice on the menu, as this will determine how much water and time, you’ll need to cook your rice to perfection. White and brown rice are obviously the most common, but there are also other rice varieties out there that are typically classified as − short, medium, or long grain.
We’ve categorised the most common rice types below:
|Long grain||Medium grain||Short grain|
|Basmati rice||Brown rice||Black rice|
|Jasmine rice (best for fried rice)||Arborio rice (best for risotto)||Sticky rice (best for desserts)|
|Wild rice||Calrose rice (California rice)||Sushi rice|
|Long grain white rice||Parboiled rice||Bomba rice|
Should you rinse your rice?
Yes, you should rinse your rice to wash away impurities and any leftover pesticides or chemicals on the grain before you start cooking. A good rinse also helps to remove excess starch which will give your rice that nice fluffy consistency and texture (as opposed to a gummy texture) and prevent it from clumping together. Simply rinse your rice in cold water until it runs clear and this should do the trick.
Some rice varieties like Basmati rice and other aromatic rice also require soaking, which is said to help preserve their signature aromas during the cooking process and help the grains ‘relax’ to produce ‘softer’ rice. Soaking your rice for 15-20 minutes also reduces the cooking time for most rice varieties, although keep in mind this may affect the flavour of your final dish.
Measure how much water you need for your rice
This step is very important to achieve the perfect rice consistency as too much water may turn your rice into a stew and not enough water will dry out your rice.
The amount of water you need will depend on the quantity and type of rice you’re cooking. Here’s a simple guide to add the proper water to rice ratio for different rice types:
- Long grain rice: One cup of rice = 1 ¾ cups of water
- Basmati or Jasmine rice: One cup of rice = 1 ½ cups of water
- Medium grain rice: One cup of rice = 1 ½ cups of water
- Short grain rice: One cup of rice = 1 ½ cups of water
- Parboiled rice: One cup of rice = 2 cups of water
- Brown rice: One cup of rice = 2 cups of water
You can also measure the proper water to rice ratio by using the ‘first knuckle method’. Simply place the tip of your finger on the surface of the rice inside the cooking bowl and add water until it reaches your first knuckle. It’s the first line of your finger from the top.
How to use a rice cooker
Cooking rice in a rice cooker is easy and only takes a few minutes to prepare. We’ve rounded up all the steps below:
- Step 1: Measure how much rice you need and place it in a bowl.
- Step 2: Rinse your rice until the water runs clear.
- Step 3: Transfer your rice into the inner bowl of your rice cooker.
- Step 4: Add the correct amount of water directly into the inner bowl. You can also cook rice in bone broth and stock. Adding condiments like salt, butter, olive oil and spices also helps give your rice some extra flavour. You can also add cut-up onions and garlic!
- Step 5: Place your cooking bowl inside the rice cooker and close the lid.
- Step 6: Plug in your rice cooker and turn it on. Look for the display light that indicates the unit is on and press the switch/button to cook. Don’t uncover or stir the rice during cooking.
- Step 7: Wait for your rice to cook. When it’s finished, the cooker will automatically switch to a warm setting and flip the switch up or make a ‘ping’ sound.
- Step 8: Use your rice paddle to gently fluff the rice and serve.
How long does it take to cook rice in a rice cooker?
A large rice quantity (i.e. for a family of four) can take between 20 and 30 minutes to cook in a rice cooker and smaller quantities may only require 15-20 minutes. Just keep in mind that cooking times will also vary depending on your rice variety. One of the many benefits of cooking with a rice cooker is that the cooker will automatically measure the temperature of the cooking bowl to gauge when your rice is fully cooked and the unit will switch itself to warn when your rice is ready.
Do rice cookers only cook rice?
Rice cookers can be used for much more than rice, including cooking other grains like quinoa, pearl barley, lentils, farro, risotto, and even oatmeal! Other foods you can cook in a rice cooker include eggs, potatoes, steamed veggies and pasta. The humble rice cooker is a jack of all trades and can even be used to cook meals like ribs, pizza and pancakes.
Is a rice cooker worth it?
Yes, a rice cooker is a surprisingly versatile appliance that can save you time and effort in the kitchen whether it’s lunch or dinner time. Rice cookers are also fairly cheap to buy with prices starting from as low as $15 for a cheap and cheerful Kmart buy and going up to $200 for hybrid multi-cooker models. Rice cookers are also the best option for separating rice grains (for that fluffy texture) and for consistently cooking rice to perfection, without undercooking or overcooking. It’s a must-have!