Home cooks typically fall into two camps. There are those who love self-contained, single-specialty kitchen appliances, like rice cookers, for the precision the appliances bring to cooking; and there are those who give away their large salad spinners and rice cookers for the sake of simplicity. Cooks in either camp have things to love and to hate about rice cookers.
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If you've ever cooked rice in the microwave and had the water overflow, or cooked rice on the stovetop and had it burn onto the bottom of the pot, you appreciate even more the foolproof cooking a rice cooker provides. Its benefits are clear:
- Rice cookers consistently cook rice perfectly, keeping the grain separate, neither undercooking nor overcooking.
- Many cookers come with a measuring cup for the rice and lines on the bowl indicating how much water you need to add.
- An easy-to-use, programmable setting on some models allows you to cook all sorts of grains, from white rice to brown rice, wild rice, polenta and oatmeal.
- Some models have settings for steaming vegetables or fish, or cooking soups and stews.
- A keep-warm option allows you to keep the rice warm for 20 minutes to 12 hours, depending on the model.
- Rice cookers comes in different sizes, from 3-cup to 5- or 5 1/2-cup versions.
Microwave rice cookers are a breed apart, taking less counter space than traditional rice cookers, but duplicating the cooking method for any large, glass bowl in your kitchen. These cookers require some experimentation to find the right setting and wattage in a particular microwave oven, the same kind of experimentation you would need to do with a glass bowl.
Like any kitchen appliance, rice cookers come with some disadvantages. If you already have a method for cooking rice that works for you, cabinet space and cleanup may give you pause about buying a rice cooker. More specifically:
- Brown rice doesn't cook evenly in all models. With some cookers, the bottom layer of rice develops a crust, and in other models, it turns gluey instead of remaining fluffy.
- A 5 1/2-cup rice cooker measures about 27 inches wide, 33 inches deep and 23 inches high, a size that might not work in a kitchen with limited cabinet space.
- Determining what size cooker to buy poses problems. Large cookers cook single servings of rice less well than they do large batches according to Karen Hammonds, a writer at the Saveur website.
- At some settings, the steam venting from the top of the cooker condenses around the steaming vent and spills over onto the kitchen counter.
- Cleanup is more involved than simply washing a bowl. In addition to the bowl itself, you'll need to wash the inner lid and steaming vent and the outer surface of the cooker if steam has condensed anywhere.