What's the Most Heavily Used Tool in Our Kitchen? Our Rice Cooker.

It's about time I wrote about the most heavily used tool in our entire kitchen: our rice cooker.

If you don't already own one of these, consider getting one. Rice cookers are 100% idiot-proof, and making rice with them is such a snap that you'll want to have rice with practically every meal.

Have you ever bungled a batch of rice made in a pan, or worse, suffered through eating a batch of Uncle Ben's? With a rice cooker, there's absolutely no risk of having the rice come out poorly: just dump in a measured amount of rice (they even give you a little plastic measuring cup) and then fill the dish with the corresponding amount of water.

And there's no need to watch the clock either--the rice cooker will shut itself off automatically when the rice is ready. Flick the switch, go do something else, and before you know it, you'll have perfect, delicious rice waiting for you.

Parallel Processing
The rice cooker is also a great tool for multitasking. Fire it up and you've just bought yourself 20 minutes of time to work on other food prep. That's parallel processing at its best and it can make you a faster, more efficient cook. In fact, my Chicken Mole recipe, once you get the hang of it, can be made in exactly the amount of time it takes to fire up a batch of rice in your rice cooker. That can't be just a coincidence--it has to be fate.

Here's yet another advantage: if you have leftover rice after a meal, not to worry. The rice cooker pan is a perfect storage container. Just put the lid back on and put the whole thing in your fridge. You won't have any extra storage containers to wash, and you can use the remaining day-old rice for a quick mini-batch of fried rice.

A Laughably Cheap and Easy Side Dish
How about using your rice cooker for a mindlessly easy side dish? Flavor the rice with some cayenne pepper and a bouillon cube or two, or try a little olive oil, a couple of pressed garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper. Just drop your spices into the rice cooker along with the rice and water, and in just 20 minutes, you'll have delicious side dish with almost no effort.

What to Buy
What's the best kind of rice cooker to buy? My advice is the same as I give for crockpots: go for simple. If you see a rice cooker with fancy dials and knobs and all sorts of settings, put it down and slowly back away. Instead, get the kind with exactly one switch that lets you choose between on, off and warm. I've linked to a good example of such a rice cooker below.

Retailers always offer an overly-complicated version of even the simplest tool in order to capture the so-called high end customer. Avoid the $183 computerized rice neuralizer, and stick with the $29 simple version* that actually won't break. Don't get needlessly separated from your money.

Even after the recent price increases we've seen across many foods, rice remains an inexpensive staple that complements almost any dish. And eating rice with your meals can be a meaningful money-saver. Here at Casual Kitchen for example, we eat many of our favorite laughably cheap recipes like Groundnut Stew, Crockpot Chili or Garden Gumbo on top of an extra serving of rice. Doing this helps us get at least 30% more mileage out of the typical meal. Not only do many of our recipes go from being laughably cheap to being preposterously cheap, we get an extra side benefit of not having to cook quite as often!

Thus, a $29 rice cooker can bring you and your family some compelling economic benefits. Those extra servings leave you with more food for other meals, extra leftovers to bring to work for lunch, and of course more money saved at the grocery store. Under my "30% more mileage" assumption above, just a month or two of regular use should be enough to recover the full cost of a reasonably priced rice cooker.

So if you don't own a rice cooker already, consider getting one! Make this tool one of your critical few.

Related Posts:
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
How to Make Fried Rice
How to Make a Mole Sauce: Intense, Exotic and Surprisingly Easy to Make
Eight Tips to Make Cooking At Home Laughably Cheap: The Economics of Cooking, Part 2
The Rice Cooker: Addendum

* Full disclosure: if you enter Amazon via a link on my blog and buy something, I'll get a small commission on that purchase. Please think of it as my "tip jar"--and thanks so much to readers for all of your support.


diningoncents said...

My rice cooker is my most used tool in the kitchen too! I love rice :) And you can add other ingredients in your rice (like pork and soybean sprouts, mix with soy sauce afterwards) and cook your whole meal in one go! ~Y

Daniel Koontz said...

You are a kindred spirit! :)

Thanks for reading and for your comment.


Bethany said...

We use our rice cooker constantly. We got it at a garage sale for $1.00. How's that for laughably cheap??? Q3 Dinner Soon?

Daniel Koontz said...


I've used the term "preposterously cheap" on occasion, but I think a $1.00 rice cooker needs yet another expression.

Anyone have any ideas?

But you gotta love the "cost recovery period" on that one dollar... you earned the cost of the rice cooker halfway through the first batch!


Richard Loffhagen said...

$1 rice cooker ... Uncle Ben meets Uncle Scrooge, very well done!

The P & A Food Chronicles said...

hi i saW your comment on dining on cents blog and i really love your blog to!!
I just got my rice cooker so i can try it out tonight!!

Amanda said...

The one thing that has kept me from buying a rice cooker is this: can I cook brown rice in it instead of white?

Daniel Koontz said...

Hi Amanda, thanks for your comment.

Yes, you can cook brown rice in your rice cooker.

However, note that brown rice usually requires a bit more water per unit of rice and the scoop/measuring cup that comes with your rice cooker will be calibrated for white rice. Also, brown rice takes 40 minutes or so in a rice cooker versus white rice at more like 20 minutes (that doesn't really matter though, because the rice cooker senses temperature and thus only shuts off after all the water is absorbed).

Take a look at the directions that came with your rice cooker (if you still have them) and see if they include any instructions on how much extra water to add for brown rice.

Or, barring that, you can just run a few experiments and add varying amounts of extra water and see how it comes out.

I'll confess though: in spite of all my enthusiasm for rice cookers, I always make BROWN rice in a saucepan. :)

Good luck!


Amanda said...

Thanks so much--I have not yet purchased a rice cooker but have considered it often. I love the idea of it, but because we ALWAYS eat brown rice instead of white, I just wasn't sure if it would work. When I do purchase a cooker, I'll be sure the manual has instructions for making brown.

Mumsicles said...

Thanks for the good info. I've never bought one, thinking I lack space for another gadget. Read your post and was almost convinced to buy one until I read the comment that you make your brown rice in a pan...why? Will you try brown in your cooker and tell me if it works?
Also, is the inexpensive rice cooker well insulated? Don't want to overtax that air-conditioner!

Daniel Koontz said...

Hi Mumsicles:
Rice cookers do their work mostly closed-up and self-contained, so they won't give off much heat.

And regarding why I cook brown rice in a pan: on most nights our rice cooker is either cooking white rice or storing white rice from the night before, waiting to be made into a batch of fried rice. It's just habit and routine more than anything else that causes me to grab the closest saucepan for making brown rice.

But I actually JUST made a batch of brown rice in our rice cooker (the lengths I'll go to for my readers!). I added about 1/3 more water than I would have for white rice and it came out perfectly. And I'm not 100% sure on this, but I think it cooked in less time than "saucepan" brown rice.

Your mileage may differ--you'll have to read your instructions if you end up buying a rice cooker of your own. But I was quite happy with the brown rice out of my rice cooker.

Thanks for your comment!


Amanda said...

Wow--thanks for the brown rice experiment! I've been shopping for a rice cooker already--you've sold me on it!

Djon Ma said...

I'm planning on getting a rice cooker, though I have some emergency things I need to purchase that are expensive, so they come first. Like a new PC since mine has collapsed!

One of my favourite ways of cooking rice is so very simple, and yet adds a wonderful flavour to the rice, with no extra work whatsoever!

For each cup of rice, add a small handful of red lentils. They cook in the same time that rice does, and mix in perfectly. You just shove them in the pan with the rice, or in the rice cooker, and that's it!

No extra work at all!
But, the added flavour is amazing!
It's very subtle, yet really lovely.

Holly | Reed Photographic said...

I'm a huge fan of throwing rice, spices, beans and leftover chicken into the rice cooker, pressing the button and viola! Instant yummy dinner.

Daniel said...

Djon Ma: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your idea with lentils--it's an excellent one.

Holly, throwing in beans and/or leftovers is a really healthy and satiating idea. Thanks so much for sharing!


Katie said...

Great post! I've struggled for years with making decent brown rice. I think it's high time I try it in a rice cooker.

Shannon said...

Okay, I think I'm willing to consider a Crock pot. You've convinced me. I'm picturing coming home to Chana Masala already made, and other bean dishes - they take too long to start cooking when I get home unless it's an early night.

But a rice cooker? The time-saving argument I can't quite buy - cooking rice in a pot does not require maintenance, and as long as you're near the kitchen, it's not a huge deal. Maybe rice cookers can be left for a while like slow cookers - that's a benefit, I guess. And the idea of putting extra ingredients in with the rice has some serious appeal.

I'll admit that what you cook in a pot does have to be transferred to Tupperware or the like for storage. And perhaps (though I don't know) it's easier to clean up after rice-cooking in a rice cooker (it's not so easy to get all that starch off of my stockpot). The other readers' comments have me willing to give it a try - I'm willing to admit being wrong on this.

Thanks for your other posts on vegetarian / vegan eating and cooking wine.

Daniel said...

Shannon, you hit the nail on the head when you say that you leave the rice cooker for a while. Rice in a pot on the stove still has to be minded, while a rice cooker shuts off automatically. For me the fact that you can "set it and forget it" is a key selling point.


CCP said...

[Previous post deleted for editing/tweaking]

I don't know if you (or anyone else) reads the comments on your older posts, but I cook my rice in the microwave. It goes on "high" for the first five minutes or so, then on "low" or "medium low" for the remainder of the cooking time.

I'm spared having to spend money on yet another appliance. And (more crucially, in my case) having to find counter space for it in the kitchen.

My parents own a microwave that - even better - has a smart setting for rice: They measure the rice and water, simply press ONE button marked "rice", and the machine figures out how long to cook it for, and automatically switches off at the correct time. (Possibly by sensing the amount of steam being generated?)

Thanks for your blog - I've just recently discovered it, and have been enjoying your many useful tips.

Daniel said...

Thanks for your insights CCP! I have made rice in my microwave with success, but I can't say that I prefer rice that way. I like the taste and texture of rice in a rice cooker better.

But if it works for you and you are happy with the rice you make, I am all for saving yourself the need for another gadget. And more power to your parents for having a "rice" button on their microwave!

PS: Thank you for the positive feedback--I'm glowing over here!


Ivan said...

Another late tip for an old post!

My machine cooked rice tends to be much better separated than my saucepan cooked rice. I'm hoping that effect doesn't include arborio rice!

Properly separated rice makes brilliant fried rice. Rice cooked in the machine and then frozen is perfectly separated (grain by grain separated) and perfectly dry <-- not sure how that works but it seems true.

Daniel said...

Ivan, couldn't agree more. Rice cooker-made rice is utterly perfect for fried rice, and you're right, it's because the grains are properly separated. Never thought about it that way, but it's true.

Thanks for commenting!


Anna said...

I honestly don't really get the point of owning a rice cooker. Most stoves have 4 burners and you can probably spare one of those for the rice while making dinner. If the rice finishes cooking before the rest of the dinner, you can just remove it from the heat and let it sit until you're ready. I've never had a problem with the rice being cold or anything. Also we usually make enough to have leftovers and I just stick them in the fridge in a container. If you use the rice cooker container to store your leftover white rice, you won't be able to make a new batch of brown rice (or whatever) which is kind of a pain. You can easily toss spices or whatever you want into the rice pot before cooking too so you don't need to get a rice cooker just to do that. We eat rice very frequently but I don't see myself buying a rice cooker anytime soon. I'm glad it works for some people though :)

Owlhaven said...

I missed this post the first time around. We also LOOOOOVE our rice cooker. At least twice a week we use it for its intended purpose. Another 3 days a week it effortlessly makes our breakfast oatmeal!