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Best rice cookers for 2021

Making perfectly fluffy rice can be tricky, but it certainly doesn't have to be.

There's a reason rice is one of the most widely consumed foods on the planet. It's versatile, inexpensive and doesn't take long to make. But just because making rice is a quick endeavor doesn't mean it's easy to make delicious rice. In fact, getting rice just right can be a finicky business considering there are precise measurements, ratios (water to rice), heat levels and timings to be considered. There are also loads of varieties of rice, like basmati and GABA rice. Some of them demand different -- and often specific -- cooking practices. 

If you've ever found yourself perched over a pot of rice incessantly checking its doneness and the remaining water only to discover you've overcooked or undercooked it, it might be time to add a rice cooker to your collection. Yes, temperamental rice can be made far less so with the employment of one of these clever little countertop appliances that'll whip up perfectly fluffy rice without any guesswork, freeing you up to do other things. 

You can find rice cookers in just about any size, from tiny two-cup models all the way up to massive machines that will make enough rice for a small army. Rice cookers also have come a long way in terms of functionality and while cooking perfectly tender grains of rice is still the primary duty, some machines are equipped to cook other grains such as bulgur, quinoa and oatmeal. Just about every rice cooker comes standard with a steam tray too, so you can cook healthy vegetables and even meats in these underrated kitchen multitaskers.

The last thing you'll love about a rice cooker is how easy they make cleanup, mostly by way of a nonstick cooking receptacle and a fool-proof timer that turns off when the rice is done. If you've ever burned rice over the stove in a stainless steel pot, you know what a nightmare it can be to degunk. There are alternatives for gas stove-based rice cookers, which are induction rice cookers and microwave rice cookers.

To find the best rice cooker in 2021, we put a few of the most popular models to the test. Here's what we found.

David Watsky/CNET

This Micom rice cooker combined speed, precision, ease of use and budget-friendliness to capture the top spot in the rice cooker kitchen appliance showdown. 

The Tiger cooked white rice well, if not just slightly al dente, in just 21 minutes and about half the time of some of the other, bigger machines. It also made the best brown rice of any of the cookers we tested in roughly 50 minutes.

This model also clocks in at a very reasonable $77, which considering its excellent performance in both cooking tests feels like a steal. It also has very simple controls and just four settings: white rice, brown rice, slow cook/steam and a synchronized cook setting that allows you to cook two things simultaneously. This rice cooker comes with an instruction manual, recipe book, rice measuring cup, and rice paddle.

This model both looks great and performs at a high level. For excellent rice in a hurry, this is the best rice cooker to buy.

David Watsky/CNET

This budget-friendly rice cooker took the top spot in our original round of rice cooker testing. In a retest, the Oster DiamondForce remains the clear pick for an easy rice cooker under $50.

Perfect white rice is almost a paradox: It's moist, but not mushy; toothsome, but not chewy. That perfect fluffy rice is tough to capture, so the quality output for this Oster rice cooker's $17 price tag is wholly impressive. No, the rice isn't perfect -- brown rice, in particular, came out just slightly underdone and a little chewy. That said, this basic rice cooker is head and shoulders above other small cookers under $50. It has a tempered glass lid with a vent and comes with a steamer basket and won't crowd the counter.

The Oster is fast and can also be used as a grain cooker. The small rice cooker whipped up a cup of white rice in under 20 minutes and brown rice in 25 minutes. It also didn't have any of the spillage or mess of some of the other basic budget rice cooker options, so cleanup was easier, too.

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

David Priest/CNET

For rice cooker elitists, Zojirushi is a household name, and this Japanese rice cooker brand's reputation is earned. The $172 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, sushi rice, porridge 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 of a rice cooking kitchen appliance 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 custom rice, regardless of price, Zojirushi is our recommendation.

How we tested to find the best rice cooker

We tested 12 rice cookers side by side, cooking 1 measuring cup of white rice and 1 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.

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

Because some folks prefer their cooked rice at slightly different levels of moisture, we 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. 

We also kept track of how long it took for each machine to make white and brown rice because when you're busy or running late, cooking rice dish speed can be the most important factor of all.

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The Tiger cooked excellent white rice faster than the rest of the field and made the best brown rice of any cooker we tested. 

David Watsky/CNET

The rest of the field

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

Each mini rice cooker we tested, including the $18 Imusa 3-cup the $25 Dash mini 2-cup rice cooker and the $15 Black & Decker 3-cup rice cooker offered decent, small servings of white rice -- although the Dash took a painfully long 35 minutes just to cook just one cup of white. All of them struggled with brown rice and mixed rice, though. 

The slightly larger 6-cup Oster (our budget pick) and the $57 Zojurishi rice makers performed nearly identically, making perfect pots of white rice in 19 and 20 minutes respectively and very good brown rice -- albeit perhaps just slightly underdone -- in a lightning-fast 22 minutes. We would gleefully recommend either one as a solid space-saving rice cooker option. While the Zojirushi does seem slightly more solidly built, it's more than double the price of the Oster, which gives the Oster our final nod. 

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The simpler Oster and Zojirushi rice makers performed nearly identically in our testing.

David Watsky/CNET

The $32 8-cup Hamilton Beach rice cooker seems like a good deal for the size, but its rice was inconsistent, with severely undercooked, dry rice 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 our least favorites because they were both so messy. Cuisinart's boiled each time we used this conventional rice cooker and Black and Decker's larger model leaked onto the counter, necessitating significant cleanup. 

When it came to the midrange multicookers, we 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 five-cup Panasonic got us excited with the various functions available on their interfaces, but all three produced overcooked, slightly mushy rice, possibly due to the slow cooking. We also tested the $140 Cuisinart's larger Rice Plus Multicooker and while it can hold a lot of rice and produced decent batches of white and brown, cooking rice took longer than any other machine to do so at well over an hour and a half for brown rice.

If you find yourself cooking loads of different types of grains, one of these may be a viable option since they have so many niche settings. But for rice, there are better options available. You might also find you get more bang for your buck with a true multicooker that includes a pressure cooker function. I'd direct you to CNET's list of best Instant Pots for 2021 for a bit more on that.

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Somehow I didn't blow a fuse. 

David Watsky/CNET

Finally, the higher-end, specialized rice cookers from Tiger and Zojirushi were both impressive, as 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 is ideal if you've got folks with different rice texture preferences living under the same roof.

The Tiger, however, is less than half the price of its counterpart and cooked rice extremely well faster than any others. It may not have all the bells and whistles of the Zojirushi, which nabs our top pick for custom rice, but it's our top overall choice for the best rice cooker in 2021.

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. Choose a standard rice cooker with 5 cups which is not too small and too large to make your cooking easy.

There was a surprising amount of variance in performance across the rice cooking devices that we tested and frankly, some disappointment in some of them. But if you pick any of our top three, whether for the price, the cooking 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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