After 15 hours of research and through nine top rated rice cookers we are happy to say that the Cuckoo Electric Heating Pressure Rice Cooker CRP-M1059F is the best small rice cooker available online! (Damn they really need a cool, short name for it) With its convenient make up, consistent quality whether it be white rice or brown, and extremely fast cook times Cuckoo delivers a great Korean rice cooker for singles, couples, small families, and anyone on the go.
Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups Price: $249.99 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/11/17) Dimensions: 11.6 x 15.6 x 11.4 in
If your rice eating needs are constant, various, and hurried then Cuckoo is here for you. These small Korean rice cookers consistently produce great tasting white and brown rice with little fuss and the shortest wait time out of all reviewed brands. Seriously, you get the best of both worlds here: you can set a timer, cook your rice overnight, and have it kept warm until you get home from work OR you can get home, realize in a second of sheer panic that there's no rice to eat, and let Cuckoo do its thing. White rice in under 30 minutes and brown rice in under an hour? That's still faster than Grubhub and beats the two hours of other brands (for brown rice). There are a few gripes regarding the 'Keep Warm' function not lasting as long as other small rice cookers, but in my opinion you shouldn't be keeping anything warm for more than twelve hours regardless of how great the rice cookers might seem. Either eat your rice or put it in the fridge and reheat as needed. I would understand a little annoyance at the Korean song/voice announcing things (I'm still not entirely sure what it's saying) and at the steam release valve (will startle you the first time) but those aren't deal breakers to me in the least, and I'm a light sleeper.
Runner Up/#1 Contender:
Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups Price: $97.95 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/11/17) Dimensions: 8.7 x 10.7 x 7.5 in
I was initially turned off by the design on this small rice cooker... reminds me of the late 80s Apple computers or the plethora of crappy electronics that were being pumped out in the 90s... damn am I dating myself right now? Look past the kitsch look and you got yourself a great little workhorse here. It boasts more versatility than Cuckoo (you can steam other dishes/food simultaneously with your rice and you can even bake little cakes!) but it gets knocked down slightly for taking a long time on getting your rice cooked. While the wait time is much longer than other brands it makes up for itself on quality, additionally with its nifty timer function you should be good to go with a little beforehand planning. Honestly, these two were probably the closest I've seen in terms of which one gets the top spot, design notwithstanding it's more a decision of what's more important to you, the quicker cook time or more versatility (lower price point doesn't hurt either).
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Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups Price: $150.99 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/11/17) Dimensions: 9.1 x 11.8 x 7.5 in
All in all Zojirushi appears to have a pretty tight grip on the rice cooker market, and they've been doing great for a long time. They definitely know what they're doing, they are the most technologically advanced on the market with sensors that can tell when the rice is done cooking (as opposed to a timer that treats every bowl of uncooked rice the same), a nifty computer chip that enables greater control over scheduling your rice needs, a retractable cord that takes care of excess cord on your counter, and a carefully designed program for cooking great brown rice (difficult to do with its tough outer coating). Zojirushi honestly makes the best rice cookers you can get... for the six months... year or two if you're lucky. Zojirushi's downfall lies in their lack of durability; all of the high tech parts means that there's more to break, and more to replace. The NS-LAC05XT (damn these names) definitely doesn't have as many durability issues that other Zojirushi's seem to have but regardless, with the high price point you should be able to depend on this beast to keep chugging for a number of years.
Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups Price: $435.70 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/11/17) Dimensions: 7.9 x 10.9 x 8.8 in
Ironically, the higher the price point the more hardware issues Zojirushi seems to have. Again it makes a great pot of rice, that's not the issue here. A consistent complaint seems to be that the 'Keep Warm' option starts malfunctioning after a few months of use, resulting in spoiled rice in increasingly shorter wait times. The display screen lets condensation in from the cooker itself, and standing water you can't reach is definitely something you want to avoid anywhere let alone in a kitchen. The non stick coating seems to degrade relatively quickly and like a lot of electronics on the market these days the one year warranty seems too on the nose for our liking.
Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups Price: $99.99 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/11/17) Dimensions: 7.80 x 8.90 x 11.50 in
My mom has had this Korean rice cooker for the past two to three years so I am partial to this little buddy. Like most brands it seems the issue is not the quality of the rice that comes out in the end, and Cuckoo again delivers with their quicker cooking times with no discernible drop in quality. But there were a few reports of durability issues, I haven't seen any problems with my mother's, but although she uses it constantly she is notorious for taking great care of what's under her roof, myself included :). It has a pretty decent price point so I would consider it worth the risk (issues seem to pop up after a year of use), the sleek egg look is oddly satisfying as well.
Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups Price: $203.11 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/11/17) Dimensions: 9.12 x 11.82 x 7.5 in
Not to beat a dead horse or anything but regardless of how much you pay for a Zojirushi you need to steel yourself for some problems a year or so down the road. Great rice but the non stick coating can peel without careful washing and use, it can completely die out, error messages abound, and questionable rice quality the more this is used are common issues. It's pretty telling that all of the rave reviews are from within a couple months of purchasing while go past a year or so and you start seeing the negatives emerge.
Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 1.5 Cups Price: $53.85 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/11/17) Dimensions: 8 x 6.75 x 6.25 in
This is definitely an intriguing little guy. Apparently this is what you need if you're trying to get to the pinnacle, the epitome of perfect rice. But in the end... it's just a pot, you actually need to do all of the work yourself, if I get a rice cooker I want the machine to be the one doing all the cooking. Honestly though, I would love to have one of these in my kitchen, they look great and I can never have too many durable, well designed pots. Also, there's a certain Zen peacefulness that comes from the purity of form and function with cooking rice in the way it was done for centuries. But... this doesn't fulfill what we or most shoppers are looking for in the Rice Cooker World.
Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups Price: $19.99 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/11/17) Dimensions: 9.96 x 8.26 x 10.16 in
Now we're getting into the bare bones, no bells and whistles, basic as you can get rice cookers. Honestly, this style was the first rice cooker I ever owned and for a poor, lazy college student in a tiny dorm these are great. This is really just a hot plate and pot in one, which was great for late night ramen parties and fulfilling my hungry college student needs. Also, as cheap as they are durability issues aren't really as concerning. However, without any of the automatic features, keep warm options, etc this doesn't exactly take care of the majority of your rice cooker needs. This worked great for me because a dorm is so small, you kind of need to stay in the same room while this is working to make sure it doesn't boil over or burn.
Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups Price: $42.94 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/11/17) Dimensions: 9.29 x 9.29 x 7.32 in
The Panasonic pretty much has the same pros as Midea's little workhorse, but with more cons that when paired with its slightly higher price point isn't worth the headache. A lot of customers report difficulty in getting their rice to come out cooked properly while others report breakdowns after a couple months or so. When there aren't very many options or automatic features you might just be better off with a hotplate and an actual pot... you're going to have to figure out the ratios and watch the thing go anyways.
There's something incessantly infuriating about cooking rice. Late into my time in culinary school our chefs would still be pleasantly surprised when a bowl of perfectly cooked rice was placed in front of them. Cooking rice is so simple, why is it a surprise when someone cooks it right? To me that's where rice's enigmatic nature lies, all we're trying to do is steam these tiny grains, force water inside to transform the little rocks into light, fluffy pearls of goodness. But when getting that perfect texture between half cooked garbage and a soupy mess can be determined by a minute too few or too many, an inch of water too low or too high, it becomes a surprisingly delicate process for your average home cook. Some people eschew the headache and just resign themselves to burning the bottom half inch of rice and dealing with the clean up later, I personally prefer the blanket method that my Ukrainian neighbor taught me years ago. Essentially, prep the rice as you normally would (wash the grains in a pot), pour water to about a centimeter above the rice, place on heat covered. As soon as the lid starts doing a little dance (aka the water's boiling) take the pot off the heat and wrap in one or two blankets and let steam for about 45 minutes. You will have perfect rice, no burnt edges, no issues with doneness, fluffy grains of goodness every time.
I digress, most people that came over gave me some perturbed looks when I got out the pot of rice to eat, and honestly your blankets will smell like rice; I didn't mind the warmed up blanket though for my post meal nap :). Plus, I'm not very confident that the steam + blankets would be enough to get through brown rice's superior casing. All of this is to say... if you eat rice on the reg, get yourself a rice cooker. The peace of mind that pressing a switch and knowing your rice will be cooked perfectly, the convenience of being able to leave the leftovers in the pot and have it warm and ready when you want to go back for more, the reassurance that you are not alone in this vast swirling void of a universe (some rice cookers talk to you!) are all more than enough reason to join the Rice Cooker World.
My cousin's wife told me once that the only chore she and her sister were responsible for was to make sure that there was always some cooked rice waiting in the rice cooker (this was when they were about six or seven). The only time their father yelled at them was when he came home from work and found an empty pot sans rice. Forget the socio-cultural history (if that's not a word you heard it here first), forget the versatility (it's not just for rice!), forget the K-Drama reenactments (... right?), whether it be white, brown, basmati, jasmine, short grain, whatever, a rice cooker deserves a spot on your counter. Don't tell me about how little counter space you got.
My favorite rice cooker I have ever owned was a small, janky, little thing with no features, bells, or whistles. We would put in some rice, set it in the middle of my dorm room floor, and my friends and I would crowd around it eating straight out of the pot. Paired with some microwaved spam or some other randomness we scrounged up an you got yourself a great late night snack. That's what we're starting off with here: small rice cookers meant for small apartments, college dorms, feeding a family of one or two as opposed to five or six. Our maximum capacity cutoff is three cups (uncooked)/six cups (cooked) rice, which should be plenty for two with some leftovers.
The main elements we'll be looking at are pretty simple:
Efficacy: none of this matters if the rice doesn't get cooked. I'm assuming off the bat that this will be an easy win for most rice cookers, even the most basic ones should be able to produce well cooked rice... right? We'll get as granular as we can here so we get some variation but the down and dirty of it is how well does this product cook rice.
Convenience: There would be no point to getting a rice cooker unless it beats a normal pot. This will encapsulate overall maintenance, cleaning, and whether it has any features that make your dinner plans just a little easier (warming features, pressure cooking for faster cook times, etc).
Versatility: This is not exactly a deal breaker to me, just being able to cook your standard white rice is good enough for my needs. However, it is nice to have some options in life, whether it be brown rice, other grains/starches (quinoa, lentils, barley, etc), a steamer tray for some simultaneous cooking, or even whether it can function as a standard pressure cooker.
Durability: nobody likes buying something and having that slow realization that you got a lemon... unless you're actually buying lemons. I can't imagine ever moving the rice cooker off of the counter, but you'll probably have to move it around a little bit within its lifetime and you don't want it to fall apart whenever you do. Regardless of the workload you should be confident in the hardware you've purchased.
So that's what we'll be boiling each down to... I'm not big on puns, promise. I'll provide as much technical characteristics as possible but they won't tie into the overall evaluation of the product.
In the same vein as our Korean BBQ Grill post this flies somewhat in the face of our conventional methodology. As we don't have the capacity to go out and test all of these rice cookers ourselves we opted to do the next best thing. We applied similar methods as we have for our Best Restaurants posts: relying on the power of the customer base, researching with integrity (we do not have any ties to the companies making these rice cookers), and being self aware enough to know that we are not smart enough to put forward our own opinion. We are simply relaying all of our research in as consumable of a format as we can; hopefully in the near future I can fulfill my lifelong dream of having a hundred rice cookers in my place, all singing their songs of warmth, happiness, and the cooked rice way.
We decided to make this as easy as possible. We wanted to look at rice cookers that everyone in the US would have access to buy and that had a good amount of data that we could peruse through. We chose Amazon for its near ubiquitous use for online shopping, went straight for "rice cookers", sorted by customer ratings, and went down the list looking for any that claimed three cups of uncooked rice or less. We settled on three cups of uncooked rice (six cups cooked) as that is the standard payload for a couple with some leftovers.
First thing, of course, is to build out the stable of reviewed rice cookers. We'll be going down our list as quickly as we can but if you have a small rice cooker you are curious about hit us up and let us know. We are continuing our great journey into the hardware side of the culinary world, come along and help us see it through!
It was great seeing how many rice cookers there are out on the market that do a great job of what they're supposed to do... cook rice. But like any piece of hardware durability seems to be a consistent and major issue for these babies. Also, I know I harped on this a bunch in our Korean BBQ Grill post, but these companies really need to come out with some palatable names for their babies. Writing about something that is a jumbled bunch of letters and numbers drives me up the wall. Regardless, it's reassuring to know that the well being of our rice eating brethren lie in good hands. May your rice be always hot, fluffy, and perfect.