We selected six models from five popular brands: Aroma, Black+Decker, Hamilton Beach, Instant, and Zojirushi. All models are in the 3- to 4-cup-capacity range because our research indicated that this was the most popular size. Prices average around $35, but we also brought in a $270 Zojirushi model—which announces that your rice is ready by playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” among other (less whimsical) features—to see how it stacks up.
Consumer Reports testers rinsed and cooked small and large batches of long-grain white rice as well as batches of long-grain brown rice following the rice cooker manufacturers’ directions. (We always follow manufacturers’ instructions for the appliances we test. Plus, in this case, not all rice packages include instructions for how to cook the rice using a rice cooker.) We used the rice measuring cup that comes with each cooker and adhered to the fill lines on the pots to measure the amount of water to use. (All the cookers also come with a fluffing paddle.)
A panel of several trained tasters and a few lucky CR staffers sampled each batch of rice in a blind side-by-side taste test. The ideal batch of rice was cooked evenly top to bottom—no mushy or crunchy pockets—with soft, fluffy grains. Tasters also compared how rice tasted when cooked in a rice cooker vs. a multi-cooker.
Larry Ciufo, CR’s lead tester for rice cookers, says all the machines easily made white rice that earned either Very Good or Excellent ratings. “But we saw a lot more variation in taste, texture, and cooking time with brown rice,” he says.
Testers also factored convenience and the control settings into the Overall Score, assessing how easy the machine is to clean, the clarity of the controls, how audible the alerts are, whether it automatically switches off, and how clear the water line markings are on the pot.
“None of these machines were an all-out fail,” Ciufo says. “Even the ones that ended up at the bottom of the ratings still make rice better than a multi-cooker.”
Because most of the rice cookers perform well overall in our tests, we break down four of the top models below by their various attributes. For more details and our complete test results, see our full rice cooker ratings.