1. Rice Cooking Settings
Rice cookers do a lot more than just cook rice. Most cookers include at least two specialized functions for white and brown rice. Since people have discovered the versatility of rice cookers, companies are now putting more settings on their cookers so you don’t have to experiment with time and temperature. Settings can include mixed rice, cake, slow cook, soup, stew, saute, bean/chili, and so on.
2. How Many Cups
How many cups of rice your machine can make determines if it is better for a group of people or just a few. Rice cookers can cook as little as .5 cup of uncooked rice – which is about 1 cup of cooked rice – to as much as 20 cups of cooked rice. An in-between rice cooker can make 6-10 cups cooked. Brown rice uses more water, so 2 raw cups equals 4 cups cooked. The more cups a rice cooker can hold, the bigger the unit will be. A 3-cup rice cooker is good for students because it doesn’t take up much space.
In addition to different rice varieties, rice cookers can make everything from savory dishes to desserts. Most rice cookers come with steamer baskets, so you can steam fish, meat, and veggies using the steam created by the cooking rice. You can also make soups and chilis in the cooker bowl, as well as cakes. A larger rice cooker would probably best if you plan on using it for more than just making rice, because a smaller rice cooker (3 cups or so) wouldn’t make very much chili/soup/etc unless you’re eating alone.
3. Automatic Keep-warm
The automatic keep-warm function on all rice cookers is extremely convenient. It lets you leave the rice once it’s cooked while you fix other things for the meal, and the rice doesn’t get cold or gummy. Most machines switch from the “on” light to the “warm” indicator light so you know that the rice is ready. More advanced rice cookers have extended warm times and reheating cycles so you can reheat rice in the rice cooker and not in the microwave, which dries rice out.
4. A Digital timer
A rice cooker’s digital timer allows you to be flexible about planning out your meals. You can get the rice and liquid ready, and then set the timer so the rice cooker doesn’t begin cooking the rice until the designated time. Most rice cookers let you delay cooking for about 15 hours, though some allow for longer, like 24 hours.
5. Stainless Steel Construction
Rice cookers are made of an inner cooking pot, a lid, and insulating exterior. Stainless steel is a popular material, because it cleans well and holds heat evenly. The exterior of the rice cooker can also be made of stainless steel or a durable plastic. If you want to see the rice, a tempered glass lid is the way to go.
6. Weight / Portability
Smaller rice cookers are very lightweight and weigh less than four pounds. The more durable ones (made from all stainless steel instead of plastic) can weigh 5-9 pounds, while the really large rice cookers, like a 20-cup, weigh 14 or more pounds. These also take up significantly more room and are essentially like crockpots in terms of needed storage space.
7. Included extras
When you get a rice cooker, the companies usually include extras like steamer baskets, measuring cups, and a rice ladle. If the rice cooker is intended for more than just rice, you might also get a soup spoon. You can even make much more than just rice and soups in a rice cooker, look here for 21 unexpected rice cooker recipes.
8. Easy clean-up
Cleaning one is very easy. The inner lid is typically detachable, so you can submerge it in water or put it in the dishwasher if it is dishwasher-safe. All accessories (steamer basket, ladles) are also safe to put in the dishwasher. If any spills get on the exterior of the rice cooker (which cannot be put in water because it’s where the power cord and electrical parts are), stainless steel or plastic are easy to wipe clean with a paper towel.