After hours of research and testing, cooking pounds of rice, and talking with rice experts specializing in Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cuisine, we recommend following Japanese brand rice cookers. Additionally, we looked at online reviews (there weren’t many good ones). We researched the newest technologies and available models from the largest and the smallest manufacturers, including Zojirushi, Tiger, Panasonic and many other smaller brands.
Zojirushi NS-TSC10 for those who want to cook brown rice or cook rice frequently. It’s still one of the best machines available and was the only machine we found that makes short-grain, brown, and long-grain white rice well. Zojirushi is a very well-known and trusted brand in rice cookers, and their machines are built to last. That said, this is also a very slow machine. The rice it makes is delicious, and the machine is easy to use and easy to clean. The big downside is speed: it was the slowest of the lot when it came to cooking white rice, clocking in at 46 minutes for a 3-cup batch.
The restaurant professionals liked the Zojirushi best when it came to white rice, and the home cooks all thought that a high-end rice cooker did a much better job than a cheap one when it came to brown. The Zojirushi also did an excellent job with sticky rice and rice porridge.
The Tiger JAX-T10U was one of the strongest performers in our latest round of tests. It has a nice thick inner pot (1½ mm for 5½ cups), 10 computerized cooking menus, two preset cooking timers, a stainless steel exterior, detachable steam cup, and a detachable inner lid. It is on-par with the winning Zojirushi when making Japanese rice. It produced very good rice; it was quicker to cook brown rice than the Zojirushi and it had an even better cooking pot. But the restaurant professionals didn’t like the white rice as much; it was much trickier to take apart/reassemble for cooking; when it’s done cooking your rice, the noise it makes is so quiet that it’s extremely easy to miss; the lid gets hotter than most of the other models; and it tends to have a ring of stuck rice in the pot if you don’t turn it out right.
The Panasonic SR-ZG185 was the most affordable of the high-end machines, but the pros really disliked the rice from it, universally ranking it low, especially for clumping and taste. It’s also extremely slow to cook brown rice, could hold less of the stuff than the competition, had a problem with scorching brown rice, did a very poor job with sticky rice, and its bowl is harder to read and use than the other high-end models’. That said, the home cooks really liked its white rice, and it’s very quick to cook white rice. But there’s not enough to recommend it over a really good high-end model.
Why you should have a rice cooker?
While rice cookers have their roots in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and other Asian cuisines, they’ve become a frequently-used tool for many international cooks, including those preparing Latin American dishes. Here in the US, rice cookers are essential to Hawaiian cookery and Cajun cuisine.
Rice cookers can dramatically improve the quality, flavor, and texture of rice. Great rice cooker rice is really, really delicious—aromatic, nutty, earthen, and with a broad depth of flavor—and quite easy to make. If you want the ease of one-step cooking with delicious results while you put together the rest of dinner, it may be time to buy one. Another bonus for many cooks: rice cooker cooking is unburnable. It’s much easier to clean a rice cooker insert than burnt-on rice in a cooking pot.
A rice cooker is also perfect for people who don’t cook often or who don’t enjoy it. An entire meal can be cooked in a rice cooker by simply cooking the rice and putting some meat, tofu, fish and vegetables in the steamer tray. (Roger Ebert wrote a book on this kind of rice-cooker cooking called The Pot and How To Use It.) Many rice cookers can now make polenta, slow-cook stews, or steam things like tamales or dumplings.