Dec. 14, 2011 at 1:15 PM ET
By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
With all the prep involved in a holiday party or Christmas dinner, it’s a good time to consider any appliance that frees up a burner on the stove and some time for the cook to tend to other tasks. Rice cookers can be left unattended and reliably turn out tender, fluffy grains. They won’t suit frugal consumers who are content with the stovetop method, but for those who prefer a sure thing, rice cookers can be had on the cheap. Sanyo, Panasonic, and Aroma all offer well-reviewed budget models that can also make practical holiday gifts.
There are essentially two types of electric rice cookers: simple, on/off models and programmable rice cookers that automatically adjust the cooking time and temperature. The latter come with a timer to ensure the rice will be ready when dinner is. They are more expensive, although you can find a solid performer for less than $100.
The one-button models actually tend to cook more quickly than their pricey counterparts, finishing white rice in as little as 15 minutes (brown rice takes longer, and cooking times vary for other varieties as well). Some basic rice cookers also include a mode that keeps the rice warm after it’s done cooking.
The capacity of a rice cooker is measured in cups -- but not the 240 ml cup used in the U.S. The measuring cups that come with rice cookers are typically 200 ml, the standard in Japan. What’s more, the capacity is sometimes measured in cooked rice and sometimes in uncooked rice, so note which one is indicated in the specs. Six cups of cooked rice is generally enough for a family of four if served as a side dish.
You can get more for your money by employing a rice cooker for other dishes as well, including oatmeal, grains such as quinoa, legumes, soups, and stews. Some rice cookers can steam vegetables or even bake bread. The site Rice Cooker Fetish has recipes for everything from dorm-room mac & cheese to pumpkin pie.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable rice cookers.
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