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There are many models of electric rice cooker, some with very advanced features and others that specialize in making one type of rice very well. Depending on the intended uses for the machine, features such as a non-stick coating, automatic timer and heating functions might be very important. Some cookers also have settings that allow them to double as slow cookers, steamers or even small baking ovens. A few very advanced models contain special sensors inside the cooking area that rely on the level of heat, moisture or other factors to determine when the rice or other food has completed cooking, instead of just cooking for a preset amount of time. The best electric rice cooker will have all the features needed for a particular kitchen while remaining cost effective.
A basic consideration when choosing the best electric rice cooker is the construction of the unit. Factors such as the control panel and any display, if one is present, should be looked at to make sure the buttons and dials are easy to use and the display is readable. The type of lid also can make some difference. Lids that are attached to the unit are very durable but might limit access to the interior, while separate lids are easier to clean but do not make as tight of a seal and can get lost. The basket or chamber inside the machine can be coated in non-stick material so it is easy to remove the rice, or it could be made from stainless steel that lasts longer but might be more difficult to clean.
The cooking features of an electric rice cooker should be studied carefully. A very simple cooker could just have a single button to cook rice, while other units might have separate setting for brown rice and white rice. A warming feature can keep rice ready to eat for a long time. For safety, an automatic shutoff is desirable, because some models will instead run until they are unplugged. Similarly, a unit that has some type of audio signal when the rice is done cooking can be valuable in a busy kitchen.
In the event that the electric rice cooker will be expected to cook more than just rice, there are several additional features to look for in a unit. One is automatic heat settings for baking, cooking and steaming. Another feature is a sensor on the inside that will monitor the heat within the unit or the temperature of the food itself, shutting off the heating elements or increasing the heat as needed. A feature on some expensive electric rice cookers is a pressure cooking option, which cooks the rice or food under high pressure, dramatically reducing the cooking time.
One thing I like about a rice cooker is that it doesn't take up an eye on the stove, so I can cook something else on that eye, if I need to.
Mine isn't that tall, so it fits in my cabinets, which is also good. I don't want or need a huge one, so capacity is something to consider.
Another thing I use my cooker for is to cook quinoa. The time is about the same, and the cooker holds the temperature steady, and I don't have to stir it except when I mix the quinoa into the water. So if you never thought about cooking quinoa in a rice cooker, you can. I use the white rice setting and it's perfect, every time.
Do take a look at the recipe booklet that will probably come with your cooker. You might find something there that looks good!
My rice cooker has a locking lid, and I like that feature. It also has a setting for brown or white rice, as well as a "warm" setting. It also has a "steam" setting, in case I want to steam some veggies in the steaming basket.
I also wanted a nonstick coating for the pot and made sure that was featured. Scraping rice out of a cooker is no fun at all. In fact, it's a major pain in the neck!
We eat mostly brown rice, so having a setting just for brown rice is the best part about it. I cook regular rice occasionally, but brown rice always turns out perfectly cooked in the rice cooker. It's nice to have.
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