“If there's no rice, there's no meal,” says my suegra, as we sit at her kitchen table in Havana, sorting through her arroz grain by grain, separating small stones and todo lo malo from the starchy, broken granos that are typical of Cuba.
“No pressure,” I think to myself, relieved that she's the one in charge of her kitchen. Though I love cooking, there are a few staple dishes I can't perfect no matter how much I try. Rice is one of them.
It should be so easy: a cupful of these simple grains tossed into a roiling boil of two parts liquid. But somehow, mine is never quite right. Despite years of tinkering with variables (Reduce the liquid? Lid off rather than on? Stir less? Stir more? Add oil or butter to the boiling water?) I've never made a pot of rice that leaves me fully satisfied.
Which is why a rice cooker is one of my indispensable kitchen tools. I recently tested two of the most popular brands on the market, Cuisinart and Krups, taking the machines head-to-head for a rice cooking challenge. Why these two? Well, in an ideal world, we would all own a Zojirushi Induction Heating Rice Cooker, whose name and price alone seem to suggest the epitome of rice cooking perfection, but alas, few among us have $349 to drop on a rice cooker. The Cuisinart and Krups models tested here are affordable and the brands are found in most major department and kitchen stores, as well as online at sites like Amazon. So let the battle begin!
This 6.4 pound, brushed steel rice cooker has a cooking and warming function and can make up to four cups of rice. It also has a steamer function and comes with all the usual accessories: a steam basket, measuring cup, rice paddle, and an instruction and recipe book.
The Cuisinart CRC-400 is the perfect size for a countertop, it's not bulky at all, and can store easily in a kitchen cabinet if you don't intend to keep it out for daily use. It's sturdy and the parts seem like they'll last for the long haul. The steaming basket is made of metal, too.
This model doesn't cook rice evenly if you're making a four-cup batch, a problem if you intend to use it to its capacity. This may be because of its design, which prioritizes verticality. That's great for space and storage, but not so great for making rice.
The price is right for the Cuisinart; at $49.99, it's a reliable rice cooker... as long as you don't want to make all four cups. If you're making one or two cups, though, it cooks just fine, making it ideal for smaller families or individuals.
This 10-cup cooker has a cooking, warming, and steaming function, as well as a delayed start setting. Like the Cuisinart, the KRUPS comes with a steam basket, measuring cup, rice paddle, and an instruction and recipe book.
The delayed start setting and easy-to-use programming buttons make this a good rice cooker for dummies; you can really take it out of the box, plug it in, and start cooking. And the rice cooks evenly. And the plastic steamer basket can be washed in the dishwasher.
It makes 10 cups, so the KRUPS is bigger and bulkier than the Cuisinart. The rice paddle can sit in an attachment pocket on the side of the machine; it's a nice idea in theory, but in practice, it falls off regularly. The body of the machine is stainless steel, but the top is a tough plastic: strong, but not so strong that it won't break if you drop it, as I did when one of my kids pulled it off the counter by accident. Finally, the oatmeal setting is a nice idea, but in my testing, I found that it produced a slightly gummy oatmeal and I wouldn't likely use the machine again for that purpose.
At $99.99, the KRUPS is a great rice cooker if you're making large quantities on a regular basis. Just don't intend to use it for anything other than rice.