When looking for a rice cooker and steamer, consumers should consider the unit's capacity, materials, complexity level and features, as well as warranty, replacement part and customer service availability. Price is also a factor in purchasing a model, but it usually is the final determinant, influenced by all the other considerations. Much of the buying choice revolves around exactly how the consumer wants to use the unit.
Probably the most important consideration in picking a rice cooker and steamer is capacity. Rice cookers usually make anywhere from one to ten cups (200 grams to 2,000 grams), with some units requiring a minimum amount of rice to function. For single people, a small rice cooker and steamer usually makes the most sense, but people with families or who make large quantities of food in their machine regularly may need a larger model. In checking out how much food the unit can cook, keep in mind that a larger unit may take up more counter space, depending on its design. If space is limited, a smaller unit might be the better option.
Once a person knows the capacity of the rice cooker and steamer is appropriate, it's time to investigate the materials. Ideally, the main shell of the unit should remain cool to the touch for safety, especially if a household has young children. The inner pan can be made of various metals such as aluminum or out of more natural materials such as clay, and each material acts slightly differently in how it holds and distributes heat. The best cookers are those with nonstick surfaces for easy cleanup that are dishwasher safe, because cooked rice is naturally sticky.
Earthenware or clay inner pans are naturally nonstick. Metal inner pans with nonstick coatings are popular, but the coating can peel or chip over time. Additionally, to prevent the coating from getting damaged, a person has to use tools that won't scratch, such as wood spoons. Aluminum inner pans are cheap, but they can react with any acidic foods someone cooks. Stainless steel can be a good option if a person goes the metal route, because it won't flake and won't react with foods, but it isn't nonstick.
Next, look at the complexity and features of the rice cooker and steamer. Bare-bones models have a heating element underneath the inner pan and simply turn off when the rice is done. Slightly better models include a warm feature. Some cookers use what is known as "fuzzy logic," which means the cooker is equipped with computer technology that allows it to "choose" how to adjust cooking temperature and time according to the conditions present. These are more expensive but are a good investment if someone uses the cooker consistently. The best — but most expensive — cookers are fuzzy logic induction cookers, which use magnetic fields to cook instead of a heating element at the bottom of the pan, leading to more even results.
The more expensive a rice cooker and steamer gets, the more features it usually has, and the more it usually relies on computer technology. A simple get-it-done cooker has no real adjustments or controls, with the user simply turning it on and waiting until the food is done. More advanced cookers, however, have features such as delayed start and let the user select different settings based on the type of rice or other food the user is cooking.
Consumers also should look at the availability of manufacturer customer service and replacement parts, as well as whether the cooker has a warranty. If anything goes wrong with the cooker, the user should not be in the position of having to purchase an entirely new machine. Getting new parts should be merely a matter of making a phone call or going online to the manufacturer's website.