We love rice cookers — they’re convenient and always cook up perfect grains without any fuss. That said, there’s only so much rice we can eat, and for a lot of the time, ours just eats up precious space in the kitchen. That’s why we were excited when we discovered new ways to make that rice cooker work even harder for us. And turns out, the appliance is a dynamo at creating all sorts of speedy weeknight meals (and even dessert!) with very little cleanup. It can do a lot of what an Instant Pot can do and even make like a slower cooker. We talked to food pros for their tips and trick, plus gathered some easy rice cooker recipes. Keep reading to how your rice cooker will be your new go-to for a lot more than just rice!
How rice cookers work
How do rice cookers make perfect rice every time? Rice cookers are composed of an aluminum bowl, a heating element and a temperature sensor. When you add water to the bowl and turn on the rice cooker, the heating element boils the water and forms steam, which helps cook the rice evenly as heat is carried up from the bottom of the bowl.
Once the rice has absorbed all of the water, the bowl gets hotter since there’s no water left to be burned off. This change triggers the temperature sensor, which cools down the heating element, keeping your rice warm without burning it.
Can you cook other foods in a rice cooker?
“A rice cooker’s outstanding capacity to trap steam and establish a regulated cooking environment is one of its most notable benefits,” says Catherine Snowden, professional chef and founder of food site Fascinating Sky.
Rice cookers differ from other small appliances, like slow cookers and pressure cookers, in that their main mechanism is moisture and temperature regulation — they’re built to deliver consistency. That makes them great for cooking other foods that require liquid, like oatmeal, steamed vegetables and even many soups and stews. (For more unexpected uses for kitchen gadgets, click through to see the surprising foods you can cook in a waffle iron.)
Bonus tips for cooking non-rice dishes in a rice cooker
While you can cook many things in a rice cooker, there are some important things to look out for so your dish still turns out perfectly, advises Snowden. Here are her top tips:
1. Take care with these dishes
“Rice cookers are expertly tailored for dishes with predetermined liquid-to-solid ratios, such as rice and hearty stews,” Snowden says. “Recipes that involve fluctuating liquid absorption rates, like pasta dishes, may demand extra vigilance to guarantee the correct consistency.” That means, you’ll want to regularly check a dish as it cooks.
2. Achieve the perfect texture
Crispy and crunchy textures are difficult to achieve in a rice cooker, Snowden notes, so finishing certain dishes that need a crispy top under the broiler might be necessary. That said, you can sauté in a rice cooker. All you have to do is add your cooking oil of choice and turn on the “cook” setting. Once it’s hot, add your meat or vegetables, and close, re-opening to stir frequently.
3. Turn it into a steamer
The rice cooker’s ability to trap steam is especially beneficial when cooking vegetables, as it minimizes nutrient loss. Indeed, steaming is one of the most effective cooking methods for retaining nutrient content. It’s also a great option for those trying to lose weight, since it doesn’t rely on added fats. To steam vegetables in your rice cooker, insert a steam basket (or if you don’t have one, a strainer or colander that fits inside) so steam can fully circulate around your vegetables. Place them in the basket, use 1 cup of water for every 2 cups of veggies. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until desired consistency is achieved.
5 rice cooker recipes that aren’t rice
These one-pot wonders are cooked completely in the rice cooker, from start to finish. Keep scrolling for the easy recipes you’ll want to make again and again.
1. Rice-Cooker Chili
This recipe for rice cooker chili from Beth Moncel, creator of Budget Bytes, is a true one-pot wonder. Everything, including the meat, cooks in the rice cooker in 30 minutes, making mealtime and cleanup a breeze.
Makes 3 servings.
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- ½ lb. ground beef
- ½ Tbs. chili powder
- ½ tsp. cumin
- ⅛ tsp. cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp. garlic powder
- ½ tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. brown sugar
- ½ tsp. salt
- Freshly cracked pepper
- 1 15 oz. can kidney beans
- ½ 6 oz. can tomato paste
- 1 15 oz. can diced diced tomatoes
- ¾ cup water
- Add olive oil and ground beef to the rice cooker. Close the lid and select the “white rice” or “cook” function, depending on the functions available on your cooker. Cook beef with the lid closed, opening periodically to stir until browned (about 5 minutes). Some rice cookers don’t heat unless lid is closed, so remember to close after each stir.
- Depending on the fat content of your beef, you may need to drain excess fat. Add seasonings, stir to combine, close lid and cook for another minute.
- Drain and add beans, along with tomato paste, diced tomatoes (with their juices) and water; stir to combine.
- Close the lid, make sure “white rice” or “cook” is selected, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If cooker finished cook cycle before 30 minutes have elapsed, begin it again.
- After 30 minutes, taste and serve.
2. Macaroni and Cheese
You don’t need to turn on your stove to have rich, cheesy macaroni in minutes, thanks to this recipe for rice cooker macaroni and cheese by Liz Thompson, cookbook author and creator of I Heart Vegetables.
- 1 cup uncooked macaroni
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup milk
- ¾ cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese (3 oz.)
- 2 Tbs. cream cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Add macaroni and water to rice cooker. Close the lid and turn it on. If yours has a timer, set it for 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes, stir pasta to keep it from sticking. Let cook another 2 minutes or until al dente.
- Once pasta is cooked, add the rest of the ingredients. Stir until combined.
3. Taco Soup
Packed with chicken and veggies, this rice cooker recipe for taco soup by Amy Roskelley is healthy and filling.
Makes 6 servings.
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 lb. chicken breast, diced
- 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 can diced tomatoes (15 oz.)
- ½ cup uncooked brown rice
- 1 cup canned corn
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- ½ cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
- Brown chopped onion and garlic in a hot rice cooker with olive oil.
- Add diced chicken; cook until browned.
- Add broth, tomatoes, rice, corn, carrots and black beans.
- Turn rice cooker to “brown rice” setting if available. If not, turn it on for at least 45 minutes to an hour.
4. Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Risotto
Risotto is delicious but notorious for being hands-on due to its need for constant stirring. This recipe from Daniel P. Craig, professional chef, CEO and founder of Kitchen Deets simplifies this dish by eliminating the need for nonstop stirring and delivering a full meal in one pot.
The quantity of individual ingredients may differ based on the size of your rice cooker or how much risotto you’d like to make. The liquid-to-rice ratio should be about 3:1. For example, if you’re making 1 cup of rice, you should use 3 cups of broth.
- Diced chicken breast
- Diced onions
- Arborio rice
- Chicken broth
- White wine
- Salt and pepper
- Sauté diced chicken, mushrooms and onions in olive oil in hot rice cooker until chicken is browned.
- Add Arborio rice; stir until rice is translucent.
- Pour in chicken broth, a splash of white wine and salt and pepper to taste.
- Set your rice cooker to the “risotto” or “cook” setting and simmer until rice is tender and mixture is creamy.
5. Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
With 15 minutes and a rice cooker, you can have a freshly baked pineapple upside-down cake on the table. Check out this recipe by Debby Mayne of Southern Home Express.
Makes 8 servings.
- ½ stick butter
- 1½ cups boxed yellow cake mix
- 2 large eggs
- ⅓ cup milk
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp. ground ginger
- 1 small can pineapple (rings or crushed)
- Spray the interior of the rice cooker bowl with nonstick cooking spray and turn it on.
- Cut butter into pieces and melt in rice cooker.
- In medium-size bowl, mix cake mix, eggs and milk.
- Add sugar and spices to melted butter and stir to combine.
- Drain pineapple and add juice to batter. Pour pineapple into rice cooker and spread over melted sugar.
- Stir batter until pineapple juice evenly distributed.
- Pour batter over pineapple and close the lid.
- Cook for full 15-minute cycle. Check if it’s done by inserting a toothpick; if it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, turn the rice cooker on again, and check every 5 minutes.
- Once fully cooked, turn off rice cooker and let cake rest for 5-10 minutes. Place plate over top of the rice cooker opening and quickly flip cake onto it.
Click through for more speedy tricks that make meals stress-free: