20 most worthless pieces of junk: #20 -- The rice cooker

Rice cookerWalletPoppers Amy Vernon and Todd Pruzan discovered they ... disagreed about the usefulness of the rice cooker: that stove-top electric appliance that does exactly what you can do with a cup of rice, a cup of water, a pan, and pretty much zero effort whatsoever. But Todd had some arguments that didn't suck, so we allowed him to rebut Amy, whose initial argument was little more than PBBBT. (That's a Bronx cheer.) Here, Amy and Todd debate the rice cooker in an IM chat.

Amy: The rice cooker: useless piece of garbage, or useful kitchen tool for lazy people?

Todd: Oh, definitely the latter. But emphasis on "useful" over "lazy." I think a lot of us tend to be very busy these days with work, or looking for work, and kids and so forth. And a rice cooker is pretty reliable.

Amy: I've never understood the appeal of the rice cooker. It takes more time to make the rice than it does just making it yourself, and I've always found rice to be just about the easiest thing to make. And I don't make Minute Rice or Uncle Ben's. I'm talking basmati or long-grain. Once you boil the water and put the rice in, pretty much all you have to do is set a timer. What's the problem?

Todd: Well, that's three steps. WIth a rice cooker, it's just two; dump the rice and water in, and push a button.

Amy: How long does it take to cook it in a rice cooker?

Todd: Probably around 20 minutes -- I've never noticed an exact time. But a rice cooker can keep the rice warm -- for hours, on some models.

Amy: Ick. Why would you want rice that's been sitting around for hours? That's like eating stuff that's been sitting under heat lamps all afternoon.

Todd: Well, I'm pretty sure most Asian restaurants use them. They don't keep cooking rice all day long, they stick it in a rice cooker and scoop it out when they're serving you a meal. Who wants to take up valuable stove space with a pot of rice?

Amy: How do you know that?

Todd: Well, fair enough. I haven't done my due diligence. So don't quote me. Next point!

Amy: I'm still stuck on the part where cooking rice is too difficult.

Todd: Just to be clear -- I don't think cooking rice in a pot is difficult at all. It's just that cooking rice in a rice cooker is even less difficult. It's kind of like Nigel Tufnel's mixing board in Spinal Tap: "This one goes to 11."

Amy: But going to 11 makes sense. Spending money and wasting kitchen and closet space on a rice cooker when you already have a saucepan that you can cook the rice in doesn't. I don't need anything extra to make rice in a pot. Why would I spend hard-earned money on something I need to make space for on my counter? And I don't have much counter space.

Todd: I hear you. Well, a rice cooker offers reliability. You get the same thing every time. If there's an emergency that takes me away from my stove for a few minutes, I don't worry that I'm going to ruin the rice or the pan.

Amy: That's the first legit argument I've heard so far. In my humble opinion, of course.

Todd: Ah, thanks. And really -- is a rice cooker less useful than a popcorn popper? Obviously, you could pop popcorn in a pan with oil. And it's delicious that way.

Amy: Actually, I will admit that a popcorn popper is more useless than a rice cooker. I've never owned one. The popcorn tastes like cardboard.

Todd: Especially those air poppers that were popular a couple of decades ago. Awful.

Amy: OK, so a rice cooker is less useless than a popcorn popper. We can at least agree on that. But only marginally.

Todd: Well, as long as you're feeling charitable, I'm going to concede another point to you.

Amy: Oooh.

Todd: Rice cookers are a pain to clean -- I can never get them fully polished. They create a kind of rice-water-crud residue that fills tough spaces. So that's one more point in the Against column.

Amy: I wonder if, in the end, the time you spend cleaning outweighs the time you save cooking.

Todd: Oh, probably. OK, I'm going to throw out my rice cooker. But you know what's really useless? The Diaper Genie. Why aren't we writing about that?

Amy: OMG! It's like, just throw the diaper in the garbage and be done with it! And the poopy ones are so gross that you just take the entire garbage out immediately anyhow. Never had one, and damn proud of it.

Todd: You're a smarter consumer than I. If I were stranded on a desert island with no electricity, I'd still rather have an electric rice cooker than a Diaper Genie. At least I wouldn't want to kick the rice cooker into the ocean.

Amy: You know, Todd, for the first time, I see the appeal of a rice cooker. OK, I'd better run -- I have to get some food into my little guy.

Todd: Hey, better go check on your rice! I smell something burning.

Amy: PBBBT!

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6 Comments

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ivy.han

I don't know how legitimate this conversation is considering that it's a dialogue between two people who have grown up eating (most likely) Western foods which do not require rice.
There is also a lot of different types of rice - basmati and long grain are not the only ones! Short sticky rice is usually what is eaten in Japan, Korea, sometimes China, as well as some Southeast Asian countries. With these types, putting it in a pot doesn't cut it (unless it's a pressure cooker) because it has to be manually stirred; otherwise, it gets burnt and will also ruin your pot.
Calling something "one of the most useless pieces of junk" is an opinion, which I understand. At the same time, it is culturally biased so maybe add on a "in the Western world" at the end. And, before calling something a piece of junk, it might also be helpful to realize how many people actually use it. Considering that more than a third of the world's population have been using rice cookers for a very long time, I think this is a very inaccurate and unsupported argument.

February 01 2013 at 2:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Zan Soo

Amy doesn't know what she's taking about. When you eat rice almost everyday, it becomes a huge nuisance to do it manually. With the rice cooker, you can just push and forget, and never have to worry about overcook.
The RC also keeps the rice warm and fresh for quite some time.

October 01 2012 at 1:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hawaii808baby

Amy is obviously not Asian, not from Hawaii and doesn't eat rice with every single meal! She should stick to something she knows.

June 20 2012 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Hawaii808baby's comment
John

I'm not Asian either. But I am originally from Hawaii, and I have used rice cookers before. They are a waste of space. Rice is the easiest thing to make, and I do just fine without one.

May 16 2013 at 11:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Viet Do

This is totally off, most asian households have a ricecooker it's not something we put on the side it is a part of every single meal and nobody is going to cook a small pot of rice everytime they want to have a snack, I usually use the rice cooker once a day(or two if a lot is being eaten) and the rice cooker doesn't just keep it warm for a couple hours it keeps it nice and fresh for pretty much over 24 hours, of course those are asian brand rice cookers that are imported I have no idea what a north american or euro rice cooker would be capable of all I know is that it really does help a lot and it also prevents that crust around the bottom of the pot when you cook rice(unless the types of rice you use don't do that because jasmine rice WILL burn at the bottom of the pan a bit before it can fully cook). I'm not sure about how useful it is for other cultures who rarely eat rice but for an asian family it is pretty much as or more important than any other appliance in the kitchen except the stove(we rarely use the oven either it's just mostly pot storage space).

May 08 2012 at 8:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Friederike Wunschik

A simple rice cooker can replace part of a kitchen. What do you need a stove or microwave for, anyway? For heating stuff. You can do that in a rice cooker. Boil water? Check. Warm left-overs? Check. Keep things warm? Check. Maybe frying stuff in a rice cooker is not the best idea. But the pots in rice cookers are usually coated, so the only thing you’d need to do is wash it properly afterwards.
We once made coffee in our rice cooker. The propane camping stove was too much of a hassle, compared to just switching on the rice cooker. So we took the little espresso pot, filled it as per usual (water in the bottom, espresso powder in the sieve, screw on the top part), and just set it in the rice pot. It worked really well.
You can leave the lid open if you want. That’s what we did when we made ramen noodles in ours. It makes it easier to stir.
I’ve made oatmeal and boiled eggs in my rice cooker. You could steam your vegetables if you wanted to. Basically, they are really useful. All you need is electricity. So you can’t be too far away from civilization. But even so, if you’re going to live in a dorm room or are couchsurfing or going to stay in a cabin you can just pack up your rice cooker (mine is fairly small… some people have really big ones that hold enough rice for 50 people) and you’re either automatically bringing a small kitchen to where there isn’t one, or expanding the existing one. And let me tell you one thing: nothing has ever burned in my cooker. Ever.
My mom once had a rice cooker go up in flames. But it was one she’d bought overseas and it hadn’t been made for the current that came out of her sockets. So that wasn’t really all too surprising, considering all she’d done was replace the plug part and not reconfigured the resistance or anything. It was very spectacular, though.
I bet you could even make popcorn in one.

October 17 2011 at 12:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply