Rice is one of the more economical grains available, so we tested three rice cookers that followed the theme: Each cost $20 or less. These cookers operate on the same premise: Fill the non-stick bowl with 1 part rice to 2 parts water, cover, press a button and let the magic begin. When they finish cooking, they switch to a warming mode so the grains are ready when the rest of the meal is done.
The two top finishers also came with handy steamer inserts, which we did not test but can add to the appliance's versatility.
1. BLACK & DECKER 6-cup (cooked rice capacity), $20 at amazon.com
Pros: Produced perfectly cooked, fluffy rice. Instructions were excellent. Rice was done five minutes early; warming element worked fine.
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Cons: The steamer basket, which nests inside, is too small to be practical.
2. RIVAL 6-cup (cooked rice capacity), $15 at Target and target.com
Pros: Quality of rice came in a very close second. Rice was done five minutes early; warming element worked fine. Good instructions.
Surprisingly large metal steamer insert fits, double-decker-like, atop the cooker. The bright red color may appeal but
Cons: to some, the bright red color may be a turnoff.
3. PROCTOR SILEX 5-cup (uncooked rice capacity), $20 at Bed Bath & Beyond
Pros: With trial-and-error on part of the cook, this machine would perform OK.
Cons: Rice turned out mushy. Vague instructions. Exterior was very hot to the touch.