The cookware industry is still trying to deliver on the early promise of microwaves as cooking (not simply reheating) appliances. The latest incarnation of this promise is the microwave rice cooker, which claims to produce perfect rice in a flash, without the time and mess of stovetop cooking or the counter space and expense required by electric rice cookers. Hoping the microwave might indeed offer a foolproof way to make rice, we tested five models. Our favorite took some getting used to, but ultimately got the job done.
Gadget name: Progressive International Microwave Rice Cooker Set
It looks like: A sturdy, round plastic food-storage container with a vented snap-on lid.
How it’s supposed to work: This device couldn’t be simpler—rice and water are simply measured into the cooker, the lid is attached securely, and it’s all microwaved until the rice is done.
How we tested it: We used it to prepare short-grain white rice, long-grain white rice, basmati rice, and brown rice.
How it actually works: For a convenience product, it was anything but easy to get to work. Why? The wattage of home kitchen microwave ovens varies widely. It helped us to learn that microwaves penetrate only about 1½ inches into food. In order to produce a fully cooked pot of rice, we needed to give heat time to transfer beyond the surface to the inner grains. Success lay in a “low and slow” approach—using a lower power setting and more cooking time—which let heat penetrate throughout the rice and allowed the starch granules to absorb water and soften to their core.
Drawbacks: You’re left to your own devices when trying to find the best cooking times with microwave rice cookers: The instruction manuals they come with are intended only as guidelines.
Good to know: After much trial and error, and many batches of wasted rice, we stumbled upon a cooking method that produced a pot of uniformly well-cooked rice. Our winning formula was five minutes on full power, 15 minutes at 50 percent power, and then a five-minute rest.
My favorite part: The cooker is dishwasher-safe (on the top rack) and BPA-free.
Best for: A college student or apartment-dweller with a microwave and limited space.
Overall: This cooker consistently produced evenly cooked rice, but only after we’d discovered the best power level and timing. It makes enough rice for six servings, and we appreciate its simple, easy-to-clean design.