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.

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