Most people look forward to getting a rice cooker because they think it will mean effortless, fluffy, perfectly cooked rice. But, the truth is that it can still take time and experimenting to get that perfect rice, even if you’re using a rice cooker. If you find your rice cooker burns rice, i.e. it is burning a layer of rice at the bottom of the pot, here’s a list of what you can try.
If your rice cooker burns rice on the bottom, first make sure you’re using the rice cooker according to instructions. If that doesn’t fix it, then try shutting off the power when the rice cooker switches to ‘warm’. If all else fails, either get yourself a better quality brand or skip the rice cooker and make rice on your stovetop.
One thing not to do is to use a sharp knife to try and scrape any rice that has stuck to the bottom of the insert pot. Most inserts are a nonstick type and you will ruin its performance and possibly expose an aluminum base. (See the potential issues with aluminum in my article looking at cookware materials). You are best scooping out what you can with a non-metal utensil and then soaking the rest for a couple of hours and it should easily come away. You’ll get more care tips like this in my full guide on how to use, care, and store nonstick pans.
In the following, I cover ways to prevent your rice cooker from burning the bottom layer of rice, as well as an alternative to your rice cooker if it just isn’t working out between the two of you.
Before we get into how you can prevent your rice from burning at the bottom, you need to understand how the rice cooker works and why this is happening in the first place.
How do rice cookers work
A rice cooker has four main parts: the main body, an inner pot, a heating plate or element at the base, and a thermal sensing device with thermometer.
The basic ones have two primary modes. These are ‘cook’ (or simply the ‘on’ switch) and ‘warm’.
When ‘on’ or in one of the ‘cook’ modes, the cooker heats the water inside the inner pot until it is very hot. Once the rice in the pot has absorbed the water, or the water has evaporated, the rice cooker will normally switch to ‘warm’ mode.
While in this ‘warm’ mode, the rice cooker reduces the temperature, keeping the rice warm, while continuing to cook and soften the rice, as a general rule, for another 10-15 minutes.
The more sophisticated rice cookers like those I covered in Zojirushi vs Tiger vs Cuckoo Rice Cooker Brands will have variations, but this is the basic process.
So why does rice burn on the bottom – possible causes…
With knowing the basics of how a rice cooker operates, what might cause that layer of burnt rice at the bottom of your rice cooker could be one of the following.
- The rice cooker was on ‘warm’ for too long
- You didn’t put enough water in the rice cooker
- The serving size you intended was too small for the rice cooker
- The rice cooker’s ‘warm’ mode is simply too high or perhaps faulty
- The rice cooker is designed to create a crust (more on this later)
You can resolve a couple of the above possible causes simply by making sure you’re using your rice cooker the way it was intended to be used.
Revisit manual on how to use a rice cooker for your specific model
Make sure you’re fully up-to-date with how your particular rice cooker unit is meant to be used since every rice cooker is slightly different. Also, rice cookers from countries where rice is eaten regularly and in a variety of ways may not work in the way you expect.
Here are some tips to get you started on how to use a rice cooker properly:
- Read the instruction manual. If you no longer have it, you can usually find manuals online — search for your specific model.
- Make sure you let the rice sit after the water has evaporated. Just because the rice cooker clicks to ‘warm’ does not mean the rice is ready to eat. As a general rule, the amount of time for the rice to sit after the water has evaporated is about 10 to 15 minutes, but you should refer to your instruction manual.
- Use the measuring cup that comes with your rice cooker. The measuring cup that comes with your rice cooker may not equal a ‘cup’ in terms of the US standard. Measuring cup sizes vary internationally. With rice, the ratio of water to rice mater, so be consistent in using the same cup when measuring out these ingredients.
- Cook an amount of rice appropriate for the size of your rice cooker. If you’re trying to cook a single cup of rice in an average size rice cooker, it isn’t going to come out as you intended.
- Check you’re using the right type of rice. Different types of rice have different cooking times. If you’re using quick-cooking rice (or Minute rice), you may need to reduce the time it is left on ‘warm’. Then there’s brown rice, which is easier with a rice cooker that has special settings for brown rice.
What to do if your rice cooker is still burning rice
If you’ve read your instruction manual and you’re 100% sure you’re doing everything as you’re supposed to, then the problem likely lies in your rice cooker. Either it is poorly designed, faulty, or it is meant to burn the rice. It might be time to upgrade to a better quality brand.
If you’d rather not buy another rice cooker, try figuring out how to manage the heat once the water has evaporated. Here are some options:
- You can turn off the cooker once it has switched to ‘warm’.
- You can unplug your rice cooker if it doesn’t have an option for turning it off.
- If you are worried the rice cooker will continue to cook the rice with residual heat after turning it off, you can remove the insert pot.
- Try stirring or fluffing the rice once all the water has been absorbed. This can help move the rice that has been close to the heating element away from the more intense heat and prevent the rice cooker burning the bottom.
- Rinse your rice first to reduce the amount of starch in the rice, which can cause a crusty bottom. Rinsing is a good idea anyway because it removes arsenic from rice, according to Scientific American.
With any of these options, you may need to let the rice sit for 10 to 15 minutes to complete the cooking process (or you’ll end up with crunchy rice).
Try cooking rice on the stovetop
Cooking rice in a pot on your stovetop is surprisingly simple, and not so different from using a rice cooker. (Pure ceramic cookware is perfect for this). Unlike when you’re using a rice cooker, on the stovetop, you have complete control over the temperature.
Rinse your rice in a fine-mesh strainer
Add rice and water to a non-stick pot in the proportions that are needed for the type of rice you are cooking.
Bring rice to a boil.
Turn down to a simmer.
Wait for all the water to evaporate/absorb—usually about 10 minutes or so.
Then remove from heat and leave the lid on for about 10 minutes.Fluff the rice with a fork.
You can add oil when you add the rice and water to keep the rice from clumping if that bothers you.
If you find that your rice is burning on the bottom using this method, you’re either…
- Not putting enough water in
- Not turning the heat down enough during the simmer phase
- Not removing it quickly enough from the heat once the water has evaporated
Give it a try and see how easy it is!
Is burnt rice really a problem? The secret of Guoba
You might be surprised to learn that the burnt rice at the bottom of your rice cooker is considered a tasty treat in many regions where rice is the main staple. Its crispy texture and nutty flavor are enjoyed by millions around the world. It is only in the Western world that it is seen as a negative.
In China, it is called Guoba, and it is in such demand that it is commercially manufactured! In other areas, it is called by different names.
Other regions that enjoy the scorched rice include:
- Latin America
So, before you throw out the crunchy rice at the bottom of your rice cooker, you might try giving it a nibble. You might like it!
After all this, you may be in need of a new better-quality rice cooker. You should see my article on the best brown rice cooker.