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Is a cheap rice cooker the answer to your budget meal-prep prayers?

We tested rice cookers from Kmart, Target and Big W that all cost less than $39 to see if they're worth buying.

Last updated: 05 March 2024


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • Rice cookers are a popular kitchen addition – they free up hob space and help you turn out perfect rice for all your mealtime and meal prep needs
  • They range from basic models that just cook rice to fancy multi-program machines you can use to cook different grains and make everything from porridge to congee
  • In our kitchen labs, we tested 21 rice cookers from brands including Sunbeam, Breville and Kambrook, ranging in price from $14 to $269

Let's see a show of hands from those of you who find the absorption method of cooking rice elusive and utterly confounding. If you can't seem to find the sweet spot between soggy grains and a burnt saucepan, you may be a prime candidate to buy a rice cooker.

Or perhaps you just like to eat a lot of rice and you're looking for a convenient way to prepare it. After all, it's a cheap, nutritious and crowd-pleasing way to bulk out a number of family-favourite dishes, from stir-fries to chilli con carne, salads and more. 

Also handy for make-ahead prep and available in a wide range of varieties, rice is a great-value pantry staple that can help keep your grocery bills in check. 

A rice cooker can make it even easier to get fluffy, just-tender grains, every time

A rice cooker can make it even easier to get fluffy, just-tender grains, every time.

But even though they're not the most expensive appliance around, the price of rice cookers still ranges anywhere from about $250 for a premium brand model, right down to a thrifty $14 for a budget option. 

So this raises the questions: what can the more expensive rice cookers do that the cheaper ones can't? And is it worth spending an extra couple of hundred dollars?

You don't need to spend big for decent performance

CHOICE experts have tested over 20 rice cookers in our kitchen labs, and their results reveal some well-performing models at both ends of the price scale. 

When it comes to more frugal options, our experts found four examples – from Big W, Kmart and Target – that scored relatively well in our performance tests and give you change from a $50 note. 

If you're aware of the issues and don't feel they're a problem for you, then these models are worth considering, as they're all under $35

Fiona Mair, CHOICE kitchen expert

Although these don't score high enough to be recommended (CHOICE members can view recommended rice cookers), they do represent value for money, and even outperformed some more expensive models in a few of our tests.

There are definitely catches with these budget models, but CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair says, "If you're aware of the issues and don't feel they're a problem for you, then these models are worth considering, as they're all under $35."

Budget rice cookers worth considering

CHOICE tested four budget rice cookers costing $39 or less that we think you could be happy with.

"Although they are very basic rice cookers and cook small amounts of rice, they are inexpensive and relatively easy to use," says Fiona.


The Kmart rice cooker costs just $14, which is one of the cheapest model we tested. It has some shortcomings but may be worth a look. Image credit: Kmart.

Kmart rice cooker

Let's start with the $14 Kmart rice cooker, which demands the lowest investment for well-cooked rice. But, as its price suggests, this small, seven-cup capacity device is a no-frills affair. 

The settings, although easy to use, are basic. It doesn't suction to the bench and can slide easily. The surface of the cooker can also become dangerously hot. And there's no audible beep when your rice is ready. 

Still, for such a small price tag, you may be willing to forgive these issues for rice at the touch of a button.


The Target rice cooker is just $18 and outperforms some more expensive, big-brand models on cooking jasmine rice.

Target rice cooker

Next up a notch on the price tag is the Target model, which looks almost identical to its Kmart counterpart. It's also small in size (two litres) and doesn't beep when it's finished. 

But of these cheap machines, it does the best job of cooking jasmine rice, even outperforming more expensive, big brand models for this task.

Big W rice cookers

Next up is Big W, which sells two rice cookers, one for $14 and another, larger 10-cup-capacity model for $39, which is the most expensive of our frugal picks. But, as CHOICE testing so often shows, more expensive doesn't always mean better.


Big W sells two different rice cookers with different capacities. They were the least impressive of our budget options. Image credit: Big W.

If you really only want to spend $14, our testers point to the Kmart counterpart as the better overall performer. The $14 Kmart rice cooker also has a slightly larger capacity, yielding seven to eight cups of cooked rice, as opposed to five to five-and-a-half cups of cooked rice in the Big W version. 

And the larger $39 rice cooker from Big W?

"We found that the larger Big W model wasn't as good because the base browned when cooking brown rice and the water level inside the bowl can be hard to view," says Fiona. 

As with the Kmart model, it also became dangerously hot. 

A messy affair

Our testers warn users to be prepared for a bit of spillover with the Kmart rice cooker and the two Big W models.

"With all three models, we found that they can bubble up over the glass lid and starchy water can splatter onto the bench," says Fiona. 

Aside from being irritating, this also makes the glass lid difficult to clean. And although each of these models automatically sets to warm once the rice has finished cooking, that's not always a good thing, as Fiona says this can overcook the rice.

What they do and don't do

You can expect your budget rice cooker to cook near (but not quite) perfect rice. Other more expensive models in our tests received a 100% success rate in this singular function. If you're OK with good, but not best ever, then these cookers are great. 

But spending less also means you're likely to be sacrificing multi-functionality, detailed electronic displays, and all-round sturdier construction with better safety.

Things to consider before buying a cheaper rice cooker

The temptation to serve up delightfully fluffy rice each time may be enough to send you running to the check-out with your thrifty rice cooker, but before you scan, consider how much you really need it.

After all, it's just another appliance on your benchtop, and if you're not an avid rice eater or you have a large family, these small machines don't necessarily provide bang for your buck.

Do you really need it?

It may also not be what you need. These simple models cook rice, that's it. If you're looking for something to assist in making risotto, porridge or congee, you'd be better off spending more and choosing a model with pre-programmed settings. Take a look at our rice cooker reviews to find the best fit for you.

Is it realistically repairable?

Cheaper appliances often cost less because they may be made with lower quality components that may not last as long or be easy to repair. This means that cheaper models may be destined for landfill much sooner, rather than lasting for decades as better quality appliances can. It's likely that any cost to repair or replace parts of a cheap, broken cooker would be more expensive than the initial purchase. 

CHOICE experts don't test for longevity, but it's likely that cheaply made appliances will reach the end of their lifespan quicker. 

Looking after your rice cooker

"If you're overloading the bowl and don't maintain your rice cooker (for example, if it boils over inside the unit) and you don't clean it after each use, it's possible it won't last the year," warns Fiona.

Still, for avid rice eaters, these little units can be a real time saver. 

"For families who cook rice regularly, a rice cooker can be extremely handy," says Fiona. "But if you only occasionally cook rice, try the absorption method on your stove, or if your microwave has a sensor rice function, use it – the results are often perfect."

How we test rice cookers

We choose popular rice cookers from a variety of brands and put them through their paces in our test kitchen. As rice cookers all share the prime function of cooking rice well, that's exactly what we look for, using both brown and white rice. 

The grains should be firm (with brown rice having a slightly chewier texture), not mushy, and remain separate. 

We also look at how easy the appliance is to use, store, clean and disassemble. If a rice cooker comes with specific settings for functions such as risotto or congee, we'll take those into account, too.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.