Things you can make in a rice cooker

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, do you want the one kitchen item that prepares meals, keeps them warm, and is easy to clean to boot? Well folks, no need to wish: all you need is a rice cooker. Yes, a rice cooker!

This kitchen mainstay is kind of the best and even won over self-described practical cook and legendary film critic Roger Ebert. He gave the Pot (what he calls the rice cooker) a thumbs up and even penned a full book, The Pot and How to Use It. However, if you're more like unitasker-hater Alton Brown, you may wonder why you need to clutter your kitchen with something that only cooks rice. This isn't your everyday strawberry slicer or meat-shredding claws. When equipped with a rice cooker, you'll not only save yourself the time and frustration of burning a pot of rice, but you can be sure to impress even a finicky eater with all the things you can cook in a rice cooker.

Rice, obviously

Yes, of course, you can make rice in a rice cooker, but this Mexican rice isn't your run-of-the-mill steamed white rice. After toasting the rice and sweating some veggies in a skillet, everything goes into the cooker. In about 30 minutes you've got yourself a meal. Best served with a lime wedge and a beer.

How about an entire chicken and rice dinner? Food & Wine's 5-star ginger chicken and rice might make you forget all about take-out. The chicken and rice cook together with coconut milk and spinach for a complete meal that's ready in about 40 minutes. Fast food indeed.

Quinoa and more

Ready to go against the grain? Start with quinoa mushroom pilaf for a savory side dish or even a meat-free main dish. There is some debate on whether or not you need to rinse quinoa before cooking to remove the natural coating of saponin. From my experience, I can tell you that rinsing does make a big difference in the flavor of the quinoa so if you can spare the time, I recommend you do it.

For some, nothing is more comforting than homemade macaroni and cheese. So can you imagine savoring a bowl of homemade deliciousness in less than an hour? No powdered cheese here, this is the real deal. With three kinds of cheese and the classic elbow macaroni, you'll wonder why you didn't think of making it before.

Pancakes

It's early, the world outside is barely awake, and all you can think about is a glorious stack of piping hot pancakes. Slathered in butter, pure maple syrup dribbling down the stack, maybe a few blueberries to lend a sweet and tart complement … you get the picture.

But then you remember it's Wednesday, and you should be prepping for your meeting instead of babysitting a batch of pancakes. With a rice cooker and a simple pancake recipe like this one from Kirbie Cravings, you can enjoy hot pancakes any day of the week. This recipe comes out much thicker than a regular pancake and looks like a Japanese-style souffle cake. Spoon University has a four-ingredient recipe for even faster pancake making, but if the clock is in your favor try this berry pancake from The Hungry Hedgehog. By using frozen, not fresh, berries this is a comfort breakfast you can cook any time of year.

Eggs

Maybe you're trying to watch your carb intake and pancakes aren't really a menu option for you. That's OK! A rice cooker is just the right size and shape to make a picture-perfect omelet. The two-ingredient version from Tastebook is straightforward and can be used as a base to build on. Try adding chopped vegetables, cooked meat like sausage or bacon, and even change up the cheese. You'll give any omelet station a run for its money.

Meal prep is no match for a rice cooker. It's actually an ingenious way to whip up a whole batch of steam-cooked eggs. By steaming the eggs instead of the traditional boiling method, you'll avoid the green ring, a sign that the eggs are overcooked. Once the eggs are done you can store them in the fridge for up to a week. Steam-cooked eggs are an easy grab-and-go breakfast or snack anytime.

Soup

Soup can be as soul-soothing as a hug, and it doesn't need to take all day to make, so using a rice cooker is a no-brainer. This hearty tomato soup from 5 Dollar Dinners blends tomato and (surprise!) red lentils for a vibrant soup with the bonus of added fiber and protein. Just drop all the ingredients in, let it cook, and finish with a quick whirl of an immersion blender.

First-time cook? Kitchenability's chicken chili requires no more work than opening a few cans. Cook ground chicken in the rice cooker, then add in beans, tomatoes, and seasoning. Minimal work, maximum flavor.

Applesauce

Applesauce is really one of the simplest recipes to prepare in a rice cooker, mainly because it's less of a recipe and more of a method. But for all its simplicity, I've only made it once when I had an overabundance of apples from a Saturday excursion to Hudson Valley, New York. The rice cooker method bypasses peeling (win), and the aroma leaves your whole house smelling like a crisp orchard in the fall. You can even customize your sauce by substituting pears or adding strawberries for a rosy hue.

Cakes

It's true! A rice cooker can even churn out a delicious dessert. This carrot cake from Shinshine has plenty of rave reviews to back it up. Orange zest is added for extra brightness and flavor, while the addition of candied carrot ribbons add a dramatic finish to this humble dessert.

Have you ever seen those big, jiggly cheesecakes from Japan? No graham cracker crust, no sour cream topper — just a moist cake that's dense but somehow still light and fluffy. The cakes are usually cooked with steam, which makes the rice cooker ideal for this crustless delicacy. While the ingredients are similar to an American cheesecake, the density and texture are vastly different and oh so delicious.

Land, air, and sea

If you only eat ribs when you visit a smokehouse or if you find yourself below the Mason-Dixon Line, you're in for a treat. Beer-braised baby back ribs from Debra Murray is the "aha" recipe. They'll make you wonder if magical elves are living in your rice cooker. How else could the ribs turn out so succulent and fall-off-the-bone tender?

Do you know what else you can make in a rice cooker? A whole chicken. Yes, I'm serious. Think about it. The cooker is sealed, allowing the juices and accumulating moisture to redistribute back into the chicken. The result? A bird so tender and juicy you may just give up your oven. But don't do it! While the rice cooker can cook a bird, you'll probably want to broil the chicken for a few minutes to get the skin brown and crispy.

Madame SooHoo's fish and rice is a one-pot meal from Elaine Corn and David SooHoo, owners of Bamboo restaurant in Sacramento. After marinating in savory notes of ginger, scallions, cilantro, and brandy, the fish and rice cook together in harmony. If it's good enough for their rice cooker, it'll definitely be worth trying in yours.

Potatoes

Although I haven't yet figured out how to make french fries in a rice cooker, there are other ways to spruce up the humble spud. Baked potatoes can be iffy in a microwave, and they take forever in the oven. But a rice cooker provides the perfect middle cooking ground. Even if you aren't using a rice cooker, the best type of potatoes to bake are the starchy varieties like an Idaho or russet. More important than choosing the right potato is piercing the skin before cooking. Otherwise, ka-boom! Potato everywhere.

Here's where the potato recipes get a little dicey because everyone has their own preference for mashed potatoes. Personally, I couldn't discriminate against any potato. These mashed potatoes are no exception. Instead of boiling and risking a gummy consistency, potatoes and garlic are steamed in the rice cooker then fed through a ricer for the ultimate fine texture. They're as smooth as can be. When finished with cream and butter, you wouldn't even need to serve an entree. No one will notice.

Yogurt

Are you ready to get really adventurous? How about making your own yogurt? The key to this dairy delicacy is temperature, and the rice cooker provides a perfectly stable heating environment for the culture to work its magic. There are several YouTubers making yogurt, and I really enjoy the video above by Oh Easy. It's very simple, straightforward and there's no talking so you don't miss a step. Happy rice cooker-ing!