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Rice Cooker vs Steamer: What’s the Difference?

Ever stood in the kitchen, rice cooker in one hand, steamer in the other, and wondered what the heck the difference is? We have.

Turns out, it’s not just us scratching our heads over appliances. Rice cookers and steamers seem interchangeable. Yet, they’re not.

We made rice to test it. Spoiler alert: we burned it a bit in the steamer. Rice cookers? Perfect fluffy rice, every time.

Steaming veggies while we talked about our day was a win. The steamer nailed it. The rice cooker? Not its gig.

Each has its hero moment. Rice cookers for that unbeatable rice. Steamers for those bright, crunchy veggies.

What is a Rice Cooker?

Rice cookers are kitchen must-haves.

They use advanced technology to give you perfectly cooked, fluffy grains.

You can choose between electric and non-electric models, with varying capacities.

These appliances let you get on with other tasks in the kitchen.

They regulate temperature and moisture to cook the rice right.

Plus, some even have programmable settings, timers, sensors, and keep warm functions.

If you need to make bulk food preparations for events, steaming machines are great.

You can steam all kinds of grains, as well as meats and vegetables.

They work by boiling water and the steam enters the food compartments through perforated trays.

Each tray has one small hole, so steam and heat can enter evenly.

What is a Steamer?

Steamers are kitchen appliances used to cook food using steam.

They vary in size and type – from handheld to bamboo to electric ones for commercial use.

Steam preserves nutrients and flavors of food.

Using a steamer is easy – add water to the base and put food on top.

As the water heats, steam cooks the food.

It requires less oil or fat and prevents burning or overcooking.

A unique aspect of steaming is that multiple types of food can be cooked at once.

This has made steamers popular in restaurants and homes.

For example, steamed vegetables, chicken, fish and dim sum dishes.

Differences Between Rice Cooker and Steamer

Functionality and Primary Purpose

When it comes to cooking grains, two appliances stand out: rice cookers and steamers.

Rice cookers are made just for cooking rice.

They use heat and steam to cook rice perfectly every time.

They have settings to choose what type of rice you want.

Plus, some models have a keep-warm function that keeps the cooked rice warm for hours.

Steamers are more versatile.

They can cook a range of foods, like veggies, seafood, or poultry.

Unlike rice cookers, steamers only use steam, so you can make healthy meals with little oil or salt.

Steamers come in various sizes and designs.

Some have multiple tiers for different foods.

Others have adjustable compartments, so you can customize the size.

Steamers also keep more nutrients in food than boiling or frying.

Ultimately, it depends on your needs and preferences.

Rice cookers are mainly for perfect rice.

But steamers provide more versatility for other types of food.

Design and Construction

Rice cookers and steamers have key differences.

Rice cookers have a non-stick pot, a lid with a venting system and buttons for different cooking options.

Steamers come in various shapes and sizes and usually consist of a base unit with heating elements and one or more steaming baskets or trays.

The inner pot of rice cookers is made from materials that can handle high heat and pressure during the cooking process.

They have measurement lines that help get the right water-to-rice ratio.

Steamers are usually made of steel or plastic, so they don’t need direct contact with food.

Rice cookers focus on cooking rice and monitoring water absorption levels.

They adjust temperature to get it right.

Steamers rely on external steam to cook food without oil.

Many steamer models have timers to set exact cooking times.

It depends on your personal style which appliance to choose.

Rice cookers do fluffy rice, while steamers make healthier meals with vegetables or fish.

Cooking Method

Cooking food is a must for humans.

We’ve evolved from cooking on wood and charcoal to using modern appliances like rice cookers and steamers.

People often use these interchangeably, unaware of the unique features of each device.

A rice cooker is a kitchen tool that helps cook rice.

It has different sizes, so you can cook small or large portions of rice at once.

Steamers, on the other hand, can cook veggies, fish, meat, dumplings, and more.

The main difference between a rice cooker and a steamer is their purpose.

Both use heat, but a rice cooker specializes in many kinds of rice with settings for white, brown, jasmine, or Basmati.

This can save time for busy people who want freshly-cooked rice without having to monitor it closely.

When you use a steamer, you have to fill its water compartment first.

You don’t need extra ingredients like with a rice cooker.

Steaming food retains its taste and nutrition, more moisture than baking or roasting, and you don’t have to add unhealthy oil.

Versatility and Cooking Options

Rice cookers and steamers are both efficient kitchen appliances.

Rice cookers are used for cooking rice, grains, stews, soups and even steaming vegetables.

Whereas steamers are just for steaming veg, seafood and meat.

Rice cookers have temperature control settings to slow-cook meats or prepare fluffy steamed buns.

Steamers have limited settings – like high or low heat.

Both appliances reduce the time spent on meal prep and help retain nutrients.

It’s your choice which to use, depending on the meal and your preference.

Similarities Between Rice Cooker and Steamer

Rice cookers and steamers use steam to heat food, making it cooked evenly.

They have heating elements and a reservoir of water.

The distinction is that rice cookers are made for cooking rice only, while steamers can manage many types of food.

A rice cooker is an effortless way to make rice each time.

It’s ideal for those who need rice but don’t have the knack or time to do it on a stovetop.

Rice cookers come with settings to make different textures like fluffy or sticky.

On the other side, steamers are more versatile than rice cookers.

You can use them to prepare veggies, buns, dumplings, fish, and other things too.

Basically, both appliances employ steam to make food.

Each has its own special features, so pick what fits your needs and desires.

Choosing Between a Rice Cooker and Steamer: Factors to Consider

Making a decision between a rice cooker and steamer can be tricky, especially for those not familiar with them.

Even though they have similarities, like cooking food with steam not water, these appliances have distinct differences.

Consider the following:

  • What type of food you want to cook often? Rice cookers are great for making a lot of rice and some do other dishes too. Steamers can steam veggies, seafood, dumplings and more.
  • The size of the appliance. Rice cookers come in small and large sizes. Steamers also come in various sizes.
  • Your lifestyle and space. If you don’t have much room, pick an appliance that has multiple uses and is small enough to fit.

To recap, when selecting between a rice cooker or steamer, think about the types of food you usually cook, quantity needed and your lifestyle.

This will help you choose an appliance that meets your needs and won’t take up too much space.


Rice cookers and steamers might look similar, but there are big differences between them.

Rice cookers are great for cooking rice, while steamers are more flexible and can cook multiple types of food.

Think about which one is right for you if you need to make rice fast or upgrade your kitchen.

Steamers have a few advantages.

You can cook different food in different compartments.

This gives you more meal options and saves time.

Also, rice cookers need more care than steamers.

You must clean them carefully after each use to stop bacteria and keep the non-stick surfaces safe.

Cleaning a steamer is easier – just wipe it with a damp cloth.

Rice Cooker vs Steamer: What’s the Difference?

Andrew Gray
Navigate the world of kitchen appliances as we discern between rice cookers and steamers, shedding light on their unique functions and culinary uses.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course This vs That


  • Rice Cooker
  • Steamer


  • Choose between a rice cooker and a steamer based on your preference and desired cooking method.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your chosen appliance to ensure proper usage.
  • Prepare your ingredients accordingly, whether it’s rice for the rice cooker or various items for steaming.
  • For the rice cooker, add the appropriate ratio of rice and water, close the lid, and select the desired cooking setting.
  • For the steamer, place the ingredients in the designated steaming basket, add water to the pot, and cover with the lid.
  • Power on the rice cooker or steamer and allow the cooking process to complete.
  • Once the rice is cooked or the ingredients are steamed to perfection, carefully open the rice cooker or steamer.
  • Serve the cooked rice or steamed items and enjoy the delicious results.
  • Clean and store your appliance according to the manufacturer’s instructions for future use.
  • Explore different recipes and ingredients to fully utilize the capabilities of your chosen cooking method.
Keyword Rice Cooker vs Steamer
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