When I was a kid, brown rice just wasn’t for me. Despite my disdain, my mom served it to us time and again (along with an ever-increasing ratio of whole wheat flour in her pancakes and waffles). Perhaps it was her tendency to scorch the stuff—and not in a very delicious crispy rice way, but in a “burnt cinders on the bottom of the pot” way—that turned me off for so long.
But I, much like my mother’s rice-cooking method, was wrong. Brown rice is great. It just took me 15 years to come around. For some dishes, like sushi, I’ll still choose white rice because its flavor is so unobtrusive. But in fried rice, stir-fries, grain bowls, and as my go-to side dish, I actually prefer the nutty intensity of brown rice. When it comes to how to cook brown rice, though, there’s a shocking amount of bad info out there, whether it comes from the instructions on the bag of rice or the directions on your rice cooker.
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© Photo by Alex Lau Genmai is a type of brown rice popular in Japanese cooking known for its chewy texture and nutty flavor.
So take solace in knowing that your inability to make brown rice that is pleasantly al dente and not mushy is not your fault. Below, you’ll find four failsafe approaches to making the best fluffy brown rice of your life. These methods can be used for short-grain or long-grain brown rice alike, including varieties like brown basmati rice and brown jasmine rice. And before you ask: Whether you choose to rinse your rice is a personal choice—some sources say you don’t need to rinse brown rice at all. Our opinion: For the fluffiest brown rice possible, rinsing is the way to go.
How to cook brown rice in a rice cooker
In the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen, our fancy rice cookers—the kind with computer chips and special settings for different types of rice—have always worked perfectly for white rice. Brown rice, however, used to come out a bit mushy and overcooked.
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I called Zojirushi, the brand of rice cooker we’ve always sworn by, and spoke with Marilyn Matsuba, their marketing manager. It turns out she’s heard this feedback before, specifically from users outside Japan. In Japan, she told me, people often prefer brown rice a good bit softer and stickier, while Americans tend to prefer a much firmer grain.
If you, too, want a firmer grain with dinner, the trick then is to cook brown rice on the white rice setting. Matsuba confirmed that, as long as you pour in enough water (i.e., add water to the mark indicated for brown rice inside the cooking pot), cooking brown rice on the white rice setting is perfectly fine. The resulting grains are perfectly distinct and chewy-tender. Bonus, the white rice setting cooks those grains in nearly half the time.
Side note: You know what the brown rice setting is great for? Cooking super-dense whole grains like spelt, rye, einkorn, whole barley, and whole farro. You can even mix handfuls of several grain varieties and cook them all together.
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How to cook brown rice in an Instant Pot
If you haven’t gotten around to grabbing a rice cooker but were all over the Instant Pot craze, there’s good news (and a pot of perfect brown rice) in store for you. Pressure cookers like the Instant Pot make cooking brown rice more straightforward than ever, according to Chef Tyler Kord. For this quick-cooking method, stick to a 1:1 rice-to-water ratio on high pressure for 15 minutes. Then, use the natural release setting for perfectly cooked rice. Kord points out that using natural release won’t save you much on total time, but, like using a rice cooker, the method is mostly hands off and a cinch to execute.
How to cook brown rice on the stove (the standard method)
This method is for the days I’m not rushing and don't really care how long it takes to cook brown rice—it’s also especially good for maximizing the nutty flavor. While this process follows the one on the back of many bags of rice, the key difference in our technique is the ratio of water to rice: We recommend 1¾ cups of water for every 1 cup of brown rice. Salt is essential: Use about ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or a heaping ¼ teaspoon Morton kosher) per cup of rice. Bring the rice to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until rice is tender and water has evaporated, 40–45 minutes. Fluff gently and let sit, covered, off heat, for 10 minutes to make it as light and fluffy as possible.
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How to cook brown rice on the stove (the faster way)
Do you want the most distinct, beautifully separated, fluffy-tender grains of rice possible, even on the busiest of weeknights? Forget what you've heard about how long it takes to cook brown rice on a stovetop. Grab a large pot, your strainer, and say goodbye to both undercooked and mushy rice forever.
The best thing about this method: The amount of water you use doesn’t matter. That’s because I’m talking about boiling the rice like pasta in a pot of salted water until it’s al dente—cooking time is about 25–30 minutes. Drain the rice, then return it to the warm pot for 10 minutes, covered, off-heat, to steam and get even fluffier and drier.
While I was very skeptical about this supremely easy recipe before trying it, it’s actually how I like to cook quinoa and most other grains, and it works just as well for rice. Some of the rice’s flavor does get lost to the excess water—chances are you won’t notice—but so does the starch and anything else clinging to the grains, which means that even if you’re a rice-rinsing devotee, you really can skip that step when choosing this method.
Phew. You made it. Welcome to the world of people who love and know how to cook brown rice—and the total time to get here took less than an hour. Now pick a method and try it in one of these all-star brown rice recipes:
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Editor's note: This story has been updated by Mehreen Karim since it was originally published in April 2017.