6 Common Rice Cooking Mistakes—and How to Avoid Them

Cooking rice is a basic kitchen skill and one that's easy to mess up, resulting in a dry, undercooked or gummy wet result. Here, we asked experts to help us troubleshoot.

At first glance, the steps for cooking rice seem simple enough: Boil the water, add the rice, and cook until fragrant and fluffy. And yet, there are many misconceptions about preparing this pantry staple and some steps are often overlooked. These blunders can make your rice gummy and gross (or dry and burnt), ultimately rendering the grains—which should be separate and tender—inedible.

Fortunately, once you know the most common rice cooking mistakes, it's quite easy to avoid them and ace your go-to rice recipes. Here's what you should never do while making rice—and how to cook it the right way, according to experts.

white rice cooked in rice cooker recipe
Emily Laurae

1. Not Rinsing Rice Before Cooking It

When you have dinner to make and mouths to feed, washing rice before cooking it may seem unnecessary. If you tend to skip this step, consider picking up the habit. Rinsing rice is essential for cleanliness, as it removes stones or grit that might have hitched a ride during processing, says Chantheun Thanh, the executive chef at RAW* in Hartford, Conn. It also reduces excess starch, paving the way for a better pot of rice. "If you cook rice without rinsing it beforehand, you could end up with a weird film on top," says Thanh. This is caused by the excess starch dissolving in water. When the water evaporates, it leaves behind an undesirable gummy texture, he adds.

If you want perfectly fluffy rice with no sticky patches, rinse the grains in cold water, then strain them through a fine-mesh sieve until the water runs clear, says Ann Ziata, chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. Additionally, make sure to measure the amount of rice you need before rinsing, she says.

2. Guessing the Water-to-Rice Ratio

Another common rice mistake is tossing water and rice in a pot and assuming that, if there's too much liquid, it will simply cook off (or if there's too little water, you can just add more). But it's quite difficult to recover from an incorrect water-to-rice ratio, as the right amount of liquid is needed to properly rehydrate the rice.

"If you use too much water, you could end up with macerated rice grains that [are] soggy and mushy, instead of the more desirable al dente texture," says Thanh. In this case, you may as well add more liquid and make rice porridge, like congee in China or arroz caldo in the Philippines. And if you don't add enough water? According to Thanh, you could end up with undercooked rice grains, which can feel like grit or sand in your mouth. It can be especially difficult to recover from this error, and even more frustrating to clean up, as burnt rice can stick to the bottom of the pot.

To make sure your water-to-rice ratio is on point, check the instructions on the product's packaging. If you purchased the rice in bulk or don't have the original package, consider using "The Finger Trick," as suggested by JJ Johnson, chef and author of The Simple Art of Rice: Recipes from Around the World for the Heart of Your Table. "Pour the rinsed rice into a heavy-bottomed pot, making sure [it's] level. [Next,] touch your middle finger to the surface of the rice and add enough water to reach the first knuckle of your finger," says Johnson. This technique is a foolproof way of getting the correct water-to-rice ratio, no matter the size of your hand, he says.

3. Cooking Rice on High Heat

Contrary to popular belief, cooking rice on high heat won't speed up the process. Instead, the liquid may evaporate before the rice is fully cooked, says Johnson. As a result, you'll be left with undercooked or burnt rice, the latter of which has a strong flavor that's hard to get rid of.

The best method for cooking rice is to bring the water to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer before adding the rice. This will allow the outside and inside of the rice to cook at similar rates, ensuring more evenly cooked grains, says Ziata.

4. Cooking Brown Rice Like White Rice

Using the same cooking method for brown and white rice isn't the best move. That's because brown rice requires significantly more time and water to prepare. "Brown rice is essentially white rice in little bran jackets," says Ziata. "The outer bran coat slows down the entry of water into the starchy center, so [brown rice] can take about twice as long to cook." However, between its high fiber content and delightfully nutty flavor, it's certainly worth the time investment, she says.

Want to get this right? Our technique for cooking brown rice uses less water than many methods:

  • For long-grain brown rice use 1 1/4 cups water to 1 cup rice.
  • For short-grain brown rice use 1 1/2 cups water for each cup of rice.
  1. Use a wide, shallow pot with a a tight-fitting lid and bring the (rinsed) rice, water, and salt (1/4 teaspoon per cup of rice) to a boil.
  2. Cover, and reduce to a slow, steady simmer. Many recipes call for 50 minutes cook time, but 30 minutes is plenty.

5. Stirring Rice as It Cooks

"Many people stir rice while it's cooking, but this can be a mistake," says Thanh. "If you stir rice while it's still cooking and rehydrating, the grains can break, resulting in multiple non-uniform pieces." This can lead to a gummy texture, as the small pieces of rice will cook faster and disintegrate, giving you a half-pudding, half-rice hybrid, says Thanh.

Cooking rice should be a hands-off process. This will allow steam channels—or visible empty spots on the surface of the rice—to develop naturally, helping the rice cook evenly, says Ziata. "If you want to check the rice to see if it's done, taste a couple of grains, or use a fork to gently push the rice away from the side of the pot to see if there's any water left at the bottom," she says. (The exception to this "no-stir" rule is if you're making risotto, in which stirring coaxes out the starches to bind them with the liquid, says Thanh.)

6. Not Letting Rice Sit After Cooking

Another mistake people make when cooking rice is serving it right away. The consequence is less fluffy rice, plus an uneven texture with both soggy and dry patches, says Ziata.

Thanh recommends letting rice stand after cooking, which allows the last bit of steam and water to fully absorb into the kernels. To do this properly, remove the rice from the heat and let it rest for a few minutes while covered, says Johnson. Then, before serving, gently fluff the rice with a fork.

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