11 Mistakes To Avoid When Making Rice

These mistakes can leave you with anything from dry, undercooked rice to mushy split grains.

Yes, we'll admit it. Those grocery-aisle pouches advertising easy, pre-portioned, fully-cooked rice in minutes are tempting. But it's time to ditch the microwavable stuff. While you should keep quick, microwavable rice in your pantry as a backup, we always prefer freshly-made rice. Homemade rice is a simple yet impressive addition to any meal. Serve it as a side to an elegant steak dinner or as the base of a hearty, whole-grain veggie bowl.

Rice is a staple ingredient in various international cuisines, and over time, different cultures have developed signature ways of preparing this simple grain. From Thai-inspired Basil Fried Rice to Southern rice casseroles, from aromatic basmati rice to spice-packed Spanish yellow rice, this grain transforms in countless, delicious ways.

Parslied Brown Rice Pilaf
Greg DuPree

While cooking rice may seem easy, it's an art worth perfecting. These mistakes can leave you with anything from dry, undercooked rice to mushy split grains. Here are the biggest mistakes you're making when cooking rice—and how to correct them for perfect, fluffy rice.

1. Use the Right Equipment

If you've long forgotten about that rice cooker gifted from your wedding registry, this is the time to break it out. But you don't actually need a rice cooker to make perfect rice. You can cook rice in your everyday saucepan or pot. Ensure that you select a pot with a thick bottom, which will help distribute heat evenly and prevent your rice from burning at the bottom.

2. Treat Each Grain Differently

You wouldn't cook paper-thin linguini for the same time as thick rigatoni. Like different pasta shapes require alternate cook times, grains of various rice need other cooking procedures. The main difference in rice grains is the ideal amount of water for cooking.

3. Pay Attention to Ratios

The key to cooking rice well is perfecting the water-to-rice ratio. Different grains of rice require different amounts of water—for example, brown rice requires slightly more water than white rice, and long grains require more water than short grains. As a starting point for brown rice, we recommend using one cup of rice for every two cups of water. Reference our Food Editor's complete guide to water measurements for different types of rice.

It's also essential to intentionally portion out your rice to only make as much as your dish calls. We'll talk a bit later about the dangers of leftover rice.

4. Salt the Water

Any cooking show fan knows that salting your pasta water is a cardinal rule of most celebrity chefs. The same goes for rice—not only does salt impart flavor, but it keeps the rice grains from sticking together in unsavory clumps.

5. Add Extra Flavor

While salted rice can be beautiful all on its own, adding spices to your rice pot before cooking will elevate this side dish. Try experimenting when cooking rice by adding a cinnamon stick or saffron strands in the boiling water for sophisticated flavor and a lovely aroma.

6. Butter? Yes, Please

The secret to extra-fluffy rice is adding a pad of butter to the pot while the rice steams. After all, everything's better with butter.

7. Cook Low and Slow

While you'll want to bring your water to a boil to start the rice cooking process, leaving the rice to cook at a high temperature will cause your grains to split and ruin their texture. Remember that you want to cook rice with steam, not with pure heat. Reduce the temperature to a simmer for the remainder of the cooking process to let the steam do the work.

8. Don't Bother It

Resist the temptation to open the lid and check on your rice. Peeking will interfere with the steaming process and leave you with dry, undercooked rice.

Similarly, stirring your rice while it cooks will activate the starches and leave you with clumpy, mushy rice. Your rice only needs a quick fluff with a fork once it's finished cooking. Constant stirring gives risotto its cherished creaminess—a trait not desirable when cooking plain rice. Moral of the story: leave your rice alone while it cooks and let it work its magic.

9. Let It Sit

Don't serve your rice immediately after it's finished cooking. Instead, keep the lid on, turn the heat off, and let your rice settle in its steam for ten minutes. This trick from our Food Editor will help distribute heat throughout the covered pan to ensure evenly cooked rice.

10. Rinse the Rice

To make restaurant-quality rice, rinse it before cooking to remove excess starch, helping to loosen the grains, so they cook separately, making it less sticky.

11. Beware the Leftovers

Although we're adamant fans of meal prep and repurposing leftovers, rice is one food to be cautious when using. Rice carries bacteria that can grow even after cooking and lead to food poisoning. Medical News Today offers some guidelines for safely storing rice to avoid this.

Don't let your rice sit at room temperature for more than an hour. If you have leftovers, refrigerate them in an airtight container directly after cooking. Don't reheat rice more than once, and dispose of any leftovers in the fridge after one to two days. To err on the safe side, you're better off cooking what you need for one serving of rice.

With these tips, you'll be cooking party-perfect rice in no time. You'll never be tempted by those microwavable rice packets again.

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