Rice cookers that are designed to be used on top of the stove look very much like double boilers except that the interior pot has holes on the bottom. This enables the rice cooker to pull double duty as a steamer as well.
Stove top rice cookers are fairly easy to use but they need to be as closely monitored during cooking to ensure doneness and prevent over-cooking and burning.
To use a stove top rice cooker, fill the larger, external pot with water to the fill line marked inside the pot. For best results, 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 teaspoon of salt should be added to the water. The uncooked rice goes into the smaller, external pot. For every 1 cup of rice, there needs to be 1.5 cups of water. The lid should be placed securely over the interior pot and it should be placed into the larger external pot.
At this point, the burner should be turned on high until the water comes to a boil. Once the water boils, turn the burner to low. The rice needs to be stirred once or twice during cooking. Cooking time is usually 15 to 20 minutes.
The same method can be used to steam other foods on the stove top. Many people recommend that the lid be a bit looser when steaming vegetables or potatoes to allow some steam to escape.
In addition to the modern 2 pot stove top rice steamers, traditional Thai rice steamers can be found in Asian or Vietnamese markets and, of course, online. The Thai steamers are made with a woven reed or bamboo basket that is cone shaped and fits into an aluminum pot which sits on the stove for cooking.
Asian markets are also where one can find the stackable basket steamers. These woven baskets with lids usually cost under $10 and are used with a metal base which costs around $10. There are a variety of sizes to choose from and can be used to make many dishes in addition to rice.
Many people report that the conventional stove top rice cooker of the outer pot, steamer pot and lid is fairly hard to find. Some can be found online ranging in price from $40 to $60. Small specialty stores in areas where rice is often a staple such as the Southern Atlantic coast will feature them and the cost is about the same.
The search for stove top rice cooker can become confusing with all the microwavable options available. Although using the microwave to cook rice may save some time, most people agree that the quality is inferior when compared to stove top rice cooker preparation and there is less control for the cook.