7 Reasons Why Your Rice Sucks (and How to Fix It)
Photo: Liz Andrew/Styling: Erin McDowell

You consider yourself a solid cook: You season as you go, you never rinse your chicken and you can make a mean jammy egg, thank you very much. But if the thought of whipping up a simple pot of rice strikes fear into your heart—it’s always mushy, or crunchy, or burned—we’re here to tell you that a totally transcendent pot of rice is well within your reach. Here are seven common rice-cooking mistakes and how to fix them.

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1. You’re not rinsing your rice before cooking it. 

If this feels like the “cleaning your dishes before you put them in the dishwasher” conundrum, hear us out. Dry rice is coated in starchy powder. If you skip a good preliminary rinse, that starch ends up in the pot, and the final product is a big bowl of clumpy mush. To get those fluffy, distinct grains, rinse the rice in a mesh sieve until the water runs clear. 

2. You’re using the wrong pot.

You’ll want to choose one with a heavy bottom that’s not too shallow and, of course, a tight-fitting lid. The reason? It’ll distribute heat evenly, and the water won’t evaporate too quickly. Leave that flimsy pot you’ve had since college for another time. (Unless you like scrubbing at burned rice all night.)

3. Your water-to-rice ratio is off.

It can be tricky to know how much water to add to the pot—especially when every package and variety gives you different instructions. We like to stick to this formula from the trusty New York Times: For most long- and medium-grain rice (like basmati), use 1⅓ cups of water per 1 cup of rice; for short-grain rice, stick to a one-to-one ratio (1 cup of water per 1 cup of rice); and for brown rice, use 1¾ cups of water per 1 cup of rice.

4. You’re cooking it at the wrong temperature.

Low and slow, baby. If your burner is at too high a temperature (anything above low, pretty much), your liquid will cook off before the grains even have a chance to soften up and you’ll be left with a pot of burned rice. Once your rice has come to a boil, pop the lid on, reduce the temperature to a bare simmer and walk away (well, don’t go too far).

5. You’re not letting it cook undisturbed.

Listen, we know it’s tempting to lift that lid and take a peek. Don’t! Remember how you’re cooking it on low heat? You’re essentially using the lid to steam the rice. Every time you lift the lid, steam escapes. And while you’re at it—no stirring, please. While an initial quick stir is fine (it’ll break up clumps), too much will release a bunch of starch into the water and make everything a gloppy mess.

6. You’re not giving it a chance to rest.

When your timer goes off, you might be tempted to dive right in. (Same.) But wait—that rice has got to rest. This step is key to letting all that liquid redistribute uniformly. To give it a proper steam sesh, turn of the heat and remove the lid. Then, drape a kitchen towel over the pot and replace the lid. (This will prevent any condensation from making your hard work soggy.) Set that timer for ten minutes. Your patience will reward you.

7. You’re adding salt.

OK, this one’s up for debate. (Seriously: It has its own Reddit thread.) Adding salt to your rice water certainly won’t ruin it, from a technical standpoint. But some folks say unsalted water is the way to go, because it lets the starch act as a blank slate for the rest of your meal (and this is the school of thought in many East Asian cultures, where rice is a culinary mainstay). But ultimately, it comes down to personal preference, and if you like your rice salty, you do you.

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