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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

How to Keep Rice Warm (until you’re Good and Ready to eat it!)



If you like to cook up your rice in large batches, then keeping it warm the RIGHT way is pretty important. While you can certainly just continue lightly cooking rice at a low heat, this can put it at risk of drying up, browning on the bottom, or simply turning into a gooey, distasteful mess.

The good news is that you’ve got quite an assortment of tactics that you may employ to keep that rice as warm, fluffy, and fresh tasting as possible and today we’re going to share them with you. From ‘snack all day’ to picnicking options, all you’ll need is a few things you probably already have in the house and a few extra minutes of preparation time.

Let’s talk about how to keep your rice warm – until you and your guests are good and ready to eat it!

Bottom Line Up Front

The absolute BEST method is a rice cooker.

Some people don’t invest in one of these and it’s really a shame. Not only will they keep your rice warm for the longest time periods, but you can even cook different things in them like makeshift pizza rolls if you’re willing to look up the simple recipes.

Barring this, you can store it in the microwave or even better, in a baking pan in the oven with a little foil, and these methods will give you more extra time than the rest – but be sure to check below to read them all. Sometimes you just need a little extra time or a preparation perk like warmed plates to make your rice dining experience as close to perfect as it gets!

Keeping rice warm until you’re ready

Rice keeps well if you decide to store it and reheat it later, but you can also enjoy warm rice all day if you like. That’s because there are lots of ways to keep it warm and ready! So, if you’re feeling like a lazy day mixing and matching rice and various toppings, then today is your lucky day.

Below you’ll find 10 ways to keep your rice warm until you’re ready and with so many options, you should be able to do this with whatever you happen to have around the house. Now. Let’s take a look!

The ‘keep warm’ setting in your rice cooker

Someone turning on the “Keep Warm” setting on their rice cooker
Someone turning on the “Keep Warm” setting on their rice cooker.

If you are using a rice cooker, then you’ve already got your work cut out for you.

Rice cookers come with a ‘keep warm’ setting that will allow you to keep your rice warm and ready for hours. Ideally, this should set the internal temperature of the cooker to about 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit, but you’ll need to check the temperature on your rice cooker to make sure.

140 degrees should be enough to keep regular bacteria at bay, although there is still a chance of bacillus cereus – a heat-resistant bacteria that can sometimes occur in rice that can give you an upset stomach or food poisoning if you are unlucky!

If your rice cooker is one of the varieties that has a ‘keep warm’ setting of 150, however, then this should also help keep bacillus cereus at bay, as it starts dying at temperatures of 145 and above.

That said, excepting rare occasions, even 140 should be enough to keep your rice safe for about 5 hours so that you can snack from time to time, without having to remove it, store it, and reheat it later.

Good, old-fashioned aluminum foil

A roll of scrunched up aluminum foil
A roll of scrunched-up aluminum foil.

Aluminum foil works as a treat if you would like to keep your rice warm for a space. If you have an empty ice chest, it will work even better! To use foil to keep your rice warm, simply place a couple of scoops onto the center of a large sheet of aluminum foil.

Wrap it up, being careful not to leave any holes, and your rice will stay warm a little longer. Just keep in mind that it will likely only be about 30 minutes. The good news is that wrapped up in foil as it is, if you don’t feel that your rice is still warm enough then it’s easy to pop it in the oven for a few minutes and you can even spice it up a bit, adding things like garlic, butter, and onions, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

Use an insulated food container

Yellow insulated food container
Yellow insulated food container.

Insulated food containers are your friend when it comes to keeping your rice or other foods warm until you’re ready to eat them. A good example is this Lille Bento box, which can keep your rice, soup, or other snacks nice and warm for a good 4 – 6 hours.

There are even electric lunch boxes that are good if you do a lot of driving. For instance, lunch boxes like this Herrfilk Portable food heater are popular with truckers, as they are designed so that you can plug the lunchbox into your car and prepare a meal while you drive or simply keep a pre-prepared meal warm until it’s time to pull over and have your lunch!

Even without the fancy electric lunch boxes, a really good insulated container is well worth the investment. You can keep your rice nearby so that you and your friends can ‘dip in’ as you like while watching shows or even take a pre-prepared meal out for a perfect picnic.

It’s all up to you!

Preheat your oven and store it there

An open, pre-heated oven
An open, pre-heated oven.

Your oven is probably the most practical way to keep your rice warm, you just need to do it right so that you don’t end up making it dry in the process. This is quite easy to do – just set your oven to 200 degrees and put your rice in a baking dish, topping it off with a sealing layer of foil.

The foil will keep the rice from drying out, as the moisture should be contained, and your rice will stay warm and perfect for your guests for at least a few hours.

Enclose it in a microwave

An open insulated microwave
An open insulated microwave.

If you move your rice to a microwave-safe, sealable container, then you can place it covered or uncovered inside your microwave. As your microwave is sealed to some extent, just putting something warm inside it will increase the amount of time that it stays warm.

The tiny area inside is isolated enough that it keeps the rice from getting cold too quickly, although in a pinch you can always sprinkle a little water on top, put the lid on, and heat it for a minute to make it piping hot with a quickness!

Preheated plates or bowls

Plates and bowls and other items in a cupboard
Plates and bowls and other items in a cupboard.

A preheating plate is a nice little trick that is easy to do, just be sure to handle them with mittens or heat-resistant gloves if you do this. The simplest way to go about it is to preheat your oven to the lowest temperature, which is usually going to be about 150 degrees.

Stack your plates, putting them inside, and as long as they are oven-safe (usually denoted by a mark on the bottom of the plate showing the plate and ‘waves’ to represent heat) then you should be able to keep them in there until you need them.

If you have a toaster oven and your plates will fit in it, then this is a more energy-efficient way to accomplish the same thing. Restaurants do this a lot, so it also makes your meal feel a little fancy, but keep in mind that the plate will quickly cool down – this is one of those tricks to make the food taste as if you’ve just finished cooking it, rather than for keeping it warm a long time.

Just leave it in the pot

Someone taking the lid off a hot pot
Someone taking the lid off a hot pot.

Just leaving the rice in the pot is going to keep it warm for a while, although you shouldn’t leave it out like this for more than an hour and 45 minutes. That’s because 2 hours is about the amount of time that it takes for bacteria to start doubling and you definitely don’t want that.

What you CAN do to enhance this a little is to get a larger pot, which you can pour a small amount of boiled water into, and then place the smaller metal pot inside of it. Set the burner on low and this will help to keep the inner pot warm without subjecting it to direct heat.

Make sure to keep the lid on so that your rice doesn’t end up dry and this should let you keep it warm for a good 2 to 3 hours if you are having guests over and want a little extra ‘bacteria insurance’.

A heat lamp works for catering gigs, so why not at home?

Heat lamps keeping buffet food options warm
Heat lamps keeping buffet food options warm.

Some of us LOVE entertaining guests and one of the best parts of that is preparing meals for them to enjoy. If you’re the type of person who likes to host all-night holiday events or luncheons that sometimes go well into the evening, then why not invest in a heat lamp?

This Green Freestanding heat lamp is one example, and the way that they work is by gently radiating heat to keep rice and other goodies that you want to put under it nice and warm. If you like to entertain guests a lot, then they are well worth the investment, but if you’re more of a loner type then this might not be a good fit.

Slow cookers are a nice option

Rice dish in front of a slow cooker
Rice dishes in front of a slow cooker.

Do you have a slow cooker at home? (we know you DO!!!)

Your slow-cooking crockpot is a great way to keep your rice warm, but you’ll want to be mindful of the time.

Setting your crockpot on low will keep the rice warm for you, but more than 2 to 3 hours is not recommended. That’s because crockpots work by recirculating steam, so keeping your rice in for longer than 2 – 3 hours will eventually result in mushy rice.

That said, for getting an extra 2 – 3 hours of time, a crock pot is ideal and if you accidentally leave it in too long and it gets mushy, then don’t panic – you can always add a little milk, sugar, heavy cream, a few drops of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and cinnamon for an instant pot rice pudding!

Time it right and you can snack on the cooked rice for 2 hours and then convert it afterward into a dessert that tastes even better cold when you store it in the fridge for a morning treat!

Warming pads make for wonderful picnics

Heats Food Warming Pads | Full Pan Water Activated Disposable Food Warmers for Parties | Used w/ Chafing Dish, Aluminum Pans, Foil Trays, Buffet Kit, Kitchen Accessories (Pans NOT Included) | 6 Pack

Camping fans out there are probably well aware of this little trick, but for those that haven’t used them before, portable and disposable warming pads are quite useful to have on hand. Used with foil trays, these warming pads are similar to the disposables that you use to warm yourself in winter sometimes.

You can get them online or at local department stores, such as Walmart, and they can help keep food warm at a picnic or if you are bringing hot food to a friend’s house, you can whip out your heating pads and keep the food warm without having to bring a heavier appliance.

Check to see what temperature that yours are rated for, but the ones that we linked are a good example. They will keep a range of 145-165 degrees Fahrenheit and can keep your food warm for up to 2 hours.

Just be sure that it’s hot, to begin with – these will maintain a warm temperature, but you can’t heat up cold food with them!


In an effort to cover any areas that we might have missed, we’ve compiled a few frequently asked questions that we hope you’ll find helpful.

Can you eat rice left out for 5 hours?

No, you don’t want to eat rice that has been sitting without a heat source for 5 hours. Bacterial growth and reproduction are ideal in a temperature range of 86 to 96.8 degrees, so much so that a colony can double in size in about 20 minutes’ time.

Usually, the rule is to eat rice that’s just been taken off the heat right away, or failing this, within an hour or MAYBE 2 at most. That ‘maybe’ is contingent upon how well your pot is going to hold the heat and whether or not you’ve left the lid on to help contain that heat longer.

If you don’t intend to eat it quickly, then it’s best to use one of the methods that we’ve outlined today or simply store the rice away in your fridge so that you can reheat it later.

Is it fine to leave rice in a rice cooker on the keep warm function overnight?

No, the ‘keep warm’ setting isn’t really designed with overnight use in mind. While the setting will certainly run for that long on most cookers, it’s a good way to end up with dry or even slightly brown-bottomed rice in the morning.

It won’t taste very good and you’re much better off just storing it away and reheating it in the microwave, baking it in your standard oven, or simply utilizing your stovetop so that it’s hot, fresh, and as bacteria-free as realistically possible.

How do you keep rice from drying out in a warmer?

Usually, you can just add a very small amount of water, and it really doesn’t take much at all. With most warming scenarios, your rice is inside a container with a lid, so it’s not going to lose moisture very quickly at all.

Just make sure that you are heating it at 140 – 150 degrees, however, or you might inadvertently be preparing a large bacteria culture in your pot or plastic container!

How long can you use ‘keep warm’ in a rice cooker?

Most people recommend 5 hours, but if your rice cooker uses a keep-warm temperature of about 150 degrees, then you can easily get away with 8 to 10 hours. 150 degrees should keep the bacteria at bay and in Asia, leaving it on keep warm mode for 8 -10 hours is pretty commonplace.

The rice usually won’t get dry, as the closed container will trap moisture inside, but any longer than 10 hours max is not recommended or it WILL start drying out on you.

Some final words on keeping your rice warm and yummy

In this article, we’ve covered 10 tactics for keeping your rice warm as you can see, you’ve got a lot of choices and in most cases, everything you need is already at home. Simple old-school classics like aluminum foil can buy you a little time, or you could make use of your crock pot if you don’t happen to have a rice cooker handy.

Barring this, disposable heating pads offer a solution for when you are picnicking or bringing food to a friend, and even just a foil and a baking dish will also work wonderfully if you need a solution that will work in just about any home.

Just remember that you want a temperature range of 140 to 150 to keep those pesky bacteria at bay and gear your solution with that in mind. You’ll get a little more time to enjoy your rice and your day will be all the better for it!

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: David McLemore

David learned to cook at an early age after his mother told him that he couldn't live on pizza forever, Dave uses his modest kitchen skills to recreate sorely-missed recipes from home and to occasionally make new favorite ones from places he is visiting.

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