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I Cooked With This Japanese Precision Cooker for 5 Weeks

The Musui-Kamado slow-cooks, steam-roasts, and makes reliably tender rice. It also costs $670. Photo: Laurie Frankel/Vermicular

There’s not much that intimidates me in the kitchen these days. Hand me an apron and I’ll step in to dice onions, break down a hunk of meat, slow-scramble eggs, or steam rice on the stovetop. But there was something about the Vermicular Musui-Kamado, a Japanese multi-cooker that made its American debut this January, that made me really nervous.

The all-in-one cooker sat in the corner of my kitchen for a full week before I mustered the courage to open it up. I was intimidated by the price tag: $670 for both the cast-iron Dutch oven, called the musui, which is hand-machined in Japan, and the accompanying Kamado induction heating element. There was a distinct lack of the buttons and dials that might normally guide me in the right direction on the display.

There’s nothing quite like the Musui-Kamado on the market, and even though I’ve been using it successfully for the last few weeks, I still struggle to explain what, exactly, the Musui-Kamado is. As Joe Ray noted in his review for Wired, this device is marketed as a rice cooker in Japan, but that doesn’t capture the scope of its functionality. Neither does calling it a slow-cooker. But it’s not an Instant Pot, because there’s no pressure-cooking element, even though it’s called an “all-in-one cooker” in many press releases. It also doesn’t have the speed advantage of an induction cooker, which can boil a vat of water in a matter of minutes.

Rather, the Musui-Kamado does a little bit of everything with incredible precision. It can hold the cast-iron pot at any temperature between 90 and 200°F for as long as you need — though if you want something hotter, to sear or to brown ingredients, the medium setting stays constant at 445°F. The musui also sports a nearly airtight lid to regulate internal temperature while the induction heater is going, helping the contents steam-roast evenly with only a little bit of added moisture. Plus, you can take that still-hot cast-iron Dutch oven off the electrical component and pop it into the oven for a final round of browning. Your Instant Pot could never.

The real magic of this device is how it can draw out flavors from essentially nothing. Really, the best thing I cooked in the Musui-Kamado was also the simplest. I took a few carrots that had been sitting in my crisper drawer, washed and sliced them, then dumped them into the pot with about a tablespoon of water and nothing else. I set it to cook on low heat, and one 45-minute episode of You on Netflix later, they were done, almost creamy with a sweet glaze that seemed to appear from nowhere but was the result of the long, relatively slow cooking process at a relatively low temperature.

But everything I cooked came out well. I steamed rice using their automatic program, which came out fluffy and tender with minimal effort every time. I roasted a whole chicken in Musui-Kamado, first letting it steam-roast in the pot for 45 minutes at low heat. This kind of precision cooking is essentially sous vide, except without the need for a vacuum-sealed bag and a water bath. I then took the Dutch oven with the partially cooked chicken inside off the electrical component and popped it into the oven to finish it off and get a nice, crispy skin. Again, the Instant Pot could never. I’ll admit that the process wasn’t necessarily easier than putting a whole chicken in the oven at 375°F for about an hour until the internal temperature hovers around 165°F and the skin is brown and crispy. But the resulting chicken was more tender and juicier because of that slow, precise cooking process, and the design of that pot, which effectively basted the chicken as it cooked.

By the end of my experiment, I’d liken learning how to use the Musui-Kamado to learning how to drive. At first, nothing really makes sense: Why are there no buttons? Why does the timer for the rice cooker automatically set for an hour from now, when I want it now? But as you learn the intricacies and nuances and practice more and more, the machine becomes second-nature. You don’t really need the buttons, and the hour-long cook time makes for the fluffiest rice. It’s not the most necessary kitchen appliance, but the Musui-Kamado (which is available in three different colors) will scratch the itch of a serious home cook who’s interested in gadgets but doesn’t want to clutter the cabinet with more gear. And if you’re willing to be a bit patient, you’ll probably learn to love it, too.

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I Cooked With This Japanese Precision Cooker for 5 Weeks