Seasoned Rice Pilaf (like Rice-a-Roni but better & cheaper!)

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Boxed rice mixes are a thing of the past, especially when you know how to make a healthier, cheaper, and tastier seasoned rice pilaf yourself. Try this homemade rice-a-roni recipe today.

Seasoned Rice Pilaf on a plate with a fork

Growing up, I really loved the boxed rice and pasta pilaf known as “the San Francisco treat”. Rice-a-Roni was a staple in our home, my dad stocking up on boxes and boxes of chicken and beef flavor when they went on sale. Without fail, it served as a side dish to our skillet pork chops or baked chicken.

Sometime, in my newlywed years, I learned how to make Rice Pilaf. It was a game changer. Who knew that the boxed rice mixes were really simple pilafs in disguise? And that you could make it yourself?! Madison Avenue guarded this well-kept secret from us unsuspecting children of the 80s whose moms worked and whose home economics funding got cut.

What a revelation!

What’s the difference between rice and rice pilaf? 

The difference between rice and rice pilaf is that rice is the base for pilaf. But pilaf refers more to how the rice is prepared. Pilaf is usually cooked in stock or broth. 

Seasoned Rice Pilaf in a saucepan

Making seasoned rice pilaf yourself.

I’ve been making Simple Rice Pilaf for years. Adapting it toward the rice and ‘roni style involved upping the seasonings and throwing in some orzo.

That was easy.

Making it cheaper.

I used white rice for this recipe which I buy for 50 cents a pound in the ginormous bags. The homemade chicken broth was “free”. The seasonings, orzo, and butter, were in pretty minimal amounts. I’d say we made three times the amount of a boxed variety for about half the price.

pot of seasoned rice pilaf

What goes with rice pilaf? 

Rice pilaf is a great side dish. It can be served along chicken (maybe marinated in the best dijon chicken marinade ever) or a great steak, like my Mediterranean steak recipe to make for a complete meal. 

Tools I Use to Make This Recipe:

Seasoned Rice Pilaf
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Total Time
35 mins
Boxed rice mixes are a thing of the past, especially when you know how to make a healthier, cheaper, and tastier seasoned rice pilaf yourself. Try this homemade rice-a-roni recipe today.
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 322 kcal
Author: Jessica Fisher
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 cups uncooked white long-grain rice
  • 1/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  1. In a large skillet with a lid, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the rice and orzo.
  2. Saute until rice the becomes opaque and the orzo starts to brown lightly.
  3. Stir in the spices.
  4. Add the chicken broth and water and bring to a slight boil. Cover and reduce the heat. Cook for 20 minutes, covered, until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Nutrition Facts
Seasoned Rice Pilaf
Amount Per Serving
Calories 322 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g 12%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 20mg 7%
Sodium 434mg 18%
Potassium 171mg 5%
Total Carbohydrates 55g 18%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 1g
Protein 6g 12%
Vitamin A 8%
Vitamin C 8.3%
Calcium 3%
Iron 5.7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.


About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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  1. Holly says

    Thoughts on using brown rice?

    • You will need to up the cooking time to 40 and possibly increase the liquid. I haven’t made this with brown rice yet, so I can’t tell you for certain.

  2. Amanda Yoder says

    How could you sub out the orzo to make this gluten free?

  3. I’m liking your DIY series. 🙂 Gonna have to try this one out!

  4. Lisa says

    I make brown rice with almost dinner. This is a GREAT way to mix it up a bit. I’m prone to burning rice so I used my rice cooker. After sautéing the rice and orzo, I simply added it to my rice cooker. Instead of using chicken broth, I added more water and chicken bullion instead. It turned out GREAT.

    Thanks for sharing the recipe!

    • Carla says

      Good to know this works well in the rice cooker too! I’ve made Jessica’s Mexican Rice like this in the rice cooker–so much less stressful as I tend to torch-and scortch my rice too. 🙂

      • My stove has a simmer setting that is super low. That might be my secret. Are you doing the saute step in the rice cooker or in a pan?

    • Great!

  5. Ann says

    another thought on making it gluten free is to just break gluten free spaghetti into small pieces and substitute it for the orzo. At least, that’s what I’m going to try.

  6. Hi Jessica! Do you think it would work to freeze this ride if I doubled the recipe?

    • I don’t know honestly. I don’t freeze much in the way of rice dishes. Make a single batch and freeze a portion then see?

      • Kira says

        I have frozen your mexican rice, as well as cooked white and brown in bags like you can buy at trader joes. They work out really well.

  7. Christine says

    Possibly a stupid question…but are the measurements for fresh herbs or dried?

    • Not a stupid question at all. They are dried. Thanks for pointing that out so I can edit the post accordingly.

  8. Nicolle says

    This is the BEST rice ever! I added a little garlic powder and green onions to the original recipe and had to make a second batch. It’s also super easy to adapt a little for different meals (minced garlic and ginger for stir fry and curry powder and peas for Indian, etc.). Thank you so much for posting this!!!

  9. Gabby says

    In the very first photo…what did you make to have with the rice? It looks really good!

  10. Sheree says

    I need to triple the recipe. Any advice on measurements? Also, would it work well to keep the rice warm in a crock pot, or do you think it might get soggy?

    • It should easily double. I’m not sure I’ve ever tripled it, but it should work fine in a large pot. Crockpot should be fine. I would make sure you use white rice, the brown tends to be stickier when prepared this way. Hope this helps!

  11. Sarah says

    This was a great side dish for grilled salmon. I used a combination of jasmine and basmati rice (since it’s what I had on hand). I cut the recipe in half since it was just the two of us, but even that made enough rice to a side for 4-5 people.

    • Glad you liked it. I have polled people and folks really vary on how much rice is “enough for 4”. 😉

  12. Rachel says

    I just made this yesterday, and it was great! I usually don’t tweak the recipe until after I’ve made it as written, but I felt the need to add onion. I threw in 1/2 an onion along with the frying rice & orzo. Also I decreased the amount of thyme to 1/2 tsp. Added a few mixed frozen peas & carrots, & it was delish!! Definitely would do again. ?

    • Yes to it all! I do some of those same things to switch it up. Super yummy! Glad you liked it.

  13. Mai-Li Dong says

    I made this with jasmine rice, onion, celery, yellow peppers diced and sautéed with 5 Tb of butter first then added rice to saute. I used reduced salt chicken broth of 3.5 cups, no water as jasmine rice uses less liquid and the veggies added their own juices.Added a touch of creole seasoning mix- It came out fabulous!

  14. Tracey says

    Hi Jessica!

    I did a search for this type of recipe. I came across your version. My goal was to make it myself to reduce the sodium content found in store brands. Do you have a break down of the sodium for your recipe? Nutrition facts on your recipe would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Tracey! Glad you found Good Cheap Eats! As you can tell from the recipe, the sodium content is going to depend on you and which ingredients you choose to prepare this recipe. For the lowest sodium content, I would recommend using unsalted butter, low-sodium chicken broth, and season only lightly with salt (if any) to taste. Hope that helps!

  15. Dorine DeLutri says

    I have celiac disease and would like to make this recipe without the orzo. Would I have to make any other changes other than leaving the pasta out?

    • Just add that same amount of rice to the recipe.

    • Eva North says

      To make it gluten free, because I’m also gluten intolerant, but regardless, use gluten free orzo or spaghetti, it works just the same and it”s really good. Blessings to whatever you use and do.

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