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.

dinner table with large bowl of homemade rice a roni

Did you grow up enjoying “the San Francisco Treat”?

Ever wonder if you could make it yourself? At home? Without a box?

Today is that day, my friend!

Growing up, I really loved the boxed rice mixes my mom would make. Rice-a-Roni was a staple in our home. Without fail, it served as a side dish to skillet pork chops or baked chicken.

Since my mom’s nickname was Roni, short for Veronica, I figured it was named after her, but no. The rice and pasta pilaf is just that – rice and (maca)roni!

And it was a favorite until I grew up…

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 rice pilafs in disguise? And that you could make it yourself?!

Madison Avenue sure guarded this well-kept secret from us unsuspecting children of the 80s whose moms worked and whose home economics funding got cut. (I’ve had to teach myself how to be homemaker.) 

What a revelation!

We all know that plain white rice is a pretty good cheap eat, but how do you make it less boring?Well, seasoned rice pilaf or “homemade Rice a Roni” is the perfect answer! And when you make it yourself, with ingredients you can pronounce, well, it makes for a fantastic side dish.

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 rice first sautéed in butter or oil and then cooked in stock or broth, usually with seasonings. Rice, on the other hand, like my recipe for baking rice in the oven is typically boiled, steamed, or otherwise cooked, simply with water. 

skillet of homemade rice a roni

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 stock was “free”. The seasonings, orzo, and butter, were used in minimal amounts, therefore adding up to less than a dollar.

I’d say we made three times the amount of a boxed variety for about half the price!

Making it better!

Making a seasoned rice pilaf doesn’t take much longer than opening a box mix. Not only did Big Food trick us into thinking their product was easier, they also added a bunch of junk to it, too.

The few minutes you spend measuring are nothing compared to how much money you save and how much better the end result tastes!

dinner plate with homemade rice a roni

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. 

It also can serve as a great base for bowl meals. One favorite combination of my childhood would include pulled pork, this seasoned rice, and some corn off the cob. Yum!

How do you make homemade Rice a Roni?

Making seasoned rice is super easy. Check it out:

  • Melt the butter in a skillet.
  • Add the uncooked rice and orzo and sauce until golden brown.
  • Stir in the spices.
  • Then add the stock or broth and water.
  • Bring the mixture to a simmer.
  • Once it starts to bubble, cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and serve!

Can you make seasoned rice in the instant pot?

Yes! You can make this homemade Rice a Roni in your pressure cooker. Follow the same steps, however, you’ll want to use equal parts of liquid to rice.

You’ll also want to reduce your cooking time dramatically. See the recipe for exact measurements and cooking times.

steps to making rice a roni

How I make this recipe inexpensively:

Here are some of the strategies I use to make this recipe more economical:

  • Buy in bulk. I know that Costco is the best place to buy ingredients in bulk, like rice or chicken stock, when there isn’t a great sale elsewhere. I keep track of prices so that I know who has the best deal where. If you don’t think you’ll eat through a ten pound bag of rice too quickly, split the purchase with a friend or store the extra in the freezer to extend its shelf life. Yes shopping at Costco can save you money, if done right. Likewise, I often buy spices in bulk as that’s the best unit price.
  • Make my own stock. Homemade chicken stock is so easy to make and practically free if you’re already roasting a chicken or buying rotisserie chickens. Extract all the flavor from the bones before you toss them.

Tools I use to make this recipe easy:

Having the right kitchen tools can really make your time in the kitchen more enjoyable. Over time, I’ve honed my collection so that they are perfect for my needs. Here are the tools that I like to use in this recipe.

  • Ergo Chef chef’s knife – I’ve had my set for several years and they work well.
  • 5-quart pot with lid – I have this one. It’s perfect for cooking chili or a big pot of rice.
  • pressure cooker – instead of cooking on the stovetop, you can make Mexican rice in the pressure cooker. See recipe notes below.

ingredients for homemade rice a roni

After you’ve prepared the recipe, would you do me a favor? I’d really appreciate it if you came back and left a starred review. Thanks in advance for your feedback!

5 from 1 vote
skillet of homemade rice a roni
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
To prepare the rice in a pan on the stove top:
  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.
To prepare this recipe in the electric pressure cooker:
  1. Heat the oil in the pot on sauté. Add the rice and continue cooking, stirring, until the rice turns white and very lightly brown.

  2. Stir in only 2 1/4 cups chicken broth; omit the water. Stir gently to combine.

  3. Cover and secure the lid. Turn the pressure valve on. Hit the manual button and cook for 4 minutes.

  4. When the timer beeps, allow the rice to rest for 10 minutes before releasing the pressure valve. Once all the pressure has escaped, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork.

Recipe Notes

Store cooked rice in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to four days. 

If preparing this dish with long grain brown rice, increase the cooking time to 40 to 45 minutes for the stovetop.

Nutrition Facts
Seasoned Rice Pilaf
Amount Per Serving
Calories 322 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Fat 8g12%
Saturated Fat 5g31%
Cholesterol 20mg7%
Sodium 434mg19%
Potassium 171mg5%
Carbohydrates 55g18%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 1g1%
Protein 6g12%
Vitamin A 400IU8%
Vitamin C 6.8mg8%
Calcium 30mg3%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

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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.

  16. Mel says

    How long are you supposed to saute the rice in the pressure cooker? I sauted until they turned white and started to get little brown spots from sauteing. The rice wasn’t cooked all the way. I used High temp because it wasn’t specified. Equal parts broth to rice, 4 minutes pressure, 10 minutes natural release

    • It sounds like you sautéed enough, Mel. The sautéing doesn’t “cook” the rice. The directions specify to use MANUAL for the pressure cooking.

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