Guide to Food Steamers

Steaming is a moist-heat cooking method that cooks food by surrounding it with hot vapor in an enclosed environment. It’s a particularly healthy and effective cooking technique because foods like vegetables retain their nutrients, as opposed to when they’re simmered in water and the nutrients can leach out. What's more, no fat or oil is needed for this cooking method. Try it with green beans or other vegetables, stuffed chard leaves, Asian dumplings and more.

There are a number of different...MORE types of stovetop and electric steamers. This guide should give you some options to choose the right version for your needs.

Steamer Features and Options

Steamers come in two varieties: electric or stovetop. The stovetop steamer is an insert that fits into or on top of a saucepan or other pot that's filled with an inch or two of simmering water. The food is placed in the insert, and the perforated base of the insert allows the steam to surround and heat the food. These types of steamers can be found in the following forms:

  • Folding or collapsable raised platforms (often made of stainless steel or silicone) that sit in the bottom of a pot
  • A perforated metal pan that nests in a saucepan similar to a double boiler
  • A bamboo basket that can rest in a wok

Electric steamers, meanwhile, can be found with stackable, perforated trays or divided so that large batches of food or different types of food can be steamed at the same time. Water is added to a chamber, and a heating element heats the water until it turns into steam. Some appliances, such as rice cookers or multi cookers, have a steamer function. Electric pressure cookers or stovetop pressure cookers often include a steamer tray and can be used as a steamer. 

Steaming Tips:

  • The best foods for steaming are tender proteins like lean fish fillets; boneless, skinless chicken breasts; and vegetables. Cut vegetables into equal-sized pieces so that they’ll cook evenly.
  • Be sure to add enough liquid to the steamer so that it’ll last through the entire steaming time – if you need to add more water, the temperature will drop. Be sure to check the water level occasionally, especially for a stovetop steamer, to ensure that your pot isn’t boiling dry, which will scorch the pot and could damage it.
  • Arrange larger pieces of food, such as dumplings or fillets, in a single layer, leaving a little room between each piece to allow the steam to circulate. For vegetables like broccoli or green beans, pile them loosely in the steamer. The important thing is that there is space around the food so that the steam can circulate; otherwise certain parts might not cook as evenly.
  • Avoid removing the lid too frequently to check on the food as this will cause the temperature to drop. For this reason, a glass lid is helpful, although often it will fill with condensation, making it hard to see inside.
  • When you open the steamer, open the lid away from your face and hands – the hot steam can cause burns.
  • Very bland foods can be subtly flavored by adding aromatic ingredients to your steaming water. Try herbs, tea, onions or leeks. Or you can make a flavorful sauce to serve with the food.
  • 01 of 05
    OXO Good Grips Pop-Up Steamer
    OXO

    A vast improvement of the classic flower-style steamer, in which perforated "petals" unfold in the bottom of a pot to create the elevated steaming surface, OXO's version has a handle that extends with a push of a button, to make it easier to reach in and lift the basket out of the pan. The entire handle can be removed for steaming larger foods. The OXO Good Grips Pop-Up Steamer has feet that elevate it 1 3/4 inches to allow for plenty of water in the bottom of the pan; the feet fold...MORE for storage. The steamer will fit in pots that are 8 inches or wider.

  • 02 of 05
    Chef'n SleekStor VeggieSteam Steamer
    PriceGrabber

    Made from silicone with a nylon core, the Chef'n SleekStor VeggieSteam fits inside of a pot for stovetop steaming or can be used inside a lidded glass container for use in the microwave. It comes in 8- and 11-inch sizes, and the flexible sides easily conform to different container shapes and sizes. The VeggieSteam is heat resistant up to 400˚F, will not scratch nonstick surfaces, and is top-rack dishwasher safe.

  • 03 of 05
    PriceGrabber

    Use this classic Asian-style bamboo steamer in a wok for easy, elegant steaming, or use steaming rings (sold separately) so that it can fit over a stockpot. The 10-inch steamer has 2 tiers, so you can either steam two different parts of your meal at once, or you can use the two tiers to steam a large quantity of dumplings or other delicate foods. Made of all bamboo (even assembled with bamboo pegs and bamboo lacing), and the bamboo serves to absorb condensation so that food won't get soggy.

  • 04 of 05
    Circulon Universal Steamer
    Amazon.com

    Made of stainless steel, Circulon's steamer has a cleverly designed base that fits on top of any pot between 2 and 4 quart capacities, or 6 and 8 inches in diameter (including brands other than Circulon), and will work with pots that have straight sides as well as those with slightly flared sides. Riveted loop handles make it easy and safe to lift and carry the steamer, and the tempered glass lid fits tightly to prevent any steam and heat from escaping.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05
    Oster Electronic Steamer
    PriceGrabber

    If you steam food frequently, and serve a crowd, an electric steamer can be a more convenient option than a stovetop steamer. The Electronic Food Steamer from Oster (model 5712) has a 6-quart capacity in 2 tiers, and the transparent sides of the container allow you to check on the food's progress without removing the lid and letting heat escape. The digital display has a delay option of up to 12 hours (just make sure not to let meat and other bacteria-prone foods sit out at room temperature...MORE for an extended period of time), and there's a 95-minute timer as well as a keep warm setting. The water reservoir can be filled and replenished externally, and a window lets you monitor when the water is getting low. The steamer comes with a 10-cup capacity bowl for cooking rice or other foods in liquid, and n 8-egg capacity egg holder to make hard- or soft-cooked eggs.