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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 since no cooking oil or other fat is added to the food. Many foods, including meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables can be prepared with this cooking technique.
Vegetables retain more of their nutrient content when steamed, as opposed to being simmered or boiled in water where the nutrients can leach out. If you've ever noticed your cooking water has a greenish hue after simmering green beans or broccoli, you've witnessed this occurrence.
There are a number of different types of stovetop and electric steamer options to choose from. Whether you're looking for a stand alone electric model to prepare a feat or a convenient steamer insert to fit in a pot you already own for veggies and baby food prep, we've compiled a variety of food steamers to meet your needs.
Here's our list of the best food steamers.
Best Overall: Hamilton Beach 37530A Digital Food Steamer
Includes two steaming trays
Can steam taller items
Steam delay setting
Trays are made of plastic
Warm mode continues to cook food
This 5 1/2-quart electric steamer has two tiers that stack for cooking then nest for more compact storage, so it’s both large and small. You can use just one tier for cooking when you don’t have as much food to cook, or use both tiers when you’re cooking for a crowd. The tiers have a removable center divider, so you can keep the broccoli from frolicking with the carrots, or remove the divider to cook a large filet of fish.
The rice bowl can be used for rice or for other small foods that need to be contained, like peas or corn off-the cob. When cooking is done, the steamer automatically switches to a keep-warm setting for one hour before turning off to avoid overcooking the food. Speaking of settings, there’s a digital touchpad that makes controlling the cooker easy.
The delay-start feature lets you fill the steamer with produce in advance and start the cooking later. This feature shouldn’t be used for highly perishable foods like fish, poultry, or meat.
This steamer includes a drip tray and rice bowl that are dishwasher safe. The food containers should be hand washed.
Capacity: 5.5 quarts | Weight: 3.97 pounds | Dimensions: 12.6 x 13.7 x 7.28 inches | Warranty: 1 year
"It’s possible to remove the base of the top basket to cook taller food items such as corn on the cob." - Katie Begley, Product Tester
Best Budget: Oster Double Tiered Food Steamer
Easy to use
Two tier design
Lacks advanced features
No audible alert
If you’re not sure you’ll be steaming enough food to warrant a high-priced appliance, this 5-quart steamer has plenty of features and a budget-friendly price. It has two tiers with transparent steaming bowls for cooking foods separately. The timer can be set for up to 60 minutes, and the steamer turns itself off when time is up. For safety, it will also shut off when the water reservoir is empty.
There’s a power indicator light that shows when the steamer is on, and easy-to operate controls for setting the cooking time. The food bowls are top-rack dishwasher safe for easy cleaning, and they nest for more compact storage.
Capacity: 5 quarts | Weight: 1.15 pounds | Dimensions: 8.4 x 8.4 x 8.8 inches | Warranty: 2 years
"All of the pieces come apart so you can easily clean all the nooks and crannies on the bowls and lid." - Sage McHugh, Product Tester
Best Stovetop: Anolon Classic Stainless Steel Steamer Insert with Lid
Stainless steel construction
Fits a variety of pot sizes
Can steam only one type of food at a time
This steamer insert fits onto just about any 2-, 3-, or 4-quart saucepan, including pots with straight sides and those with tulip-shaped pots. The steamer rests on the sides of the pot, so the food in the steamer bowl remains well about the simmering water.
The steamer is made from stainless steel and has a shatter-resistant glass lid that fits snugly and keeps the steam contained while also allowing you to peek into the steamer to watch the progress of the cooking.
The steamer and lid are dishwasher safe. If you have a use for it, the steamer is oven-safe to 500 degrees.
Capacity: 2 quarts | Weight: 2.13 pounds | Dimensions: 10.98 x 8.23 x 6.69 inches | Warranty: Lifetime
Be sure to check the water level occasionally to ensure that your pot isn’t boiling dry, which will scorch the pot and could damage it.
Best High-End: Cuisinart Digital Glass Steamer
Glass steaming basket is dishwasher-safe
Reservoir holds 1 liter of water
Presets for different types of food
Steams food evenly
Only comes with one steamer basket
If you don’t like the idea of cooking in plastic, this steamer has a five-liter glass cooking pot, a stainless steel steaming tray and a glass lid with stainless steel trim. All parts are dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
The LCD control panel includes start/stop, pause, and reheat buttons along with pre-programmed food setting to make cooking easy. You can also set the controls manually, for custom cooking.
The steaming system delivers the steam from the top down, surrounding the food and cooking it quickly and evenly. The water tank is removable for easy filling. Two handles on the steamer tray make it easy to remove the cooked food.
This is available with either stainless steel or white exterior trim.
Capacity: 5 liters | Weight: 15.75 pounds | Dimensions: 13.7 x 13.2 x 9.4 inches | Warranty: Lifetime
"We found that the top-steaming design cooked our food more evenly, without any pockets where the food got too soft or remained too crisp." - Katie Begley, Product Tester
Best Compact: OXO Good Grips Silicone Steamer
Rolls up for compact storage
Fits in a variety of pots and cookers
If you don’t want another appliance on your counter, this silicone steamer will fit into any pot with a 7-inch diameter or greater, and it rolls up for easy storage. The stay-cool handles make it easy to lower food into the pot. Not only can you use this steamer on the stovetop, but it also fits neatly into an Instant Pot or other electric pressure cooker, multi-cooker, or rice cooker. The handles lock together to keep them out of the way when you seal the cooker’s lid.
Silicone is naturally nonstick, so it’s easy to clean, and it’s dishwasher safe, too. For even more versatility, it can also be used in the microwave.
Capacity: N/A | Weight: 0.525 pounds | Dimensions: 13.3 x 9.1 x 6.5 inches
Best Bamboo: Mister Kitchenware 10 Inch Handmade Bamboo Steamer
Traditional bamboo design
Needs baskets liners
Can be tough to clean
Bamboo steamers are traditional for Chinese dumplings and dim sum dishes, but they’re just as handy for steaming vegetables, chicken, and fish. This set includes two stacking steamer baskets plus a domed lid, so there’s plenty of space for dinner and sides. The two baskets can be used together when there’s a lot to cook, or they can be used separately. The baskets are 10 inches in diameter and designed for use in a wok, but can also be used over a pot that’s an appropriate size.
This set includes a sample of 10 disposable basket liners for foods that might stick to the bamboo, so cleaning is easier. Since the 10-inch size is standard, it’s easy to find additional disposable liners that fit the baskets, as well as reusable silicone liners. It also includes a set of chopsticks that can come in handy for placing and removing the foods and a sauce dish that can come in handy when it’s time to serve.
Capacity: N/A | Weight: 1.69 pounds | Dimensions: 10 inch diameter
Best Microwave: Progressive International Fish/Veggie Steamer PS-46GY
Designed for fast cooking
Needs very little water
Perfect for steaming vegetables in the microwave, this handy steamer holds water in the tray below, while food sits above on the perforated basket. A clear lid sits on top and has a tab on top that slides to hold or release steam during cooking. The hot steam circulates during cooking to evenly steam the food without it getting soggy from sitting in water, and without drying out. This is also perfect for steaming fish, simulating the en papillote technique without the need for fussy paper folding.
To get more flavor, the tray can be filling with flavorful liquids like stock, juice, or plain water with herbs and spices added. This holds one quart, so there’s plenty of space for cooking and it has a nonstick surface for easy cleanup by hand or in the dishwasher.
Capacity: 1 quart | Weight: 12.5 ounces | Dimensions: 10.75 x 3 x 7.75 inches
Our top spot goes to the Hamilton Beach Digital Food Steamer, which holds up to 5 1/2 quarts of food, but is super compact thanks to a two-tier nesting design. The steamer trays have dividers to separate foods, plus the control pad is digital and easy to use. If you want to avoid plastic construction, we recommend the Cuisinart Digital Glass Steamer. It costs a bit more, but all materials that come into contact with food are non-toxic.
What to Look for When Buying a Food Steamer
Electric or Stovetop
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 collapsible 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 and stovetop pressure cookers often include a steamer tray and can be used as a steamer.
Electric steamers make the job easy, since you simply add water, add food, and turn on the steamer—you just need to consider if you plan to use it enough to warrant the space it occupies on your counter or in storage.
Number of tiers
Think about how much food—and how many different types of food—you expect to steam at once. Steamers with multiple tiers let you keep certain foods separate from one another. Plus, they allow you to add and remove the foods at different times if one is finished before the others are ready.
When you’re shopping for a steamer, you might not be as focused on special features—however, depending on your cooking style, those extras might increase the product's value in your kitchen. Whether it’s something simple like a timer or an extra function (like the ability to dry foods), it’s wise to consider what else your steamer can do.
How long does it take to steam food in a steamer?
Steaming is one of the quicker cooking methods. The exact time needed to cook food will depend on the size and thickness of the food.
Most vegetables are steam cooked in about 5 to 10 minutes. The more fibrous vegetables, like cauliflower and Brussel sprouts, may take a few minutes longer. Use less cook time if you like your vegetables to retain some crispness, and more cook time if you prefer them a bit more tender.
Meat and fish can take anywhere from 3 to 10+ minutes to steam cook depending on the thickness of the protein. Fish tends to take less cook time than meat and will turn from translucent to opaque when it's cooked through, so keep an eye on it for doneness.
Cutting foods into equal-sized pieces helps them cook evenly. It's also important that there is space around the food so that the steam can circulate; otherwise certain parts might not cook as evenly.
Larger pieces of food, such as dumplings or fillets, should be arranged in a single layer, leaving a little room between each piece to allow the steam to circulate. Vegetables like broccoli or green beans can be piled loosely in the steamer.
What foods can you steam?
The most popular foods to steam cook are vegetables, meat and seafood. Tender proteins like lean fish fillets and boneless, skinless chicken breasts steam better than tougher proteins, like steak.
Some fruits also stand up well to steam cooking, such as peaches and pears, whether you'd like to make a cooked fruit compote to top pancakes or are making your own baby purees.
How do you descale a food steamer?
Keeping a food steamer clean is pretty easy, since there are no oils or sauces involved in cooking. Any removable steamer bowls, trays, and lids can be washed by hand or in the dishwasher according to the manufacturer's recommendation. Make sure the steamer is turned off and cool to the touch before cleaning.
Sometimes steamer components begin to develop a cloudy appearance, which is from the mineral content in water. Regular cleaning won't remove this mineral build-up. To descale a steamer, run the steamer filled with white vinegar instead of water and then rinse thoroughly. You can also soak the pieces in a mixture of hot water and vinegar for several hours to overnight and then wash by hand.
Does steaming food kill bacteria?
Yes, steam cooking can create enough heat to kill bacteria in food that may cause foodborne illnesses. Meat, poultry, and seafood still need to be cooked to the minimum internal temperature recommended by the USDA to minimize any risk.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Donna Currie is a cookbook author who reviews products and writes roundups for The Spruce Eats. In addition to the best food steamers, she's also written roundups on the best cookware, bread machines, and pressure cookers.
This roundup was updated by Sharon Lehman, a home cook who happens to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She happily makes space for any gadget that make cooking faster and easier and specializes in small kitchen appliance testing and reviews for The Spruce Eats.