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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 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.
There are a number of different types of stovetop and electric steamer options to choose from, depending on your kitchen space and needs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If steaming sounds like a great idea, but you’d prefer an appliance that has multiple uses, this steamer can also be used as a food dehydrator. You can also cook rice, steam meats or vegetables, braise meats as you would in a slow cooker, or dehydrate fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
There are four stackable trays to hold layers of foods for drying or steaming, and a three-quart rice bowl. The tiers are shallower than those in the steamer-only units, so you might not be able to stack the tiers if you’re cooking large foods, but sliced foods and shorter ones will fit just fine.
The controls are simple, just for steam, dehydrate, or off. There is no timer.
If you don’t want another appliance on your counter, this silicone steamer will fit into pretty much any pot, and it has a sturdy base that won’t tip over. The handles make it easy to lower food into the pot. For safety, use tongs to grab the handles and lift the steamer out of the hot 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.
What to Look for in a Food Steamer
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 or 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.
- 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.