How to Steam Vegetables

Whether by stovetop or microwave, steaming vegetables is simple

Steamed green cabbage in colander, wooden spoon

Westend61/Getty Images

Many people like to grill vegetables, but there's a lot to be said for steaming them. By steaming a vegetable, its color, texture, flavor, and nutritional content are better retained. Steaming also is one of the easiest ways to prepare vegetables and can be done in minutes.

Stovetop Steaming vs. Microwave Steaming

Other than buying an actual food steamer, there are two main ways of steaming vegetables: on the stovetop and in the microwave.

Both methods are quick and easy and the results are generally the same. But for each different vegetable cooked, there are some variations, such as how long to cook.

You do not need any special equipment. Most people will have a saucepan, lid, and colander already in their kitchen, and that is all that is needed for steaming on a stovetop. For steaming in a microwave, a microwave-safe bowl and plastic wrap are the tools needed.

how to steam vegetables illustration
Illustration: © The Spruce, 2018

Traditional Method for Steaming Vegetables

  • As a general rule, when steaming on the stovetop, you will need a large pot and a steamer basket or colander that will fit inside.
  • Fill the pot with enough water so that it just barely reaches the bottom of the colander or steamer basket.
  • Once the water comes to a boil, add the vegetables and place a loose fitting lid on top to cover. If your lid is more fitted over the colander, position it so that one side hangs over the colander just enough to let the steam escape.

Steaming Vegetables in the Microwave

  • When steaming in the microwave, the method is generally the same. Place the vegetables in a microwave-safe bowl, add no more water than what it takes to rinse your vegetables before washing. No additional water is needed!
  • Cover the bowl with microwave-safe plastic wrap, leaving one corner open to vent.

How Long to Steam Vegetables

All vegetables will have different cooking times depending on their size and thickness. Below you will find some of the more commonly steamed vegetables and their cooking times for both stovetop and microwave steaming.

  • Asparagus: On the stovetop, asparagus is steamed approximately 4 minutes for thin spears. Add an extra minute or two for thicker spears. The time for asparagus steamed in the microwave is about the same—4 to 6 minutes.
  • Broccoli: Steam broccoli florets on the stovetop for about 3 to 8 minutes. Look for a dark color change and you will know when the broccoli is done. In the microwave, allow broccoli florets to steam 3 to 5 minutes.
  • Brussels Sprouts: On the stovetop, Brussels sprouts should be steamed approximately 10 minutes. In the microwave, Brussels sprouts cook more quickly, in about 7 minutes.
  • Carrots: Carrots that are sliced about 1/4-inch take about 6 to 8 minutes when steamed on the stovetop, and about 5 minutes in the microwave.
  • Cauliflower: Cauliflower florets will steam on the stovetop in about 6 minutes. For microwave steaming, cook cauliflower for 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Green Beans: Steam green beans on the stovetop for about 3 to 5 minutes, and 3 to 4 minutes in the microwave.
  • Peas: Peas steamed on the stovetop take about 3 minutes. In the microwave, steam peas for 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Zucchini: On the stovetop, steam zucchini for 6 to 7 minutes, and 6 to 8 minutes in the microwave.