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Steaming your food is one of the easiest ways to boost and improve your diet. This cooking method shifts the emphasis from frying and boiling to steam-based preparation. You can steam veggies, potatoes, fish, eggs, and more. In short order, you may view your food steamer as your new best friend — especially when you step on the scale.
So how exactly does it work? When you cook with steam, you place your food on a tray or rack above water. As the water heats, the steam rises and gently cooks your goodies. Steam cooking preserves the the nutrients that escape through boiling and frying. And because steaming does not require oil or other fats, the end result has a clean, fat-free taste.
At BestReviews, we work hard to create product recommendation matrices and informative shopping guides that are unbiased and completely honest. For this reason, we don’t accept “free” samples from manufacturers. We survey consumers and scrutinize products to ensure that we’re presenting our readers with the best of the best.
If you’re interested in purchasing a food steamer, we invite you to look at the five top products in our matrix, above. Our selections reflect quality as well as value for your money. If you’d like to learn more about how to navigate the world of food steamers, please continue reading this shopping guide.
You can steam food in several different ways. Here’s a look at three popular methods:
The simplest way to cook with steam is to use a steamer basket, which typically sells for under $10. Fill a pot with one to two inches of water, unfold the steamer basket, and place it at the bottom of the pot. Arrange your food on top of the gadget, place the lid on the top, and cook your food.
Because of the elementary nature of this method, it’s best to steam either one type of food — say broccoli — or a group of items that require the same amount of cooking time.
As you may guess, the steamer basket option requires some trial and error to achieve the desired doneness.
Steamers date back to 5000 BC, when the Chinese used pottery steamers to cook food.
The next step up from a steamer basket is a bamboo steamer. Common in Asian cooking, a bamboo basket also sits in a pot of water for its food steam bath.
Susan Sano Tuveson has been cooking for people for five decades. Educated in music, law, and languages, she left her legal practice to establish Cacao Chocolates in Kittery, Maine. A three-time Best of Seacoast New England winner, the shop was popular for its high-quality artisanal truffles flavored with unusual local ingredients.
Once steaming becomes a regular part of your cooking routine, a countertop food steamer is the way to go because it takes the guesswork out of the process.
Food steamers come in a number of sizes and shapes, and while they generally perform the same function, there are myriad options. Below, we’ll discuss what to look for in a countertop steamer.
As with most kitchen appliances, not all food steamers are created equally. Not only do they vary in size and shape, they also range in design, materials, and even where the steam-generating water tank is situated.
Follow these tips to find the right steamer for you:
There is good reason to be particular about the timer on your electric food steamer. Models with numeric dials tend to fade over time from steam exposure, making them difficult to read. Units like the Viante Intellisteam use digital controls, which tend to last longer than dial controls. In fact, the Viante has three separate food compartments with individual controls for each area.
Steaming asparagus is a popular way to cook these delicious vegetables. After taking off the outer leaves, steam them for between 45 minutes and one hour.
Some consumers try to avoid cookware made of plastic, but keep in mind a glass bowl gets very hot while cooking. As for the body of the unit, stainless is easier to clean than plastic. Of course, if you’re buying anything plastic that will touch your food, make sure it is BPA-free.
The best way to cook sweet potatoes is to steam them. Cut them up into quarters and steam them for 15 to 20 minutes.
To maximize meal preparation, it’s smart to stack your trays inside the steamer. Because different foods require varied cooking times, there is a science to stacking your food.
Place starchy vegetables like potatoes at the bottom; they take the longest to cook.
In the middle tray, place your meat or fish and its seasonings.
Opening the lid of a steamer while cooking can be dangerous, as a lot of heat is released into the immediate atmosphere. Doing so can also disrupt the cooking process.
A food steamer provides a great way to cook rice. Many models come with a rice tray made especially for holding rice or grains. In addition, each model will have instructions on what the ratio of rice to water should be.
Keep in mind that different types of rice may require different cooking times. It may take some trial and error to get the rice-cooking process just right in a food steamer.
The Oster 5-Quart steamer hovers in this price range at a cost of $19. It’s definitely one of the cheaper quality food steamers you’ll find on today’s market. In spite of its low price, you do get two tiers on which to stack your goodies.
In this price range, you’ll find lots of other traditional food steamers from lesser-known brands with stackable trays. However, users often complain about their lack of usable instruction booklets and how difficult it is to monitor the water tank.
You can use any type of water for your food steamer, including tap water.
You’ll find lots of popular food steamers in this price range. We like the Aroma Housewares product in our matrix, which currently sells for $36.
Conveniently, the stainless steel Aroma also functions as a rice cooker and slow cooker. It’s a great option for those who prefer a bit of digital guidance.
Food steamers require less energy than other cooking methods.
Three of our five options sit in this category. Our absolute favorite is the Viante Intellisteam, which sells for $249. For the money, you get a digitally controlled steamer with three compartments. Owners love the fact that the machine staggers start times so that all foods finish cooking at once.
T-fal’s Balanced Living Compact Steamer sells for $169. Notably, it holds less food than the budget-priced Oster. But for the extra money, you get great digital controls, a 60-minute timer, and the quality that comes with T-fal’s reputable name.
The Black & Decker 7-Quart Food Steamer sells for a similar price of $307. Owners are thrilled with their culinary results, and they love some of the new improvements Black & Decker has made with this product.
Q. Could I make a cake in a steamer?
A. Yes! To make a cake in a steamer, prepare the batter according to your favorite recipe. Place the pan in the steamer and cover the top of the appliance with a towel; then lower the lid so the towel is situated between the cake and the lid. (The towel is there to soak up water so it doesn’t drip onto the cake.) Steam for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Q. Is using a bamboo steamer different than other options?
A. A bamboo steamer differs in that is placed on top of the water after it begins to simmer. It is best used for more delicate foods and is popular for cooking dim sum.
Q: Are there foods to avoid cooking in a steamer?
A. A number of vegetables lose nutritional when heated in any form. Included in this list are kale, carrots, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and bell peppers.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.