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Updated September 2022
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Buying guide for Best food steamers

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 over the water. As the water heats, the steam rises and gently cooks your goodies. Steam cooking preserves 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.

Types of steamers

You can steam food in several different ways. Here’s a look at three popular methods:

Steamer basket

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.

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Did you know?
Steamers date back to 5000 BC, when the Chinese used pottery steamers to cook food.

Bamboo steamer

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.

Countertop steamer

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.

Three things to cook in a food steamer

Tips: what to look for

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.


Some units, like the Oster 5-Quart, are favored because of how the trays fit perfectly on top of one another inside the unit. This creates an opportunity for “even” steam exposure. We also like the T-fal’s removable upper tray which, when not in place, creates more space for larger food items.


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.

How to use a food steamer

General use

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.

  • Arrange delicate, leafy foods like spinach on the top.

Cooking rice or grains

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.

A food steamer with many compartments lets you make a whole meal at the same time.


Under $25

The Oster 5-Quart steamer hovers in this price range at a cost of $89. 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.

Under $50

You’ll find lots of popular food steamers in this price range. Many will have useful digital controls and presets.

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Did you know?
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 $[B00D3F0UB8]. 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 $[B008FX6KH6]. 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 $[B001QUVEV2]. Owners are thrilled with their culinary results, and they love some of the new improvements Black & Decker has made with this product.

There are plenty of different meals you can make with a food steamer and almost all of them will be more nutritious than frying or sauteing.


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.

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