How to Choose Food Steamer

What to Look for Before Buying the Best Food Steamer?

If you check online, you will find a variety of steamers available in the market and this can get you confused too. Here is a buying guide that will help you pick the best one for you.

1. Type of Steamers:

On the basis of the source of power that they use for steaming, food steamers are categorized into different types. Let’s learn more about all the basic types of food steamers that you can find in the market.

  • Electric Steamers:

Electric steamers are standalone kitchen appliances that need AC power to run. These steamers require timely maintenance.

Electric steamers feature a chamber where you can add water that will be used for steaming. There is a heating element that heats water to generate steam to cook food. Electric steamers generally come with perforated and stackable trays so that the steam can pass through the holes easily.

There are multiple trays so that you can cook multiple foods at the same time. Electric food steamers are portable and hence, they are travel-friendly too. These steamers don’t usually release a lot of heat in the kitchen or wherever you are using it. In some electric steamers, you will find dividers in a container.

Most of the electric food steamers feature great and advanced functions like an LCD control panel, audible alerts, digital timers, and different cooking modes. There are some rice cookers that can be used as a steamer too. They have special basket inserts.

  • Pressure Steamers:

Pressure steamers make use of steam and pressure to cook varieties of food items. These models can be either stovetop or electric pressure cookers.

They generate steam under optimal temperatures and promote heat transfer in an adequate amount. Pressure steamers generally come with a locking lid that helps in holding high pressure inside the cooking chamber. The lid also prevents the heat from escaping out.

After steaming, it takes some time for the steamer to depressurize completely. You can open the lid and take out the food only after depressurizing is done completely. Even though these steamers use low temperatures to cook food, the cooking time is reduced drastically because of the pressurized way of cooking.

  • Stovetop Steamers:

Using a steamer basket is an easy and simple way to cook food on the stovetop. You can simply place the food in the steamer basket and place it in the pot or pan containing water. This pot is then kept over the stovetop. You can begin the steaming process after shutting the lid.

The pot must contain enough water so that the food cooks properly in the steam. Some models of stovetop steamers even have one or more platforms that fit properly on the pan.

These platforms are generally perforated so that you can add them or remove them whenever required. They can also be used as double boilers. In some models, you can even find stovetop steamers where one pan can be placed on the top of the other.

  • Microwave Steamers:

Microwave food steamers can be put directly in a microwave. These steamers are less expensive and are generally made using plastic. However, you can find some models that are made using microwave-safe materials like ceramic, silicone, and polycarbonate.

Microwave steamers made using plastic can affect the overall quality of the food.

The non-stick materials used are resistant to heat and have scratch-resistant surfaces. They come in different shapes and are dishwasher safe as well.

2. Material:

The materials that are used to make steamers can also make a huge difference. While some materials are eco-friendly, others are heat efficient. Some materials also promote a healthy way of cooking. You should look for a steamer that offers a combination of all these useful factors.

  • Metal Steamers:

You can use these metal steamers over both gas stoves and inductions. Metal steamers have been around in the market for a long time.

They either come with one or multiple tiers and are made using aluminum or stainless steel. They mostly have glass lids. Even though glass lids are more prone to breakage, it is easier for you to monitor the cooking process without removing the lid multiple times. In this way, you can prevent the steam from escaping out.

When compared to aluminum steamers, the models of steamers made using stainless are more expensive. Not only these models are eco-friendly but are stable and durable too.

  • Bamboo Steamers:

Bamboo steamers are also eco-friendly options and usually come with 2 or more identical baskets that can sit on top of each of them. Foods that take a long time can be placed in the bottom-most basket.

Items that take less cooking time like vegetables can be put on the upper baskets. When the foods in the upper basket are cooked, you can remove them.

However, you cannot use a bamboo steamer on a gas stove, induction, or any other heating device directly. Instead, you will have to keep the steamer in a large and closed cooking pot with water. This water will be used to build the stem inside the pot.

Also, it is important that you should use liners like parchment paper or banana leaves while cooking in bamboo steamers. Using liners prevent the base of the bamboo basket from staining.

  • Glass Steamers:

In glass steamers, both the cooking pot and the lid are made using glass. It is then attached to an electric steamer. The container is placed above the water tank.

Glass steamers can be used to make a variety of dishes. You can even use these cooking pots as serving dishes and you can keep them in the fridge too. They are dishwasher safe.

  • Plastic Steamers:

Some models of electric steamers have plastic containers and trays. They are very light in weight. However, these cheaper options of containers can have a negative impact on the taste of the food.

Some users feel that plastic is not healthy when it comes to cooking. Hence, while buying, make sure that it is BPA-free and safe for cooking. The advantage of using plastic steamers is they are transparent like glass. This helps you in monitoring the cooking process.

3. Capacity or Size:

You can select the size of the steamer depending on the number of members in your family and your style of cooking,

Food steamers are available in different capacities. Smaller steamers are available from 1 liter and the size can go up to 10 liters or more.

If you live alone, you can buy a mini stovetop steamer or the smallest model of an electric steamer. But, if there are 4 or more members in your family, you can opt for a large and multi-tiered steamer.

For people who plan to steam dishes only once in a while, you can go for tiny and space-saving models of food steamers.

But, if you want to make a complete meal for the entire family, you should buy a steamer with a minimum of 5-liter capacity. If there are more members in your family or if you want to make food for a special event at your place, you can even go for an 8-liter capacity.

4. Wattage:

Electric food steamers generally have a power of about 850 to 1000 watt. It is recommended for household usage.

5. Timer:

The timer option in an electric food steamer prevents the food from getting overcooked. You can set the timer and let it cook. The steamer will turn off automatically after reaching the designated time. While the old and conventional models feature mechanical dials, advanced and modern models have digital displays.

There is another feature called Delay-start that can be helpful too. The steamer will start work at the time that you have set already using this function.

6. Keep Warm:

A few models of food steamers have an automatic keep-warm feature while in a few models, you have to set the steamer to warm function manually after the steaming is done. Most of the steamers can keep the food warm for a long time.

However, the steamer must have enough water to keep this keep warm function working.

7. Visible Water Gauge:

A visible water gauge option is available in electric food steamers so that you can check the water levels. Some models of steamers even come with an external water inlet so that you can fill the water in the container without taking the container out. This also prevents the chances of accidental burns.

8. Counter Space:

Electric steamers are those types of kitchen appliances where you can simply keep the food and let it cook without the need for monitoring. Hence, they require some counter space, preferably near an electric outlet. This might be an issue for people with smaller kitchen space.

If there is less space on the kitchen counter, you can buy a traditional stovetop steamer. Even though these models require constant attention when required to the electric models, they are helpful in maximizing the space available in the kitchen. They can easily fit inside pots and can be stored easily.

9. Storage:

An ideal kitchen appliance is the one that can be stored in a kitchen cabinet easily. Sometimes, it is a bit difficult to store the entire unit in the cabinet. Some units can be disassembled and stored.

If there are bowls available with the steamer, they should be nested within each other. This makes it easier to store the unit. There are some collapsible models available too. It is very easy to store such models.

10. Number of Tiers:

Before buying a steamer, you should think of the type of food that you are making and the total number of members in your family. Steamers that have multiple tiers allow you to cook different types of foods at the same time. It allows you to keep the food items separately.

You can also add or remove the food items at different times. This is especially important if the cooking time for each item is different.

11. Steamer Baskets:

Most of the steamers contain three stackable baskets with holes at the bottom so that the steam can pass through. These steam baskets are either of the same sizes of different sizes.

There are 3 different types of baskets that come with food steamers:

  • Equal-size Baskets:

You can stack these equal-sized baskets in any order as you want. These types of baskets are very helpful in controlling the intensity of temperature.

You can also rearrange the order of the baskets so that the food does not get overcooked or burnt.

  • Variable-Sized Baskets:

Since the size of baskets is different, you will have to plan the cooking sequence in advance and then keep them or arrange them in that order.

The advantage of variable-sized baskets is you can stack them inside each other so that it is easy and convenient to store.

  • Baskets with Removable Bases:

In some models of food steamers, you get an option to remove the base. By removing the base, you can fit all the baskets together to make a tall steam compartment. This is very helpful while cooking food in large quantities.

These baskets that have removable bases are easy to clean.

12. Steaming Process:

Not all steamers are designed to make all types of food. Hence, you must decide the type of food that you want to steam before only and then buy a steamer accordingly.

Apart from this, you should also consider the steaming time. It should meet your cooking requirements too. Thus, you must consider the water holding capacity as well.

13. Ease of Cleaning:

Similar to any other kitchen accessory, food steamers should also be easy to clean. There are a few models that are easy to clean whereas some models are a bit difficult to clean. Thus, you must consider this factor and check whether it is easy to clean or not.

Some models even have containers and lids that are dishwasher safe.

14. Brand:

It is always suggested to buy a steamer from a trusted brand as they offer guaranteed services. With new or infamous brands, you might face quality or service issues.

Buying a steamer from a well-known brand will prevent you from facing such issues. You also get a warranty with such products along with good after-sale service.

15. Reviews:

If you are buying a food steamer for the first time, you must always do some background research and check all the pros and cons of the model that you are willing to buy. You can check the reviews of the customers who have already bought that steamer to get more about it.

16. Warranty:

Even after buying a steamer form a well-known brand that is made using good quality materials, there are chances that it might be defective. Hence, you must check if the brand offers a warranty period or not.

Using this warranty, you can either replace or get a refund for the defective product. The longer the warranty period is, the better it is.

How to Use Food Steamers?

By handling the food steamer in a proper manner, you will increase its life-span. Follow these rules to ensure that your steamer runs for a longer period of time:

1. Do not add too much water

Water is the most important ingredient required for cooking in a food steamer. But, if you fill too much water, that goes above the steamer basket, then that will ruin the metal faster.

Hence, we recommend to read the instruction manual before using the steamer or better buy a steamer with water gauge to keep a check on the water level. 

2. Boil the water first

Boiling the water first, and then adding vegetables or other food items gives the right taste to the meal. 

Another benefit is that with the water boiling, your food will cook faster than when you add both food and water together. 

3. Do not steam for a long time

Cooking your food for a long time will make the food soggy, and ruin its taste too. 

Hence, to get the right food texture we recommend you to turn off the steamer after a few minutes and check if your food is getting properly cooked or not. 

Also, make sure that the bowl is filled with ice water, to keep the vegetables crisp and fresh for a long time. 

4. Enhance the taste adding herbs and stocks

Adding stocks and herbs in the water adds a special flavour to the food.

You can also add some salt or lemon in the water before it starts boiling, as that too adds an extra taste to the vegetables and other foods that you are cooking.

Benefits of Food Steamer:

Some of the benefits of using a food steamer to cook food are as follows:

  • Easy to use: The food steamers are very easy to use and come with simple controls. Even if you are not a pro, you can go through the manual and learn how to use it.
  • Energy-efficient: Since the cooking time in a steamer is quicker than that of a frying pan, it helps in saving both energy and time.
  • Healthy cooking: Steamers allow you to cook food in a healthier way without using oil.
  • Versatile: You can cook a wide range of food items in steamers such as vegetables, rice, chicken, pasta, etc.
  • Retains essential nutrients: Cooking food in a steamer helps in retaining all the essential nutrients like vitamin C, B1, etc.
  • Holds the texture: unlike boiling, steaming the food helps in retaining its texture and flavor.

Steaming Tips:

Here are some tips that can be helpful in making your entire cooking process easier:

  • Some of the best things that you can steam are tender proteins such as chicken breast (boneless), fish, and vegetables. To make sure that the vegetables are cooked evenly, cut them in equal sizes.
  • Ensure that there is enough water in the steamer that will be sufficient for the entire steaming process. If you are adding water in the middle of the process, there will be a drop in the temperature. Check the water levels at correct intervals, especially while using stovetop steamers. If the water has dried completely, it can damage the pot too.
  • While making food items like dumplings or fish, keep some space in between them so that there is space for steam to circulate. If you are adding veggies like beans or broccoli, don’t pile up everything tightly. Keep them loosely so that steam passes through and the food is cooked evenly.
  • Don’t remove the lid of the steamer very frequently. The temperature inside the pot can drop due to this.
  • While opening the steamer, maintain a distance so that your face and hands don’t get burned.
  • If you are steaming bland food, you can add a flavor to it by adding some aromatic ingredients like leeks or onions, or anything of your choice to the water. Or else, you can even make a flavored sauce to serve with the food.
  • Never add salt to the water container otherwise it might lead to residual decomposition.
  • If you are preparing meat, make sure you defrost it properly before cooking it in the steamer.

Useful Tips to Clean and Maintain the Steamer

These tips will be helpful to maintain the food steamer so that you can use it for years:

  • Don’t turn on the plug while the steamer is empty.
  • After you are done cooking, unplug the steamer and let it cool before opening the lid.
  • Remove all the trays and empty the water from the container after each cooking session.
  • Clean the steamer with soapy water. Wipe it off using a dry cloth and then store it.
  • Avoid cleaning the steamer with harsh scrubbers.
  • It is better if you use a steamer for indoor purposes only.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is steaming vegetables better than boiling them?

When compared, steaming veggies is always better than boiling. When you boil vegetables, you end up losing a lot of nutrients. And, if you boil it for a very long time, the nutrients will escape in the water completely.
However, when you are steaming vegetables, nutrients remain within. Also, steaming is a quicker process too.

2. What are the different levels of water fill in the containers of digital food steamers?

The level of water fills in a digital food steamer depends on the amount of time that is required for cooking. If the cooking time is less than 13 minutes, you can go ahead with the minimum fill guidelines.
But, if the cooking time is more (up to 60 minutes), you will have to follow maximum fill guidelines.

3. How can I assemble a food steamer after buying one?

Assembling the steamer is one of the features that you should check before buying a model. Always go for a model that does not include an assembling process that is very difficult.
All models of food steamers come with a manual that has instructions on how to assemble that particular model.
The water reservoir should be at the base with the dip tray above it. All the trays/baskets should be arranged properly.

4. What are Convection Steamers?

Convection steamers are larger than the regular steamers that are used at home. These convection steamers are generally used at restaurants where food is cooked in large quantities.
These steamers have a small fan that is used to circulate both steam and air inside. This helps in distributing the heat uniformly and promote a better way of cooking. Convection steamers have many perforated trays so that you can cook different food items at a time, without disturbing the flavors.
They cook food at low temperatures and slow mode. Because of slow cooking, the nutrients remain intact in the food.

5. What are the best food steamers?

Electric food steamers are the best according to us, as they cook food fast, allow you to see the level of water, delay your cooking time, and is safe for health too. 

6. How does a food steamer work?

The perforated base of the steamer allows the steam to pass through. 
The base of the steamer contains a thick wire that resists the flow of electricity and generates heat. 
This results in evaporation of water at the base, which upon condensation on the food and vegetables, cooks them. 

7. Are food steamers healthy?

A food steamer retains the nutrients that are otherwise lost in pressure cooking, frying or other types of cooking. Hence, we would say it is the healthiest form of cooking.
But if you are going for a microwave steamer then look for one that is BPA free to stay away from harmful chemical intake.

8. Do food steamers come with warming options?

Yes, some food steamers do come with keep-warm option. You would have to set this option before starting to cook, and also keep the water level full. 

9. Can a food steamer cook rice?

Yes. some steamers come with a rice bowl that sits within the baskets. The steam then cooks the rice.