Steamers have been and helping us to get the best out of our food for over 7000 years! When we steam vegetables instead of boiling them, it helps ensure they keep more of their nutritional value. Steamers are also ideal for cooking fish, seafood, rice, chicken and many other foods, as they not only help them keep their nutritional content, but also cause less damage to the structural properties of the food.Electric steamers are common in many homes, but taking up countertop or cupboard space, it means that for some of us, a steamer insert can be a better option. In this article we assess what features the best vegetable steamer should have and also look at some of the science behind steaming and offer some tips on steam cooking and how to impart maximum flavor to your carrots or chicken.
Able to slow cook, sauté then simmer as well as steam, the Aroma Housewares ARC-914SBD multicooker and steamer (stainless steel) is our best pick as a multipurpose steamer.
For more compact households and budgets, the Aroma Housewares ARC-743-1NG rice cooker and food steamer (red) is our budget pick for offering both cooking and steaming functions.
Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Vegetable Steamers
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1. Aroma Housewares ARC-914SBD Multicooker and Steamer
The digital Aroma Housewares ARC-914SBD multicooker and steamer (stainless steel) allows you to cook foods such as rice in the base of the multicooker while steaming other foods in the steamer tray above. You can also just use it as a steamer, or even slow cook or sauté then simmer.
The inner pot of this multicooker is non-stick, although you may find that this starts to wear down with use. It also has an automatic keep warm function and you can delay the start of the cooking by up to 15 hours. There is a one year warranty on this product.This is an 8 cup capacity (after cooking) cooker, so you may find it more difficult to calculate its actual capacity before purchase. Cup measurements are usually for the cup included with the cooker, rather than a standard US cup measurement.
2. Aroma Housewares ARC-743-1NG Rice Cooker and Food Steamer
The pot-style Aroma Housewares ARC-743-1NG rice cooker and food steamer (red) has one touch operation and includes a steam tray accessory for easy steaming. It has a 6 cup (cooked) capacity and switches to an automatic keep warm function when the cooking time ends.This is ideal to cook rice in the base of the cooker while steaming vegetables or other foods in the steam tray above. As a smaller cooker, this is better suited to smaller households as the capacity for steaming is limited. Some owners also comment that the lid may not sit on the pan as well as it could do, and the vent hole may be oversized; both of which mean that more steam may escape the cooker than should do. There is a limited warranty on this cooker, however the cost of shipping to return a faulty cooker may actually cost more than buying a new one.
3. Kitchen Deluxe PREMIUM Vegetable Steamer Basket
The vegetable steamer basket (standard size) is an insert that fits straight into your pan. You just need to fill the pan with around 3/4" water and then insert the basket of food and replace the pan lid. This basket can also be used in an Instant Pot. Some users have reported that this is not the sturdiest steamer basket available and it may start to show signs of rust with use, even when hand washing and drying after use.Made from stainless steel, it is suitable for cleaning in the dishwasher and after cleaning it collapses down for more compact storage. This comes with a lifetime limited warranty, a free e-cook book and a peeler.
4. Oster CKSTSTMD5-W-015 Tiered Steamer
With a 5 quart capacity, the Oster CKSTSTMD5-W-015 tiered steamer (white) is dual tiered and designed to nest for storage. It has a 60 minute countdown timer and an auto shut off when the timer completes, or the reservoir is empty. The reservoir will need monitoring as it is quite small and more likely to run out of water during longer steams. The trays and lid are suitable for cleaning on the top rack of the dishwasher.This may not be as robust as similar types of steamers and as the plastic in this is not BPA free it also carries a Prop 65 warning. The manufacturer provides a one year limited warranty for this model.
5. Secura Stainless Steel Dual Tier Steamer
With a generous 8.5 quart capacity, the Secura stainless steel dual tier steamer generates steam within 15 seconds and is controlled by a 60 minute countdown timer. Once cooking is complete, it automatically turns off.The stainless steel trays with stay cool handles are suitable for cleaning in the dishwasher and the lid is glass for easier food monitoring. Some owners have reported that the stainless steel is more liable to mineral deposits and staining than plastic steamers There is a two year limited warranty on this steamer.
6. Hamilton Beach 37530A Digital Steamer
The 5.5 quart Hamilton Beach 37530A digital steamer is a two tiered steamer that can be stored nested. The central divider is removeable for larger foods and it comes with a rice bowl for easy rice steaming. The steamer trays are not suitable for cleaning in the dishwasher although the rice bowl and drip tray are. This will need a thorough cleaning after use as there can be a risk of food or debris trapping inside. Some users have commented that the bowls are a little flimsy and that the water reservoir can be prone to leaking.Coming with a one year limited warranty, this steamer has a digital LCD display and a delay option, and when cooking is completed, it automatically switches to a keep warm function. The reservoir is a tray that slides in and out for easy filling.
7. Bella 13872 Dual Tier Steamer
The Bella 13872 dual tier steamer has a 7.4 quart capacity and a grain tray/rice bowl for multipurpose steaming. These are all dishwasher safe and are free from BPA. The trays are clear plastic and the base is black with a printed steam guide on itThe water reservoir has a viewing window, so you can easily monitor water levels and the steaming function starts in as little as 30 seconds. This has a 60 minute countdown timer and an auto shut off function. As a steamer from the more budget end of the market, its lifespan may be limited.
8. Cuisinart STM-1000 Digital Glass Steamer
Complete with a 5l (just over 5 quart) glass pot and lid, the Cuisinart STM-1000 digital glass steamer (stainless steel) is ideal for all steaming tasks. It is pre-programed for steaming vegetables, seafood, poultry and grains and has a one hour countdown timer, although some users may find that the programs can under- or over- cook foods. It also has a reheat and pause function and an audible alert sounds when the program is completed.The glass pot with its stainless steel rim is dishwasher safe. This steamer also comes with stainless steel steaming trays and the water tank is removeable for easier draining and filling. It has a three year limited warranty from Cuisinart and although free from BPA, the water reservoir is plastic.
9. Ovente FS53W Three Tier Steamer
The Ovente FS53W three tier steamer is a 7.5 quart plastic steamer with a white base that has a steaming guide printed on it. There is an auto shut-off function when timing is complete, or the water reservoir is empty. This has a one year limited warranty and the BPA-free trays are suitable for cleaning in the dishwasher.You will need to take care when storing this as the trays are prone to sticking together which can increase the risk of breaking one or more. Unlike other steamers with removeable reservoirs, the reservoir on this is part of the base which makes it more difficult to fill, empty and clean.
10. AICOK 9.5 Quart Three Tier Steamer
The AICOK 9.5 quart three tier steamer is an 800w steamer for fast heating. It uses a 60 minute countdown timer and when this completes, or the reservoir is dry, an audible alarm sounds. There is also a reservoir window for easy monitoring. This is a nesting model for easier storage and the trays are dishwasher safe.Coming with a two year warranty from the manufacturer, there has been some discussion as to whether or not this steamer is free from BPA. It also appears it does not come with an instruction manual, so you may struggle with using it at first, especially if unfamiliar with steaming food.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Vegetable Steamer
Steaming has been used to cook food since ancient times - a steamer dating back around 7000 years has been found in China. As water boils at 212°F (at sea level), the steam emitted from the boiling water carries its heat to the food above, so basically, the steamer allows food to be surrounded and cooked by hot steam in an enclosed environment.
Types of Steamers and High and Low Pressure Steaming
The main types of steamer are electric steamers that can sit on the countertop, a stovetop steamer which usually comprises two or more tiers over a double handled pan, or steamer inserts or baskets that can sit in, or on top of an existing pan.
Food can be steamed in one of two ways, either through high pressure steaming or low pressure steaming.
High pressure steaming is when you use an appliance such as a multicooker to steam food. Because these are purpose built, they allow high pressured steam to build up, which means food cooks faster.
Low pressure steaming is either direct or indirect. For direct low pressure steaming, food can be placed into a powered steamer, or over boiling water on the stove top. Traditional bamboo steamers or stainless steel baskets are direct low pressure steamers as they allow food to come into direct contact with the steam. A bamboo steamer is also known as a compartment steamer.
These types of steamer should never be allowed to touch the boiling water as this will prevent food from steaming properly.
Indirect steaming is when the food does not directly encounter the steam. The most common indirect steaming is by placing food between two plates and then putting this over a pan of boiling water.
Depending on the type of steamer you use, it can cost less to use as you are cooking over one power source rather than multiple, and this may also help reduce your carbon footprint.
Electric Steamer Considerations
Using an electric steamer is a great way to keep some of the stovetop free when cooking. They can also heat up faster than a stovetop steamer (unless you start with ready-boiled water). Cooking times can vary drastically across different electric steamers, due to their power, number of tiers and capacity.
If a steamer comes with a recipe book then you are better using that for accuracy, otherwise, cooking may be a little ‘hit and miss’ until you become familiar with your new steamer.
The trays in electric steamers can sometimes be difficult to clean, as the holes in their bases can easily trap food. Not all trays are dishwasher safe, so you may need to soak them for a while before washing. Juices can also run down into the base or condensation tray, and this cannot be cleaned until the steamer is cold.
Models that have an externally accessible tray can make filling during use much easier and minimize risk of burns.
Some steamers are pre-programed, whereas others just have a countdown timer. It is vital that this is always set to prevent the steamer from drying out. If it has a keep warm function, then remember to check that there will be enough water left in the reservoir to keep this going.
As an electric steamer does take up space on the countertop, its capacity/size is a key consideration if you do not have any spare cabinet space for storage.
If the trays or tiers are equal size, it makes it easier for you to rotate them during cooking. This can help ensure foods in different tiers are ready at the same time. If a steamer offers nested storage, it means one or more trays is smaller. As this stops you from being able to rotate the trays, you will need a little more time to plan your cooking beforehand.
Why Steaming Vegetables is the Healthier Option
A number of vitamins, including the Bs and C, are water soluble which means when we boil vegetables these leach out from the food and are poured away when water is drained. These vitamins also act as antioxidants in the body and help to prevent oxidative damage from occurring. Minerals such as potassium and zinc are also water soluble.
When fresh vegetables are steamed, around 90% of their antioxidants are retained as well as other compounds such as glucosinolates that may otherwise be destroyed by over-cooking vegetables.
Because the cooking temperature stays at less than 230°F when steaming, it helps prevent food from degrading. Certain properties of food begin to break down at around 230°F which means nutritional value of food cooked at higher temperatures and by other methods is not as high as the nutritional content of steamed foods.
Unlike other cooking methods, steaming does not require the use of any fats or oils and it also removes fats from meats, rather than grilling, frying or baking methods that allow fats to saturate meat.
Other Foods Suitable for Steaming
Foods such as fish, seafood, chicken, smaller game birds, rice and other grains, pasta, hard boiled eggs are easy to cook in a steamer.
Other meats such as leg or loin of lamb or tender beef will steam, but tougher cuts do not steam as well. Steaming can also turn darker meats an unappetizing color. Any food that requires browning, such as pastry, is not suitable for cooking in a steamer.
Steamed food tends to freeze better than other cooking methods, and it will keep its structural properties better when re-cooking.
Getting the Best from a Steamer
You should always try to steam the best quality food that you can. Foods that are not as fresh, or are poorer quality tend to be more noticeable in terms of their taste when cooked.
When you prepare vegetables for the steamer, try to keep them all around the same size. Different vegetables can be mixed but cooking times will vary. Cut denser veggies such as potatoes and carrots into smaller pieces and put them on to steam first as they may need around 20 minutes. You can then add more tender vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus or green beans as the timer counts down. These may only need around five to seven minutes.
Check your vegetables every few minutes, especially if cooking arugula, spinach or peas as these will only take two or three minutes to cook.
Most vegetables are still brightly colored when cooked. If you can easily pierce the thickest part with a fork or paring knife, then they are done. Try to leave them with some crunch as they will continue to cook in the residual heat while you are preparing to serve the meal.
If you worry about steamed food tasting ‘bland’ then try a dash of extra virgin olive oil with some chopped garlic or sprinkle some fresh herbs over it before serving. You can also try steaming thinly sliced ginger under winter root vegetables or add a few drops of soy sauce or fish sauce to the water (this may not be suitable in an electric steamer).
Sweeter vegetables such as carrots respond well to some red wine or balsamic vinegar before steaming and a splash of toasted sesame oil will always add extra flavor to Asian vegetables.
Lemon juice and black pepper will also enhance vegetables and the vitamin C in the lemon will actually help keep the color of steamed foods. Depending on what food you are steaming, you can also marinade it before cooking.
Although the technology may have changed in the last 7000 years, the principles of steaming food remain the same. Helping keep food more nutritious, a steamer also allows you to cook with minimal fat. Like any type of cooking, steaming has its disadvantages. You may need to spend more time preparing vegetables for steaming, and cooking times can vary across different steamers and steamer trays.We hope that the reviews we have undertaken have helped you in your choice of steamer, whether you are looking to buy your first one, or replace an older model. Choosing the best vegetable steamer for your kitchen and lifestyle will help ensure you regularly serve up meals which are not just tasty but also nutritionally valuable.