The Best Food Steamers in 2021


Staying on top of life’s many demands doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with preparing home-cooked meals. The next time you find yourself in a time crunch, let the hot water do the heavy lifting for you. Steaming is one of the most hassle-free ways to cook food. Simply heat up water until it reaches boiling point, producing hot vapor. Cover up the pot, which encloses the food in a sealed environment and allows the steam to heat your meal—no cooking oil necessary, and no need to constantly stir or flip either.

This gentle cooking method won’t burn delicate foods like fish fillets, and it tends to preserve the flavors and nutrients of your ingredients. “I love using a food steamer because it makes it difficult to mess up the texture of the food you are steaming,” says Caroline Caron-Phelps, who writes the food blog Pickled Plum. “I love that vegetables retain a slight crunch and look so vibrant in color.” 

The world of food steamers is quite diverse, with a wide range of options to suit different kitchen setups and cooking needs. We consulted the experts to find out which food steamers they recommend—and how they use them at home. 

Types of Food Steamers

The majority of food steamers you’ll see on the market are electric or stovetop models. Electric steamers are standalone appliances that include a water tank and sometimes feature multiple tiers, allowing you to steam different ingredients simultaneously. There’s often a digital interface with presets for various kinds of food, including seafood, grains, and poultry. On the other hand, stovetop steamers are usually used in conjunction with a cooking vessel, such as a wok or saucepan. Insert the steamer into the pot, then fill the pot with water; once it boils, it will produce steam that in turn cooks the food sitting above it.

Material

Stainless steel, silicone, and bamboo are among the most common materials for food steamers. Stainless steel is durable and long-lasting, although it can scratch nonstick cookware. Silicone, on the other hand, has the advantage of being gentle on nonstick surfaces. Bamboo steamers usually stack on top of one another, making it possible to add or remove tiers based on how much food you need to steam. With bamboo, you also won’t get a buildup of condensation, which can drip and affect your food’s texture or look. 

Size

Electric food steamers are separate appliances, so they often take up more kitchen space than their stovetop counterparts. If you’re looking to save space in a smaller kitchen, there are many collapsible stovetop steamer inserts on the market that allow for straightforward storage. 

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Anlisnut Stainless Steel Steamer

This is Caron-Phelps’ go-to steamer for everything from vegetables to dim sum. She appreciates that the two-tier design offers “plenty of space to steam more than just a couple of items at a time.” There are also holes in the lid to allow a bit of steam release, ensuring that there isn’t too much condensation that builds up inside the pot. Caron-Phelps also notes how helpful it is that the steamer affords low-maintenance cleaning: “Having items that are easy to clean or are dishwasher safe—this one is—helps me keep my counters clean and maximize my cooking time.”

Best Value: Oster Double-Tiered Food Steamer

Don’t be fooled by the affordable price tag; this two-tier electric steamer offers several helpful features that make steaming food a breeze. Transparent steaming bowls allow you to keep an eye on the texture of your food as it’s cooking away. There’s also a built-in automatic 60-minute timer, as well as an auto-shutoff function that powers off the appliance once the cycle finishes or once the water tank gets depleted. The steamer bowls are dishwasher safe and nest together for efficient storage.

Best in Versatility: Tatung Rice Cooker

We love when one kitchen appliance can handle many different tasks, and this multipurpose rice cooker is no exception. “It’s simple yet versatile,” says Jessie YuChen, a food editor at Bon Appétit. “It works as a rice cooker, a slow cooker, a steamer, and reheats food without drying out.” Once you add water to the inner pot, simply push one button to begin the steaming process. “There’s no need to wait for the water to boil, or worry if there’s not enough water in the pan,” adds YuChen. The cooker even comes with accessories like a steam tray and a rice spatula.

Best Splurge: Cuisinart Digital Glass Steamer

With five presets for different foods like poultry and seafood, this steamer can handle anything you could ever dream of steaming. The user-friendly LCD control panel makes it easy to start, stop, pause, or reheat. Not only is the 5-liter glass pot large enough to cook a family-size portion, it also gives you a clear view of your food while it steams. A built-in 60-minute countdown timer also keeps tabs on how long food has been cooking, and an alert will sound to let you know when time’s up.

Best Bamboo: Helen’s Asian Kitchen Bamboo Food Steamer

This two-tier steamer is made from 100 percent all-natural bamboo, a lightweight yet hardy material that will last for many years if properly cared for. Bamboo doesn’t collect condensation as much as other materials like glass or stainless steel, so there’s less risk of water dripping into your food and affecting its texture. If you’re cooking for a large group, you can get even more baskets and stack them on top of one another. The steamers also come in both 10-inch and 12-inch sizes to suit different-sized cookware.

Best Stovetop Insert: Zyliss Stainless Steel Vegetable Steamer Basket

This handy steamer basket expands (up to 11 inches) to fit the pot it’s in, then folds up neatly into itself for storage. Legs on the bottom of the basket ensure the food is elevated enough that boiling water doesn’t splash into it. There’s also a little bar with an attached ring in the center of the basket, making it easy to lift out of the pot. The basket is made from durable stainless steel, and it’s dishwasher safe.

FAQs About the Best Food Steamers

Q: Can a food steamer cook rice? 

The easiest way to cook rice at home is with a rice cooker. Rice cookers can do double-duty as food steamers, making them a great option for those who prefer multi-purpose kitchen appliances.

Q: Can I cook meat in a food steamer?

“It’s great for meat,” says Caron-Phelps, noting that sealing the meat in a steamy environment prevents it from getting dried out. “It retains all the moisture.”

Q: How do you clean a food steamer?

“If you have a stainless steel steamer, you can clean it normally or put it in the dishwasher (always check the box to make sure it’s dishwasher safe),” explains Caron-Phelps. “For a bamboo steamer, use a soft sponge or cloth with a little soap and rinse with hot water. You can also fill a bowl with hot water and some soap and simply soak it for a few minutes. Rinse well, and then leave it on a drying rack until it’s fully dry to prevent mold from growing.”

Our Take

For easy, tasty meals that require minimal cleanup, steaming is a guaranteed winner. Not only does the cooking method do a great job of retaining flavor, texture, and nutrients, but it also requires minimal effort, with little stirring or flipping involved. From stovetop to electric, stainless steel to bamboo, there are many different kinds of food steamers that can get the job done, and some may suit your needs better than others. But one thing holds constant: Boiling water could be all it takes to whip up something delicious.

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