By Vanessa Greaves
November 05, 2014

Steaming is a great way to cook vegetables quickly while retaining nutrients, and without adding fat or grease. But you can cook a lot more than vegetables in vegetable steamers. They're also ideal for cooking or reheating foods that need moist heat, such as dumplings and tamales. With so many kinds of steamers in the marketplace, how do you know which one is right for you? Let's check them out and see.

Photos by Meredith

Collapsible Steamer Baskets

  • Designed to expand and contract to fit into a variety of pot sizes
  • Collapsible design saves on storage space
  • Holds food over boiling water to cook or heat on the stovetop
  • Pot lid holds in steam
  • Materials: stainless steel steamer or silicone steamer

Stainless Steel Steamers

Great for any kind of food, especially vegetables, seafood, dumplings, and tamales.

Photos by Meredith

Silicone Steamers

Silicone coating won't scratch non-stick and enamel pot surfaces.

Photo by Meredith

Non-Collapsible Stainless Steel Steamer Baskets

  • Designed to fit inside or over a dedicated pot on the stovetop
  • Removable basket can be stored inside the pot
  • Holds food over boiling water to cook or heat
Photo by Meredith

Bamboo Steamers aka Chinese Steamers

  • Designed to fit inside a large pot or wok on the stovetop
  • Baskets fit one on top of another so several tiers of food can be steamed at once
  • Holds food over boiling water to cook or heat
Photo by Meredith

Microwave Steamers

  • Designed to steam food quickly inside a microwave
  • Multi-tiered models can handle several kinds of food at once
  • Holds food over boiling water and vents steam
Photos by Meredith

Electric Steamers

  • Designed to steam food in a free-standing machine on the countertop
  • Some models have built-in timers for accuracy and convenience
  • Some models have multiple compartments that can be programmed to suit the type of food to be steamed
Photo by Meredith

Multi-Cooker Steamers

  • Designed to cook in a variety of modes, including steaming foods
  • Some models have built-in timers and programmers for accuracy and convenience
  • Countertop models free up stovetop space
Photo by Meredith

Built-In Countertop Steamer

  • Designed to fit into a dedicated countertop space
  • For the seriously high-end kitchen
Photo by Meredith

Before You Buy a Food Steamer


How often will you use it? For daily use, a good quality steamer that will last for several years is a smart investment. For occasional use, a steamer basket should be all you need.

Got a big kitchen? You can afford to give over some countertop space to a free-standing steamer. For smaller spaces, a collapsible steamer basket is probably a good choice.

Most basket-type steamers that fit inside a pot are stainless steel or bamboo. If you don't want to scratch the inside of your non-stick cookware, choose bamboo or silicone steamers. Microwave steamers are obviously designed for microwave use. Electric steamers usually have plastic inserts. Note that bamboo steamers should be hand-washed only.

All photos by Meredith