We Put 7 Food Steamers to the Test With Veggies and Dumplings (2024)

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Humans have been steaming food since the Stone Age, but it’s an underrated and underutilized method in modern American kitchens. Steaming is simple and effective; pop a wide array of foods like veggies, fish, and dumplings into the steamer of your choosing, let the water steam up, and a complete meal cooks in minutes while barely dirtying a dish. Every steamer I tested that made it into this guide will give you a good steam. Each may function better for specific needs, however. These are my favorite food steamers.

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How We Tested Steamers

Here’s how I tested this panoply of steamers, which all differ in capabilities, materials, and price: I cooked an array of frozen dumplings, frozen tamales, veggies, and fish (I used tilapia as an affordable, basic white fish). These are four of the most popular everyday foods to steam. For the small steamers like the basket and collapsible styles, I opted not to bother cooking the fish. If those are the styles that best suit your cooking needs, then I am safely assuming you are using other methods to cook fish.

As I’ve shown, some steamers are better for steaming whole meals, some are better for just a casual dim sum lunch, and others can do it all. I measured the amount of time the items took to steam. In terms of functionality, I cooked with each gadget several times to test their durability and which types of foods may be better suited for each one. I also weighed whether certain materials like clay or bamboo steamed certain foods better or not.

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Best Electric Steamer

Did your new air fryer change the way you approach cooking? Well, the Buydeem steamer may be your next go-to kitchen gadget. It’s lightweight, compact, simple, unbelievably cute, and dare I say, fun. The design contains a water waste system so that the moisture from the food has somewhere to go without contaminating the clean water that’s getting ready to steam up. The water inlet makes it convenient to refill the steamer basin without having to move the whole base to the faucet. Each piece is lightweight, making it easy to clean and move around.

This steamer is designed to give you the option of doubling it in size with its multitiered design, which is particularly useful for steaming multiple items that have different cook times; you put the longer-cooking items on the bottom tier and just take the top tier off when that one is ready. Like most steamers, the top tier can take slightly longer to cook than the bottom tier, since the bottom is closer to the heat source. You get the hang of this; pork buns usually take longer than dumplings, so those go on the bottom tier, and you dig into the dumplings on the top tier while the pork buns on the bottom finish cooking. I fit 10 soup dumplings comfortably on one tier.


Another Good Electric Option

Cuisinart is a reliable brand for kitchen gear, and that stands true when it comes to its CookFresh Digital Glass Steamer. The base of the steamer is lightweight, which counteracts the steaming dish itself, made of a thick, weighted glass. The stainless steel steaming tray sits nicely into the dish and contains proper ventilation holes to allow for the steam to rise. You can also steam your food without the tray, which gives you more room. When you’re done with your steaming session, you can carry the glass dish straight to the table for serving. While this steamer works well, it’s on the clunkier side, and unless you’re steaming multiple times a week, it will likely feel too large to keep on your countertop. That said, it really comes in handy if you want a complete, homemade meal but aren’t in the mood to do the cooking yourself. I cooked two pieces of tilapia with a serving of veggies on the tray and was separately able to fit 15 soup dumplings.

The 1-liter water basin detaches from the base for easy filling. To start steaming, you must tightly screw the cap on the basin and flip it over to lock it into the base. It leaked very slightly for me, although not in any significant way. While some level of condensation is inevitable while steaming, having your food completely surrounded in glass is going to increase condensation compared to bamboo, for example. The interface of the CookFresh Digital Steamer could not be simpler. You turn the knob to the setting that corresponds with whatever you’re cooking and press Start. There’s also a button if all you want to do is reheat, and you can input a custom cook time. It’s the most rectangular steamer on this list, so this is a good match if you plan to cook long pieces of protein like fish that might not easily squeeze into a round or square steaming tray.


Best Ceramic Steamer

Donabe is the ancient Japanese craft of creating clay pots. Based in Japan’s Iga region for nearly 200 years, Nagatani-en is the oldest-known donabe company still operating. Cooking with this intricate handmade piece of pottery takes a little more care and attention than the plug-and-play electric versions above, but if you’re serious about taking your steaming chops to a new level, this is a great choice. One of the primary properties of donabe is that it gets extremely hot, which is why it is great for cooking food evenly. The clay used to make the pot is porous, which gives it its high heat retention and high absorption ability.

I kept my testing consistent and cooked another two pieces of tilapia with a serving of veggies (mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and spinach). It was a little tight on the steaming dish, but once the veggies started to shrivel it fit nicely and took less than 15 minutes to cook. Everything came out incredibly moist and flavorful. (I used just some basic seasoning.) The handles on the mushi nabe donabe are not as big as they probably should be, especially considering how hot they become. So you need to be extremely careful when removing the lid. Like a cast iron skillet, a donabe is meant to be seasoned prior to your first use, and it develops character as you use it. Instructions are provided so that you can care for the donabe properly. Even though donabe are known for cooking over a flame, they are also oven-safe. They are suitable for gas stovetops only and cannot be used on electric or induction stoves. They are not microwave- or dishwasher-safe.


Best Ceramic Steamer Set

If you’re looking for a ceramic steamer that’s less fragile and easier to use than donabe, this is the best option. The variety of materials used to design this product—a ceramic exterior and bamboo inserts—makes it one of the best. This steamer comes as a set in three sizes (1.2L, 2.3L, and 4L), complete with a finished ceramic pot, a matching lid with steaming holes, and a bamboo steaming basket that has a terra-cotta base. The steaming basket fits nearly flush onto the pot, as does the lid on the basket.

The terra-cotta base on the steaming basket makes this a unique product among steamers. Terra-cotta has even stronger absorption properties than bamboo, helping get rid of even more excess moisture. Terra-cotta assists in the steaming process in a quasi-water-circulation system. The water that it absorbs ends up evaporating back in with the rest of the steam. But the high absorption is one of the negatives that I found about steaming with terra-cotta: It can create quite the stink. When I cooked tilapia in this steamer, it came out fantastic, but then I was smelling tilapia for weeks. The fish stench would not come out no matter how many times I washed the basket. Like donabe, this ceramic pot is designed to be seasoned before using it. It’s also probably best to avoid cooking colorful foods like red curries because of the possibility of it staining. Jia says if you clean it immediately then you shouldn’t have a problem, but I wouldn’t do it if you want to keep the pot looking pearly and white, because the sleek look is one of the best things about this product.


Best Bamboo Steamer Set

The Concord Bamboo Steamer set comes with a metal pot, a metal lid, and a 10-inch bamboo steamer basket. All of these pieces fit flush with one another. The round shape and walls of the bamboo steamer make it harder to fit as much food in there, but I was able to fit two pieces of tilapia flat in the 10-inch steamer with veggies and a bed of spinach (same exact meal as I prepared in the donabe), which eliminates the need for parchment steaming papers (the Concord steamer provides a pack of these). It came out just as good as preparing it in the donabe. A 10-inch bamboo steamer like this one will fit eight soup dumplings comfortably on the steaming paper.

The stainless steel pot doubles as an all-purpose pot that you can use without the steaming baskets. The handles are what make this pot stand out; they’re made of heat-resistant faux-wood silicone that keeps them soft and relatively cool to the touch. The set comes with a set of parchment steaming liners and bamboo tongs. There’s nothing quite like steaming with bamboo. A bamboo steamer doesn’t absorb heat as much as metal, so you can pick it up directly with your hands and serve your meal right in the bamboo for a traditional experience. The bamboo also absorbs excess moisture so you’re really getting a quality steam. I feel like you can even taste the flavors of the forest when you cook with bamboo.


Best Budget Steamer

I like Joseph Joseph’s steaming basket better than the typical stainless steel options. This one is made of hard silicone material that’s more pleasant to use and much easier to clean than the stainless steel baskets. The “petals” that fold in and out to expand the steamer are a much sturdier design than the metal versions, which often feel flimsy and cheaply made. Three silicone legs on the bottom give ample space for the water to do its thing underneath. The design excels at steaming veggies in the most efficient way possible. The trickiest part of steaming baskets is getting them out of the pot once your food is finished and all the pieces are still hot. The Joseph Joseph Bloom basket has a well-designed hook in the middle, making it easy to slip a fork in and lift the basket out.

Obviously you can steam whatever can fit in the basket—say, two tamales or eight soup dumplings comfortably—but veggies are the go-to when it comes to steamer baskets. It results in a well-steamed batch of veggies so flavorful you’ll barely need any seasoning. Steaming protein in here or any basket-style steamer would be a little awkward. There are a few cheaper options on the market, but at just $9, the thoughtful design, versatility, and easy clean-up of the Joseph Joseph steamer make it our top pick for those on a budget.


Best Steamer for Tiny Kitchens

If you live in an offensively small NYC apartment with only a kitchenette and barely any cabinetry, Crate & Barrel’s Collapsible Steamer and Colander may be the move. When you first look at it, this thing seems like it’s just a colander, and essentially, it is. However, it works pretty well as a makeshift steamer for certain foods. At a diameter of 9.5 inches, the base is pretty small, so if you’re steaming food items that won’t cook properly if they’re stacked or piled on each other, like dumplings, you’re only going to net one small serving. I was able to fit seven soup dumplings into the steamer comfortably. I put a piece of steaming paper on the bottom so the dumplings wouldn’t stick to the stainless steel base once they heated up. For veggies, which you can pile up in a steamer, you won’t have any problems fitting a hearty amount. While the hybrid design doesn’t make for an ideal steamer, I was surprised at how well it worked to get a satisfactory steam on my food.

It’s made of a nice combination of metal, which makes up the sturdy base and handles, and malleable silicone, which lets the whole thing flop into itself for storage. It’s just about an inch thick when fully collapsed, so this design is the ultimate space saver. To use it as a steamer, you nestle the basket into a larger pot. Where this product falls short is that the lid of your pot likely will not sit properly on top of the steamer. The steamer’s handles sit on the lip of the pot, where they prevent the lid from forming a tight seal. Steam will escape through the gap, and this makes the steaming process take longer than it otherwise would. It also just makes the whole assembly feel a bit shaky. But we have already established that this product is just a makeshift steamer, so you know what you’re getting yourself into. You also need to make sure your pot is big enough to hold the basket, but also sized to allow the handles to perch properly. It’s also tricky to take the steamer off of the pot; the metal handles sit directly on the pot, so you need to use mitts and be careful. All in all, you will get a decent steam.

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