For quick, easy and healthy meals, it’s hard to beat steaming.
Thanks to the gentle cooking process and the moist cooking environment, vegetables are able to retain more of their nutritional value, while meat and fish stay tender and juicy. Making fluffy, evenly cooked rice is easy too, and there’s no risk of the grains burning and sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Traditionally, steamers have been inserts that go over a pan of boiling water, but there are now smart machines that can take care of all the timings for you so you can just set it and forget it.
As they come in a huge range of sizes and price points, the type you get will depend on what you plan to cook and how often; the size of your kitchen; and, of course, your budget.
Smaller steam baskets are perfect for cooking vegetables for one or two people, for example. They’re cheaper, don’t take much room and can be used with your existing pans. But there are also bigger options for those who are more adventurous and want to experiment with different recipes or create entire meals.
We tested a range of different food steamers. As they varied in size and shape, we tried different recipes to suit each one. Where there were suggested recipes, we tried those.
We looked for how easy the steamers were to assemble, use and clean as well as how versatile they were in the kitchen and how easy they were to store.
In general, we found electric steamers to be the easiest to use as they produced steam quicker, helped to keep time, will switch off automatically when dry and can be topped up with water during cooking.
They were also easier to store compared with traditional steamer sets – the column steamers had baskets of slightly different sizes, so they could nest inside each other for storage or be stacked in reverse for use.
However, the individual inserts had the benefit of being much more affordable while the over-the-hob steamer sets are better for longer cooking and if you needed the base pot for cooking something else.
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Lakeland digital 3-tier steamer
The Lakeland digital steamer has a family-friendly 12l capacity with a 1.5l rice bowl (enough for 400g of rice) that will fit in any of the three crystal-clear steam baskets. Unlike many of the other models we tried, it has a digital timer with pre-set modes, rather than a simple dial. It means more precise timekeeping, but also the ability to delay cooking for up to a maximum of 12 hours and 59 minutes. There are five pre-set modes – eggs, rice, fish, chicken/meat and vegetables – with timings based on the quantities set out in its instruction manual so you don’t need to work out how long to cook things for. You can also adjust this up or down at the touch of a button. We liked that there was a notch at the base to wrap the cable around which, along with the nesting steam baskets, making storage much easier. The only downside is that the water levels can be hard to read when in use.
Joseph Joseph bloom folding steamer basket
Joseph Joseph’s bloom folding steamer basket is a self-adjusting steamer that’s designed to fit into pans that are at least 18cm in diameter. It opens up into the shape of a blossom and collapses in on itself for storage. The whole thing is made of plastic, with heat-resistant feet and silicone sides so it’s suitable for all cookware, including non-stick. There’s also a handle in the centre that allows you to easily lift it out of the pan. It was straightforward to use – just pop it in a fairly large pan with any vegetables on top and put the lid on. The clearance of the feet only allowed 2cm of water to be added so you’ll need to top up with water regularly for longer cooking periods. Trying to remove the steamer from the pan was also a sticking point. You’re supposed to be able to put a fork through the handle to lift it out of the pan but we found that because the handle was so wide, the fork would slide around and the steamer would topple to one side: our vegetables ended up swimming in the steam water. It worked much better when we turned off the heat and just used oven gloves instead.
Tala collapsible steaming basket
The Tala collapsible steaming basket is very similar to the Joseph Joseph one – it opens up to around the same size and its feet clearance is just over 2cm. However, as it’s made of stainless steel, it’s not suitable for non-stick pans. On the plus side, it’s much more compact, which makes storage easier. Like the Joseph Joseph version, it’s straightforward to use. When fully opened, it’s almost completely flat, which is good if you want to heat up a small amount of anything that needs a relatively flat surface, such as dim sum. Getting it out of the pan was much easier this time around as the handle was smaller so there was no rocking when we used a fork to hook it. The leaves are fairly thin, though, so we wouldn’t cook anything too heavy on it.
ProCook professional 2-tier stainless steel steamer set
The ProCook professional steamer set comes with a 4.4 litre stockpot as the base plus two steamer inserts. Stacked together, the whole thing is quite tall – the stockpot measures 14cm while the inserts are 11cm each – which means you may have to split them up for storage and it may pose a problem for kitchens with lower extraction hoods. The set was sturdy and well-made – the 18/10 stainless steel is oven safe up to 260C and is suitable for all hobs, including induction. There was a good seal between all the tiers with no steam escaping from the sides. The benefit of the deep steam insert is that you can use it for pudding bowls or chunkier vegetables such as corn on the cob. It’s worth noting that you can get the stockpot and steamer inserts separately, if, for example, you only needed the insert or wanted to mix and match with another base.
Judge Essentials 5-tier steamer set
The Judge Essentials 5-tier steamer set consists of a 20cm casserole pan, bain marie and three steam baskets that stack up to just under 35cm tall. The entire set is made from stainless steel and is oven safe up to 240C. It’s also dishwasher safe and can be used on most hobs, including induction. Each of the steam baskets is deep enough to use a small bowl, which means you can use it to cook things with sauces, and not just loose vegetables. We also liked that it came with a bain marie, as it means you can get three very different uses out of the set. Our one gripe is the hollow stainless steel handles – they’re designed to be cooler to touch than solid ones but we found that water was getting trapped in them when washing up and escaping when we least expected it.
Morphy Richards 470006 intellisteam food steamer
The Morphy Richards Intellisteam food steamer comes in two versions – the stainless steel one we tested and a new plastic model, which is slightly cheaper but works in the same way. The machine features two main steam baskets that sit side by side, one of which can be split into two smaller compartments with a divider. The idea is that you can set a different time for each of the compartments and the machine will automatically work out start times so they all finish steaming at the same time. Then the machine will automatically keep your food warm for 40 minutes. We found the intellisteam a little intimidating at first – it had more buttons, compartments and accessories than any of the other steamers we tested. But once we turned it on, the control panel turned out to be very intuitive and we didn’t need to refer to the instruction manual at all, although it is handy for checking suggested cooking times for up to four portions of food. Being able to set different times for different compartments made putting together a meal really easy as there was no need to come back half way through cooking to add ingredients that need less time to cook. However, because of the side-by-side set up, it will take up much more room on your kitchen counter when in use.
Judge JEA25 3-tier steamer
The Judge JEA25 is an 8.5l steamer with a timer that goes up to 60 minutes. It comes with three clear steam baskets and a rice bowl with a capacity for up to 300g of rice, or enough for about three people. The baskets will nest inside each other for storage and their base can be popped out if you’re steaming taller items. This steamer was very compact for its capacity, but while great for storage, we did spot a design flaw. The rice bowl will only fit in the largest of the three baskets, which goes at the top of the steam column. So even if you’re only cooking rice, you still have to have all three baskets on the steamer. If you’re cooking ingredients such as vegetables that take less time, you’ll have to interrupt the cooking process to add these to the lower tier baskets.
Russell Hobbs 21140 3-tier steamer
The Russell Hobbs 21140 is a nine-litre steamer with three transparent steam baskets and a one-litre rice bowl. The base itself also features translucent panels, which means it’s easy to see the water levels without having to get close up to the machine, and you can top it up using the spouts on the side. We had a mixed experience with this steamer. The machine was quick at producing steam and it was the only one that wasn’t covered with limescale immediately after use. However, unlike all of the other electric column steamers we tried, the base of the steam baskets didn’t pop out and the holes didn’t extend fully to the edge. It meant that water was collecting at the edges, so we had to be extra careful removing the tiers.
Russell Hobbs 14453 3-tier steamer
The Russell Hobbs 14453 3-tier steamer is the smallest of the electric steamers we tried – it has a seven litre capacity, which is still plenty for couples. While the base won’t take up much space as it’s only 18cm wide, the baskets don’t fully nest inside each other so you will need to make sure your cupboard shelf is tall enough (around 28cm). And because it’s so much smaller, the design is very different compared with the other column steamers, which could be problematic for longer or more intensive use. The three thin, clear baskets are stacked on top of each other with the help of black plastic ring mounts. Although they look good when fully stacked, getting them to line up properly can be a bit fiddly so, if you need to stir anything mid-use, we’d recommend switching the machine off and allowing it to cool briefly before doing so safely. There’s also no drip tray, so if you’re cooking with herbs and spices, or anything oily, you should always use the rice bowl or wrap it in some way as otherwise, any liquid will fall back into the reservoir and potentially damage the heating element.
Amazon Basics 3-tier steamer
The Amazon Basics 3-tier steamer has a total capacity of 12l, split between three transparent steam baskets, and there’s a plastic caddy for up to 400g of dry rice – enough for about four people – making it a family-friendly option. The timer goes up to 75 minutes, compared with the 60 on most other models we tried. Despite its size, we found it very efficient at producing steam. We also liked that there was a notch on the bottom to store the cable. The water tank itself had markers on the inside to let you know the minimum and maximum water levels, which made it very handy when topping it up before use. Ironically, it’s much harder to tell during use – the tank is black, which made reading water levels from the window very difficult.
The verdict: Food steamers
Overall we found electric steamers much easier to use and Lakeland’s digital 3-tier steamer offered the best value for money for the number of functions. Those with deeper pockets and love experimenting with different recipes, we can’t recommend the Morphy Richards intellisteam enough. But if it’s a budget option you’re looking for, go with Tala’s collapsible steamer.
Once your food is perfectly steamed, check out our edit of the best blenders for soups, smoothies and sauces
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