Food Steamers Review
How to Choose a Food Steamer
The top performers in our review are the Hamilton Beach 5.5 Quart Digital Steamer, the Gold Award winner; the BELLA Food Steamer, the Silver Award winner; and the Black+Decker 7 Quart Food Steamer, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a food steamer to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
Steaming is one of the healthiest methods of cooking. You don't need oil or fat to cook your food, so you save calories. Your food also retains more nutrients because it isn't resting in a pot of water that has leached essential vitamins from your food. Food lovers aren't likely to lean toward steaming as the tastiest option for cooking meats and vegetables, but you can get succulent, delicious results with the right combination of herbs, other aromatics and a great food steamer.
Chefs often use the moist heat method of cooking foods, like fish and other seafood, because steamers offer indirect heat that helps preserve food's moisture. Steaming can also preserve the color of vegetables and highlight the flavor of the produce. Even potatoes can benefit from a steam bath rather than boiling because they don't absorb liquid and become waterlogged like they do from boiling.
The best food steamers have a generous capacity, so you can steam a whole meal at once. Those that have multiple trays make it possible for you to separate meat from vegetables, and you can infuse different flavors for each layer. These small appliances can be used exclusively as vegetable steamers, but they’re versatile enough to even be used as rice cookers. Several models that we tested include rice bowls specifically to steam rice, but they can also be used for other grains. You can also use your own heat-safe bowl in steamers that don't include one.
The food steamers we chose as the best of all the steamers are electric, which saves you space on your stovetop so you can cook other foods there. If you don't want to use your stove at all, you can steam your entire meal at once and not heat up your entire kitchen. These steamers are small enough to store in kitchen cabinets – some of them have nesting bowls to make the food steamer more compact for storage – and short enough to sit on your countertop. The units are totally contained, but you still need to be careful of escaping hot steam. And many of these models have timers to let you know when your food is done cooking and warming options to keep your food the right temperature while you set the table.
You can steam food in many different ways. A traditional method is with a bamboo steamer over a pot of boiling water. Another popular method is with a plastic container that you use in a microwave. If you prefer the microwave method, check out our reviews on the best compact microwave ovens.
All of the food steamers in our review are able to cook rice but not in very large quantities. If you cook rice regularly and need to cook large amounts, then you might want a rice cooker, specifically. We looked at some of the best ones, and you can learn more about what we discovered in our articles on rice cookers.
Food Steamers: What We Tested, What We Found
Modern food steamers heat water to boiling to create steam, which then cooks food that's been arranged on stackable trays. We put these steamers to the test using a variety of foods, including chicken, fish, vegetables and rice. Our testers examined the quality of the results of every test, judging foods based on tenderness, juiciness and flavor. After all, the most important factor in choosing a food steamer is how well they cook your food.
A close second is convenience, because you want the appliance to be easy to use. Features that make steaming food easier than ever, such as timers, warm settings and windows that let you see the water level of your steamer, are included on some of the best food steamers.
Several types of food lend themselves well to steaming, such as vegetables, fish and seafood. Some people prefer to steam chicken, and you can cook rice in a steamer, so there's no need for a separate rice cooker. We started with two filets of mild white fish and added some herbs and lemon slices. On another rack, or next to the fish in the units that didn't have stackable tiers, we laid out some marinated chicken. We also tested potatoes and rice.
The top-ranked food steamers did fairly well across the board, but some performed better when cooking fish or potatoes as compared to chicken or rice, like the Hamilton Beach 5.5 Quart Digital Steamer. We cooked each type of food for the time suggested in each steamer's manual.
We found that fish and potatoes came out nearly perfect from most of the steamers – tender, moist and flavorful. Lower-scoring units, though, produced food where the flavor wasn't nearly as prominent, or, in the case of the fish we steamed, the texture was drier, or, when it came to potatoes, was mushy.
Rice is another food that generally did well in each unit, although a few produced watery results. Some of the lower-ranked steamers in our lineup that did not fare as well in convenience or maintenance cooked some foods quite well, such as the NaturoPure Digital Food Steamer – it cooked the best rice compared to the other steamers.
Although it seems like steaming is one of the best ways to preserve moisture in foods, it's difficult to get tender, juicy chicken out of a steamer. Very few units were able to cook chicken well, but those that did offered slightly moister, more flavorful chicken than most of the other steamers on our lineup.
Another item worth noting from our testing is that we cooked all of the food at once – and all with different seasonings – and our testers noted that none of the flavors seeped into one another. Fish tasted like fish, and potatoes tasted like potatoes (with thyme and garlic). We timed each cooking test and found that most units cooked all four types of food quickly, but the quickest average time was 23 minutes, with the slowest steamer averaging 34 minutes. Size is part of the reason behind quicker or slower cooking times, but the input power, or wattage, also plays a role. The wattage of a food steamer mostly indicates how quickly it begins to heat, so a higher-wattage unit, like the Aroma Professional 5-Quart Food Steamer, has 1,000 watts but is also larger. A smaller steamer, like the Ovente Three Layer Food Steamer, may only have 400 watts, but it doesn't need more than that to heat a smaller amount of water in its reservoir.
All of the steamers we tested proved to be fairly easy to use, because food steamers are inherently simple to use. The manual ones require nothing more than a twist of a knob to get the timer started. The digital steamers are as easy to program as setting an alarm clock. Most of the food steamers include at least two tiers for steaming, but there are two steamers in our lineup that include three stackable layers, and one unit that is larger in size but only has one level. Keep the capacity in mind, though, because even if a steamer only has two tiers, it could hold more than a three-tier unit. The largest capacity of the food steamers in our lineup is 12 quarts, but the average is also the lowest at five quarts.
The base of the food steamers don't get too hot, but the trays on all of the units we evaluated were too hot to touch. On average, the trays registered around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and as high as 211 degrees F. The lowest temperature we saw was 165 degrees F.
One of the most useful features we found was the water-level window, which allows you to see how much water remains in the reservoir so you know when you need to refill the tank to keep your food cooking. Also helpful were the units that included a way for you to fill the reservoir externally – this prevents you having to remove the tiers to add more water.
What Else Is Important in Choosing a Food Steamer?
Food steamers are notoriously difficult to clean – those tiny holes that allow steam through can also collect food. We cleaned each unit thoroughly by hand after cooking and timed the process. A solid warranty and good customer service is also important, especially if you run into issues like a defective unit or when you need to replace a lid or tray.
Cleaning a food steamer could be as easy as putting most of the pieces into a dishwasher – all of the units in our lineup are dishwasher safe, except the base because of its electrical components. The base of each unit needs to be cleaned, but never submerge it in water; instead, you can wipe it down with a damp cloth or paper towel. Washing the trays and dividers by hand can be time-consuming. On average, it took less than 10 minutes to clean most of these food steamers, but one unit in particular only took four minutes total. One food steamer took nearly 20 minutes to clean because of its size and the numerous tiny steam holes that collected bits of food.
Warranty & Support
On average, small appliances, like food steamers, come with at least a one-year warranty that protects you from buying a defective unit, and these food steamers are no exception. The top-ranked food steamer, though, offers a two-year warranty. All of the food steamers in our lineup offer customer care, and all but one offer a digital copy of the user manual on the manufacturers' websites.
Food Steamers: Our Verdict & Recommendations
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison on loan from some manufacturers and purchased other units. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to manufacturers in advance of publication.
Once we finished steaming meals in each food steamer, we found that BELLA outperformed all of the other steamers in our lineup overall. It also was simple to operate, quick to heat up and cooked food faster. The BELLA steamer included several features to help you keep an eye on the water level so you don't have to interrupt the cooking to check the water or add more.
Not only did the Hamilton Beach 5.5 Quart Digital Steamer perform well, it has more convenient features compared to the other units we tested. In addition to the exterior water fill spout, a window for you to check the water level and a rice bowl, this food steamer also offers a warm setting. It also is the only unit we tested that also offers a delayed start so you can prepare your food now and cook it later.
The Black+Decker 7 Quart Food Steamer also performed well next to its competitors, though it took a bit longer on average to cook food. As a bonus, compared to the two higher ranked products in our lineup, this one includes recipes to help you get started.
Although the Oster Double Tiered Food Steamer did not rank as high as other steamers we tested, it performed admirably in our food tests, producing moist and flavorful fish and tender potatoes. You won't get a lot of extras for convenience, but it is the easiest and fastest to clean, and it has nested bowls so you can easily store it. It's also the best steamer you can buy at such a low price.
If you want a food steamer that has lots of space for food, take a look at the NaturoPure Digital Food Steamer – it has 12 quarts of room for food and three tiers, and it made the best rice, according to our tests.
Healthy food doesn’t have to be bland or boring. Steaming food remains one of the best ways to preserve food’s flavor and nutrients, so buying a food steamer is a smart choice for your health and your taste buds. Take a look at our food steamer reviews to determine which one is the best for you.