Cooks who are new to steaming food probably don’t want to invest a lot of money in a copper or stainless steel steamer with digital controls, side venting, and other costly upgrades. You can find a cheap steamer on the market, ranging from ones with unfolding metal baskets that set inside of saucepans to small electric models. The wise cook looks for a model with an easy-to-read water indicator and dishwasher-safe parts that’s easy to use.
More and more cooks the world over are learning that steaming food has a lot of built-in advantages. Steaming is the healthiest way to cook foods as there’s no need for added fat, and excess fat in meats drains away. Foods that have been steamed, such as fish, chicken, or veggies, retain a higher nutritional content than foods that have been fried, baked, or grilled. And, nothing locks in flavor better than steam.
For those who don’t know how to steam food or use a fancy steamer, the process may seem intimidating. Nervous cooks should hear the rallying cry, "Jump right in — the water’s fine!" Everyone from big box retailers to gourmet kitchen shops carry at least one model of cheap steamer, perhaps with metal basket inserts that unfold like flowers to set inside a saucepan with simmering water at the bottom. The best of these have a triad of feet that are solidly welded to the basket bottom to keep it from tipping during cooking.
The next step up is round bamboo stackable baskets. They, too, are readily available at many types of retailers, though the best prices come from international farmer’s markets or large groceries catering to Asian clients. These baskets sit inside a wok and are cleverly designed to steam a number of dishes at once without hogging too much space. The best baskets are tightly woven and don’t show any areas of weakness, such as frayed edges.
A bit higher in price but more convenient are electric food steamers. A cheap steamer with plenty of great features can be purchased for under $30 US Dollars (USD). Those with transparent lids designed so that water can be easily added are the best bet. Even a cheap steamer should have built-in safety features, such as an automatic shutoff if the water boils away.
Consumers will do well to remember that, ultimately, you really do get what you pay for. A cheap steamer is perfect for cooks who just want to get their feet wet as well as for cooks who only steam food on occasion. Those who want a durable steamer with built-in conveniences like automatic timers and side steam ventilation will have to pay more.