How Do I Choose the Best Mini Steamer?

Cynde Gregory

Steaming grains, meats, and vegetables is gaining in popularity in kitchens large and small. Cooks appreciate the fact that steamed foods cook quickly and evenly, lose less nutrition than fried or baked foods, and remain succulent and moist. While large steamers can prepare a number of dishes at once, a mini steamer is a better choice when the cook wants to prepare just a small amount of food or a single item. Choosing the best mini steamer means paying attention to the materials used to make it, the safety and other features the manufacturer included, and how easy it is to clean.

The least expensive mini steamers are small, collapsable metal baskets that fit inside a pot or saucepan.
The least expensive mini steamers are small, collapsable metal baskets that fit inside a pot or saucepan.

The least expensive type of mini steamer is a small metal basket with perforated petals that open like a flower when the basket is set into a saucepan of simmering water. Food is placed on the petals and held above the hot water, and steam enters the perforations and gently encircles the cooking food when a lid is placed on the saucepan. The basket is dishwasher safe, but the cook must be very careful not to get scalded when taking the lid off the pot.

Many home cooks prefer an electric mini steamer with a footprint small enough to remain on the counter for easy access. These types of steamers are convenient and easy. Water comes to a simmer in them more quickly than on the stove, and they free up the stove top for other cooking activities. Mini steamers are also relatively inexpensive, but certain features are worth paying a little extra for.

It’s important for reasons of health to scout for a mini steamer with either glass or metal trays. Plastic can scratch and, given the hot, moist environment of a food steamer, become a haven for bacteria. Glass or metal surfaces are less porous and easier to keep clean of harmful bacteria. In addition, they don’t leach potentially dangerous chemicals into food as plastic materials can.

It’s a good idea to find a unit with a transparent lid. Removing the lid repeatedly during cooking to check the food’s progress not only lets out steam and can cause uneven cooking, but it can be dangerous because the steam is hot enough to scald. Many mini steamers have built-in timers, as well, that will alert the home cook when the food is done.

Safety features are important as well. Any home food steamer should have an automatic shutoff should the water boil over or boil out. Good units also have beepers to notify the cook in either of these situations.

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