How Do I Choose the Best Small Steamer?

Cynde Gregory

Steaming food has become a very popular method of cooking in kitchens the world over because of its many benefits. Not every kitchen has space for a large food steamer, and not every cook needs to prepare food for an army. Choosing a small steamer, like its larger sibling, depends not only upon the needs of the kitchen but upon the steamer’s features and construction.

Some stovetop steamers fit into a pot or saucepan.
Some stovetop steamers fit into a pot or saucepan.

The first thing to consider is whether the cook prefers a stove top steamer or an electrical one. A stove top unit is less expensive, but it occupies a burner that might be put to other use, and it requires constant monitoring. An electrical steamer, while more expensive, is a lot more convenient. It doesn’t require a hovering cook, and it frees up space on the stove.

For just a little extra money, options abound for small steamers. It’s a good idea to select a machine with a timer that will announce to the cook when the food is done. Some machines even have cooking times for common foods printed on the side. A small steamer that has a transparent lid means it isn’t necessary to take the lid off and on to check cooking progress.

Many steamers either come with two or more stackable trays or allow the purchase of additional trays. This is both a time saver and a space saver because vertical stacking allows a number of different foods to steam at the same time in the same amount of counter space. It may require a little looking, but a small steamer that shoots steam sideways and up through the trays will minimize taste transference from foods being cooked at lower levels.

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Other conveniences to look for include dishwasher-safe parts, safety features such as an automatic switch off, and venting options. Keep in mind that, while cooking with steam is easy and healthy, it is potentially as dangerous as cooking over an open flame. Careless use or a faulty machine can result in serious scalds that could require a trip to the emergency room.

It’s a good idea to search out a small steamer with trays that aren’t plastic. Plastic trays are easily scratched, and this is a harbor for bacteria, especially in the moist, warm conditions that characterize a steamer. Plastic can also leach dangerous chemicals into the food. Stainless steel trays are the better option, although these steamers are likely to cost a bit more.

A final consideration involves cost. Many cooks might head for the least expensive unit that offers the most basic options, but that’s not always the best deal. A durable machine that uses less electricity is cheaper in the long run, and if replacement parts aren’t readily available should a steamer stop working, the only option is to buy another.

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