There are a variety of different types of steamer pans, some better than others for certain styles of cooking. The best steamer pan will be the one that meets the specific needs of the person cooking. A stovetop steamer insert can be used for vegetables but will have difficulty steaming rice. A bamboo steamer can be convenient for different types of food, but can be difficult to clean. More specialized steamer pans can be used for a single specific purpose, such as fish, but might do so in a far superior way.
A stovetop steamer pan is a popular choice because it offers convenience and flexibility. These look like any normal stovetop pot but come with a second pan that fits into the top and has a bottom perforated with holes. The stovetop steamer pan might be the best solution for someone who steams vegetables regularly and other foods only occasionally. It does not do well with delicate foods or small foods such as rice that could fall through the holes.
For those who steam only some foods on rare occasions and who do not want to invest in an entire pan, just a steamer insert can be purchased. These are flat, shallow dishes with holes in the bottom and small legs on the bottom. They fit in nearly any pan and can steam solid foods very well, but they lack the versatility of a full steamer pan.
A bamboo steamer pan is designed to rest on top of a regular pot. It can be used for many types of dishes, even sticky rice. With some care, it can be used for fish and nearly any other dish. The two considerations before choosing a bamboo steamer are that they are frequently not very large, and that their porous service means they can be difficult to clean. Some bamboo steamers, with extensive use, also can begin to come apart over time.
If there is not much time to cook, then a microwave steamer could be the best choice. Although the results are not always consistent, they do work well for steaming items that would normally cook fast. Longer cooking times with a microwave steamer can cause the food to be cooked directly by the microwave and not the steam.
If steaming is a serious part of daily cooking, then there are some options that can help to make the task easier. Self-contained electric steamers that do not take up burner space are available. There also are commercial steamers that can bring water to a boil very quickly and maintain a consistent temperature. Finally, special steamers can be purchased for just one type of food, such as hot dogs, fish or shellfish.