Beauty might be in the eyes of the beholder, but the best stovetop steamer is in the hands of the cook. The best steamer is the one that can handle the types of foods and frequency of use the cook requires. Steaming an entire meal is best left to a tiered pot made of high-quality materials, while steaming the occasional veggie is better handled by a perforated metal petal dish. Fans of steamed rice and other tiny food types might fare best with a bamboo stovetop steamer.
Seasoned cooks with a few decades in the kitchen will have experience with perforated stovetop steamer inserts that slip into a saucepan and are held above simmering water. These are perfect for a single food, such as potatoes or chicken, but can’t handle grains of rice or other teeny steam-ables. The wise cook knows to head for 18/10-grade stainless steel. It’s durable and won’t leach if used with acidic foods.
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Similar to metal saucepan inserts are the smaller steaming baskets available in grocery stores, big box stores, online, and everyplace else. These baskets are very inexpensive and easy, even for first-time steam cooks. The best style supports the basket on three metal legs that keep it lifted above an inch or two (five to ten centimeters) of simmering water. The basket drops open like a flower to accept a cup or two (about 240 to 480 milliliters) of food and is best used for vegetables.
A tiered bamboo steamer that sits inside a wok or wide saucepan allows the cook to build a steamed meal from the bottom up. Foods that require a greater amount of steam, such as meat or root veggies, go on the bottom tier. Each succeeding tier takes a food that requires a little less steam. Bamboo steamers can handle rice and other grains, but getting them clean can be tricky.
Along the same lines are tiered steamers made of metal and glass or acrylic. These tougher stovetop steamers allow the cook to monitor cooking without lifting lids and are sturdy enough to handle lots of use. They are dishwasher safe, as well, but are a more expensive stovetop steamer choice.
Regardless of the steamer choice, the wise cook knows how to keep steaming safe. Lids should always be lifted away from the cook to minimize scalding. A silicone mitt is the best choice for pulling the tray from the steamer or separating tiers; it won’t absorb steamy moisture that may burn the cook’s trapped hand. It’s best, too, to let the tray sit for a few minutes so the food cools to a touchable temperature as steaming can continue for a while after food has been taken from the heat source.