How Do I Choose the Best Three-Tier Steamer?

Cynde Gregory

Steamed foods have a lot to recommend them. They retain as much as 50% more of the nutrition that foods cooked by other methods do, and they do so with little to no fat and without drying out. Steamed veggies, fish, chicken, and even fruit just about burst with flavor. As more cooks discover the advantages of cooking with steam, more and more three-tier steamers are appearing. The best three-tier steamer allows easy access to add water, has cooking trays that won’t leach chemicals or hold bacteria, and offers pluses such as delayed timers and automatic shutoffs for safety.

Three-tier steamers can be used to made potstickers and other Asian steamed dumplings.
Three-tier steamers can be used to made potstickers and other Asian steamed dumplings.

Cooks who prefer steaming on the stove top can choose from tiered bamboo steamers or metal steamer inserts designed to slip inside saucepans. These methods work well, although they occupy burners and it’s easier for the cook to get scalded when the lid comes off. More and more home cooks are discovering that a three-tier steamer does everything a stove top steamer does while freeing up a burner. Paying a little more for the right electrical unit is usually well worth it as it can be inexpensive to begin with.

A three-tier steamer allows a cook to compose and complete an entire meal in a very short amount of time. Good steamers create steam at the proper temperature almost instantaneously and allow additional water to be added as needed. The wise cook looks for a machine that has dishwasher-safe trays for convenience. If the unit will be used often, the sturdier the construction, the better, with glass and 18/10 stainless steel construction being the picks of the litter.

An especially nice feature that not all machines share is side-vented steam. With a three-tier steamer, foods that require higher cooking heat go on the bottom tier, while each subsequent tier handles food that requires less and less steam heat. Many machines are designed so that steam rises in a column from bottom to top. This means some flavors travel along with the steam. A three-tier steamer that is side vented, however, carries steam separately to each compartment, thus minimizing flavor immigration.

Most cooks want a steamer that can handle rice; they should be sure any tiered machine they consider has a rice basket of adequate size. Some steamers include a rice basket, but it cannot steam enough rice for a family meal. Another nifty add in is one or more dividers that can be used to cook different foods and removed to cook something big, like a lobster. A time delay built into the machine will put a smile on veggie lovers’ faces, although loading a steamer with fish, chicken, or meat on a time delay is never a good idea.

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