How to steam vegetables
Learn how to steam vegetables with these top tips. Our different cooking methods include using a pan with steamer insert and steaming veg in the microwave.
Steamed vegetables are healthy and steaming locks in flavour, nutrients and a perfectly tender texture. There are several ways to steam veg; follow this guide for tips and recipe ideas.
Learn how to steam vegetables using two different methods:
- In a pan (using an insert, collapsible basket or without)
- In the microwave.
Alternatively, if you are looking to take the next step and buy a steamer, see our round-up of the top models to buy in this best steamers review. Plus, read more of our picks of kitchen accessories and essential cooking equipment to stock your kitchen.
Watch our video for how to steam vegetables, then check out our steps below:
Which vegetables can I steam?
Technically, it’s possible to steam all vegetables. But some work much better for steaming than others. All veg steams at different rates, so always keep any eye on the recipe you’re following, or our timing guide below:
Good vegetables to steam:
Broccoli, spinach and other leafy greens; cauliflower, asparagus, carrots, green beans, small potatoes and artichokes.
Veg to avoid steaming:
Any large chunks of hard veg, such as potatoes, squash or celeriac.
How to prepare vegetables for steaming
- Any large veg needs to be cut into smaller chunks or bite-sized pieces.
- Root veg such as carrots should be sliced, unless you're using baby ones.
- Some veg can be kept whole, such as artichokes (just make sure you trim it well). Green leafy veg such as spinach and chard can also be steamed in whole pieces.
- Cauliflower and broccoli should be broken into florets.
Do I need any special kitchen equipment to steam vegetables?
It's good to have some kit to hand for steaming veg, although it can be done without special equipment by simply using a pan (see our method below). However, this method is not as effective as using specialty kit.
Steamer pan insert – Some saucepans come with a steamer insert. It’s a second level of the pan which fits snugly over the top and has small holes in the bottom to allow you to steam veg. You can also buy these as a separate attachment.
Collapsible steamer basket – A collapsible steamer basket fits directly into a saucepan, sitting just above the bottom of the pan. It folds up, is cheap to buy and effective at steaming veg. A great option for smaller quantities of veg.
Electric steamer – An electric steamer can hold a large quantity of vegetables, takes up less power and accurately times your veg cooking. They’re great for cooking large batches of veg.
How to steam vegetables in a pan
Without a steamer pan insert:
- Fill a medium pan with around 2 inches of water and bring to the boil.
- Add the veg, cover and cook until tender, following the below timings for guidance.
- Top up with a splash more water if the pan boils dry.
With a steamer pan insert:
- Place your strainer, steamer insert or basket over the pan, so that it doesn’t touch the bottom.
- Fill the strainer with the vegetables and cook until tender, using the below timings as a guide.
How long to steam vegetables
- Sliced carrots – 6-8 mins
- Cauliflower florets – 5-6 mins
- Asparagus (thick spears) – 5-6 mins
- Broccoli florets – 5 mins
- Brussels sprouts – 8-10 mins
- Green beans – 4-5 mins
- Spinach and leafy greens – 5 mins
- Peas – 3 mins
- Whole artichoke – 25-35 mins
- Small potatoes – 15-20 mins
- Larger chopped potato – 25-30 mins
How to steam vegetables in a microwave
To steam veg in your microwave:
- Put your veg in a microwave-safe bowl, then tip in 2-3 tbsp water and cover with a plate or heatproof lid.
- Microwave on high according to the steaming times above.
Can you steam frozen vegetables?
Yes, steaming your vegetables from frozen is one of the best ways to preserve their nutrients, since these will normally be at peak level when the veg was originally frozen.
There is no need for you to thaw most vegetables before cooking, as this may actually make them mushy. Simply add them straight from the freezer to a steamer basket. However, veg with a higher moisture content, like spinach, will need to be gently defrosted before you steam them.
How long to cook frozen vegetables
In a pan: We recommend adding an extra 5 minutes to the above times.
In the microwave: Cook on high for around 5 minutes. Then if they still aren't entirely thawed or cooked through, put them back and microwave for 1-minute bursts until they are warmed through but not mushy.
Try our recipe...
Steamed leeks and peas
Need a speedy, healthy side dish with plenty of seasonal flavours? Make a batch of our steamed leeks & peas with herby vinaigrette. It's so simple to make, and the honey and mustard dressing adds sweetness and a little warmth to the fresh greens. Add a pop of colour to your Sunday lunch or a summery spread.
Put these techniques to good use with some of our best vegetable recipes.
Need more expert cookery advice? Read our other guides...
What's your favourite way to enjoy steamed veg? Leave a comment below...