Though not strictly a kitchen essential, for some, electric steamers are an indispensable tool.
Often, steamers are bought for health reasons on the grounds that steaming preserves more vitamins and nutrients than boiling. It’s a far gentler form of cooking than most, retaining the flavour and texture of all foods. Steamers aren’t just for veg, either – they can also be used to cook meat, fish, shellfish, eggs (in their shells), pasta, grains and even puddings.
Steaming can be as simple as a colander over a pan of boiling water. That method, though, is an inexact science and led more by guesswork. An electric steamer comes into its own by cooking in a controlled environment with a steady, even flow of steam, constant temperature and a timer. Simply load, switch on and leave until the timer pings so you can get on with other things. It frees up hob space, too, especially when cooking for a lot of people, for example at Christmas.
Good steamers include a rice bowl and can produce particularly well-cooked, fluffy rice. Using multiple baskets, it’s possible to steam an entire meal and it’s more energy efficient than using the oven and hob.
Read on to discover which steamers are best. For over 200 buyer’s guides, visit our product review section and find guides to everything from the best food processors and best kettles to the best slow cookers.
How to choose the best steamer
Size and available space: steamers needed for family cooking can be huge, with a large footprint and deep, wide baskets that will take up room on the worktop and in the cupboard. If space is at a premium, choose a taller model rather than wider and one that has baskets that stack one inside the other.
Most steamers are around 9 litres, which is big enough to cook a meal for four. If cooking for one to three people, it might be better to opt for a smaller steamer that will take up less space.
Safety: look for models with sturdy, well-balanced baskets and robust, easy to grip, heatproof handles. A boil-dry cut-out that will automatically switch the machine off if the water runs out is hugely important, as is the ease of filling up the water tank during use. An external tank with a spout is the best, but not all models have this and having to remove baskets not only affects cooking times, but you also risk injury from hot steam.
Price: there is a broad range of prices with electric steamers. The top price range will have many extra features and be made of high-quality materials, but do not discount the mid and budget range. All here performed exceptionally well in the test.
Best steamers to buy at a glance
- Best overall steamer: Cuisinart Cookfresh steamer, £156.95
- Best steamer for smart functionality: Sage Fast Pro multicooker, £199
- Best high-spec family steamer: Magimix steamer, £199.00
- Best multicooker steamer: Crockpot, £89.99
- Best mid-range steamer: Lakeland digital steamer, £49.99
- Best bargain price steamer: Judge three-tier steamer, £28.50
- Best steamer for small spaces: Salter food steamer, £31.99
- Best budget steamer: Russell Hobbs three-tier food steamer, £29.99
- Best steamer design: Morphy Richards compact Intellisteam food steamer, £67.97
Best steamers to buy in 2021
Russell Hobbs three-tier food steamer 21140
Best budget steamer
The Russell Hobbs steamer is another budget machine, but a good size for family cooking at 9 litres. There are three dishwasher-safe baskets, each slightly smaller than the other, so they must be placed correctly. The baskets fit inside each other, which is handy for storage. They are made of flimsy plastic, though, and with no removable bases they can only take smaller foods. We particularly like the waterspout feature that means you can top up the reservoir during cooking without unstacking the hot steaming baskets.
There is one clear timer dial on the front, which is barely audible when it reaches time – at first, we miss the signal. We like the transparent base unit, making it possible to see the water level throughout the cooking. Even at this price, it has a boil-dry function which is very useful.
The instruction book is thin, but has everything you need to know on timings and sizes for steaming different foods, plus tips on food safety and details on descaling the steamer, which it will require from time to time.
We are happily surprised by the food from this steamer – the rice is light and fluffy and cooks in 20 minutes. The salmon is soft, moist and has good flavour, and the veg is spot-on.
Morphy Richards compact Intellisteam food steamer
Best steamer design
Ideal for two people, this neat steamer has one basket that can be divided into two compartments, with a removable wall. We particularly like that separate timers can be set for the two compartments. The steamer automatically delays the start for the shorter cooking time so that both compartments finish steaming together. It produces good, fluffy rice and al dente carrots. It has a water inlet for filling during cooking and an alarm sounds if the water drops below minimum. There is a safety feature to cut the machine off if the water dries out. Easy to clean, the container (though not the lid) is dishwasher-safe and the reservoir can be descaled with vinegar using a descale setting.
Magimix multifunction steamer
Best high-spec family steamer
The Magimix steamer was the most expensive on our test, but it is a powerful, sturdily built 12-litre steamer made with the highest-quality stainless steel. It fits together seamlessly and consists of a base unit, two dishwasher-safe steaming baskets, a heavy-duty glass lid with a heatproof silicone handle and a multifunctional stainless-steel bowl with a lid for cooking rice or reheating food.
The upper steaming basket has a removable perforated bottom for cooking large dishes – a steamed pudding will fit in comfortably – making this an excellent choice for family cooking. However, the large footprint takes up quite a lot of space, so it’s not best for smaller kitchens or those lacking storage space.
The machine has four temperatures (100C, 80C, 60C, 40C). This means that in addition to steaming, you can gently cook fish and use it to reheat or keep food warm. The lowest temperature can be used for setting homemade yogurt.
There’s a boil-dry safety system when the water is low, and topping up involves removing the baskets, which must be done carefully to avoid accidents. Otherwise, the steamer is easy to operate, with one dial and four pre-set cooking temperatures, including a yogurt setting and keep-warm function.
We like the instruction and 55-recipe book, but we find the instructions for cooking a piece of fish vague, giving timings for a fish fillet by number, not weight. That said, all is cooked quickly and easily with beautiful clear flavours – superb-quality cooking from a great machine.
Cuisinart Cookfresh professional steamer
Best overall steamer
The Cuisinart is a lovely looking piece of equipment made of high-quality stainless steel and grey trim. The footprint isn’t too large, so it should fit on most worktops nicely.
The Cuisinart CookFresh introduces steam from the top and claims to circulate around your food better than steam introduced from the bottom, and we find this to be true. The food does cook more evenly, without any pockets of soft or dry food and in only 20 minutes.
We are impressed by the main cooking chamber – a large rectangular glass bowl meana you can see what is happening inside. The bowl also has heatproof handles, so can be used as a serving bowl to take straight to the table.
Another stand-out feature was the sealed water chamber at the back, which unclips easily to fill and refill if the boil-dry alarm shuts off the steaming.
Operating this steamer couldn’t be simpler; the cooking is quiet with just a gentle hum and all alarms are very clear.
It will not serve a large family, but is ideal for a small family, couple or single household and is the best steamer on the test for the quality of the machine and the cooked food.
Salter EK2726Z three-tier 7.5-litre food steamer
Best steamer for small spaces
The Salter steamer is compact but tall. It has three separate dishwasher-safe baskets that neatly stack on top of each other using a divider. For storage, these can stack inside each other, which is handy in a small kitchen.
The base unit is made from stainless steel, with a single timer button on the front. The three baskets are made of light plastic but do fit together well, and the top basket has a good-sized secure handle.
The Salter is undoubtedly a budget-level steamer, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do its job. Unlike some of the other steamers on the test, this one requires 500ml boiling water to use, which is a timesaver as you’re not heating from cold. It claims that amount of water is sufficient for an hour of cooking.
There is room enough to cook for a small family, especially if using all baskets at once. We cook the rice in the top using the rice bowl, veg in the middle and fish at the bottom. In 30 minutes, everything is cooked to perfection, including the best rice on the test.
The seal between the layers is excellent and no steam escapes, so it is doing its job on the inside. It’s a little hard to see what is going on as it steams up, but we trust the process.
Lakeland digital three-tier electric steamer
Best mid-range steamer
The Lakeland steamer is a family-sized machine with a large footprint and three good-sized steamer baskets, so there’s no problem with space for food. However, the baskets don’t stack, so it will take up a fair bit of storage space in the cupboard.
The base is hard black plastic and stainless steel and the baskets, though also plastic, are relatively robust – each of the three layers has a removable perforated base.
There’s an excellent window to see the water level while cooking, thus avoiding boiling dry, though the steamer will shut off if that happens. There is a handy automatic delay start feature for setting up the steamer in advance.
An excellent feature of the Lakeland steamer is the drip tray that sits above the water reservoir between the baskets. This clever feature prevents water condensation and food juices from dripping back into the reservoir, so it constantly pumps out clean water for the steam. We can certainly tell the difference as we cooked food together in the three layers, but there was no cross-tainting of flavours.
Judge three-tier electric steamer
Best bargain steamer
The Judge is the cheapest on our test, but robust as it’s made from strong plastic. The baskets are clear and all have removable bases, so it’s possible to steam oversized items.
The steamer is oval rather than round and at 32cm, does not have an enormous footprint, but is not so small that you can’t quickly cook fish and vegetables for two to four.
The base unit is clear and straightforward, with a large bright button telling you that the machine is heating, another to indicate power and a 60-minute timer button. We find it a little noisy as it comes to the boil, sounding more like a kettle boiling. This is the only steamer on the test where the water starts to boil dry.
The instruction leaflet provides all you need to know to get started quickly. There are no recipes or tips on how to descale the steamer, but there are good timings for different weights and sizes of vegetables and meat.
The fish is soft and tasty and the rice a little sticky, but there are no complaints with the potatoes and beans. This is certainly a decent little steamer at a bargain price.
Crockpot 5.6-litre slow and multicook
- Available from Very, £89.99
Best multicooker steamer
The Crockpot is a multicooker for slow-cooking, baking, roasting, steaming and sautéing. This is a family-sized cooker with a roomy bowl and simple, straightforward operations. The Crockpot bowl is sufficiently deep so you can practically get a whole chicken in to steam, making it incredibly useful for family cooking.
Cooking rice is done directly in the bowl and specific measures are given in the instruction book for serving sizes and the ratio of rice to water. Also included is a small measuring cup, which you should use for precise results.
We find cooking the rice interesting, as there’s no need to use the timer button – the cooker will switch off automatically when the rice is cooked by working this out on the amount of rice and water in the bowl. This functionality works smoothly, cooking rice in 10 minutes to just al dente.
The fish and vegetables cook on a rack with both high and low levels. We find it better on the low side for a small piece of fish with some potatoes and beans. Again, the cooking is quick and easy and the results excellent.
Sage Fast Slow Pro slow cooker
Best steamer for smart functionality
The Fast Slow Pro is a popular appliance in our review of the best slow cookers, but it’s a multicooker that offers a whole range of functions, from slow- and pressure-cooking, to searing, sautéing, reducing and steaming, with all the functions selected via the large, bright LED screen.
The machine is tall but has a small footprint. It’s attractively designed with high-grade brushed steel, solid handles and ceramic-coated steel inner pot through to the secure removable lid.
Rice is cooked directly in the pot, but for the fish and vegetables, we use a stainless-steel rack that sits snugly inside the removable pot and doubles up as a stand for raising the steaming colander above the waterline.
Using the charts in the instruction book, we cook each component precisely as suggested and have excellent results across all the foods.
The downside to using a cooker such as this is that, unlike a traditional steamer where you can cook many different foods simultaneously, here they are done individually. But what you do get is many other functions and different cooking methods rolled together, and the Sage is a master at this style.
How we tested steamers
Rice – most of the steamers we tested had rice bowls included. We cooked two servings of basmati rice and looked for dry, fluffy, evenly cooked grains.
Mixed load – to test the ease of cooking a whole dinner, we steamed salmon and potatoes with green beans. This meant using all the baskets and testing the manufacturer’s guidance for timings.
What we looked for in a steamer:
The instruction book: notably, the instruction booklet can make or break for those new to steaming. Understanding the importance of food positioning in a steamer (food on the top cooks more slowly), the accuracy of guidance from the manual is paramount. Knowing cooking times by weight and time, fresh or frozen, makes so much easier and less wasteful than trial and error.
Efficiency: A steamer should cook food quickly and evenly. We looked for machines that produced steam fast for tender fish and bright, al dente veg.
Size: Steamers can be space-consuming, so we considered both height and footprint. We favoured steamers with baskets that stacked inside one another for ease of storage.
Versatility: We looked for the inclusion of baskets for rice, grooves to hold eggs for steaming, and the ease of cooking a whole meal in the steamer at once.
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This review was last updated in September 2019. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.