Steamers lock in flavour and nutrients as they gently cook vegetables, rice and fish. Read the BBC Good Food review of the top 5 electronic food steamers.
Russell Hobbs 3-tier food steamer 21140
Best bits: efficient, easy to use, waterspout
Comments: This easy-to-use machine generates steam very quickly, cooking the food efficiently. We found the steamer straightforward to assemble as the three baskets have handles for easy lifting and are clearly labelled to show the order they should be stacked in. The semi-transparent base means the water level can be seen clearly throughout cooking. We particularly like the waterspout feature that means you can top up the reservoir during cooking without unstacking the hot steaming baskets. If the water boils dry, the steamer turns itself off for safety. There is a simple dial timer on the front and when the cooking time is up a bell sounds and the steamer switches off. The baskets and drip tray are dishwasher safe. Buy from Russell Hobbs.
Best bits: fast cooking, neat storage
Comments: An efficient steamer that performed well in our cooking speed tests and produced evenly cooked fluffy rice. The variable-sized baskets stack neatly inside one another for storage. Very reasonably priced and simple in design, this machine has all the most important features including a clear water indicator, waterspout for topping up, boil-dry cut-out and timer. The instructions aren’t the most extensive but they offer good advice on timings for different foods and tips for steaming with more than one basket. The baskets are not dishwasher safe but the steamer is easy to clean and assemble. Buy from Tesco.
Best bits: descale function, independent compartments, water alarm
Comments: Ideal for two people, this neat steamer has one basket that can be divided into two compartments with a removable wall. We particularly liked 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 produced 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. Buy from Morphy Richards.
Best bits: variable temperature, sturdy build, large capacity
Price: Around £150
Comments: This sophisticated steamer comes with by far the most detailed instructions, including a troubleshooting page and 55 recipes that can also be downloaded as an app. The recipes each specify how much water is needed in the steamer to avoid excess and increase efficiency. 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. It has two dishwasher safe 5.5 litre stainless steel baskets which feel more robust than the usual plastic. The top basket has a removable base in case you want to steam a larger item such as a pudding. Read more on the Magimix website.
Tefal mini compact VC135215
Best bits: small footprint, compact storage, attractive design
Price: Around £39.99
Comments: With a 7-litre capacity, this steamer is designed for one or two people. The baskets can be stacked inside each other and turned upside down over the base for neat storage. Though small, the steamer still has three baskets to cook the different components for a full meal. The steamer stops cooking and sounds an alarm when the water runs out, so instead of a timer there is an indicator on the front showing how much water to add for your desired cooking time. We particularly liked the stainless steel base and black detailing. The steamer is easy to clean and the plastic baskets are dishwasher safe. Find stockists on the Tefal website.
Though not strictly a kitchen essential, for some, electrical steamers are an indispensible tool for day-to-day cooking. An electric steamer can be very useful in helping to free up hob space, especially when cooking for a lot of people, for example at Christmas. Often steamers are bought for health reasons on the grounds that steaming preserves more vitamins and nutrients than boiling. Steamers aren’t only useful for veg, however, but can also be used to cook meat, fish, shellfish, eggs in their shell, pasta, grains and even puddings. Good steamers include a rice bowl and can produce particularly well-cooked fluffy rice. Using multiple baskets, it is possible to steam an entire meal and it’s more energy efficient than using an oven and hob.
What should I buy?
Size is an important consideration. Most steamers are around 9 litres which is big enough to cook a meal for four. If cooking for 1-3 people it might be better to opt for a smaller steamer that will take up less space. Steamers with variable-sized baskets that stack inside each other are easier to store. A boil-dry cut out that will automatically switch the machine off if the water runs out is an important safety feature that not all steamers have. Ideally the steamer should have a spout for topping up water during cooking so that you don’t have to unstack the baskets which interferes with cooking times and increases risk of injury from hot steam. Many come with a rice basket which can be very useful for cooking grains, pastas and warming sauces.
What we looked for
Instruction manual: Affected by type, volume and weight of food, fullness of the machine and which basket the food is in, precise steaming times can be a matter of trial and error. Food will cook more slowly in the top than in the bottom basket. We looked for helpful, accurate guidance from the manufacturer on timings and how to prepare and assemble food in the steamer.
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.
How we tested
Rice – most of the steamers we tested had rice bowls included. We looked for fluffy, evenly cooked grains.
The green bean test – liable to discolour, green beans can be a trickier veg to cook. Using the bottom basket on each steamer, we tested speed of cooking, evenness of texture and greenness of bean.
Mixed load – to test the ease of cooking a whole dinner, we steamed salmon and potatoes with broccoli and carrots. This meant using all the baskets and testing the manufacturer’s guidance for timings.
Recipes to cook in a steamer
More advice on buying electronic kit
This review was last updated in June 2017. 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.