The Best Bamboo Steamers (And How To Use It)
The tastiest, healthiest, and most eco-friendly way to cook. We tested 19 bamboo steamers to see which ones give you the freshest food and have a special place in your heart.
Chances are you have heard about bamboo steamers. But like many people, you may be unsure of what they actually do. How do you actually use a dumpling steamer? And frankly, do you really need to have one in your kitchen.
If that sounds like you, you are not alone, so we researched over 19 bamboo steamers and we focus on the many questions most people have when they consider buying and using a bamboo steamer.
Our Top Picks At A Glance
- Best Overall Steamer: Gray Oval 10 inch
"This is the healthy way to prepare your food and my family loves it. Natural bamboo makes your food taste so delicious."
- Best Quality: i-PLAYLOFT 10 inch handmade Steamer with standard depth
"Awesome steamer that came beautifully packaged"
- Best on A Budget: Helen's Asian Kitchen 10 inch Bamboo Steamer with Lid
"Works great and smells amazing!"
- Best for Family Cooking: i-PLAYLOFT 10 inch handmade Steamer with extra depth
"Great size and depth. The dumplings came out perfect"
- Best Construction: HAPPi Studio 10 inch with Ring Set
"The adaptor ring prevents the steamer from scorting and enhance cooking efficiency"
- Best Healthiest Steamer: HAPPi Studio 10 inch with Ring Set
"Easy clean up and beautiful steamer to steam sweet potatoes instead of baking them"
What Is A Bamboo Steamer?
In a hurried world, we are all looking for quick and healthy cooking options. One of the easiest ways to cook healthy is by steaming your food. A bamboo steamer is a great choice if you want to steam all sorts of vegetables or seafood.
Bamboo steamers are used to cook food in any household. It is made up of bamboo and a metal wire mesh which helps the steamer to keep the shape.
Bamboo steamers come with many advantages including being inexpensive, non-sticky and easy to clean.
Who Are Bamboo Steamers For?
Honestly, with so many other kitchen gadgets and appliances in your kitchen, do you really need one more taking up space?
A bamboo steamer is a relatively inexpensive addition to your kitchen cupboard and really is an essential piece for individuals who want an easy and convenient option to cook homebased meals in a way that preserves the flavor, texture, minerals, and nutrients of their food.
The truth is, once you have tried an authentic bamboo steamer, you will wonder how you ever cooked without one.
Bamboo steamers are mainly for:
- Families cook on a regular basis
- Cooks that want to steam fish, veggies or dim sum
- Health conscious persons who want to taste fresh food
To be honest, we can all use bamboo steamers in the home because they are a simple way to make health friendly foods.
The Criteria: How We Choose The Best Bamboo Steamers
Picking a great bamboo steamer can be a difficult task. These bamboo steamers range in size, handles, construction, racks and quality of bamboo.
The following are considerations we used to select the best bamboo steamers:
- Quality of bamboo - Only purchase a bamboo steamer that is made from the finest quality premium bamboo to ensure there are no smells that will interact with your food and that is completely healthy for your family. Your steamer for cooking is dependant on the quality of the bamboo.
- BPA-Free - Select a BPA-free bamboo steamer. BPA (Bisphenol A) is an organic synthetic compound used in many common consumer goods. However, BPA exhibits estrogen mimicking, hormone-like properties that raised concerns about potential health effects including cancer, infertility, and asthma.
- Tight woven lid - A tightly hand-woven lid will ensure that steam cannot escape.
- Lid fit - The lid is perfectly measured to fit on the steam baskets.
- Tiers - A two-tier bamboo basket to allow the space to cook more servings at once.
- Slats between tiers - Bamboo slats in between the basket tiers need to be wide enough for steam to pass through (so that both tiers are steamed evenly).
- Bamboo joints - Check that your bamboo steamer is joined together with bamboo wick (not glue or copper)
Testing The Bamboo Steamers
Once we idenfied the criteria to pick a great bamboo steamer, we set off to test the bamboo steamer. We conducted the following tests on 19 different bamboo steamers.
- Longevity Test - We steamed, washed and re-steamed various dishes in the bamboo steamer 12 times. We wanted to see the quality of the bamboo steamer after it has gone through rigorous use.
- Steam Leak Test - We steamed, washed and re-steamed various dishes in the bamboo steamer 12 times. We analyzed the steam escape from the side of the tiers and racks.
- All Round Touch Test - We put our fingers around the sides of the tiers both inside and outside. We wanted to see whether there were excessive splinters and breakts to judge the quality of the bamboo.
- Stress Test - We wanted to see how the bamboo glue and joints held up when we pulled them apart.
Available Sizes: 10 inch | Weight: 3.25lbs | Interior Diameter: 9.5 inch | Number of tiers: 2 | Total Height: 6.2 inches | Includes: 2 pairs of bamboo chopsticks, 2 "lucky cat" chopstick rests, 50 paper liners, instructions
What We Like
What We Don't Like
Cook up a revolution in your kitchen!
The 10-inch Bamboo Steamer is made of a high quality bamboo and will not tarnish, corrode, or peel. This steamer is the perfect size for cooking a variety of different dishes. The steamer has two tiers for food and includes two lids that fit on top of each other.
Key Benefits and Features:
- Complete cooking package - More than just the bamboo steamers, the package includes chopsticks, chopstick rests, and liners.
- Quality bamboo - Smells like bamboo right out of the box.
- Sturdy design - The tiers were designed nicely. The joints were knotted with bamboo and withstood our longevity test. There was no steam leak and the passed our stress test.
While this brand is new on the block, it definitely is one of our favorite bamboo steamers around. The exceptional quality and the additional chopstick items they provide give you a great product that will last a long time.
Available Sizes: 10 inch Standard and Extra depth | Weight: 2.59lbs | Interior Diameter: 9.5 inch | Number of tiers: 2 | Total Height: 6.2 and 7.5 inches | Includes: 1 sauce dish, 2 sets of chopsticks, 20 wax steamer liners, instructions
What We Like
What We Don't Like
The quality on this steamer was superb. After running the all round touch test, stress test and longevity test, this steamer scored the highest points. There were a few splinters but nothing that's all a part of being a handmade item. We didn't notice any defects.
This bamboo steamer was the only one we could find that had an extra depth. Why is this useful? It provides you with the ability to cook more food faster. Imagine putting in 50% more food for cooking and storing.
This is a great all round quality item and you'll be happy you purchased it.
Available Sizes: 10 inch & 12 inch | Weight: 2.0lbs & 2.72 pounds | Interior Diameter: 9.5 inch and 10.5 inch | Number of tiers: 2 | Total Height: 7.5 inches | Includes: No accessories
What We Like
What We Don't Like
Helen's Asian Kitchen steamers are made of two racks. They are relatively durable and help steam vegetables, fish and meats for the family.
We love this steamer becuase it's a no thrill steamer. It works right out of the box and is made from 100% bamboo material. The flavor of the food comes out. In addition, it's easy to clean and stain resistant.
We've used this steamer 20 times and found that the lid warped a little which led to steam coming out when steaming. Because of the low price point, we weren't terribly concerned since it's easily replaceable.
Available Sizes: 10 inch | Weight: 2.61 pounds | Interior Diameter: 9.5 inch | Number of tiers: 2 | Total Height: 7.7 inches | Includes: 304 Stainless Steel Steamer Ring, 2 Cotton Cloth Liners, Instructions, Care Guide
What We Like
What We Don't Like
Happi Studio is the perfect combo for a natural 100% bamboo steamer. The steamer is easy to clean, care for and comes with a 30 day money back guaranteee. The packaging comes in natural paper and does not mold.
It comes with a steamer ring which is a very handy device. This ring fits onto most pans and pots of different sizes from 8 to 11 inches. This ring is needed for steaming the water below the bamboo steamer to cook healthy authentic food.
During our testing, we found that this steamer lasts more than 20 times after steaming, cleaning and drying.
We highly recommend this steamer for those who steam a lot and want to taste freshness in their food.
How to Use a Bamboo Steamer to Cook Healthy Meals in 3 Easy steps
In a world where so much of our food is processed, fried, or boiled beyond recognition, a bamboo steamer can seem almost…foreign. Well, in fact it is!
Bamboo steamers originated in China; mushiki is the original Chinese steamer which were made from bamboo and used in Asian cooking. They can be stacked on top of each other, as tiered layers, so that the steam can cook many servings at the same time.
Steaming helps food to retain much-needed vitamins and minerals which, in turn, nourish the body.
The bamboo steamer lets you get back to the basics: healthy food, made in all-natural materials that literally feeds your body and mind.
‘Healthy’ does not need to mean ‘slow and tedious’! In fact, you are more likely to create quick, easy, and low fat meals in a bamboo steamer.
Generally, it is not advised to place food directly on top of the bamboo; it is always a good idea to line your steamer, especially if steaming fish or chicken (yes, you can steam all of that in your bamboo steamer). Wax or baking paper works fine as a lining for a bamboo steamer but the best bamboo steamers, such as thisone which is currently available on Amazon, will come with pre-cut, BPA-free liners.
Step #1 – Prepare
Make sure you have the neccessary items before steaming:
Step #2 – Clean
Use this step especially if your steamer is new. Fill the sink with hot water and add some dish soap. Wash the pieces of the steamer in the hot soapy water.
Rinse them well and soak for 1 hour. Fill the large pot with clean hot water. Soak all the pieces in the hot water and let them sit for about 2 hours. Take them out of the hot water and dry well.
Stack all the baskets, put the lid on, and let it steam for another 30 minutes. Now your bamboo steamer is clean, sanitized and ready to cook in it.
Step #3 – Steaming
Let’s get steaming!
- 1Fill the vessel with warm water – a few inches deep or half an inches below the bottom of the basket should be enough
- 2Bring the water to a simmer
- 3Put one premium paper liner at the bottom of each basket – make sure you’re not completely sealing it off, to allow the steam fill the basket and cook the food inside
- 4Arrange the food inside the baskets, leaving enough space between items for the steam to circulate easily
- 5Bring back the bamboo steamer, with the lid on, on top of the vessel with simmering water
- 6Let it sit until the food is done – a few minutes for plain veggies, about 10 minutes for fish fillets or 20 to 45 minutes for chicken bites.
- 7If you’re filling all the baskets with food items that require the same amount of time to cook, switch them around halfway, so that the upper baskets will benefit from the same cooking conditions.
- 8Check periodically to make sure that the vessel doesn’t run dry and adjust the water level if necessary.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the difference between a metal, plastic and bamboo steamer?
Many stainless steel cookware sets will usually come with a metal steamer included (similar to a colander but with a flat bottom).
To use, the saucepan is filled with water and the steamer fits snugly on top.
Once the water comes to a boil, the food is placed inside the metal steamer and the lid placed on top to close in the steam, which will lightly cook the food (usually vegetables) inside.
Your choice of steamer for cooking vegetables will not depend so much on the materials. However, the traditional way to steam is to use a Chinese steamer.
The concept of cooking with a bamboo steamer is somewhat similar. A wide pan, or wok, is partially filled with about 2-inches of water and on medium heat, without the steamer on top or any sort of cover, allow the water to come to a simmer (do not let it come to a boil). Place the steamer, with the lid on top, over the pot. The simmering water will steam (lightly cook) the food in the bamboo steamer. The length of time it will take to steam will depend on the particular food.
It is important to watch the water level in the pan/wok (whether using a bamboo or metal steamer) so that it does not run dry (add more water as necessary).
There is a lot of discussion about the differences (if any) between a stainless steel steamer (used with a lid and saucepan) and a bamboo steamer (often used with a wok or other wide-type pan).
While a metal pan may heat the water and trap the steam faster and possibly even more efficiently, the end goal of steaming isn’t about the speed; overcooking is so easy to do in a metal container which is heated from all sides and that defeats much of the purpose of using a steamer to cook in a healthier way.
Have you ever felt that your food had an aftertaste from the metal pots you cook in? Well that may not actually be your imagination! According to this article by Cooks Illustrated, when certain ingredients are cooked in metallic pans, such as those made of aluminum or unseasoned cast iron, small amounts of molecules from the metal can seep into the food. These tiny amounts aren’t toxic, but they will add an unwanted and lasting aftertaste to your meal.
There are also electric steamers on the market, but a natural bamboo steamer is a better choice for those who would rather stay away plastic, and instead want to opt for natural, environmentally-friendly materials.
Our Favorite Recipes to Cook in your Wooden Streamer
You can cook almost anything in a well-made bamboo wooden steamer, even decadent chocolate pudding!
Here are a few more of our favorites that showcase the bamboo steamer’s versatility:
How to Cook Dumplings in a Dumpling Steamer
We love this learning how to make Dreamy Steamed Dumplings in a dumpling streamer with this blog post from Craftsy (which offers an inexpensive online course in how to make your Favorite Asian Dumplings From Scratch).
Use your favorite recipe to assemble dumplings and fillings of your choice. Some popular dumpling fillings include:
Once your dumplings have been prepared, use your bamboo wooden steamer (as outlined in the steps above) to cook the dumplings immediately, or refrigerate and steam later.
Depending on the filling, dumplings will need to steam for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. To make crispy dumplings, once they are steamed, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a frying pan (high heat) and place dumplings in the pan briefly (just until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside).
When dumplings are cooked, remove from the steamer (always be careful when removing the steamer or lid because the steam is very hot and will burn) and serve with your favorite dipping sauce (such as this spicy sesame-soy sauce).
How to Cook Fish in a Bamboo or Dumpling Steamer
Fish, including black cod, salmon, mahi-mahi or halibut, can be lightly steamed beautifully in a Chinese steamer without any added oil at all. In fact, the process can be incredibly quick; significantly faster than in the oven, and as it uses moist heat you will not overcook or dry out the food.
Cook whole fish or fillets in the steamer (many people prefer the whole fish and believe that the flavor is enhanced by cooking with the bones in). For those who prefer the ease of filleted portions, simply ask your fish monger to clean and gut the whole fish.
Steam your fish plain, add sea salt, black pepper, a little wine, or herbs such as dill or prepare a marinade (we love this Juicy Black Cod Drizzled with Lime Sauce).
To cook fish in a steamer, begin by placing a wok (or wide pan) on the stove burner; add two inches of water to the pan (experiment by replacing the water with another liquid such as wine, soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce).
Place the bamboo steamer in the pan (ensure the bamboo steamer does not actually touch the top of the water). Line the bamboo baskets, place your fish on the liner, and set on the highest tier of your steamer.
Turn the burner on medium and let the water in the wok almost come to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
A one-inch thick fish fillet will cook for anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes whereas a whole fish could take as long as 20 to 30 minutes.
How to Cook Chicken in a Bamboo Chinese Steamer
An authentic bamboo steamer is so versatile that it can even steam succulent chicken breasts without the need to add oil or butter.
To ensure the chicken isn’t too plain, infuse additional flavours by slicing into the chicken breasts with a sharp knife and then add seasoning right inside the meat (fresh herbs such as sage, basil, thyme, or parsley and garlic pair well with chicken) or check out this recipe for Bamboo-Steamed Chicken and Veggies.
Rub the herb mixture over each chicken breast, place on a liner on the bottom tier, and then add to the steamer. Turn the dumpling steamer into a one pot wonder by adding seasoned vegetables (they will cook faster if thinly sliced).
This whole meal will take about 10-15 minutes of steaming; but it is especially important that chicken is properly cooked so slice the thickest part to check. The chicken is safe to eat when there is no pink inside and the juices run clear (or use a thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken to check a temperature of at least 160°F).
How to Clean a Bamboo Steamer Basket
With all that yummy cooking you might be fooled into thinking that cleaning your bamboo steamer will be a big job, but cleanup time is actually a breeze (especially since you have used only ONE pot).
Use a soft nylon brush and hot water to gently scrub away any residue left behind on your bamboo steamer baskets (use a little dish soap if necessary). Rinse your steamer and let it air dry before putting away.
Just a quick word of note – never put your bamboo steamer in the dishwasher – always hand wash to avoid damage.
The Bottom Line
We hope this article helped to clarify some questions that you have always wanted answered about purchasing and using Chinese bamboo steamers. We are sure that you will agree: natural bamboo steamers are an excellent way to introduce natural and healthy cooking into your home.
To ensure that your food is as fresh as an real life asian kitchen, check out our recommendation on the best bamboo steamers, and you’ll be steaming your own dim sum from a woven bamboo basket set in no time.
We hope this article helped to clarify some questions that you have always wanted answered about purchasing and using a Chinese bamboo steamer. We are sure that you will agree: a bamboo steamer is an excellent way to introduce natural and healthy cooking into your home.