How we tested
What could be simpler than a steamer basket, whose sole purpose is to sit in a pot over simmering water? In the past, we never thought this straightforward gadget warranted testing. But lately, we’ve noticed updated models boasting innovative new features and at least one new material (silicone). We rounded up eight baskets of various shapes and materials, including stainless steel, bamboo, and silicone, and headed into the kitchen to see which brand could handle the heat. To cover the range of functions a steamer can fulfill, we performed three tests, preparing broccoli, flounder fillets, and dumplings in each.
We ended up with a Goldilocks list of criteria for the best basket: tall enough to clear the simmering water, but not too bulky; strong enough to support food, yet flexible enough to collapse for easy storage. Most importantly: We preferred baskets that were safe to remove and handle near boiling water.
The silicone models proved a bust. The sides were too flimsy to contain the food, which tumbled into the water when we lifted them from the pot. Due to design flaws such as short, skimpy handles (Chef’n) and floppy, difficult-to-fasten straps (Trudeau), we found our fingers far too close to hot pans and steaming water. We tried using tongs, but this was tricky, and removing food piece by piece was cumbersome. There’s a fine line between done and overdone; to avoid mushy vegetables we wanted steamers that allowed for quick removal of food from the heat source. A metal, two-tiered model seemed like a great concept, but spiky legs on the top tier tore into dumplings on the bottom tier, unless we positioned them carefully. Classic stacking bamboo baskets provided plenty of cooking space, but weren’t all made to the same quality standards: one model warped after a few uses.
In the end, we preferred a classic collapsible stainless steel model with a new twist: an adjustable center rod that allows for easier removal from the pot. But if you’ve got room in your cabinet, the better of the two covered stacked bamboo models we tested offers lots of square footage—a boon if you do a lot of steaming. We also liked the saucepan-shaped Cuisinart Universal Steamer, which has a sturdy build with bonuses: a tightly fitting lid and high sides, which means it can double as a colander for quick sink-to-stovetop convenience.
Joyce Chen 3-Piece Steamer Set
This sturdy two-level steamer, which comes with a lid, kept food out of the water and offers twice as much square footage as most other models: 25 shu mai fit comfortably on its two slatted bamboo shelves. The double-decker design is a great choice if you do lots of steaming.
OXO Good Grips Pop-Up Steamer
Roomy and collapsible, this basket comfortably held fish, broccoli, and dumplings. Our only quibble? The long pop-up handle. To cover the pot—a spacious Dutch oven—we had to depress the basket’s handle into the “down” position; removing the basket meant reaching into the hot steam to pop the handle back up.
Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless Universal Steamer
This universal steamer, shaped like a saucepan, fits into 2, 3, and 4-quart pots, but not Dutch ovens. Sturdily built, it comes with a solid-fitting top. We liked the 7½-inch handle for easy loading and burn-free maneuvering. It sits higher over the water than most, increasing cooking times; we found doubling the water level from 1 to 2 inches sped things up a little. Tall sides mean the steamer can double as a colander, but created minor difficulties when removing flat foods that require delicate handling such as fish fillets. The 6-inch diameter of flat cooking surface meant less space for single-level foods such as dumplings and fish.
Progressive Bamboo 3-Piece Steamer Basket
Similar in capacity to the Joyce Chen model, but not as well made. The 25 dumplings steaming inside tipped over due to the uneven surface of the steamer shelf.
Progressive Easy Reach Steamer Basket
This inexpensive collapsible stainless steel basket boasts a new twist—an adjustable center rod that makes for easier lifting from the pot and unscrews for storage. Not as practical for large quantities of food; it accommodated half as many shu mai (12) as others in the lineup (25).
Norpro Deluxe Double Steamer
A two-tiered failure. When we placed shu mai on the bottom basket and attached the top one, its metal feet dug into the dumplings below, tearing their wrappers. Worse, removing the hot top basket after cooking burned our fingers.
Trudeau Silicone Vegetable Steamer
Lightweight and small, this lily pad look-alike presented issues from start to finish. Its short (¾-inch) legs and flimsy frame meant that the food ended up in the water. And lifting up the basket by its handle—made of two opposing loops that fold over the top of the basket and lock together—caused the entire contraption to buckle, tipping shu mai over and spilling out broccoli florets.
Chef’n Sleekstor Veggisteam
Similar to the Trudeau but without the long, floppy handles, we were drawn to the quirky design of Chef’n’s silicone answer to the traditional metal steamer. Unfortunately stubby handles made it difficult and dangerous to remove the basket from a hot pot of water. The alternative is to take food out piece by piece with tongs, negating the quick convenience of steaming. Short legs and a floppy body also let water leak into its basket. One plus: the flat surface design allowed for clean removal of delicate fish fillets.