The best metal steamer can vary widely, depending on its intended purpose in cooking. These kitchen tools can be made for a standard kitchen, for an industrial kitchen, or for outdoor use on a camping trip. Variations in each type of metal steamer are many, but include temperature range, size, and construction materials. They can also have different sources of heat. Steamers can heat using electricity, or they can be part of a unit that steams food using the heat from a stove. A special kind of steamer called a dim sum steamer is used to make Asian-style steamed dumplings.
Most of the time, the size is the most important aspect of a metal steamer, whether it is electric or a stove-top model. An electric steamer that is too small will not fit all of the food that needs to be cooked, while a too-large electric steamer takes up considerable counter space and uses more energy to heat. A stove top steamer that is too large might not work with existing cookware, as these steamers are often inserted into pots to steam the food. Buying a slightly larger size than you generally need can help ensure that you have space in the steamer to steam larger amounts of food if needed. Some steamers are stackable, providing more cooking room in the same pot space.
Durability can be an issue with some inexpensive steamers. A cook using a steamer for industrial or outdoor use would benefit most from concentrating on the durability of the steamer, since steamers used in these applications are more likely to become damaged or worn. If a metal steamer is likely to see heavy use, it is important to get one made from thick, durable metal that resists damage, warping, and denting. A good indication of the durability of a metal steamer can be the thickness of the metal. If the metal is flimsy, it is more likely to come apart or dent from heavy use.
On an electric steamer, an accurate temperature gauge can be extremely important. Consistent temperature can help ensure consistent results in food preparation, which is especially important in restaurants. The only real way to ensure that the temperature gauge on a metal electric steamer is accurate is to test it with a calibrated thermometer.
Though it can seem less important than the usability and features on a metal steamer, the color of an appliance is a major factor for many people. Metal steamer colors are generally limited, and are most often red, black, or shiny stainless steel. Since not all steamers come in multiple colors, choosing one mainly based on its color can mean sacrificing quality or features in exchange for aesthetic neatness. A metal steamer that does not match the rest of the kitchen appliances can also be covered, hidden, or placed in storage when not in use.