In order to choose the best steamer insert, you need to find one that fits the pan you want to boil your water in or find a steamer insert that comes as part of a set. Ideally, the steamer insert is meant to fit snugly in the pan beneath it so that enough heat can be built up to create steam. If it is in the form of a pan or pot, it should come with a snugly fitting top for the same reason. The highest quality inserts are made of stainless steel.
A steamer insert can come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Higher-end varieties often look like a regular sauce pan or dish and have a perforated bottom to let steam into the pan. Some come with tops while others are sold without one, so they can fit into another pan that does have a top. A simple steamer insert comes in the shape of circle and has perforated leaves that fold over each other. Simpler ones have feet at the bottom so they can rest on the bottom of a pan and leave enough space for the water to boil beneath them.
The advantage of a simpler, and usually less-expensive, steamer insert is they are can fit in a variety of different sized pans and take up less space when not in use. Those resembling a pan are often more durable and will typically last longer without breaking. Higher-end steamers are usually larger, allowing you to steam more food than a simpler, smaller steamer insert.
Most are made of stainless steel because it is the most suitable material. Stainless steel is not easily corroded and it retains its strength even at high temperatures. It is very easy to clean and its surface is non-porous, meaning it is hard for bacteria to stay on stainless steel. Stainless steel steamers are also relatively inexpensive compared to other metals.
While stainless steel is usually considered the best option, some inserts come in wood, such as bamboo. They aren’t as easy to keep clean, but are very inexpensive. Bamboo can last fairly long, but not as long as stainless steel.
The highest quality steamer inserts are available in high-end cookware shops. They often come as part of a set with other cookware, such as saucepans and other cooking pots. Less-expensive options that can fit a variety of pots are available in a multitude of places, including many larger retail outlets and online stores that cater to cooking.