Cooking with a steamer pot is rising in popularity everywhere. Steamers cook food quickly without loss of nutrition and without added fat. They are one-pot miracles that permit a range of foods to be cooked together, making cleanup a snap. Having said this, however, it’s important to know what to look for when shopping for a food steamer. Attention to safety measures, the type of materials used in the steamer’s manufacture, and ease of cleaning must all be considered before the shopper so much as glances at the price tag.
A steamer pot does have inherent dangers. For one thing, whether the steamer is used on top of the stove or plugs into a wall and sits on the counter, escaping steam can badly scald. Steam is a vapor, and if the water vaporizes too quickly in a machine that doesn’t have a vented fail-safe, an explosion could result.
For many years, plastic was king. It was cheap to manufacture, easy to keep clean, and willingly took on pretty much any form a designer wanted. Recently, however, the health industry has noted that plastic can permeate cooking food with chemicals, some of which are highly toxic. As it is less dense than other materials, plastic is also capable of harboring food or airborne bacteria. Better choices than plastic, especially in the steamer’s interior, are stainless steel or glass.
Giving up a plastic interior doesn’t have to mean giving up convenience when it comes to cleaning. Nonelectric machines can almost always be disassembled to fit into the dishwasher, and many electric models allow the user to pop out interior components for a rub-a-dub-dub. Shoppers might consider that nonstick machines are especially nice when steaming delicacies that are fragile enough to fall apart if they stick to the pan.
For cooks who are partial to complex meals or cooking for large numbers of people, a steamer pot that comes with one or more additional food trays should be high on the list of must-haves. Some steamers, such as traditional Chinese bamboo steamers, are designed to permit multiple trays to be stacked atop one another. This type of design is far preferable to one that accommodates cooking for a lot of folks by virtue of size alone; those steamers can handle meals for a soccer team but can’t take steaming a single portion.
A steamer pot with a nontransparent lid isn't the best choice. Every time the cook pulls the lid to check on cooking progress, a cloud of steam bursts out. This is not only a danger; it means that the cooking environment has become unstable and will take extra time to rebuild. Glass lids are the best choice.