How to Steam Without a Steamer Basket

Even if you don't have a collapsible metal basket or bamboo steamer, you can still steam veggies and proteins easily.

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October 11, 2021
Broccoli florets being cooked in a steamer.


Broccoli florets being cooked in a steamer.

Photo by: Peter Burnett/Getty

Peter Burnett/Getty

By Krissy Downey for Food Network Kitchen

Krissy is a Digital Culinary Production Fellow at Food Network.

One of the most delightfully simple ways to enjoy vegetables and proteins is by steaming them. It’s quick, requires very few ingredients and lets the food shine all on its own. Most steaming recipes call for using a steamer basket or bamboo steamer, but not everyone has those tools on hand. The good news is, there are other ways to achieve the perfect steam, so read on for everything you need to know about how to steam without a steamer.

What Is Steaming?

Steaming is a moist heat cooking method, during which boiling water evaporates into steam. That steam, along with whatever you are cooking, is trapped in a pot with a tight-fitting lid, which creates the perfect, hot environment to cook the food. Typically, an inch or so of water boils in the bottom of the pan, with a steamer resting above, so that the food never touches the water. It is one of the more simple ways to cook, letting the true flavors of the food come through. After steaming, the possibilities are endless. You can finish your veggies and proteins with a pinch of salt and pepper, a bit of sauce like hollandaise or salsa verde, or just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

What Is a Steamer?

Steamers come in a few different shapes and sizes. One type is a collapsible metal steamer basket. They have an almost accordion shape, flaring out into a bowl in which to place the food you are steaming. Another type of steamer is a steamer pot, which is a two-in-one set of saucepans that stack on top of each other. The bottom saucepan, which is for the water, looks like any other saucepan in your cabinet. The top saucepan holds the food and has holes in the bottom to allow the steam to seep into the food. There are also bamboo steamer baskets, which can be placed inside a saucepan with water to cook anything from fish, to chicken, to dumplings and Chinese steamed cakes.

How to Steam Without a Steamer Basket

No steamer sitting around your kitchen? There are plenty of other ways to achieve the perfect steam. You can use items you probably already have to get the job done.

The first hack is one of our favorites, and it only requires a large pot, a heatproof plate, and some aluminum foil. First, take three sheets of aluminum foil and roll them up into baseball-sized balls. Place them on the bottom of the pot, and pour in about an inch of water. Then rest the plate on top of the foil balls, and add whatever food you’re trying to steam to the plate. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and steam away.

If you have an elevated wire cooling rack, that can also be used in place of a proper steamer. Use it exactly how you would a steamer basket: add an inch of water to a pot with a tight fitting lid, place the wire cooling rack in the pan, and place the food on top of the rack. Then close the lid, and steam to your desired doneness.

Another fun and quite easy solution is to use a disposable aluminum pie pan. These are available cheaply at most grocery stores and make for the perfect steamer basket substitute. Simply poke several holes into the bottom of the pan, settle it upside down into a pot filled with an inch of water, and place the food on top of the inverted pan. The edges of the pan will create that distance between the water and the food, and the food will rest comfortably on the flat surface of the pan.

The last, and possibly easiest, workaround is to steam food in the microwave. This method will work best with vegetables, and all you need is a bowl and some microwave-safe plastic wrap (look for a microwave-safe label on the plastic wrap box before using this method). Place your food in the bowl, add a few tablespoons of water, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, taking extra care to make sure the plastic wrap doesn’t touch the food itself. Then microwave for 4-6 minutes until fork tender.

Recipes that Celebrate Steaming

Steaming works for a wide variety of foods, including chicken, vegetables, fish fillets and shellfish. Check out some of our favorite steaming recipes below!

Food Styling: Jamie Kimm
Prop Styling: Marina Malchin

Steamed Fish with Ginger _20.tif

Food Styling: Jamie Kimm Prop Styling: Marina Malchin

A dynamic, tasty dinner in less than an hour? Say no more! Ginger, garlic, and scallions work alongside soy sauce and rice wine to turn up the flavors on simply steamed white fish fillets. Plus, the addition of snow peas makes this a complete and healthy weeknight dinner.

Food Network Kitchen’s Steamed Sweet Potatoes, as seen on Food Network.


Food Network Kitchen’s Steamed Sweet Potatoes, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

With about a million ways to cook a sweet potato, it can be hard to know which way to go. Steaming preserves all those wonderful nutrients in sweet potatoes, and it takes way less time than cooking them in the oven. You’ll be steaming this healthy dinnertime staple over and over again.

Meal Prep Steamed Vegetables

Meal Prep Steamed Vegetables

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

Weekdays can be hectic, and busy schedules often leave room for less-than-healthy dinners on the fly. Meal Prep Steamed Vegetables can be done on the weekend in just over an hour, and the end result will give you a refrigerator full of rainbow vegetables to use in a pinch all week long.

Red Chili Pork Tamales

Red Chili Pork Tamales

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

Red Chile Pork Tamales are a holiday treat ready for a crowd. Braised pork in flavorful sauce plus light and fluffy masa dough steamed in corn husks will leave an unforgettable aroma that is sure to draw in the whole family.

This baby bok choy is a weeknight delight, filled with delicious spice and on the table in just ten minutes.

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