Why You Should Own a Bamboo Steamer

Goodbye, soggy steamed food.

September 28, 2022
Brocolli florets steamed in a bamboo steamer.

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Brocolli florets steamed in a bamboo steamer.

Photo by: crazychristina/Getty Images

crazychristina/Getty Images

When it comes to steaming food, there are a plethora of tools on the market like steamer racks, stainless steel tiered baskets and even automated digital machines. But in my opinion, few appliances steam quite as well as an old school bamboo steamer.

Shrimp Dim sum in bamboo steamer

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Shrimp Dim sum in bamboo steamer

Photo by: 4kodiak/Getty Images

4kodiak/Getty Images

What Is a Bamboo Steamer?

Traditional to East Asia, bamboo steamers are used there daily in restaurants and home kitchens and have found their way around the world. A timeless, classic tool, bamboo steamers are not only lightweight and beautifully crafted – made from woven bamboo – but also are the gentlest way to steam food. A bamboo steamer consists of trays that fit on top of one another, covered with a lid. The whole steamer is designed to rest on top of a wok filled with hot water (or skillet if you don’t own a wok).

Steamed Pork Bun in a bamboo steamer with soya sauce and rice -Photographed on Hasselblad H1-22mb Camera

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Steamed Pork Bun in a bamboo steamer with soya sauce and rice -Photographed on Hasselblad H1-22mb Camera

Photo by: LauriPatterson/Getty Images

LauriPatterson/Getty Images

The Benefits of Steaming In Bamboo

No Soggy Food: With stainless steel or glass steamers, condensation inevitably clumps up on top of the lid and drips down on the food. This is fine for robust vegetables or meat that can endure the extra droplets of liquid, but condensation can actually ruin delicate foods like freshly wrapped dumplings or dim sum. Bamboo, unlike glass or metal, actually absorbs condensation and prevents foods from getting soggy.

Lightweight: Bamboo steamers are much lighter than other types of steamers.

Efficient: Bamboo steamers have stackable layers, allowing you to cook a whole meal in layers.

Buying a Bamboo Steamer

The best is a 10 or 12-inch steamer with at least two or three tiers, which nestles perfectly in a standard 14-inch wok. A wider bamboo steamer would work as well, but make sure you have a large enough wok to accommodate it. Bamboo steamers with stainless steel rims are ideal because they’re easier to stack on top of each other.

How to Prep a New Bamboo Steamer

It’s best to soak bottom rim of the steamer that’ll come into contact with the wok in lukewarm water for about 30 minutes. If you don’t, the steamer might char. After using for the first time, allow the bottom to dry out completely before storing.

Close up of a plate of Chinese spicy chicken feet in a bamboo steamer

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Close up of a plate of Chinese spicy chicken feet in a bamboo steamer

Photo by: Sergio Amiti/Getty Images

Sergio Amiti/Getty Images

How to Use a Bamboo Steamer

  1. Bring water to a boil in a wok. Fill a wok with 1.5-inches of water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat.
  2. Line the steamer baskets. If you’re steaming buns or baos, lining the baskets is an important step to take so they don’t stick. You can do so with perforated baking paper such as parchment paper, napa cabbage leaves or even reusable silicone liners.
  3. Arrange your vegetables or proteins on plates. If you’re steaming vegetables or proteins, place them in a shallow plate and transfer the plate to the steamer basket.
  4. Cover the steamer and place it into the wok. The beauty of bamboo steamers is that they’re stackable and you can bulk steam in one go. If you don’t have a wok, you can put the steamer directly into a very large pot or pan. The bottom rim of the steamer should be submerged in water, but the bottom floor should be completely dry throughout.
  5. Replenish water as needed. If and when the water in the wok runs out, replenish it with boiling water.
Nai Wong Bao

Nai Wong Bao

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

What Cook In a Bamboo Steamer

Try steaming these Nai Wong Bao (pictured above), Har Glow, Siu Mai or Pork Soup Dumplings, or whip up a side of Sticky Rice. Or try your hand Fa Gao, steamed Chinese fortune cakes.

How To Maintain Your Bamboo Steamer

Never put your bamboo steamer in a dishwasher. To clean, rinse with water and use mild soap. Let it air dry. If you live in a particularly dry climate, occasionally coat it with a thin layer of vegetable oil to prevent it from cracking or splintering.

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