How we tested
What could be simpler than a steamer basket, whose sole purpose is to sit in a pot over simmering water? In the past, we never thought this straightforward gadget warranted testing. But lately, we’ve noticed updated models boasting innovative new features and at least one new material (silicone). We rounded up eight baskets of various shapes and materials, including stainless steel, bamboo, and silicone, and headed into the kitchen to see which brand could handle the heat. To cover the range of functions a steamer can fulfill, we performed three tests, preparing broccoli, flounder fillets, and dumplings in each.
We ended up with a Goldilocks list of criteria for the best basket: tall enough to clear the simmering water, but not too bulky; strong enough to support food, yet flexible enough to collapse for easy storage. Most importantly: We preferred baskets that were safe to remove and handle near boiling water.
The silicone models proved a bust. The sides were too flimsy to contain the food, which tumbled into the water when we lifted them from the pot. Due to design flaws such as short, skimpy handles (Chef’n) and floppy, difficult-to-fasten straps (Trudeau), we found our fingers far too close to hot pans and steaming water. We tried using tongs, but this was tricky, and removing food piece by piece was cumbersome. There’s a fine line between done and overdone; to avoid mushy vegetables we wanted steamers that allowed for quick removal of food from the heat source. A metal, two-tiered model seemed like a great concept, but spiky legs on the top tier tore into dumplings on the bottom tier, unless we positioned them carefully. Classic stacking bamboo baskets provided plenty of cooking space, but weren’t all made to the same quality standards: one model warped after a few uses.
In the end, we preferred a classic collapsible stainless steel model with a new twist: an adjustable center rod that allows for easier removal from the pot. But if you’ve got room in your cabinet, the better of the two covered stacked bamboo models we tested offers lots of square footage—a boon if you do a lot of steaming. We also liked the saucepan-shaped Cuisinart Universal Steamer, which has a sturdy build with bonuses: a tightly fitting lid and high sides, which means it can double as a colander for quick sink-to-stovetop convenience.