How to Use a Vegetable Steamer

Three Methods:Using an Electric SteamerSteaming Vegetables in a Stovetop BasketUsing a Microwave to Steam Vegetables

Many chefs agree that steaming fresh vegetables produces a tastier, higher-quality vegetable dish than simply heating up a frozen bag.[1] There may be more nutrition in steamed vegetables, too, as some studies suggest that microwaving and even boiling vegetables can both significantly reduce the total soluble proteins, vitamin content, and chlorophyll content in the final dish.[2] Learning how to steam fresh veggies can help you create countless meals that taste great and are good for you.

Method 1
Using an Electric Steamer

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    Take proper precautions. Before using an electric steamer, it's important that you read the instructions that came with your steamer. Taking proper safety precautions can help prevent injuries and fires/burns.[3]
    • Never submerge the cord, plug, or base unit in water.
    • Only use electric steamers indoors and on a stable surface, like a kitchen counter.
    • Only use the steamer while water is in the reservoir. Running a steamer dry may overheat the steamer, which can damage the equipment and may cause a fire.
    • Use caution when opening the steamer. There will be hot condensation on the inside of the lid, and opening it too quickly could result in accidental scalding.
    • Unplug the steamer when you're not using it.
    • Let the steamer cool off before adding, removing, or cleaning any part of it, and make sure it's turned off and unplugged before attempting to do so.
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    Assemble the parts of the steamer. Before you can steam vegetables in your electric steamer, you'll need to assemble all the pieces.[4] Different steamers may be slightly different, but in general, you should have the following basic components:
    • the base unit (which should contain the water reservoir)
    • a diffuser plate
    • one to three baskets, which you'll arrange your vegetables on when ready
    • a lid with vents and a handle
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    Fill the reservoir with water. Once the rest of the steamer is assembled, you're ready to add fresh, cool water to the reservoir. Your steamer may come with specific instructions on how much water to use, and you should follow those instructions. If your steamer does not have instructions, you can simply fill the reservoir up to the maximum fill line (but never exceed that line).[5]
    • Once you've added water to the reservoir, make sure the diffuser tray (if your steamer included one) is properly in place.
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    Fill the basket(s) with fresh vegetables. Make sure your vegetables are uniformly cut into equal-sized pieces. Arrange them loosely in the baskets so that the steam can travel between and around each piece of vegetable. Try to limit your basket(s) to a single layer of vegetables. When your veggies are in the basket(s), cover up your steamer with the lid.[6]
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    Turn on your steamer and set the timer. Once everything is ready, plug in your steamer. Then set the timer (depending on your steamer, as well as the type and quantity of vegetables you're steaming) and press the "cook" button or its equivalent. Follow the instructions that came with your steamer for proper cook times and preparation tips. When the timer goes off, you'll have freshly-steamed vegetables that are ready to be served.[7]

Method 2
Steaming Vegetables in a Stovetop Basket

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    Fill a pot with water. The first thing you'll need to do is fill up a pot with clean water. As the water boils, the steam will rise through the stovetop basket and steam your vegetables. How much water you use will vary, depending on how many vegetables you're cooking and how soft you want them.
    • For a smaller batch or firmer veggies, fill the pot with about a half inch to an inch (approximately 1.25 centimeters) of water.[8]
    • For a larger batch of vegetables or for softer veggies, fill the pot about halfway full.[9]
    • Make sure the bottom of your strainer is not touching the water. Otherwise, your veggies might simply boil in the water.
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    Bring the water to a boil. It's generally recommended that you wait until the water has already started boiling before you add the vegetables.[10] However, some people recommend putting the vegetables in before the water starts to boil.[11] This is largely a matter of preference. Adding the vegetables too soon will not ruin the meal, but it won't accomplish much, as the water will not be producing much steam yet.
    • Once the water has come to a boil, lower the heat so that the water simmers and lightly bubbles.
    • You don't want a full bubbling boil, or you may steam off most of your water before the veggies have cooked.
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    Place your vegetables in the basket and cover the pot. If you haven't already placed your vegetables in the basket before the water started to boil, you should do so once it's boiling. The timing is largely a matter of preference, and it's best to go with what you feel works well for your cooking methods.
    • Try to limit the number of vegetables you put in the basket. A single layer is ideal, as anything on top won't receive as much steam and may not cook uniformly.[12]
    • Once the vegetables are in and the water is at a gentle boil, you'll need to cover up the pot with a loose-fitting lid. This is to keep the bulk of the steam inside so that your vegetables cook properly.
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    Check on your vegetables as they cook. The steam time for vegetables will vary considerably, depending on how thick they are and how large or small you cut them. As a general rule, though, most vegetables will be steamed in approximately 3 to 10 minutes.[13] Most veggies will have a brighter, more vivid coloration after steaming, which lets you know that they're ready.[14]
    • Asparagus spears that are thin should steam in about four minutes. Thicker spears may take around five to six minutes.
    • Broccoli will steam in about five minutes. You should be able to visually tell when broccoli is ready, as it will get darker in color.
    • Brussels sprouts will take about 10 minutes to steam.
    • Carrots sliced 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) thick will steam in approximately six to eight minutes.
    • Cauliflower florets will steam in about six minutes.
    • Green beans will be steamed in approximately five minutes.
    • Peas steam rather quickly. They generally only need about three minutes on the stovetop.
    • Zucchini slices should steam in about six or seven minutes, depending on how thinly they're sliced.
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    Turn off the stove and serve your vegetables. Once the vegetables look their brightest and most vivid, they're ready to eat. Turn off the stovetop, remove the basket of freshly-steamed veggies, and serve them while they're warm.[15]

Method 3
Using a Microwave to Steam Vegetables

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    Arrange your vegetables in a microwave-safe bowl. If you're steaming vegetables in the microwave, you won't need a steaming basket or any special equipment. All you'll need is a microwave-safe bowl, a microwave-safe cover, and some water.[16] However, if you have a special microwave-safe steamer, you can use this the exact same way.
    • Steaming vegetables in the microwave is fast and easy.
    • Be aware, though, that cooking vegetables in the microwave may alter their flavor.[17]
    • Cooking in the microwave can also reduce the nutritional value of your vegetables.[18]
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    Add a little fresh water. Steaming, even in the microwave, will require fresh water. However, you won't need very much. Start with about two to three tablespoons of water and see if you need more or less for that dish.[19]
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    Cover the bowl. You'll want to make sure that whatever you cover the bowl with is also safe to use in the microwave. Some people prefer using a microwave-safe plastic wrap.[20] You can also lay a dish flat on top of the bowl, if the dish is also microwave safe.
    • Whatever microwave-safe cover you use, make sure one corner of the bowl is left slightly open/uncovered. This will help vent some of the steam so that your veggies do not overcook.
    • If using a plate that is too big to partially uncover, try laying a microwave-safe object (like a wooden chop stick) across the top of the bowl. This can help raise one small portion of the covering plate so everything steams properly.
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    Cook your vegetables in the microwave. The cook time will vary in the microwave, depending on which vegetables you're steaming and how thick and/or large they are. Generally speaking, though, steaming by microwave is slightly faster than steaming by stovetop. Most veggies should cook in under eight minutes.[21]
    • Asparagus spears will steam in about four to six minutes, depending on their thickness.
    • Broccoli will steam in about three to five minutes.
    • Brussels sprouts should steam in about seven minutes.
    • Carrots sliced approximately 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) thick will take about five minutes.
    • Cauliflower will steam in about three to four minutes.
    • Green beans take about three to four minutes to steam.
    • Peas only take about one to two minutes to steam.
    • Zucchini takes six to eight minutes to steam.
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    Drain any excess water and serve the veggies warm. Once your vegetables are steamed, they're ready to serve. If there is any excess water remaining in the bottom of the bowl, carefully drain it out over the sink. You may want to remove the vegetables with a fork before draining the water so that you don't burn yourself or spill veggies into the sink. Serve the vegetables while they're still warm.


  • Use only enough water to create steam, no matter which type of steamer you use. You don't want to actually submerge the veggies or they will simply boil.
  • Prepare vegetables by leaving smaller ones (like baby carrots and Brussels sprouts) whole. Cut larger vegetables, like potatoes and zucchini, into uniform pieces.
  • Only use water in the steamer if you are using an electric steamer. You can add flavorings to a pot of water if you're steaming on the stovetop or in the microwave, but adding seasonings/flavorings to an electric steamer can damage the equipment.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Care and Use of Cooking Equipment