How to Use a Bamboo Steamer

Published Categorized as Cookware, Cookware Advice, Guide

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Bamboo steamers can provide delicious sides for meals or even entire meals. Many of us think of steamed dumplings or vegetables when it comes to bamboo steamers, but in reality, you can cook/steam almost anything in them.

What is a Bamboo Steamer?

Bamboo steamers originated in China. They have anywhere from one to five or more interlocking baskets. These baskets perfectly stack on top of each other, and there’s a bamboo lid at the top.

Unlike other steamers, you don’t place these directly on the stovetop, or they’ll burn. Instead, you place the bamboo steamer on a wok with water, or any other pot with enough water to steam the contents.

All of the layers of the steamer have open ridges for the steam to rise through and cook everything, no matter what layer the food is on. Bamboo steamers are an affordable and healthy way to cook food.

Step-By-Step Instructions for Using a Bamboo Steamer

Bamboo steamers can seem daunting to many people who’ve never used one before. In this section, we’ll go through all the necessary steps to use one properly.

  1. Fill all of the steamer baskets that you plan on using with your food of choice. Before filling them, it’s recommended to find something to line the basket with. This will be a new thing for those who have only used metal steamers before. You can use large lettuce or cabbage leaves for this part. It helps to prevent any of the food from sticking to the basket, and also helps to retain steam. When filling the baskets, only fill a single layer that covers the cabbage/lettuce leaf. If the food is packed on to each other, it won’t be able to cook properly. Place a lid on the very top basket to complete the preparation step.
  2. Next, fill a pot of wok or your choice with at least two inches of water. Before adding water, ensure that the bamboo steamer has enough space to fit comfortably in/over the pot. Too much extra space surrounding the steamer can cause it to fall over, so a snug fit is better. Once the steamer is added to the water, ensure that the bottom layer of food isn’t fully submerged in the water. Then, it’s time to set the stove to simmer.
  3. Take the bamboo steamer out briefly until the water starts to simmer, then add it back in. Make sure to keep an eye on the water level throughout the steaming process. If you notice the water all evaporates, add more. The food won’t cook in the bamboo steamer if there isn’t enough water.
  4. That’s it! Check on your food here and there until it’s finished cooking. Most recipes will provide exact cooking times, or you can use personal judgment to know when food is done the cooking.

Tips For Cooking Food in a Bamboo Steamer

If you enjoy flavorful food, a bamboo steamer is a perfect way to add more flavor into your food. Instead of adding a couple of inches of water to the wok or pot, try using vegetable broth, chicken or beef broth, or any other liquid of your choice. This will then add a hint of the broth to all of the food that has been cooked with its steam.

Another tip is to line the tray with more unique foods rather than just cabbage or lettuce. Banana leaves are a classic option, along with pandan leaves, corn husks, shiso leaves, and even grape leaves. All of these different tray linings will add subtle flavors to whatever food is being cooked on them. Cabbage or lettuce leaves work great, but they rarely add to the overall depth of flavor.

What to Cook in a Bamboo Steamer?

Now that you’re hopefully all excited to start cooking foods in your bamboo steamer, it can be hard to know what to make! A popular choice is steamed veggie or meat dumplings. You can also steam cook any vegetables or greens. Fish fillets are another common food to cook.

Additionally, you can steam buns, proteins such as tempeh or tofu, rice, potatoes, desserts and more. Basically, anything that you could normally steam or you think would benefit from being steamed, can be cooked in a bamboo steamer.

Bamboo Steamer for Reheating Food

In addition to thoroughly cooking food, bamboo steamers can be used as a quick and healthy re-heating option. Steaming is known for being able to re-introduce moisture into foods. This is absolutely perfect for reheating dry food that had the moisture removed when refrigerated.

Ensuring Food is Thoroughly Cooked

A common worry when it comes to cooking food in the bamboo steamer is understanding how to know when food is or isn’t finished cooking. There are a few things you can do to ensure that all food gets cooked properly.

Firstly, if you are cooking more than one layer in the bamboo steamer, organize these racks. The foods that take the longest to cook should be placed on the bottom of the stack. Any foods that cook quickly will go on the top.

Secondly, make sure that the food is spread out evenly on the basket. If foods are on top of each other or too far apart, that can negatively affect the cooking process. With foods that expand, leave extra space between them so they don’t stick together during cooking time.

If you aren’t sure when your food is done the cooking, a general guideline is 10 minutes. After 10 minutes have passed and the food still isn’t cooked, try to check on it every 2 minutes. This prevents overcooking or burning.


We hope that after reading this guide, you feel more confident when it comes to using bamboo steamers. Experimenting in the kitchen (especially with kids) is always a great idea!