Assuming you don't have a "vegetable steamer" that you received as a wedding gift, how do you steam vegetables?

9 Answers 9


If you have a metal strainer then I

  1. Fill a large pot with water. Just enough so it almost comes up to the bottom of the strainer when you place it on top.
  2. Insert the strainer so it is balanced above the water.
  3. Fill strainer with vegetables and cover with a lid
  4. Boil
  5. Take off when the vegetables are steamed to your specifications
  6. Enjoy
  • 9
    Why bother filling with water up to the bottom of the pot? you are steaming not shallow boiling. Just fill with a little water, definitely below the bottom of the strainer, but enough to not boil away during the steaming. This way your veg will cook in the steam from the water. and your water will boil quicker and you will use less energy getting it up to the boil...
    – Sam Holder
    Jul 16, 2010 at 10:37
  • Technically correct, but why do all this when you can just microwave it?
    – MGOwen
    Dec 20, 2010 at 3:00
  • If you steam it you could also add flavors to it... for example (howtodothings.com/video/how-to-cook-with-tea) adds flavor by adding tea to the water.
    – Kyra
    Dec 22, 2010 at 20:17
  • This method works better than a proper "steamer" I think because the strainer is more porous, so steam passes through it more readily.
    – BobMcGee
    Sep 1, 2011 at 3:04
  • MGOwen, because not everyone has a microwave oven, e.g. me. We haven't had one for nearly three years, and don't miss it. Dec 11, 2013 at 15:18

I can't understand why all posts suggest putting enough water to reach the bottom of the strainer containing the vegetables. That way you are boiling them!

They call it steaming because you use steam to do the cooking, the more water there is and the closer it is to the stuff being steamed the more nutrients and flavors that will be washed away.

When steaming on regular pots I only use enough water so that it won't evaporate. Some lids for regular pots have a hole to let steam off, If that's the case I close it with a bit of kitchen paper. Additionally, you only need enough heat to keep the existing steam in gas form, more pressure just means the steam will leak and you will need more water.

It might take longer than your methods, but it tastes better, try it!

  • 1
    +1. you only need a small amount of water. and this is more economical.
    – Sam Holder
    Jul 16, 2010 at 10:38
  • 1
    Seems like splitting hairs. As long as the veggies aren't at all submerged, they will steam rather than boil. Biggest benefit of minimizing water, IMHO, is it reduces time to boil. By far, most of the energy spent is in the actual steam conversion, not in heating the water. And you certainly wouldn't be converting all the extra water to steam. Jul 16, 2010 at 20:19
  • if the water isn't touching the vegetables, then it really doesn't matter how much water is in the pan, as far as nutrients are concerned.
    – baka
    Sep 1, 2011 at 12:59
  • Have you ever watched water boil? It rises over the level of the cold water you put in the pot. Boiling water will be in contact with the vegetables, especially the lower part. Of course, how much and for how long it does depends on how strongly it is boiling.
    – user143
    Sep 1, 2011 at 13:16

If they're frozen I often stab the bag a few times with a fork and then throw it in the microwave for a few minutes. To be safe make sure your bag is a plastic known to be microwave safe. It will either be labeled "microwave safe", but you can also check the recycling stamp. Type 4 LDPE is considered microwave safe plastic.

Why does your question imply that vegetable steamers can only be obtained via wedding gift? Buying a generic steamer insert/basket is relatively inexpensive. For example: Progressive International Easy Reach Steamer Basket

  • 1
    I would be worried about the chemicals in the bag. I only do that with the packages of vegetables that are specified for the microwave and even then only sometimes.
    – Kyra
    Jul 15, 2010 at 21:53
  • 2
    Eh, it's harmless. I've see Alton Brown do it dozens of times. During the 2006 or 2007 Thanksgiving special he even scoffed at Paula Dean I think when she questioned why he was did it. The only time I don't do it is when I don't want to cook the entire bag.
    – hobodave
    Jul 15, 2010 at 21:54
  • 4
    I strongly suspect the "made for the microwave" ones are just clever marketing. They are the same food-grade plastic, just a little sturdier.
    – hobodave
    Jul 15, 2010 at 22:01
  • 2
    For what it's worth, my bag of broccoli specifically suggested poking holes in the top and putting it in the microwave for 3 minutes, and it wasn't even frozen. Tasted fine. Jul 16, 2010 at 0:50
  • 3
    @s_hewitt: Thanks for the links; I read both articles carefully. That article is warning about "plastic" in general. If you read carefully you'll see that it uses Saran/Reynolds plastic wrap as an example. Both used to be made of PVC, which is most certainly not microwave safe. Saran wrap then switched to using polyethylene (Type 4 LDPE if you check a box) which is microwave safe, and is marketed as such. I checked my freezer and all my bags are labeled Type 4 LDPE. Which stands for low-density polyethylene. All plastic is not created equal. I think you should reconsider your downvote.
    – hobodave
    Jul 16, 2010 at 2:52

I prepare/chop the veggies, put them in a glass bowl with a couple of tablespoons of water, lay a microwave lid over it and nuke for 3 or 4 minutes. Carrots take a bit longer, so if I'm including carrots I'll give those a couple of minutes first and then add the other veg.


Use a large pot and a metal collander. Fill the pot with enough water so it is just below the bottom of the collander and bring it to a boil, add your veges and cover with a loose lid or kitchen towel. Steam until desired doneness.


I had a metal steamer basket (as suggested by hobodave), but I prefer a silicone steamer basket ... it will last forever, is dishwasher safe, and doesn't rust or get hard to fold up.

I don't care for the steamer bags because they are wasteful (and expensive), and I don't care for the microwave because it is too easy to overcook, particularly small quantities.

My procedure ...

  1. Chop the veggies into whatever size/shape desired.
  2. Put the steamer in the pot, and fill to just below it with water.
  3. Boil the water.
  4. Add the veggies, keep the water boiling, cover.
  5. Wait a few minutes, then check every few minutes. Turn off the heat when done to your preference .. time depends on the amount and type of vegetable and desired crispness.

Glad and other plastic bag manufacturers make microwave steaming bags - they're basically heavy duty zippered bags with a vent. Pop the veggies in, microwave the specified amount of time, and you're done.

Here's Glad's version.

  • They work, but IMHO they are both wasteful and far too expensive.
    – tomjedrz
    Jul 16, 2010 at 19:48
  • I've got 13 month old twins - convenience trumps those frequently.
    – ceejayoz
    Jul 17, 2010 at 1:21
  • The vent is not really necessary. Just use ordinary glad wrap (also called cling film or saran wrap) over an ordinary bowl (glass or other microwave safe material).
    – MGOwen
    Dec 20, 2010 at 3:03

If you don't want a dedicated steamer, my rice cooker doubles as a steamer (or even at the same time).

It has a round piece of metal that sits on top of the rice bowl with holes in the bottom of it, solid sides and then the lid fits on top of it.

While you have the rice cooking, your veggies cook above. If you don't need the rice that time, just toss some water in it and use it just as a steamer.

This is the one I have, I'm sure others also include the steamer piece.


Forget the steamer.

The easiest, fastest, cheapest, and best way I've found is to put three tablespoons of water in a large pan, put in the vegetables, and counting from when the water starts to boil, boil for two minutes on high heat with a properly fitting lid. This makes then perfect every time. Not mushy, soft, but perfect. Cook another minute to make them softer.

Seriously, this method is cheap, fast, and requires no extra gadgets.

  • And not nearly as good, fast or convenient as the microwave.
    – MGOwen
    Dec 20, 2010 at 3:05

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