My experience with steaming vegetables is that a no-name insert, such as the one in the left of the image, inside a nice-brand covered pot steams vegetables very quickly (carrots in 5 min, green beans in 7 min, etc).

A no-name steamer (*) that sits above a boiling pot, such as the one in the right of the image, steams vegetables, still in my experience, in far longer times (carrots in 8 min, green beans in 11 min, etc).

Yet the second kind is much more convenient to operate. It can be lifted with handles, and it's possible to stop the heat underneath promptly.

Is it possible to find an above-pot steamer that's as efficient as an inside-pot steamer, or is it simply that the steam envelops food much better in the first kind of steaming?

Two styles for steaming food

This matters a lot when "parboiling" veggies for a subsequent quick stir-fry (to get the best of both worlds: health and flavor). The time for each kind of vegetable needs to be rather exact.

Worst of all is homogeneity. In the first style of steamer all the vegetables (of one kind) remain at exactly the same level of crispness. The second style, for me, cooks food at the center much faster than in the periphery of the pot, which requires attending to the boiling to turn the food.

(*) The manufacturer of my vast set no longer produces a steamer exactly matching the pots in the set.

  • I have a couple of above-pot steamers and haven't had the same experience as you, so I suspect the difference may be the design of the steamer.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 17:14
  • 1
    "sits above" …how tight is the lid, tight to the pan, or floating above that 'flowery array'? I'm sure that's what makes all the difference.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 17:33
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    Tetsujin: I honestly think that the critical factor is actually how much steam-flow the design of the above-pot steamer allows. Bamboo steamers don't fit well, at all, but still steam things well.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 17:57
  • @FuzzyChef - you may have a point. Take a device that's 20% hole & 80% blanking; overlap at random… evaluate how much actual 'hole' may be left.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Apr 7, 2023 at 18:10

1 Answer 1


The difference, I believe, is the vent hole in the steamer lid. As an experiment, try steaming some veg in the steamer with the vent hole uncovered, and repeat but this time, seal the pot tightly with some aluminium foil before covering with the lid. If you have done this properly, the foil will balloon slightly. The results will be totally different as the second method will have retained the steam inside the pot at a very slight pressure.

Depending on how frugal you want to be, you can try using a small screwed up piece of foil to block the hole, but in my experience (cooking Biryani rice), covering whole area with foil gives superior results.

Depending on your steamer, you may find some steam or water leaks between the bottom and top pans as well. You could try using a strip of aluminium foil along the edge to seal this, but the best steaming results come from using a pot with as few gaps or vents as possible.

This is why old school "Dum" method was used to seal the Biryani pot with dough which was discarded after the rice was steamed.

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