How to Use a Bamboo Steamer

The art of steaming is easy with one of these ordinary, inexpensive tiered bamboo steamer baskets. But if you’ve never used one, we’ll walk you through the process of how to set one up so you can steam practically anything — fish, vegetables, dumplings, and more.

by Pamela Killeen


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BAMBOO STEAMERS are made of interlocking trays, with perforated bottoms that stack one on top of the other, and a lid for the top tray. The whole basket is placed over a wok (or skillet) of simmering water so the steam rises through the layers and cooks the food. They come in a variety of sizes (widths) and tiers (which allows you to cook different foods, with different cook times, all at once.)

These are our go-to products to set up a steamer (click the image for product details on Amazon):

How to Set Up and Use a Bamboo Steamer:

FILLING THE TRAYS: If you’re cooking food that might stick or leave an odor, such as dumplings or fish, line the bottom of the tray with perforated parchment paper, napa cabbage, or banana leaves. Then add the food, with similar cook times, in an even layer, to each tray. Foods like dumplings need to be spaced about a 1/2-inch apart so they don’t stick together, and to allow air to circulate. Cover the top layer with the lid.

PREPARING YOUR WOK: Fill a wok (or skillet) with 1–3 inches of water, making sure your steamer basket fits snugly in (or over) the vessel. The water level should come up to the rim of the bottom layer and the food should not be submerged. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.

PLACING THE BASKET: Once the water is simmering, place the basket in your vessel. If you’re cooking multiple layers, with different cook times, place the trays of foods that have longer cook times at the bottom of the stack and get them going, before adding the trays of foods with shorter cook times on top. And keep an eye on the water level — adding more hot water as needed.

How to Prepare a Bamboo Steamer

Article-How-to-Use-a-Bamboo-Steamer-Step1 The top layer should always be covered by the lid. If you’re adding trays while steaming, simply remove the lid, arrange the “new tray” on top, then cover with the lid. Article-How-to-Use-a-Bamboo-Steamer-Step2 If each layer has ingredients with similar cook times, stack them all, cover, and begin steaming. Otherwise, stack and steam according to recipe cook times. Article-How-to-Use-a-Bamboo-Steamer-Step3 Lining the trays with banana leaves or napa cabbage leaves adds a little more flavor. Article-How-to-Use-a-Bamboo-Steamer-Step4 You can also add more flavor by using broth, sake, or another flavorful liquid for steaming. Article-How-to-Use-a-Bamboo-Steamer-Step5

Successful Steaming


For ideal heat distribution, before steaming, soak bamboo steamers in water for 1–2 hours.


Infuse more flavor by adding salt, tea leaves, herbs, or other flavorful aromatics to the water or steaming liquid.

*Carefully open steamers away from your face, and use tongs or mitts, to avoid steam burns.

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Equipment/Special Ingredients Needed

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