How do bamboo steamers work?

a bamboo steamer on a hotplate

Bamboo steamers are a fun and affordable alternative to more expensive steamers, and they are incredibly versatile.

Many fresh ingredients that take time to prep can be incorporated into flavorful quinoa or couscous dishes you can cook batch-style saving some money on electric or gas during the current cost of living crisis.

What is a bamboo steamer?

Bamboo steamers are made from bamboo material, along with a mesh, drip plate, and a wooden lid.

Bamboo steamers can be used on top of an electric stove, a gas stove, or an induction cooktop.

When shopping, look for a bamboo steamer with a high proportion of bamboo to other materials.

The steamer is placed above a pan of boiling water and the steam rises and cooks the food in the bamboo steamer.

The steamer’s ability to hold and circulate steam means it can cook hot food more quickly than other cooktop options, like pots and pans.

Cleaning your steamer is super easy too, check out how to clean your bamboo steamer here.

What to steam in a bamboo steamer


Bamboo steamers are a great choice for cooking grain-based meals, as they cook with high heat and very little water, using steam in lieu of water alone.

The heat source for your steamer—electric, gas, or induction—will dictate which foods work best for a grain-based meal.

Steamers work so well because water is a good conductor of heat, but all foods are not created equal. Heating up a different grain, like couscous or quinoa, is best done on a stovetop instead. Once you have learned the ins and outs of cooking with your steamers, you can use them to make any grain dish, including vegetables, eggs, and even stews.

Bamboo steamer recipes

Vegan; Chinese steamed buns


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped vegetables (such as cabbage, carrot, mushroom, and onion)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil


  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, warm water, sugar, and yeast. Mix together until a dough forms.
  2. Add the vegetable oil and salt to the dough. Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it is smooth and elastic.
  3. Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rest for 1 hour in a warm place.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the chopped vegetables, soy sauce, and sesame oil to create the filling.
  5. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll them into small balls.
  6. Flatten each ball with a rolling pin and use your fingers to create a small depression in the center of each piece.
  7. Spoon a small amount of the vegetable filling into the center of each piece of dough.
  8. Gather the edges of the dough together and pinch them closed at the top.
  9. Place the buns on a small piece of parchment paper, and place the parchment paper in the bamboo steamer.
  10. Cover the steamer with a lid and steam the buns for 10-12 minutes.
  11. Remove the steamer from the heat and let the buns cool for a few minutes before serving.

Enjoy your homemade Chinese Steamed Buns with Vegetable Filling!

Fish; Steamed Fish with Soy Sauce and Ginger


  • 1 whole fish (such as sea bass or trout), cleaned and scaled
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine)
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons chopped scallions
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Rinse the fish under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Score the fish on both sides with a few shallow cuts.
  2. Rub the fish with salt and pepper and place it on a heatproof plate that fits inside the bamboo steamer.
  3. Mix together the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, ginger, scallions, and vegetable oil in a small bowl.
  4. Pour the mixture over the fish, making sure it is evenly distributed.
  5. Fill a wok or large saucepan with 1-2 inches of water and bring it to a boil.
  6. Place the plate with the fish on the bamboo steamer and place the steamer in the wok or saucepan.
  7. Cover the steamer with a lid and steam the fish for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.
  8. Check the fish for doneness by inserting a knife into the thickest part of the flesh. If the flesh flakes easily and is opaque, the fish is cooked through.
  9. Remove the plate from the steamer and transfer the fish to a serving platter.
  10. Garnish with additional chopped scallions and serve hot.

Enjoy your homemade Steamed Fish with Soy Sauce and Ginger!

Meat; Pork Ribs


  • 1 pound pork ribs, cut into individual pieces
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Bamboo steamer


  1. In a large bowl, mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and green onion. Add the pork ribs and toss to coat. Let the ribs marinate for at least 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator for more flavor.
  2. Place the bamboo steamer in a wok or a large pot filled with enough water to come about 1 inch below the steamer basket. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the cornstarch with a little bit of water to create a slurry. Set aside.
  4. Arrange the pork ribs in a single layer in the steamer basket, leaving some space in between each piece. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  5. Cover the steamer basket with the lid and steam the pork ribs over high heat for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through. Check the water level occasionally and add more water if necessary.
  6. Remove the steamer basket from the wok or pot and transfer the pork ribs to a plate. Drizzle the cornstarch slurry over the pork ribs and stir to coat. Return the steamer basket to the wok or pot and steam the pork ribs again for another 5-10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and become glossy.
  7. Serve the pork ribs hot, garnished with chopped green onion, if desired. Enjoy!

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