Food steamers

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Do you really need one?

We tested 5 electric food steamers and found out how well they cook, how easy they are to use, and the features to look for if you're considering buying one. They do what they claim ... but do you need one?

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Why have one?

Electric steamers allow you to steam different foods together – and you can cook lots at once instead of juggling food in batches as you do with other steaming methods.

Do you really need one?
Steaming is a healthy way to cook. There’s no need to add fat and the food retains its nutrients. Steaming produces tender results because foods aren’t exposed to intense dry heat – so it’s perfect for cooking fish, chicken and vegetables or for reheating meals.

But there are many ways to steam food other than an electric food steamer – you can use a microwave, a bamboo basket over a wok or a steaming rack in a saucepan on the stovetop.

The main advantage of an electric steamer is you can steam different foods together. They’re also handy if you’re feeding a crowd – you can cook lots at once instead of juggling food in batches as you do with other steaming methods.

Will you save time?
Unless you’re steaming a large amount of food, you won’t save time. Broccoli cooks in the microwave in about 3 minutes but takes 8 in a food steamer. Rice cooks in 12 minutes in the microwave or in 15 to 20 minutes on the stovetop – it takes 30 to 40 minutes in a steamer.

What we found - steamers

We tested 5 electric food steamers. Become a Gold or Silver member to find out how they rated.

What to look for

Consider these features when choosing a food steamer.

  • Baskets with removable bases let you stack the baskets to get one double-height (or even triple-height) basket – great for extra-large or bulky food items. The downside is more parts to keep track of and assemble.
  • Interchangeable baskets mean you can swap them from one level to another (food cooks fastest in the bottom basket, slowest in the top).
  • Programmed cooking times save you having to calculate the steamer time.
  • Easy-to-access external water inlet makes it easy to top up the water level during cooking.
  • Easy-to-view water gauge lets you see when the steamer needs topping up.
  • Dishwasher-safe parts are easier to clean. But most are plastic so they come out of the dishwasher wet and need to be dried.
  • Large juice collector/drip tray makes it easier to dispose of moisture – or you can keep it for making stock.
  • Accessories such as egg supports (for steaming eggs in their shells) and a rice bowl add versatility.

Tips for good steaming

To get the best out of your food steamer, follow these handy tips:

  • Similar-sized pieces helps everything be ready at the same time. If sizes vary, place smaller pieces in the top basket.
  • Having space between food allows maximum steam flow.
  • Maintain the water level in the base of the steamer during cooking – but keep it at less than two-thirds full.
  • If you’re cooking several foods at once, place meat and fish in the bottom basket so they can’t drip on to foods below.
  • Letting steam escape will increase the cooking time. So fit the lid well – and don’t remove it for long while the food is cooking.
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Sunbeam VersaCook

The Sunbeam VersaCook is 5 appliances in 1 – it can deep fry, saute, slow cook, steam … and it can also be used as a saucepan. So you don’t need so many separate pans, which means fewer dishes and more space in your cupboards.

The VersaCook has a non-stick cooking pan and a transparent lid so you can check your meal while it’s cooking. The pan has a large surface area which is great for searing large cuts of meat. It comes with a deep-frying basket (which can also be used to cook pasta) and 2 racks: the high rack is ideal for steaming and the low rack for roasting.

The slow cooker’s 6.5L capacity is big enough for a large family and you’ll still have leftovers to freeze. The deep-fryer has a 1.2kg capacity which would easily fit the equivalent of a 1kg bag of store-bought oven fries.

The VersaCook has a permanent filter on the lid which is designed to capture any cooking smells and any water or oil droplets.

Performance
We put the VersaCook through its versatility paces. We slow-cooked corned beef and chilli beef, sauteed meat, cooked rice, steamed broccoli and deep-fried chips.

We were impressed with the results. It did an excellent job of slow-cooking corned beef and chilli beef – both were cooked to perfection. And although the frypan took 5 minutes to heat, it cooked our 2 steaks perfectly. The steamer did a very good job of steaming the broccoli and it earned a perfect 10 for the hot chips. In the saucepan test, the rice was slightly mushy but there was no rice stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Ease of use
The digital display is large (although not very bright) and the labelling is clear. Programming a specific function can be confusing because you have to follow a set sequence. So you’ll probably need to refer to the instruction manual frequently, at least at first. There’s a timer that can be set from 10 minutes to 2 hours – and up to 9 hours when you’re using the slow cooker.

The cooking unit has large handles which are easy to grip; but the cooking pan only has a lip-type handle so it’s difficult to lift out with a load. The frying basket takes some patience to get in place.

The cooking pan has a Teflon non-stick coating that’s easy to clean. However, it’s also easy to scratch. The pan can be a little awkward to wash in a home sink – but both the pan and its glass lid are dishwasher safe. The stainless-steel finish will need some elbow grease to keep clean and the permanent filter needs to be cleaned regularly.

Like all bigger appliances, it’ll take up space in your kitchen. But at least all the accessories can be stored inside the unit.

Our verdict

If you’re in the market for a slow cooker, it’s worth looking at the Sunbeam VersaCook because it can sear and brown in the same pan (which saves time and dishes). The deep fryer is an added bonus for an occasional treat.

Sunbeam VersaCook Electronic Multi Cooker X5 MU2000
$240
4 stars

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