The Ultimate Guide To Bamboo Steamers

Bamboo steamers have been used in Chinese cooking for more than 5000 years. The most well known usage within the Western world would be for steaming dim sum.

The steamer can also be used to pre-cook crunchy vegetables for stir fry dishes, in order to retain their nutrients instead of blanching.

Learn more about what a bamboo steamer is, how to use it and how to care for it with this guide.


What is a bamboo steamer?

Bamboo steamers are widely used in Chinese cooking, where food is cooked under intense steam heat in an enclosed but not airtight environment. The bamboo base that you put the food in is designed to be approximately one centimetre higher than the bottom of the outer rim. This allows the steamer to sit on a saucepan or a wok without touching the boiling water, as well as providing an interlocking mechanism for stacking.


2-Tier Bamboo Steamer With Lid 8" dia

This stackable bamboo steamer has two levels, meaning that whole meals can be cooked in one go, with fish or meat in the bottom level, and vegetables on top. 


What makes a bamboo steamer unique?

Compared to a metal or electric steamer, bamboo naturally absorbs water. During cooking, the steam will either escape via the weave of the lid, or be absorbed by the basket. This great feature means no condensation droplets end up on the food surface, making the steamer the perfect appliance for delicate dishes like steamed buns or dim sum. 

The Ultimate Guide To Bamboo Steamers

How to care for a bamboo steamer?

For a brand new bamboo steamer, bring a big pot of water to the boil and then submerge the steamer for a few minutes. Take it out and then pat dry with kitchen paper, leave it out until completely dry before putting it away, preferably on a shelf.

Depending on what you are cooking, you should always put a layer between the food and the steamer to prevent sticking, e.g. small squares of baking paper for buns or a heat proof plate for something with sauce. After using the steamer for cooking, you can sponge clean or use a gentle brush to get rid of any food residue. Please do not soak or use detergent as it may damage the material. 

How is a bamboo steamer used in Chinese cooking?

Bamboo steamers have been used in Chinese cooking for more than 5000 years. The most well known usage within the Western world would be for steaming dim sum. As you can imagine, dim sum is actually a wide range of dishes itself, ranging from steamed buns, spare ribs, curried sea whelks to brown sugar sponge cake - a bamboo steamer can be used to cook pretty much any ingredients. Apart from cooking a dish, the steamer can also be used to pre-cook crunchy vegetables for stir fry dishes, in order to retain their nutrients instead of blanching.

Use your steamer to make this steamed scallops recipe with glass noodles:

Steamed Scallops with Glass Noodles and Fried Garlic

Shop all Chinese cookware.



3 comments

  • Hi Stephanie. We’ve checked with Cherry and she’s said the following: The steamer should be directly above the boiling water without touching it, and we must not let the steam escape. If the steamer is inside the pan, the bottom of the steamer should not be touching the bottom of the pan. Also the pan must be similar size to the steamer, otherwise steam will escape via the gap. Hope this helps!

    Ellie at Sous Chef on

  • Nice, thanks for the cool insight

    Phil on

  • Is the steamer meant to perch on top of a pan or sit within it?

    Stephanie Goodchild on

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