Understanding Steaming Limits: What Foods Can’t Be Steamed?

Yes, there are foods that cannot be steamed.

However, before diving into the details, let me share a funny story.

Last weekend, I attempted to steam a whole chicken for dinner.

Little did I know, my steaming pot was not quite big enough!

After just a few short minutes of steaming, boiling water was overflowing everywhere.

I’m sure my neighbors thought a pipe had burst! Needless to say, I had to scramble to find an alternative meal plan.

My kitchen was quite the mess indeed.

Now that I’ve shared a laugh, let’s get back to the topic at hand.

Many home chefs may be surprised to find that not all foods are suitable for steaming.

While it’s a healthful and simple cooking method, some ingredients are better prepared in other ways.

As someone with over a decade of professional cooking experience, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way on more than one occasion!

In this guide, I’ll share my insider tips on which foods should never touch steaming water.

Keep reading to avoid wasting your time and ingredients.

Your tastebuds and wallet will thank you!


What foods can’t be steamed?

Some foods, like delicate fruits and certain desserts, are not suitable for steaming due to their texture and composition. (1)

Understanding which foods can’t be steamed is essential to master the art of steaming and avoid culinary mishaps.

Common Mistakes When Steam Cooking

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Source: Thomas DeLauer

Many folks are fans of steaming their food.

It keeps things moist and locks in nutrients.

But not everyone knows the ins and outs.

Here are some errors people often make when steaming.

Knowing can help you get the most out of your steaming endeavors.

Folks tend to overcrowd their steamer.

This prevents heat and steam from circulating properly.

Foods then cook unevenly or stay too damp.

Leave ample space between items.

For broccoli florets or sliced vegetables, leave a finger width or more between pieces.

Larger dishes like potatoes or whole artichokes only need to touch sides lightly.

Proper spacing ensures even cooking and prevents mushiness.

Another slip up involves timing.

Because steam cooks gently, foods take longer than other methods.

Most veggies require five to fifteen minutes, depending on size and density.

Check regularly from the lowest suggested time and do not overcook.

You’ll know veggies are ready when a tester fork pierces easily.

Don’t rush steaming or you defeat the purpose of locking in nutrition and moisture.

Go slowly for peak flavor and color retention.

Home cooks of all skill levels can improve their steaming results.

Novice steamers in particular may find valuable do’s and don’ts to follow.

Even seasoned household chefs sometimes forget best practices.

Knowing common pitfalls could save someone from a failed or soggy dish.

Overall, anyone who steams foods stands to cook with more confidence and consistency with these pointers in mind.


Foods That Shouldn’t Be Steamed

What Foods Can't Be Steamed

While steaming excels for many dishes, not everything works well under steam.

Here are some foods better off cooked other ways. (2)

Finding alternatives maintains nutritional value without compromising taste or texture.

Starchy foods like pasta, grains and potatoes tend to become mushy when steamed.

Theirstructure relies partly on evaporation during boiling or baking to stay intact.

Steaming keeps things too wet and stops starches from developing properly.

For rice pilaf or risotoni, the grains never achieve that toothsome bite steamed.

Simmer pasta and boil potatoes to get the right texture.

Some full-fatted meats likewise fare poorly.

Fatty cuts of pork or game meats lose their succulence cooked only with steam.

The evaporation needed to crisp exterior fat and cook interior escapes.

Opt instead for sautéing, broiling or roasting to get rich, juicy results.

Leaner cuts like chicken breasts fare fine steamed to preserve moisture.

But fattier varieties just become greasy without additional methods.

People who steam everything may miss out on textures and flavors; certain foods only develop another way.

It isn’t that these items can’t be part of a healthful diet through different cooking techniques.

Finding non-steamed alternatives maintains nutrition while letting recipes sing.

Flexibility allows people to enjoy staples from all cooking methods with optimal results.

Steaming remains tops for vegetables, fish and light meats.

But branching out brings more variety to any kitchen while respecting foods’ properties.

Steaming Techniques and Tips

What Foods Can't Be Steamed

Steam has become a popular cooking method for maintaining nutrition and flavor in foods.

But knowing the right techniques makes using your steamer at home with breeze.

Here are insider steam pro tips for perfect results every time.

The first item in any steamer is the pot.

Use a stovetop-safe pan with at least 3-inch sides that allow 1-2 inches of steadily boiling water below.

For rackless pots, folding aluminum foil balls hold items above the waterline.

Lacking foil, upturn heat-proof bowls or stack dry corn husks.

Any solution separates foods from direct moisture contact.

Some streamers have bamboo, metal or collapsible silicone baskets.

Their racks permit airflow around pieces, preventing mushy bottoms.

Place folded foil, leaves or husks in racks for items without built-in support too.

Shrimp, dumplings or more delicate foods rest above on makeshift beds.

Without racks, single layers on baking sheets steam without sticking together.

A tight-fitting lid keeps precious steam circulating inside.

Loosen temporarily for checking doneness every couple minutes.

Peek, don’t raise fully or accumulated heat will escape, lengthening cooking time.

Leave little space for gauge and venting, returning the lid quickly each time.

Timetables vary for corn versus cauliflower or tender greens versus woody endive.

Smaller items finish faster than halves or whole products.

Check frequently near shortest estimates for tiny zucchinis or snow peas.

Denser foods like root vegetables or winter squash need closer to longest times to soften through completely.

Practiced timing makes perfectly pitched meals.

Steaming Versus Boiling Vegetables

While boiling delivers wonderful results for many recipes, steaming vegetables retains more nutrients.

Here’s how two popular cooking methods compare.

Boiling involves completely submerging foods in water.

This brings nutrients to boiling temperature where some dissolve and drain away.

Years of research now shows steaming surpasses boiling for vitamin preservation across different veggies.

Polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins C and B all withstand steam’s lower top heat of 212°F better than boiling’s rolling 212-300°F eventually reached inside foods.

Furthermore, steaming avoids boiling’s largest pitfalls.

Nutrients vanish into cooking water which often gets discarded, as opposed to steam trapping goodness inside each piece.

Steamed vegetables also stay firm-tender with brilliant color versus boiled items prone to dulling and mushiness from overexposure to hot water.

Their locked-in water stays inside, keeping them plump instead of depleted and shriveled.

Both boiling and steaming absolutely have roles in a healthy kitchen.

However when nutrient protection matters most, steam gets the clear edge.

Boiling works well for heartier greens, tubers and beans.

Yet snap peas, broccoli, bell peppers or other delicate vitaminpowerhouses thrive best under steam.

Flexibility to use varied techniques serves up vegetables at their most nourishing.

How to Steam Without a Steaming Basket

Steaming is one of the healthiest ways to cook a range of food.

It is a popular cooking method featured regularly on the Food Network.

Steaming helps retain nutrients in raw foods like leafy vegetables and a type of vegetable better than other cooking methods.

However, not everyone owns a steamer insert or steaming basket.

Have no fear, there are alternatives for steaming without this specialized cooking equipment.

A metal strainer works well as an improvised steaming basket.

Place two tablespoons of water in the bottom of a cooking pot.

Put the strainer on top, making sure it sits above the water level.

Add your food to the strainer, making sure not to overcrowd it.

Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and steam until the food reaches your desired doneness.

Check periodically and add more water if needed.

The strainer allows the hot steam to circulate and cook the food as it rises from the cooking liquid below.

You can also steam vegetables and some foods directly in a covered pot.

For example, hardier vegetables like carrots can withstand the heat without a basket intermediary.

Add one-half inch of water to the bottom of the pot.

Cut the food into similarly sized pieces and arrange in a single layer, not stacking.

The steam will cook all sides evenly without burning or becoming soggy like foods submerged in water might.

Other sturdy foods that can handle direct-pot steaming include shellfish, corn on the cob, and potatoes.

The microwave offers a no-fuss steaming option without extra dishes.

Place your food on a microwave safe plate and add two tablespoons of water.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap, using it to trap the steam inside.

Microwave in short bursts, checking periodically to prevent overcooking.

The plastic wrap steams the food from the trapped moisture in a contained environment for a quick, mess-free cooking process.

Delicate foods like leafy greens, fish fillets, and vegetables cook perfectly using this method.

Natural flavors are enhanced when steaming as very little water is absorbed compared to other cooking techniques.

No added cooking liquids, fats, or butters are needed to retain moisture and maximize nutritional value.

With some unconventional methods and a little creativity, anyone can enjoy steamed foods without requiring specialty equipment.

Steaming opens up the cooking process to new natural flavors.

Unconventional Steaming Methods

While a traditional steamer is ideal, exploring unusual techniques expands the ways one can enjoy steamed eats.

Some steam in unexpected cooking vessels with surprising results.

Pressure cookers, in particular, take steaming to new heights with their ability to build intense inner heat.

A pressure cooker works wonders for steaming.

Add one cup of water, then place a metal steamer basket inside.

The airtight seal allows steam to reach extreme temperatures above boiling.

This quick cooking process tenderizes foods within minutes versus the standard ten to twenty for traditional methods.

Meats, grains, and hard vegetables come out ultra-soft using this powerful steaming appliance.

The trapped steam infuses flavors deeply into foods for rich taste.

And with a pressure cooker’s closed system, nutrients remain sealed in.

Ever thoughtful home cooks get innovative when basic tools are not available.

Some use cooling racks or wire cake racks for improvised steaming.

Place the rack over a pot of boiling water.

It works like a conventional steamer basket by suspending foods above the hot steam rising from below.

Racks come in various sizes to fit different pot openings.

A perforated sheet cake pan also functions well in its place with its numerous steam vent holes.

Steaming right in baking dishes works too.

Add an inch of water to a casserole or cake pan before placing foods on top of a foil tent.

simply tent aluminum foil loosely over to trap the moisture without letting a single drop of steam escape.

No messy cleanup since the whole operation takes place within the same vessel.

Baking dishes come in many shapes to fit varied amounts and mixtures perfectly for any sized household.

Unorthodox steaming outside the box lets personal style and cooking instincts shine through.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Steaming Food

Steaming is one of the healthiest cooking methods.

It retains nutrients found in foods better than other higher-heat cooking techniques like frying.

Steaming heats foods gently in hot steam instead of submerging them in boiling water.

Read on to discover the perks and drawbacks of choosing steam over other preparations.

A big benefit to steaming is keeping vitamin, mineral, and enzyme content high in foods.

Heat sensitive vitamins like C and B complexes remain mostly intact when cooked in steamer pots or steam cookers.

Folks who cook this way get more nutritional value from meals.

Steam also maintains natural flavors since very little water is absorbed during preparation.

Foods cooked by steam stay fresh-tasting.

Frozen veggies are perfect for steaming right from the package! No thawing needed.

Simply add them straight to the cooking pot and warm.

This quick convenience makes nutritious steaming easy for anyone short on time.

Broccoli florets, collard greens, and other freezer options steam up fast for healthy last-minute eats.

On the downside, steaming does not result in the same browning or caramelization seen with pan frying or baking.

Crispy edges and textures stay soft.

However, some prefer steamed broccoli florets to avoiding added fats.

Steaming also cannot fit all recipes, as certain methods require deeper browning.

Yet overall advantages in nutrition and simplicity make it a go-to for myriad meals.

Recipes and Foods Suitable for Steaming

Steaming lends itself well to an array of recipes and ingredients.

Here are some top picks for the technique along with a favorite recipe for each:

Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and collards soften perfectly when steamed.

Place washed leaves in a metal colander over boiling water until wilted.

They retain vital nutrients and flavor cooked this way.

Try creamed collard greens – simply steam collards with onion then blend in a creamy dairy sauce.

Many fruits become enticingly tender with a steam.

Bananas, peaches, pears and apples lightly stewed in their own juices make for delightful baked goods or breakfasts.

Stir peeled apple slices with a tablespoon of sugar or honey then top oatmeal.

Seafood such as clams, mussels and fish fillets steam up moist without falling apart.

Season fillets atop a bed of steaming vegetables for a light, nutrient-dense meal.

Try steamed tilapia with broccoli rice pilaf for an easy weeknight supper.

Leaves and plants themselves can become part of dishes too! Grape or banana leaves impart flavor when used to wrap and steep ingredients.

Experiment steaming tamales or enchiladas in sour citrus like lime or orange leaves.

To steam, simple tools suffice – a pot, insert basket or colander, and tight-fitting lid.

These few humble implements unlock endless vibrant meals for any home.

Who would have thought such satisfying sustenance could result from just steam!


In conclusion, steaming is a versatile cooking technique when applied appropriately.

However, it’s important to understand the limitations to avoid disappointment.

The tips shared here draw from my personal experience across many kitchen disasters.

I hope readers now feel better equipped to choose the right cooking methods for any recipe.

Consider sharing this guide with fellow foodies in your life.

You’ll be doing them a favor by saving them from potential culinary calamities.

Also, feel free to check out my other guides for excellent recipe ideas.

Following simple guidelines like those outlined here will lead to many satisfying home-cooked meals.

Have fun exploring new flavors through low-fat preparation methods.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to learn through trial and error – that’s where the best lessons often come from.

Bon appétit!


  1. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/how-steam-vegetables#:~:text=Good%20vegetables%20to%20steam%20%E2%80%93%20Broccoli,as%20potatoes%2C%20squash%20or%20celeriac.
  2. https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/veggies-you-should-never-steam/

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