Success With Bamboo Steamers: Use & Care

Bamboo steamers are inexpensive to buy and they can turn out a delicious meal in minutes. If veggies aren’t your thing, try steaming them and you might just find yourself converted. Not only are they delicious (while retaining more of their vitamins and nutrients when compared to boiled), you can also use them to prepare whole meals that include fish, chicken and dumplings, yum!

StackedHere are instructions and tips to get you started. If you haven’t tried cooking with this gadget before, you’ll be surprised at how quick and easy it is!


Before using for the first time: Wash all pieces with hot soapy water, rinse well and then soak in hot water for 30 minutes. After soaking, steam all baskets and lid for about 30 minutes (while empty).

To Use:

  • I prefer using a pot or deep saucepan that the basket will fit snugly on top of, it should rest securely (just) over the rim of the pot so that it won’t slip down inside. You can use a pot that’s larger or a wok and settle the basket inside it (so it sits on the bottom), but you’ll need to use less water with this method to ensure the basket bottom is above the water level.
  • Fill the pot with water a few inches deep or about half an inch below the bottom of the basket and bring to a boil. You want the water level deep enough to not run dry during the cooking period, and not so deep that the water reaches up into the basket and boil the food instead of steaming it.
  • Arrange food items in each basket then place on top of pot once the water is boiling. Cover with the lid and cook until food is done (depending on size and thickness of pieces, vegetables can take just a few minutes, fish fillets about 10 minutes and chicken pieces can take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes or so).
  • Careful! What to watch for: Water should never be allowed to run dry, keep an eye on the water level and top up if needed.

To Fill Baskets: Arrange food items in a single layer with space around each so that steam is allowed to circulate throughout the space as well as rise up to the layer above (if cooking with stacked baskets).

To Stack Them: If cooking with more than one basket at a time, place foods that take longer to cook in the first basket at the bottom, items needing the least amount of cooking time are arranged in the top one.

Liners: You can cook food directly on the bamboo slats at the bottom of each basket, but liners are recommended when cooking foods that have a tendency to stick (such as dumplings). Using a liner makes the cleanup job a breeze, you can use:

  • Leaves from cabbage and lettuce, corn husks or squares of cheese cloth, parchment paper and aluminum foil. It’s also possible to cook directly on small plates that will fit inside the baskets.

When using a liner, make sure you don’t seal off the bottom of the basket and that there are uncovered spaces so the steam can fill the basket and reach the food items.

Once food is fully cooked: Turn off the heat and carefully remove from pot, lift the lid off away from you (being careful not to burn yourself from the rush of steam escaping) and transfer food to serving dishes.

Cleanup: Wash in hot soapy water and rinse well. Allow to fully air dry before storing. These are not dishwasher safe.


  • If using stackable baskets and each is filled with a meal or food items that take the same amount of time to cook, switch the baskets around halfway through so the total cooking time will be even for each.
  • To enhance flavor, try adding garlic, thyme, rosemary, ginger and other fresh herbs to the water or spread them around the food items while cooking.

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    • Natalie

    Thank you for this post! I have a bamboo steamer that I got as a gift and have never used. Now I know how it works.

      • Gavin

      You can also put whole plates inside to be reheated. Reheats better than a microwave or oven without drying out.

    • Sandra

    Best site among all the others on internet for instructions on how to use and care for a bamboo steamer. Thank you so much for putting it up there.

    • arundhati

    Great way the explanation is..have ordered one and gonna use as u have instructed

    • Joani

    I just finished steaming Chilean Sea Bass for dinner. Impeccable instructions on how to use a bamboo steamer. One word…YUM!

    • wendy

    thanks for the info. Used my steamer, let it air day overnight then put it away. A week later opened the cupboard and the centre basket of the steamer was VERY mouldy. Gave both baskets and lid another good wash and they are now hanging to dry in the wind for a couple of days before I put them in the cupbaodr again!

    • Cheryl Mackie

    Thanks really informative, easy to understand and helpful!!

    • Joanne

    searched many before finding this one to detail what to do before first use! Thank you!

    • Mary G.

    My steamer seems to be drying out. Should I oil it with something?

      • Tim

      This depends on your personal preferences. Many bamboo steamers have strong wood aromas that can be deliberately infused into your food for an additional flavor. This is common with certain types of dumplings and vegetable dishes. Usually this is accomplished by not lining the steamer when cooking with it. If this is desired, you will want to keep the wood from drying out by oiling it.

      If you wish to avoid that flavor (personally I don’t like it) then letting the wood dry out more will make it less likely to pass that flavor onto your food. Just don’t let it dry out to the point it cracks, maintaining the exterior walls and the cooking surface itself is critically important to the function of the steamer.

      Make sure you use a food safe oil and not a wood garnishing oil (I had a friend that used wood stain on his – don’t do that). I use olive oil and it does the trick as long as I rinse and wipe it off after to avoid excess. Too much oil can cause mold by repelling cleaning water out of tight spots, and overpower your seasonings as well during cooking.

    • Shirley Akinosho

    Thanks for the info. I found this site very helpful. Just bought a bamboo steamer from the Asia Food Market for my birthday. Had been wanting one for a long time. I really appreciate letting me know what to do before using it, and how to cook in it as well. I’m going to bookmark this page.

    • Ian

    Hi there.

    Liners are mentioned, but nothing saying what to use as a liner.

    I am going to use parchment paper tonight.


      • Lis Pitkethley

      Read it again Sam. It suggests cabbage or lettuce leaves, corn husks, parchment paper, or tin foil. Cheers Lis

      • Jonny

      In Asia you can just buy the liners in the supermarket or kitchen appliance stores.
      The are made out of a fabric and are just round pieces of fabric with the edges hemmed (is that the correct word for the edge stitch that prevents the fabric from falling apart into fibers?).
      I believe they are made out of cotton.

      The ones I bought in Taiwan are from a fabric that looks like unbleached cotton to me (the color and feel) and have a very low thread count so the steam could come through, although when you go to fancy restaurant the have nice liners from bleached fabric, and some of them are even slightly shiny to give you the fancy feel, but that’s totally pointless..

      Good luck!

        • Sammi-Jo

        Jonny (or anyone else wondering):

        The stitching you are referring to that is sewn around the edges of cloth like that is referred to as an ‘overlock’ stitch. It’s meant to stop the fabric ends from fraying & doesn’t require a slight hem to make it work. Of course, the heavier the fabric & the tighter the ‘overlock’ stitch is the better the cloth will last. This stitch got it’s name b/c the overlock is there to protect the fabric from fraying and/or unraveling. My late mom had an overlock machine; the overlock stitch is one of the top reasons she bought the machine for her home.

        She’s overlocked shirts w/long sleeves that we measured & cut down the middle to wear as a type of cardigan whether in the house or working in the yard. She also made me some hand-warmers & overlocked the material on the edges so I got warmth farther across my hands w/o the fraying. It’s been more than 15yrs since I lost Mom but I still have stuff she overlocked that I still use today.

        Hope this helps,


    • Maria Conner

    Why does broth sometimes gather below the wonton’s when steaming thereby breaking the wrappers below. Thank you

    • preston marks

    Should I brush the bamboo with an oil before storing
    for weeks before using again?

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