How To: Steam Food Without a Steamer Basket

Steam Food Without a Steamer Basket

I'm not a big fan of single-use tools, especially ones that don't get used particularly often. And I'm especially not a big fan of seldom used single-use tools that take up a large amount of space.

One of these tools is the steamer, which is on the list of "kitchen essentials" despite being large, clunky, and not commonly used. Steamers are actually incredibly easy to replicate, so if you find yourself needing one, save $20 and some shelf space, and choose one of these alternatives instead.

1. Build a Pie Tin Steamer

You can build a surprisingly effective steamer with just two reusable aluminum pie tins. First, poke 12–16 holes in the base of both pie tins.

Next, use a rolling pin to flatten one of the pie tins. Don't worry about getting it perfectly flat; this is all about convenience, so just run over the tin with your rolling pin a few times.

Now you're ready to put your steamer together. Place the structurally sound tin upside-down in a pot with a little water. Rest the flattened tin on top of the first, and place your veggies (or whatever you're steaming) on top of it.

Turn on the heat and you'll have a perfect steamer in action! If you want to get really complex, you can even build a multi-layer steamer.

2. Use a Strainer or Colander

This steamer hack is as simple as it gets. All you need to do is place your food in a large kitchen strainer, and place it on top of your pot of water. You can also do this with a colander instead of a strainer.

Image by James Ransom/Food52

3. Repurpose a Cooling Rack

You can also make a quick and easy steamer by placing a cooling rack across the top of your pot of water, adding ingredients on top, and covering them with aluminum foil. Make sure to use a cooling rack that doesn't have spaces larger than the food you're steaming, or else you'll end up with a lot of boiled veggies sitting in the bottom of your pot!

Image by James Ransom/Food52

4. Use a Plate & Some Foil

This one is fun to make, and makes cleaning easier as you can keep the food on the plate when you serve it. First you need to find a plate that is oven safe, and slightly smaller than your pot.

Image by James Ransom/Food52

Then make three large, solid balls out of aluminum foil and place them in the bottom of your pot. Add water, and place the plate (with ingredients) on top of the aluminum foil balls, and you've got a steamer that's good to go.

5. Use a Splatter Screen & Bowl

If you're not steaming a lot, you could also utilize a splatter screen. Just throw it on top of your pot, lay down your veggies, then cover with a large bowl. (This method is great for sticky rice.)

Image via Food Canon

You can also just use tinfoil if you don't have a splatter screen available. Just make sure it fits tightly around the pot so that it doesn't collapse when you put the food on top of it.

Do you have any other great ways of creating a steamer?

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Photos by Brady Klopfer/Food Hacks (unless otherwise specified)


I'm a little confused. We use our steamer several times a week and it was less than $10 CDN. Also, it collapses into itself and takes up less storage space than my smallest saucepan.

Those collapsible steamers are really handy! Unfortunately, a lot of people don't have them. And, for one reason or another, a lot of people rarely ever steam ingredients, so even though they don't take up much space, it can still be a minor hassle if you only use it four times a year.

I have a collapsible one, but it's falling apart. The nut that holds the middle bar in place rusted off, and it's kind of a pain to use now overall. Having some backup options is always welcomed.

What's so confusing? I have one too but I'm making tamales at the moment and can't find it anywhere. I'm not about to drive across town for it so I'm gonna use one of these hacks.

That's what I'm trying to make. I hope I got the meat right it's been 10 years since I've made them. My sister showed me how but she's passed now.

How can I email a single page here to a friend? I don't see a way to share the sight and what I'm looking at. Thx

Can't you just use a variation of the double pot method?

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