How to Steam Food Without a Steamer

Steaming food is a healthy, quick and easy method of cooking. However, it does require the proper tool—or does it? 

As a lover of cooking healthy food, I can’t resist a side of freshly steamed veggies. But sometimes, if I’m travelling, or even steaming two batches at once, I don’t have a steamer I can use.

So that got me looking into how to steam food without a steamer. Is it even possible, and if so, is it easier? 

Whether you don’t have a steamer, or are steaming lots of things at once, you’ve come to the right place.

These are the methods on how to steam food without a steamer:

  • Plate and aluminum foil.
  • Metal strainer or colander.
  • Tin foil pie dish.
  • Microwave.

Four Ways to Steam Your Food Without a Steamer

1. Plate and Aluminum Foil

The first method is perfect if you don’t have a lot of kitchen utensils at hand.

What You Need:

  • A sizable pot or pan with a lid.
  • Heat-proof plate (smaller than the pot).
  • Aluminum foil.

Method:

  1. Grab your large pot: It must be spacious enough to hold the plate. Fill it with water—I usually go for around 0.5 inches (1.27cm). 
  2. Get your aluminum foil, and shape together about three or four balls. They should be roughly the same size. Then, place them into the pot. These will support the plate above the water
  3. Rest your heat-proof plate inside the pot on top of the pieces of aluminum foil. Make sure it remains stable. If you don’t have a heat-proof dish, you could use a baking rack or even a splatter guard. It’s important there is a gap between the plate and the side of the pot.
  4. Get your food and place it on the plate in a single layer. Layering the food can impact the cooking, leaving some pieces overdone and others undercooked.
  5. Heat the pot on the stove: Bring the water to a steady simmer and cover the pot with the lid. Let it cook for a few minutes—depending on what you’re steaming—then serve and enjoy. But, be careful—the plate will get hot, and the steam can burn. 

2. Metal Strainer or Colander

If you’re wondering how to steam vegetables in a pot, this method is worth a try. Not only is it super easy, but the results are pretty impressive.

So I’m cheating a bit here because for many people a strainer or colander is a type of steamer. I guess I’m encouraging you to be inventive! Any metal strainer, or basket or something that fits in and over the pot will work.

What You Need:

  • A pot or pan with a lid. 
  • Metal strainer or colander—ideally, with a heat-proof handle.
  • Water.

Method:

  1. Begin by prepping the pot: Fill it with 0.5-inch (1.27 cm) of water—I found this amount to be sufficient. Place your strainer or colander inside, with the handles resting on the top of the pot. Check that the strainer isn’t touching the boiling water. If so, pour some out—there should be no contact. 
  2. Steam your veggies: Place them in a single layer in the strainer and close the lid. Allow them to cook for a couple of minutes. Again, be careful when removing—use an oven mitt. 

3. Tin Foil Pie Dish

Another easy DIY way to steam your food without a steamer is by using a tin foil pie dish.

What You Need:

  • A pot or pan with a lid.
  • Water.
  • A tin foil pie dish.

Method:

  1. Fill the pot with water: In my experience, approximately 0.5-inch (1.27cm) is perfect. 
  2. Prep your tin foil pie: Use a toothpick or chopstick to poke holes along the dish’s bottom. Then, place it upside down in the pot. 
  3. Get your food and place it in a single layer on the pie dish. Close the lid and allow it to cook through. Use tongs or other tools to remove it from the pot.

4. Microwave

The microwave is an excellent way to steam your food quickly and effortlessly.

Not much clean-up is required, but it’s worth noting that the appearance isn’t quite the same—it’s a bit duller.

Plus I would encourage you not to turn to the microwave too often.

Still when I teach my kids to cook I think I will teach them the microwave. Bizarrely it seems like the safest way of cooking. I mean there’s no way they’re getting near a gas hob to begin with, and the oven can get very hot.

So steaming veggies is a super convenient and safe option (as long as you don’t include any metal!)

What You Need:

  • A microwave-safe bowl or plate.
  • Some water—this is optional, but I recommend it as it gives a nice ‘steamed’ texture.
  • Plastic wrap.

Method:

  1. Get your bowl and place your veggies inside. Add approximately 1 tablespoon of water to the bowl—you can do this without as the vegetables will “auto steam” from the water they emit. Yet my experience is that vegetables can dry and dull without a little added water.
  2. Cover the bowl tightly using plastic wrap. 
  3. Microwave until done: Check frequently to ensure nothing burns. In my experience, it may take between two to five minutes, depending on what vegetable you’re steaming. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is the Easiest Way to Steam Broccoli?

My favorite way is using aluminum foil and a heat-proof plate—it’s super easy and fast. When it comes to how to steam veggies without a steamer, the most common vegetable I’m asked about is broccoli. Fortunately, this is an effortless veg to cook, and you can use any of the methods above.

Can You Steam Carrots?

Yes, you can steam carrots, and they taste fantastic—they take on a sweet taste yet firm texture. When steaming carrots, wash and peel them. You can then cook them whole or in smaller pieces, using any of my steaming methods. 

How Long Do You Steam Vegetables?

How long to steam your veggies depends on the type. Greens, like spinach, kale, collard greens and Swiss chard, require anywhere between three to seven minutes. 

Harder vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, need five to 10 minutes. And, lastly, root veggies, like carrots, turnips, beets and potatoes, require 10 to 20 minutes

Final Takeaway

So, you’re now clued-up on how to steam food without a steamer. As you saw, there are plenty of methods to try using simple tools found in your kitchen. 

Personally I prefer just using a steamer, or a colander (method 2). It’s by far the easiest and safest.

My favorite method (if I’m not cheating!) is the simple plate and aluminum foil. It doesn’t require much, and you can even apply it during a camping trip. But, always be mindful of the steam. It can quickly burn, so use oven mitts or heat-proof tea towels. 

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