› How to Steam Vegetables

Learning how to steam vegetables is a fantastic idea. Steaming is a great way to prepare vegetables. It’s especially healthy, because you don’t need any kind of fat to do it. And unlike other cooking methods, the gentle heat of steam helps vegetables keep more of their nutrients and flavor.

So what is steaming? It’s easy. When you boil water, it creates steam, which is really hot. And you can use that steam to cook the vegetables. It’s different from boiling – when you boil vegetables, the veggies are immersed in the water. But when you steam, they don’t touch the water at all. The steam does all the work!

It’s incredibly easy to do. And you don’t need a whole lot of specialty equipment to do it. If you have a pot and a colander or steaming basket, you can steam vegetables. In fact, you can even get away with just using a pot!

In this article, I’ll go over what you need to steam vegetables. And then I’ll go over how to do it.

What You’ll Need

There are a few different ways to steam vegetables. Which one you pick will depend on what kind of equipment you have available in your kitchen. They’re all pretty convenient though… and they all make for really easy cleanup! Here are four ways to help you learn how to steam vegetables, and what you need to do it.

Steaming Basket Method

My favorite way to steam vegetables is using a steaming basket. A steaming basket is basically just any heat-resistant container with holes on the bottom. It can hold the veggies, but the holes let the steam in to cook the vegetables.

So here’s how to steam vegetables with a steaming basket. It’s easy: you just fit the steaming basket over a pot with an inch or so of boiling water, and loosely cover it with a lid. It doesn’t need to fit perfectly – it should keep most of the steam in, but still let a bit escape.

What kind of containers can you use as a steaming basket?

  • You can get an actual specialized steaming basket. They’re nice because they’re usually adjustable and can fit inside pretty much any size pot. They also have little feet that keep the basket raised out of the water – so that it’s the steam that cooks the vegetables, not the boiling water.

  • How To Steam Vegetables - Brussel Sprouts in A Colander

  • If you don’t have a steaming basket, you can always use a colander or strainer. Just be sure that it’s heat-resistant.

  • You should be able to put an inch or two of water at the bottom of the pot without it touching the steaming basket. Remember, you don’t want the vegetables immersed in the water – that’s boiling, not steaming.

    • If your steaming basket has feet to lift it off the bottom of the pot, that’s perfect. If not, you may be able to place it so that it rests on the sides of the pot.

  • You should be able to place the lid on top of the pot. It’ll help keep the steam in so that it cooks the vegetables faster.

Steamer Method

Another way to steam vegetables is to use a steamer. It’s a special kitchen appliance specifically designed to steam food, and it makes learning how to steam vegetables a breeze. Generally, it consists of a few parts.

  • base, that you fill with water. The base has an element for heating the water quickly, so that it’ll boil and produce steam.
  • Steaming baskets. They’ll fit over the base, and some models allow you to stack several baskets.
  • Some steamers have extra accessories like a dish for steaming rice.

A steamer is nice because it takes care of everything for you. The water’s always at the right temperature, the vegetables are always above the water, and just enough steam escapes. A lot of steamers even have timers so that you once you start it, you don’t need to worry anymore.

But the best thing about a steamer is that the steaming baskets are usually really big. If you plan on steaming lots of vegetables, a steaming basket in a pot might be a little on the small side. And when you can stack baskets on top of each other, you have even more flexibility!

But a steamer works the exact same way as the pot and steaming basket – boiling water producing steam to cook vegetables. If you’re short on cupboard space and don’t want an extra appliance, you don’t really need a steamer to learn how to steam vegetables.

Pan Method

What if you really want to know how to steam vegetables, but you don’t have a steamer, or even anything that can serve as a steaming basket? Don’t worry. It’s possible to steam vegetables using only a pan or a pot of water.

Here’s how to steam vegetables in a pan.

  1. First, pick a pot or pan that’s big enough to hold all your vegetables, preferably in a single layer.
  2. Then you add just a bit of water at the bottom. You only need about half an inch.
  3. Once the water is boiling, you’ll add the vegetables. Because there’s so little water, the steam will be doing the cooking. Just be sure to keep an eye on the water level – if it gets too low, you’ll need to add a bit more, so that you keep generating steam.

Like the other steaming methods, you want a lid to keep most of the steam in. But you do want a little steam to escape, especially if you’re steaming green vegetables. Letting the steam escape will help them keep their green color.


  • Since the vegetables will be in the water a little, some of the nutrients and flavor will end up in that water. But since you’re using so little, and because it’ll boil down a bit, you’ll end up with a nice, concentrated vegetable broth that you can use for soups or sauces! You can save the water from steaming in the freezer, adding more until you have enough to use.

Microwave Method

The last way to steam vegetables is using the microwave. And like the other methods, it’s super easy. All you need is a microwave safe bowl, and some plastic wrap.

Here’s how to steam vegetables in the microwave:

  1. Wash your vegetables, and then cut them up to the size you want to serve them.

  2. Place the vegetables in the microwave-safe bowl, and add a bit of water to the bottom of the bowl.

    • Most vegetables don’t need much water at all. Just a thin layer will do.

    • Leafy vegetables like spinach don’t need any extra water other than what’s still on the leaves after washing them.

    • Denser vegetables like carrots will need a bit of extra water.

  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, but leave a little gap for the steam to escape.

  4. To steam the vegetables, microwave them on high until they’re as cooked as you like them.

    • Most vegetables will take at least 5 minutes, but it really depends on how powerful your microwave is.

    • Try starting with five minutes, then adding a minute at a time.

  5. When you remove the plastic wrap, be very careful. Steam is going to escape, and it’s hot!

Steaming vegetables in the microwave is really easy and convenient, but it’s also not quite steaming. Why? Because steaming means cooking vegetables only with steam. But the microwave doesn’t just heat the water – it also cooks the vegetables. So they’re partially cooked by steam, partially by the microwave.

What that means is entirely up to you. I’ve heard that vegetables cooked in the microwave are much less nutritious, and I’ve heard that they’re more nutritious. It’s not clear what the reality is at all! But if you’re concerned that microwaving food is bad for you, it’s not hard at all to use one of the other methods!

How To Steam Vegetables

In this section, I’ll go over how to steam vegetables using the steaming basket, steamer and pan methods. They’re basically all the same. For steaming vegetables in the microwave, you can find instructions in the microwave method section.

Here’s how to steam vegetables.

  1. Bring the water to a boil.

  2. Add the vegetables.

    • Either place the steaming basket over the boiling water, making sure that the vegetables aren’t immersed, or place the veggies in the thin layer of water for the pan method.

    • If you’re cooking several different kinds of vegetables, add the ones that’ll take longer to cook first. For example, carrots take longer to steam than aspargus.

  3. Let the vegetables steam until they’re cooked. The time it’ll take depends on a few things.

      How To Steam Vegetables - Steamed Broccoli

    • Most vegetables take at least 3 to 5 minutes to be done.

    • Dense vegetables like carrots will take longer.

    • The bigger the vegetable chunks, the longer they’ll take to cook.

    • How long you cook them depends on your preference. If you like them a bit crisp, it won’t take as long. But if you prefer them soft, it’ll take a bit longer.

    • Bigger whole vegetables can take a lot longer. New potatoes can be steamed 15 minutes, and artichokes can take up to 45 minutes!

  4. Be sure to check the water level. If it gets too low, add some more water, hot if possible so that you don’t cool down your water.

  5. Once the vegetables are as cooked as you like them, you can serve them as is, or add a little seasoning.

    • A bit of butter or olive oil can add some flavor.

    • You can add a sauce, or citrus juices, or anything you think will give a nice flavor.

    • Herbs and spices can make a nice addition. A bit of salt or pepper goes a long way!

And that’s how to steam vegetables! It’s easy, and steamed vegetables are really yummy, especially with just a hint of butter and salt.


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