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Types of Commercial Kitchen Steamers

Cooking with steam has a number of operational and health benefits. Because it is such an efficient method of heat transfer, it cooks foods quickly without drying them out. Steamed vegetables retain their vibrant color and natural texture plus the vitamins and minerals that may be lost in other cooking methods. Plus, cooking with steam is also very healthy, compared to some cooking methods since you don't need any cooking oils or fats. Read on to learn about different types of food steamers and equipment that uses steam to make the best choice for your business!

How to Choose the Right Size

When deciding what size and type of commercial food steamer to purchase, you'll want to think about your menu and output needs. Since size options range from small countertop steamers to large, multi-compartment floor steamers, you'll want to size the unit appropriately to meet your current and future needs. Steamers are sized by how many full size or half size food pans their compartments hold. While determining which size is best for you, here are some questions to think about:


  • How many items on your menu do you steam (or could you steam), and how many might you add in the future?
  • What types of items are you steaming?
  • How many servings or portions do you need to produce in a given amount of time?
Expert Tip


A 2 1/2" deep full size food pan holds (72) 4 oz. portions, (48) 6 oz. portions, or (36) 8 oz. portions!

What is a Pressure Steamer?

Pressure Steamers allow the pressure of the steam to build gradually within the compartment during the cooking process, up to anywhere between 5 and 15 PSI. This allows them to cook food at temperatures up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. They're generally larger and most often used by high-volume institutional operations thanks to their faster cooking speeds.

Purchasing Considerations

  • High output and fast cooking times for dense and starchy foods and root vegetables, like carrots and potatoes
  • Can cook large quantities of foods quickly
  • Not recommended for delicate foods
  • Won't prevent flavor transfer between foods

What is a Convection Steamer?

A Convection Steamer cooks food at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, under no pressure. It's the convective action of the steam that transfers the heat to cook the food. Because of their generally lower purchase price and other advantages, they're the more popular choice.

Purchasing Considerations

  • Produce higher quality results than a pressure steamer due to lower cooking temperatures
  • More versatile; can steam, poach, stew, reheat, thaw, and par-cook
  • Easier to use and more forgiving than a pressure steamer
  • Not as fast as a pressure steamer

Sources of Steam

Steamers can produce steam for the cooking process in a variety of ways. Keep in mind that with the exception of self-contained models, you'll need an incoming water supply as well as a wastewater/condensate drain in addition to the gas or electric required to power the unit. There are pros and cons to each type as you'll see below.

Expert Tip


Many local authorities mandate that waste water entering the drain be lower than 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It's a good idea to check your local regulations to see if you need to specify a drain quenching system or option with your steamer.


Direct Steam

Direct steam vegetable steamers hook up to your building's existing steam supply. It's important to note that if you're hooking up directly to this type of source, you'll need to be sure that it's potable.

  • Cost-effective choice if your building has a ready steam supply
  • Can also use steam from a standalone steam generator
  • Not a viable option if your business doesn't have a steam supply or a steam generator

Steam Generator

Some commercial steamers will use an internal steam generator to produce the steam. Their exact design varies by manufacturer; some will use steam jets while others may spray water onto heating elements.

  • Less susceptible to limescale buildup compared to boiler-based steamers
  • Easier to clean and maintain
  • Lower output and slower recovery than models with a boiler

Boiler

A boiler-based food steamer may have the boiler built right into their cabinet. Other models may rest on top of a boiler base to provide steam for the unit.

  • Great for high-volume operations
  • Can steam large amounts of food with fast recovery time between batches
  • Require diligent maintenance and deliming to maintain efficiency and performance

Boilerless

A boilerless steamer produces steam by heating water in a compartment or by spraying water onto a heated plate.
  • Great for smaller, low-volume operations
  • Lower maintenance and utility costs than other types
  • Longer cook times than steamers with a boiler
  • Compact, connectionless models are available that you can fill manually and are a great choice if you don't have a water or drain connection readily available


Expert Tip


No matter which type of steamer you choose, we recommend water filtration. In fact, manufacturers usually won't honor the equipment's warranty if their specified water quality requirements aren't met. It's also crucial to delime the units frequently as limescale buildup will negatively affect your steamer's performance and longevity.

Microwave Steamers

You might not initially think that you can use your microwave as a steamer, but several manufacturers have high powered models designed specifically for steaming. These microwave steamers have high-wattage magnetrons and larger internal cavities that can accommodate several food pans of vegetables or other items you wish to steam. Since they don't need a floor drain, water supply, and likely wouldn't need placed under a hood, they're a very cost-effective way to add steamed items to your menu with a minimum amount of hassle.

Fast Steamers and Portion Steamers

Commonly known as a tortilla steamer, these compact countertop units use a quick shot of steam to rejuvenate stale baked goods, revitalize cooked meat, heat up a small portion of refrigerated or frozen vegetables, or warm tortillas for service. Their small size and ease of use make them ideal for operations with limited space.

Steam Jacketed Kettles

Vulcan K12ETT-7 12 tilting electric steam jacketed kettle

Another versatile piece of steam equipment is the steam kettle. Ranging in size from a small, 6 gallon tabletop model all the way up to 300 gallon floor models with built-in mixers, it's a great choice for preparing large quantities of soup, sauces, pasta, rice and gravy. They can also quickly braise meat or boil large quantities of water. With all these units, the steam is contained in a cavity between the outer and inner walls of the kettle. To produce the steam, the water in the cavity may be heated by a gas or electric burner. On a "direct steam" model, steam is piped directly into the cavity from your building's steam supply.

Other pieces of commercial kitchen equipment use steam to cook, such as combi ovens and rice cookers. Check out our combi oven buying guide and rice cooker buying guide to learn more!

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Please refer to our Content Policy for more details.

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