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July/August 2018

Collapsible Steamer Baskets

A bad steamer basket can be a hot mess. Could we find a good one?

How We Tested

Steamer baskets allow you to cook your food quickly, consistently, and efficiently. Boiling as little as ½ inch of water under one of these perforated platforms can produce enough gentle, humid steam to cook meat, vegetables, and other foods. Steamer baskets come in different styles, but we generally prefer collapsible versions, which are easier to clean and can be folded down after use for more compact storage. Since we last tested steamer baskets, our winner, the OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Steamer with Extendable Handle ($17.95), was slightly redesigned. Curious to see if the new version held up to the competition, we pitted it against six other collapsible models (three metal, two silicone, and one plastic) priced from $8.41 to $28.52. We used each to steam broccoli and dumplings, hard-cook eggs, and poach chicken.

Size Matters

All the steamers fit into the same array of pots and pans (we tested with a 10-quart stockpot, 7.5-quart Dutch oven, and 4-quart saucepan) and were capable of producing evenly cooked food. Unfortunately, some were just too small to make very much of it. The two silicone models had bases of less than 30 square inches, so they held only two to three chicken breasts or five to six dumplings; the other models, including a spacious two-tiered steamer, fit four chicken breasts and up to 26 dumplings. And while we could technically fit 1½ pounds of broccoli (enough for four people as a side dish) in the silicone models, we had to pile the florets on top of each other in so many layers that steam couldn't penetrate to the center, leaving the innermost ones undercooked. We preferred bigger steamers: Those with at least 60 square inches of usable area gave us plenty of space to position and cook a full recipe in one go.

You've Steamed the Food—But Can You Get It Out?

Other design flaws made certain steamers harder to use. All four of the metal steamers had looped or rod-like handles that stemmed from their centers, but at less than 3 inches high, the handles on three of the models weren't tall enough to grasp securely with tongs or an oven mitt. That meant that as we tried to remove them from a hot pot, these steamers often tilted and spilled food back into the water.

Still, height wasn't everything. The two silicone steamers had longer handles stemming from the outer edges of the baskets. These interlocked and were easy to grab, but they sprung a little too high in some pots, preventing the lid from closing tightly and allowing steam to escape. Another downside to these models was that their floppy sides didn't always do a good job of containing food. They pitched outward when eggs or dumplings slid against them and sometimes sent the food into the pot.

Our favorite model was sturdy and had a centered telescoping handle that could be extended to 4 inches in height for removing the steamer and collapsed back down to a more discreet 2½ inches so it didn't interfere with the lid.

Tactical Trade-Offs: Smooth Silicone versus Moving Parts

The silicone models did have two small advantages, though: They were easier to clean and more durable. While all the steamers were dishwasher-safe, the plastic and metal models often required extra work to remove bits of food from the perforations in their overlapping leaves. Additionally, the leaves and handles on some of these models bent out of shape over the course of testing, though all but one product remained entirely functional. In the end, however, the silicone models' performance issues outweighed their modest benefits; testers didn't care how durable or easy to clean they were because they were just too small and floppy, making them impractical and hard to use.

Same Winner, Improved Design

Our old winner, the OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Steamer with Extendable Handle ($17.95), remains our favorite. It is a little finicky to clean and a few of its leaves bent slightly over the course of testing, but that didn't affect its functionality. It has a large usable space of 63.6 square inches, allowing us to cook plenty of food at once. But its long handle—redesigned since our last testing to smoothly telescope up and down—was the real asset here, making this model the easiest to insert and remove from a variety of cooking vessels and collapsing to a shorter height when not in use.

Methodology

We tested seven steamer baskets of different styles and materials (metal, silicone, and plastic), priced from $8.41 to $28.52, using each to steam broccoli and dumplings, hard-cook eggs, and poach chicken. We also washed them by hand between each test. We conducted durability testing, opening and closing each model 365 times, washing each an additional six times in the dishwasher (for a total of 10 washes), and dropping each off the counter five times to simulate real-life accidents. We then evaluated each model on its capacity, ease of use, and durability. All models were purchased online and appear in order of preference.

Capacity: We evaluated how much food each model could hold. Those with at least 60 square inches of usable surface area rated higher.

Ease of Use: We evaluated each model on how easy it was to insert and remove from the pot without losing food and to clean after use.

Durability: We evaluated each model on how well it withstood damage and deformation.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.