Harnessing the power of steam for cooking with a commercial steamer is easy, healthy, and useful for lots of food products.

Steam cooking works by using heat energy to convert liquid water to steam, which is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs), and the higher BTU output on your commercial food steamer, the faster it heats. Preventing food from over-drying, retaining nutrients lost through other cooking methods, and eliminating the need for fats or oils necessary in other methods of cooking are just a few benefits of cooking with steam.

Fun fact: Steam carries up to six times the heat energy of boiling water!

The first step in choosing a steamer for your kitchen is to determine the role it will play in your routine. What menu items you’ll be steaming and the volume at which you expect to produce them are important to consider, since different types of steamers have different strengths and capacities. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the factors to consider when choosing a steamer and the various types of steamers available on the market.

Determining the Right Size of Steamer for Your Restaurant

Determining the right size of steamer for your needs can seem tricky at first, as different models list their capacity in different units. Some might measure capacity in gallons while others use cubic feet, but the best way to get a good idea of what those numbers mean for you is to learn how many pans the unit will hold. A quick math problem will then tell you the volume you’ll be able to produce.

What's your production volume?

Cooking Time ÷ (Number of Pans x Portions Per Pan) = Production Volume

How Steam Source Can Influence Your Choice

Some commercial steamers produce their own steam and others use steam produced by an outside source. The three basic steam sources are steam generators, boilers, and direct.

Pro Tip: Be sure to have a water filtration system in place before connecting a water source to any steamer. Not only does it keep pesky scaling and buildup to a minimum, but most manufacturer warranties are voided if you skip this step.

Read also:
How Clean is Your Water? A Water Filter Buying Guide

Steam Generators

Just like the name suggests, steamers described as using this type of steam source are self-contained units that generate their own steam. The unit’s internal steam generator works by pumping steam into the cooking chamber through steam jets or by applying water to a heating element which is then converted to steam. Out of the three steam sources, commercial steamers with steam generators are the easiest to clean and maintain, but they do have a lower output and slower recovery than other types. A steamer with a steam generator is a great choice for low to moderate production needs.


Whether built-in or a boiler base, a commercial steamer with a boiler works hot and fast to cook large batches with a quick recovery time in between. The steam is created within the boiler chamber and directed into the cooking chamber to do the job. Ideal for greater production needs, boiler steamers are more prone to scaling and buildup and therefore require more maintenance and regular cleanings than steam generator models.


For kitchens lucky enough to have access to their own steam source, units using direct steam are the holy grail of steamers. Both powerful and economical, direct steam powered units source steam from your building’s existing potable supply and provide plenty of power with consistent results.

Pro Tip: Don’t have a direct steam supply? Don’t worry! This type of steamer can also work with a standalone steam generator.

Types of Steamers

Countertop pressure steamers
can be powered with gas, electricity, or connected to a direct steam source and since they can be filled and drained manually, they require no water source or drain connection. Floor pressure steamers work when connected either to a direct steam source or to a boiler. Both countertop and floor model pressure steamers can reach temperatures up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and are ideal for quickly cooking large batches of sturdy, starchy foods like potatoes.

Pro Tip: Steer clear of this type of steamer if your product is delicate in nature. The intense pressure inside the cooking chamber will damage soft or fragile foods.

Convection Steamers
Decidedly opposite of their pressure steaming counterparts, convection steamers use no pressure at all to do the cooking. Convection means “transfer” and that’s exactly what they do: transfer up to 212 degrees Fahrenheit of heat from the steam to the food, resulting in a perfectly cooked product. A lower price, ease of use, and more versatility make this a popular choice in commercial kitchens.

Microwave Steamers
Bringing home first place in the categories of Cost Effectiveness and Ease of Use, the microwave steamer is a smaller, budget-friendly model that has no need for a drain or water supply, making it a great choice for an establishment with limited space and lower production needs.

Flash Steamers
Nicknamed “tortilla steamers” for one of their most popular functions, this small but mighty type of commercial steamer is capable of much more than simply warming tortillas. While small portions is the name of the game as far as flash steamers are concerned, they are useful for rejuvenating breads and cooked meats or preparing vegetables. Since the flash steamer requires a very small amount of counter space, this type of steamer is a great solution for small menus at bars or snack shops.

Pro Tip: The average ENERGY STAR® commercial steamer is 60% more energy-efficient than standard models, which is fantastic for our environment and definitely something to consider when making your purchase.

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