7 Easy Ways To Steam Buns Without a Traditional Steamer

Want to steam buns without a steamer?

Try using an Instant Pot, microwave, saucepan, or rice cooker instead.

Below are some of the easiest ways to steam buns if you don’t have a bamboo steamer.

How To Steam Buns Without a Steamer

Woman holding Instant Pot that can be used to steam buns without a steamer
Instant Pot (© Stacy Spensley | Creative Commons)

1. Instant Pot

Instant Pots are practically jack-of-all-trade appliances. To steam buns, just place water in the inner section of the Instant Pot and place a metal trivet on the bottom of the pot. Place your buns on a plate or in a steamer basket, and put that on the trivet, then set the timer for three minutes so the steam can thaw out the buns. Always follow up with a release of steam.

2. Microwave

When it comes to alternative methods for steaming buns, the microwave is what a lot of people think of first. Simply put the buns on a microwave-safe plate, along with a small cup of water next to the plate. Steam the buns in the microwave for a couple minutes, then check them. If they’re still not hot, cook them in 30-second intervals until they’re done.

3. Pan

Put about one to two inches of warm water in a pan, then place a sieve there. Make sure the sieve doesn’t go under the water. Take parchment paper and line the sieve, then put the buns in there. Turn on the stove to the highest setting and let the buns “cook” for about 10 minutes. It should only take around 10 minutes to steam the buns this way.

Rice cooker that can be used to steam buns without a steamer
Rice cooker

4. Rice Cooker

Rice cookers are perfect for steaming buns. Start by adding 1 1/2 cups of water to the cooker, then add the buns. Make sure the buns are one inch apart and do not touch one another. Allow the buns to steam for roughly eight minutes, then turn the setting to simmer. After you do this, let the buns simmer for another eight minutes to complete the steaming process.

5. Metal Steamer

Many people have a metal steamer instead of one made out of bamboo, and these work great for warming up buns. These essentially work the same as bamboo steamers, except they are made out of metal. Just fill the steamer with water and place the buns inside, then let them steam for the amount of time recommended in the user’s manual. Afterward, check to make sure they’re done.

6. Electric Steamer

Electric steamers work a bit differently than other types, but they are just as effective. Place water in the steamer and allow it to come to a boil. If you’re trying to heat up bao buns, cut parchment paper or another type of greaseproof paper into pieces, spray the paper with a cooking spray, then place one bun on each of the paper pieces. Wrap the lid with a towel and a rubber band to make sure it is airtight, and let the steamer warm up the buns until they are done.

7. Frying Pan

This isn’t really steaming, but it will still produce nice buns in a pinch. Heat up some cooking oil and make sure it’s enough for the buns to be completely covered. Fry the buns until they are a light golden-brown color. You’ll also want to turn the buns occasionally to make sure they are evenly done. When you remove them, place them on a paper towel to absorb the oil.

Buns that were steamed without a steamer

How To Tell if Buns Are Done

There are numerous ways to tell if your buns are done, and checking for a nice soft texture is a smart way to start. Rather than just looking at them and making the decision based on that, there are other more accurate ways to do this. Here are a few of them:

The Finger Test

Touch the bun with two of your fingers. If it’s done just right, it should spring back over a few seconds. If it springs back too quickly, the bun needs more cooking time, but if it takes a long time to spring back, it usually means the bun has been cooked too long.

The Weight

If you pick up the bun you just cooked, it should feel light and airy. If it’s heavy, it might still be a bit frozen. Always check the buns carefully once you finish cooking them to make sure they look and feel the way they should.

The Appearance

Once the buns are steamed, they are sometimes a little larger in size. They’ll also look nice and smooth on the outside, so it should be easy to tell when the steamed buns are ready to eat. Not all buns will get huge, but they should all be slightly larger when you’re done.

While traditional bamboo steamers are perfect for steaming all types of buns—including bao, hamburger, and hot dog buns—you can certainly use another method to get the job done. There’s nothing wrong with steaming the buns using your microwave, oven, or stovetop.