Utilizing steam to cook food retains moisture, nutrients and color. Volume and application dictate equipment selection.


A Guide to Steamers

Steamers are geared for items like vegetables, seafood, potatoes and rice since not only is production fast, but the equipment also helps these foods retain moisture, nutrients and color. 

Steamers can add versatility to a cookline as this equipment can cook and heat a variety of items fast and efficiently. These units can prepare rice, vegetables and seafood quickly. Operators rethermalize precooked meals using a steamer.

The steamer size needed is dependent on the application and volume. Countertop and floor-model steamers work well in smaller, lower-volume foodservice facilities. The most common sizes hold three, five or six pans. Smaller steamer models will typically accommodate three to five 12-inch-by-20-inch-by-2½-inch steam pans. Floor-model units, designed for larger, high-volume operations, will take both sizes, generally holding fourteen 12-inch-by-20-inch-by-2½-inch steam pans or seven 18-inch-by-26-inch sheet pans. Some models can be stacked to handle greater capacities in a smaller footprint. Offering added flexibility, some models accommodate double-stacked pans, which increases production capacity in the same footprint.

Assessing the volume will help determine what size steamer best suits the application. Generally speaking,  producing up to 200 meals per hour requires a single 1-compartment steamer, while volume of more than 200 meals up to 400 meals per hour will need a single 2-compartment unit. A 3-compartment steamer can produce 400 to 600 meals per hour. To prepare 600 to 800 meals per hour, operators need either one 4-compartment or two 2-compartment units.

There are three main steamer types for foodservice use: pressure (boiler-based), pressureless (convection) and connectionless. Low-pressure steaming units typically have a lower operating cost and higher productivity than pressureless units when preparing single items. Pressureless units are generally smaller and cook more slowly than pressure steamers. These steamers put steam in direct contact with food products, and doors can be opened to check or season food at any time. 

Pressure types utilize from 5 to 15 pounds of pressure per square inch (psi) and cook at 228 to 250 degrees F. Pressureless steamers cook at 0 psi and 212 degrees F, with heat transferred via the convection of steam. Steamers that can be used as holding units boil water at 212 degrees F, which holds the unit’s interior temperature at 180 degrees F. 

Connectionless units are available for small- and medium-sized operations that may lack water utilities or drains. Cook times are longer with these units, yet utility costs tend to be lower because boilerless and connectionless units use between 1 and 3 gallons of water per hour versus a boiler/connection unit’s 30 to 50 gallons of water per hour.

Steamer options include a super-heated steam feature, which allows operators to cook product faster using less energy. Low-water steamers can cut water usage in half, while steamers with larger drains help eliminate scale buildup in the generator. Condensate caps are a newer feature for vented and non-pressurized steamers. The caps are situated on the top of the equipment to capture vented steam and route it through the coil system. Water then goes down the drain or back into the unit, preventing condensation from building on the kitchen ceiling.

Water filtration plays a key role in consistent operation of a steamer and extending its service life since boiled water results in the hardening and buildup of calcium, limescale and minerals. Water quality, which varies by locale, will determine what type of filter is necessary. 

Operators can use a variety of water filtering methods with their steamers. Carbon filters remove sediment and chlorine on the steamer’s interior. When used with a polyphosphate treatment system, a powder is added to the water that turns minerals into a fine-coated grain that is suspended within the unit so it’s easily eliminated. Reverse osmosis is a more extensive and pricier water treatment system that strips all minerals and lime out of the water, eliminating the chance of buildup. 

Energy Star-rated steamers are up to 50% more energy efficient than standard models and encompass both electric and gas types. In the past, Energy Star steamers were boilerless and connectionless, but there are now generator-based steamers that are more energy efficient. 

Steam cookers that earn the Energy Star must meet a minimum cooking efficiency of 50% for electric and 38% for gas while also meeting maximum idle energy rates. Idle energy rates are given for three-, four-, five- and six-pan sizes. These steamers also have shorter cooking times, higher production rates and reduced heat loss due to greater insulation and a more efficient steam delivery system. Energy Star-rated steamers also save water compared with traditional units, utilizing 3 gallons per hour versus 40 gallons per hour. It’s important to note that, in some cases, this equipment will provide less capacity than other units.


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