Many well-known restaurant equipment manufacturers produce countertop steamers. Our most popular sandwich steamer is the 16.5-inch Nemco 6625B Fresh-O-Matic Steamer, which is an electric countertop steamer with a manual water refill. The Cleveland steamers are also popularly searched for, as are the Vulcan steamer and Roundup steamer lines.
As you search for the commercial steamer that will suit your restaurant's needs, we recommend consider available space, the types and quantities of foods you will steam, and your available gas or electric utilities. Ensure your kitchen has either the needed gas – LP or natural gas – or appropriate electric voltage to enable operation of the unit you choose.
While some people believe these can only serve as a commercial vegetable steamer, their versatility is almost limitless, and in some kitchens steamers are used to prepare meat, bread, and desserts. The steamer design you choose will be dictated by the foods you cook. Those with drawers, baskets, and top-loading pans are best for sandwiches, frozen vegetables, and other small quantities of foods that need to be rethermed. Larger models that take full-size or fractional-size hotel pans can cook almost anything on the menu and do so simultaneously, while providing moister results in less time than dry methods. Commercial steam cookers are relied upon to provide higher-yield results, which can save you money and increase profits by providing a higher-quality product.
Currently, our most popular high-volume countertop steamer is the 208V 22CET3.1 Cleveland electric countertop steamer. Our most popularly searched portion countertop steamers with capabilities to steam portion-sized loads, are models from Nemco and Roundup.
Countertop Steamer Configurations
Countertop steamers can be configured with one drawer or multiple drawers. A sandwich steamer, also called a deli steamer, is the only type that would come with drawers. These models are preferred not only for sandwiches, but also for light cooking and retherming of small portions. The 25.25-inch Roundup MS-355-9100480 sandwich steamer is one of the more popular models of this type.
Countertop steamers with portion baskets can be used to heat foods such as meat, pasta, rice, veggies, and more. Portion baskets can come in different sizes. Both the 15-inch and 11.5-inch countertop Roundup steamer models utilize 20-ounce portion baskets.
Steamers of this type have a lid with a handle that is lifted to reveal the cooking compartment. Top-loading steamers can steam sandwiches, tortillas, bread, and sides, among other things. The 6600 16.5-inch Nemco sandwich steamer with manual water fill is an example of a countertop steamer with this design. The 16.75- inch Adcraft CTS-1800W sandwich steamer with manual water fill is an example of this type of countertop steamer that can accommodate one half-size pan.
Pan Capacity and Type
Countertop food steamers come with pan capacities ranging from one to six, with that measure based on 21⁄2-inch hotel pans loaded vertically. The electric PS-6E Market Forge steamer is an example of a convection steamer that can handle six pans. Some models can be stacked, which enables you to double your steaming capacity, but since these units can be as tall as 45 inches, it's important to verify the condensate hood over the steamers will accommodate them.
There are different types of pans that can be used in your steamer, including perforated and solid pans. For the vast majority of foods you should use perforated pans, which allow for maximum exposure to the cooking steam. Using solid pans only allows the top portion of the food to get the benefits of steam cooking, while food below only gets warmed by conduction of the heat by the pan and gets saturated by the condensation.
Different countertop steamer models accommodate different pan sizes. For example, the Vulcan-Hart C24EA5-BSC electric heavy-duty countertop steamer uses full-size pans. Most sandwich steamers that take a food pan will utilize half size pans, including the Roundup 16.63-inch DFW-100 with manual water fill. Meanwhile, the Roundup 20-inch DFWT-250 sandwich steamer requires a two-thirds pan. There are also models that allow for a mixture of both full- and half-size pans.
Heat and Gas Type
Like the floor-standing members of the commercial steamer family, countertop steamer models are available in electric, natural gas (NG), or propane (LP) heat sources. Electric steamers, such as the Southbend EZ18-5 countertop convection steamer, are fairly flexible as to where they can be used; however, they usually must be wired in by an electrician. Electric steamers take a bit longer to heat up than their gas-operated counterparts. Gas versions use one of two types of fuel—propane or natural gas. LP steamers burn fairly efficiently, but you will need to consider where you will locate the tank. Natural gas (NG) is an even more efficient choice, but it is not available in all areas. Check with your utilities provider to see if your facility has access to it.
You may also consider a steamer that uses a steam coil or one that uses steam from an outside source, like a dedicated steam generator. In the latter type, steam from that external producer is used for the cooking, so it is critical to ensure the steam is clean. If you intend to use your building's boiler or some other source that may not provide clean steam, a steam coil unit will pipe that evaporate through a pipe in the steamer's water reservoir, heating the water for cooking. One of the key advantages of these units is that the steam produced by the boiler can be used by multiple pieces of equipment, which can save space and cut the costs of buying units with integral boilers.
BTU and kW Options
BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, which is the amount of heat energy required to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit at sea level. BTU measurements are assigned exclusively to gas equipment, with electric steamers similarly rated for heat energy in kilowatts (kW).
Countertop steamers come with BTU ratings ranging from 32,000 to 70,000 BTU and 6 to 16 kW. The higher the BTU or kW rating, the more gas or energy is consumed to heat 16 ounces of water. So, iff reducing utility usage is a priority in your establishment, you may want to consider a lower-rated model, such as the ENERGY STAR-certified Cleveland 22CGT6.1, which can accommodate six full-size pans, heats using LP, and has a BTU rating of 32,000.
The way steam is generated is one of the key considerations to take into account when purchasing a steamer. You can choose between boiler-based steamers and boilerless steamers, which is the only type that includes connectionless models. Boiler-based steamers utilize a pressurized vessel to produce steam that is distributed throughout the cooking cabinet. Boilerless steamers, on the other hand, use an open reservoir of boiling water to steam cook the food or have a spritzer that sprays water onto a hot metal surface, where it turns instantly into steam. Connectionless steamer models tend to use considerably less water than their connected counterparts, but they also may require more effort on the part of the operator, who must refill the water supply.
- A countertop steamer with a compensating thermostat will adjust the cooking time based on the temperature in the cooking compartment. So, if the temperature drops significantly, say when frozen food products are added, the timer is paused until the correct cooking temperature is recovered.
- Descaling ports are critical in preventative maintenance for boiler-based units. Deliming solutions are poured into the ports, helping to remove and prevent build-up of residue that can lead to poor performance and equipment damage.
- A condensate drain will help cool the condensation to meet local codes before it empties into the sewer. Additionally, it creates a vacuum that pulls the steam out of the chamber after it has released its heat into the food, preventing your foods from becoming soggy. However, if reducing water usage is important to you, these models will use as much as 10 times the water that boilerless models will.
Countertop Steamer Cleaning and Maintenance
As with all restaurant equipment, it is important to clean and maintain your countertop steamer per the recommendations in the manual provided by the manufacturer. This is for food safety and for extending the life of the steamer. Energy.gov recommends that commercial steamer owners properly maintain their steamers by working with a service agent to fix any leaks and replace or repair parts of the steamer that have broken. Energy.gov also suggests that you clean out mineral deposits that have settled in the steamer using the recommended cleaner.