How To Steam Buns Without Steamer

How To Steam Buns Without Steamer? Answered

Last Updated on June 13, 2024 by Shari Mason

“The highly acclaimed dish, “bao buns”, also referred to as steamed buns in many Asian cultures, is a delectable recipe that has won hearts worldwide.”

It’s hard to resist these fluffy steamed bao buns with flavorful fillings (especially the egg jam filling). It is traditionally cooked in a bamboo steamer to achieve the perfect, soft texture.

But what if you don’t have a steamer? Is it possible to cook steamed buns? Good news – this article aims to guide you on how to steam buns without a steamer. Let’s start.  

5 Best Methods to Steam Buns Without Steamer 

1. Sieve or Colander Method

red colander on a top of table

If you don’t have a bamboo steamer, you can substitute it using a metal sieve or colander.

Here’s how you can steam bao buns using the metal steamer or sieve method:

  • Fill a few inches of water in your boiling pan or deep skillet.
  • Place your sieve in the pan.
  • Before placing your buns in the sieve, place them on greaseproof paper like cooking paper or parchment paper. (You can use lettuce leaves or aluminum foil as an alternative.)
  • Place the loaded sieve in the pan and cover it with the boiling pan lid before making an airtight seal with layers of tea towels.
  • Set the heat to high and leave to cook for ten minutes. You’ll need high-intensity heat to generate enough hot steam for the cooking process.

Read: How To Steam Hotdog Buns At Home?

2. Microwave Method

Yes, you can use your microwave to prepare bao buns. However, if you don’t own the traditional bamboo basket, you will need a steaming container (a bowl with a lid and steamer basket). Then, follow the steps below:

  • Fill the steaming container with 2 to 3 glasses of warm water or boiling water.
  • Wrap your bun in a damp paper towel and place it on a microwave-safe plate. 
  • Before placing the wrapped-up bun on your plate, lightly wet the inside of the small bowl by running it under the tap. 
  • Microwave it for about 1 minute until cooked.

3. Pan Method

One of the inventive alternative methods to cook buns is the perf pan method. But disclaimer, the inside of a pan can collect condensation, which makes bao buns soggy.

To avoid this, consider the following steps: 

  • Add some water to the pan. 
  • In the perforated pan, insert the sieve. Make certain it is not submerged in water.
  • Place the bao buns in a sieve lined with parchment paper.
  • Place the lid on top. Tea towels can be used to seal it off.
  • Turn the stove to high intense heat and leave it there for about 10 minutes.

Read: Does Parchment Paper Burn?

4. Rice Cooker Method

steaming buns on a rice cooker

You can make your own Malaysian steamed buns or cai bao and even dim sum using your rice cooker. When the cooking process begins, the water is heated and converted to steam. So, the bao bun is cooked by the steam itself.

Here’s how you can go about it:

  • First, fill your cooker with 1 1/2 cups of water.
  • Add your frozen bao buns and space them 1 inch apart.
  • Let bun bao steam for about 8 minutes.
  • Then, reduce the heat to low and leave them to sit for another 8 minutes. (This allows the steam to cook them.)

5. Instant Pot Method

An instant pot is an alternate version of an electric cooker. It works by generating heat while being placed over the fire while the instant pot is tightly sealed. As a result, it raises the temperature above the boiling point [1]. 

If you don’t have a steamer to cook steamed buns, you can opt for the instant pot method. Here’s how: 

  • First, fill the inner part of the Instant Pot with 1 cup of water. In the bottom pan, place a metal trivet (tripod-like structure).
  • Place the bao buns on a plate, steamer, or pan. Set it on the trivet.
  • Then, close the tall lid and leave it to steam for 3 minutes. Then, quickly release the pressure. That’s it!

Quick Tip: You can put pandan coconut leaves for a fragrant aroma. Also, depending on your preference, you can re-steamed if needed or deep-fry. 

Read: How To Keep Corn on the Cob Warm

How to Know if It Is Done? 

Finger Test

When you press your finger on the bao bun, an indentation appears but quickly disappears as the soft dough springs back.

If it returns too quickly, it needs a little more cooking time. But if it does not spring back, it has been overcooked.


As the dough rises after steaming buns, the size of the bao buns will increase slightly. It will also appear smooth on the outside.


You know the bao bun is already cooked when you pick up the bao, and it feels airy and light. If it’s no longer heavy and dense as it was before you cooked them, it’s done. 


How long should you steam buns without a steamer?

How long you should cook steam buns without using a steamer may vary depending on the cooking methods used. But it can be anywhere between 1 minute to 20 minutes max. But what can you do with leftover dumpling filling?

Can I use a plastic colander as a steamer for steam buns?

No, we do not recommend the use of a plastic colander for steaming buns. Plastics are susceptible to high heat, causing them to melt. So, using a metal colander or sieve is highly recommended. Learn how to dry rice for fried rice here.

In Summary

Making your own steamed buns without a steamer at home is possible. You can use your sieve, instant pot, microwave, rice cooker, and pan as an alternative to a steamer or the traditional bamboo weaving steamer to make this savory delicacy. 

But make sure not to overcook the buns. Finger test and observe its appearance and texture to see if it’s done. Once confirmed, you can now serve it and add some spices like black sesame paste or roasted sesame seeds to add flavor. Enjoy!


Shari Mason

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *