How To Steam Buns Without A Steamer

Steamed buns are very delicious and it is one of the popular dishes that people like to make or buy. They are called steam buns as they are traditionally cooked using a bamboo steamer. But, there are also electric and metal steamer that can be used to steam the buns.

If you do not have a steamer at home, do not worry as there are different methods of steaming buns without a steamer. You can use a make-shift steamer using a pan and a sieve or colander or you can steam buns using a rice cooker, microwave, or an instant pot.

It is easy to steam buns even if you do not have a steamer basket. This article will guide you on how to steam buns without a steamer. And, if you are worried about steaming the buns, this article will tell you when the buns are done cooking so you can enjoy a soft and fluffy treat!

What Are Steamed Buns?

What Are Steamed Buns

Steamed buns, also known as “Bao Buns” or “Baozi”, originated in Northern China. Bao Buns are created with flour, sugar, yeast, baking powder, milk, and oil which gives them their distinctive white or off-white color.

Some steamed buns have an off-white color but that is because of the flour used to make the buns. While some buns have a strong white color because bleached flour is used. Bleached flour is typically an ingredient in premixed steamed buns that are sold in grocery shops.

Bao buns are usually stuffed with meat such as pork barbecue or Chinese sausages but these buns can also be filled with vegetables and even chocolate for a sweet snack. If you prefer to only eat the buns without fillings, these buns are called Mantou.

Bao buns are steamed until they are light and airy and a bamboo steamer is usually used to cook the buns. But, if you do not have a bamboo steamer, you can still have fluffy, airy, and light buns using appliances that are already in your kitchen.

How To Steam Buns Without A Steamer

How To Steam Buns Without A Steamer

If you do not have a steamer, there are different ways that you can steam buns without a steamer:

1. Pan & sieve or colander

2. Microwave

3. Rice cooker

4. Instant Pot

Pan & Sieve Or Colander

For this method, you will need:

– A boiling pan large enough to fit the sieve or colander without the bottom of the sieve or colander touching the bottom of the pan

– A sieve or colander

– parchment paper/s

– Tea towels

To steam buns using a pan:

1. Fill the boiling pan with a cup of water (can be less if you have a smaller boiling pan) and place it on the stovetop.

2. Place the sieve or colander in the boiling pan and make sure the bottom of the sieve or colander does not touch the water.

3. Cut parchment paper into squares large enough to put under the bao buns.

4. Place the buns lined with parchment paper in the sieve or colander.

5. Cover the make-shift steamer with a damp tea towel and set the heat to high and let the buns steam for about ten minutes. You can use a lid but the steam from the lid might bake the bao buns soggy.

6. After 10 minutes, switch off the heat and let the steamed buns cool.


If you have a microwave, you can use it to prepare bao buns. You will need:

– Microwave-safe plates

– Microwave-safe glass

– Paper towels

To steam buns using a microwave:

1. Wrap the bunds individually with a damp paper towel

2. Place the bao bun on the microwave-safe plate.  Do this in batches if you have a lot of bao buns.

3. Fill about 1/4 of the microwave-safe glass with water.

4. Place the plate with the buns inside the microwave and place the glass of water beside the plate.

5. Microwave the buns for 1 minute.

6. After 1 minute, check if the buns are hot. You can also check the inside if it is also hot. If not, you can add more time but make sure you do not microwave the buns for too long as they can dry.

Rice Cooker

Most rice cookers come with a steaming basket which is the perfect size for a rice cooker. If you have a rice cooker and a steaming basket, you can steam buns in it. You just need:

– Parchment paper

To steam buns using a rice cooker:

1. Fill the rice cooker bowl with one cup of water (may be more or less depending on the size of your rice cooker).

2. Cut the parchment paper into squares and put them on the bottom of the bao buns.

3. Place the buns on the steaming basket and make sure to leave space between the bao buns.

4. Place the steaming basket in the rice cooker, cover it, and steam the buns for 8 to 10 minutes.

Instant Pot

Using an instant pot is another way to steam buns if you do not have a steamer or a rice cooker. You will need:

– instant pot

– Metal trivet

– Plate

How to cook steam buns using an instant pot:

1. Pour 1 cup of water into the inner part of the instant pot and place the metal trivet inside of the pot.

2. Place the buns on a small plate and make sure to leave space in between the buns.

3. Close the lid and let the buns steam for about 3 minutes then release the pressure. Let the steamed buns cool.

How To Know If The Steamed Buns Are Done?

How To Know If The Steamed Buns Are Done


The appearance of the bun can let you know if it is done or not. The bao buns are done when they look puffy and soft. They will also have increased a little in size after they are done steaming. This is why the buns need to be spaced a little away from each other so they can have room to grow.


Before being steamed, Bao buns will feel very dense but, as they steam, they will become puffy and soft. When you pick up the buns, they should feel light and airy.

Finger Test

One of the things you can do to see if the steamed buns are done is to press on the buns. When you press the bao buns, there should be an indentation and it should slowly spring back. If the indentation does not spring back, you might have overcooked them. If it returns quickly, the buns may need more time in the steamer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Long Should You Steam Buns Without A Steamer?

If you have a lot of bao buns, it is preferred to steam them in batches so as to not overcrowd your preferred make-shift steamer. You can cook steamed buns in batches for 10 to 15 minutes but, it will generally depend on the method used.

For example, if you use a microwave, steam the buns one minute at a time and increase the time if needed, otherwise, you risk having a dry bao bun.

Can I Freeze Steamed Buns?

Yes, you can freeze buns that have already been steamed to be reheated. Frozen bao buns can last 4 to 6 weeks in the freezer but, keep in mind that the fillings might also affect the shelf life of the bao buns in the freezer. If you are going to freeze a steamed bun, make sure to let them cool first.

Final Thoughts

Even if you don’t have a traditional bamboo steamer or metal steamer, you can steam bao buns using just a pan, sieve, microwave, rice cooker method, or even an instant pot. There are also different kinds of steamed buns such as Malaysian steamed buns and Taiwanese steamed buns that you can heat up using the methods that we discussed.

If you do not have a steamer but still like to have fluffy steamed bao buns once in a while, we hope this article helped you in having a makeshift steamer.

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