How to Perfectly Steam Chicken: The Ultimate Guide

 Steam Chicken

steam chicken
Steam Chicken


Steaming is one of the healthiest and most flavorful ways to cook chicken. By using steam, you allow the chicken to cook gently in its own juices rather than adding extra fat or oil. This technique results in exceptionally moist, tender meat with a light, fresh flavor.

In this comprehensive guide, learn everything you need to know about steaming chicken breast, thighs, drumsticks, and more with step-by-step instructions. You’ll also find useful info on choosing the right equipment, seasoning, cook times, common mistakes, and FAQs.

The Benefits of Steam Chicken

Steaming chicken has many advantages over other cooking methods:

  • It retains more nutrients and vitamins compared to high-heat cooking methods like grilling or frying. The chicken cooks gently surrounded by steam, preserving nutrition.
  • The skin stays exceptionally moist and tender after steaming. Many find steamed chicken more succulent than even roasted or baked chicken.
  • It requires no added fat or oil to cook the chicken, resulting in a healthier, lighter dish. The calories stay low but the flavors remain high.
  • Steam infuses the chicken with extra moisture as it cooks, keeping it exceptionally juicy and tender. Even the breast stays moist when steamed.
  • It brings out the pure, delicate flavors of the chicken without strong seasonings. You can control flavors based on herbs, spices, or sauces added after.
  • Clean up is easy with no oil splatters or burnt on crusty bits to scrub. Steaming is a very tidy cooking method.

Choosing the Right Steam Basket and Pot

Having the proper equipment is key for steaming chicken safely and effectively:

Steam Basket

A steam basket sits at the base of the pot and lifts the chicken up from the boiling water. This allows the steam to circulate fully around the meat while preventing direct contact with the hot liquid.

Look for a basket made from stainless steel or bamboo. It should fit the pot with plenty of clearance and have feet to elevate the basket over an inch. Small holes allow steam flow without letting chicken juices drip down into the water.


A tall, narrow pot works best to contain and direct steam up through the basket. Use a pot made from stainless steel, aluminum or ceramic. Make sure the basket can fit inside with at least 1-2 inches of clearance on all sides and a tight-fitting lid.

The pot should be large enough to hold the steam basket and chicken without overcrowding. If too crowded, steam flow will be restricted.

How to Prepare Chicken for Steaming

Preparing the chicken properly before steaming is vital for safety, cooking performance, and maximum flavor:

  • Chicken should be as close to refrigerator temperature as possible when it goes into the steam basket—not frozen or room temperature.
  • Boneless chicken breasts Cook more quickly than bone-in parts. Cut breasts into evenly sized pieces so they cook at the same rate.
  • For bone-in chicken legs and wings, choose similarly sized pieces when possible or place larger pieces towards the center of the basket.
  • Pat chicken dry before steaming to allow the steam to penetrate efficiently. Wet surfaces repel steam.
  • Season as desired before steaming. Salt, pepper, herbs, citrus, soy sauce, vinegar or spice rubs all work well. The steam infuses flavors deeply into the meat.
  • Arrange chicken pieces in a single layer with space between each piece to allow steam circulation. Overcrowding reduces steam contact.
  • Frozen chickenShould thaw before steaming for food safety and even cooking. Defrost in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.

Steam Chicken Times and Internal Temperatures

Getting the steaming times right results in fully cooked, tender chicken without overdoing it. Use a food thermometer to accurately gauge doneness. Check at the thickest part of the meat, avoiding any bones.

Whole chicken: 165°F Chicken breasts: 165°F Chicken thighs: 175°F Chicken drumsticks: 165°F

Approximate chicken steaming times:

Boneless chicken breast halves or cutlets: 6-8 minutes Boneless chicken tenders or strips: 3-5 minutes
Chicken thighs: 15-18 minutes Chicken drumsticks: 20-25 minutes Whole chicken, 4-6 lbs: 45-60 minutes

Tips for Steaming Chicken to Tender, Juicy Perfection

Follow these essential tips for steaming succulent chicken with an exceptionally moist texture:

  • Always allow chicken to rest 5 minutes after steaming. This allows juices to redistribute evenly for a moist, tender texture.
  • Acidic ingredients like lemon or vinegar should be added just after steaming or the acid will start cooking the surface meat.
  • Use a thermometer to check doneness—appearances alone can be deceiving when steaming. Chicken is safely cooked at the proper internal temperature.
  • Prevent overcooking by immediately removing chicken from the steamer once it reaches the target temperature. Extra heating time is not needed.
  • For added flavor and moisture, place chicken in a covered bowl after steaming and allow it to continue to sit in the residual steam and juices.

Common Steaming Mistakes

It’s easy to end up with dry, rubbery meat or unsafe eating conditions if steaming isn’t done properly. Avoid these common pitfalls:

  • Not allowing the water to fully boil before placing chicken in the steam basket leads to uneven cooking. Always prep chicken first to be ready to place immediately once steaming is underway.
  • Too little steam results from low water levels. Check occasionally during longer cooking items and replenish water to keep it steaming, if needed.
  • Uneven sizes or overcrowded pieces block the steam, leading to uneven cooking. Nestle pieces so steam can circulate on all sides.
  • Cooking too long causes chicken to overcook, becoming unpleasantly chewy. Use a thermometer and don’t rely solely on appearance or timing.
  • Skipping the resting period results in dry meat. Letting it rest allows juices to redistribute so they don’t run out when cutting into the chicken.

Steam Chicken FAQs

Still have questions? Here are answers to some frequently asked queries on steaming chicken:

How long does raw chicken last in the fridge before steaming?

Raw chicken maintains top quality for 1-2 days beyond the sell-by date if kept refrigerated at 40°F or below. For best flavor and texture, plan to steam within this timeframe.

Can you steam frozen chicken without thawing?

It’s not advised to steam chicken directly from frozen state, as it would take too long to cook through to a safe internal temperature. Defrost first in the refrigerator before steaming.

Is it necessary to pat chicken dry before steaming?

Yes, blotting it very dry leads to quicker, more even cooking. Moist surfaces repel the steam rather than allowing it to penetrate and cook the meat.

Will acid marinades like lemon or vinegar turn chicken mushy during steaming?

Yes, acid causes protein fibers to break down. Add citrus juices, vinegar or wine after cooking instead. Herbs, spices and dry rubs are great for flavoring chicken before steaming.

Should you discard chicken juices collected in the steam basket or pot?

No. These nutritious juices have concentrated flavor and make an excellent base for sauce or stock. Be sure to skim and strain the liquid first if there is excess fat.

As you can see, steaming chicken is simple while still allowing for some technique to master. Adjust steaming times, preparation and seasoning to preference once you understand the basics. soon you’ll have perfectly steamed chicken every time for flavorful, healthy meals.

Steam Chicken
Steam Chicken

Succulent Steam Chicken Two Ways

Steaming is one of the easiest, healthiest ways to cook exceptionally moist, tender chicken at home. The gently circulating steam surrounds the meat, infusing it with moisture and flavor as it cooks.

Unlike boiling or poaching, the chicken doesn’t sit in liquid, which can make it waterlogged. Steaming allows it to cook gently in the vapor alone, concentrating flavors.

In this article, learn two foolproof steam chicken recipes ideal for a nutritious dinner on a busy weeknight:

  1. Quick & Easy Lemon Garlic Steamed Chicken
  2. Asian Steamed Chicken with Ginger and Scallions

Both options result in irresistibly succulent chicken in less than 30 minutes active cook time. Read on for the simple step-by-step instructions as well as useful steaming tips.

Quick & Easy Lemon Garlic Steam Chicken

Bright citrus flavors paired with savory garlic seasoning give this speedy steamed chicken recipe a fresh sensibility perfect for any night of the week.

Easy to prepare ahead of time, it’s on the table less than 30 minutes later with minimal hands-on effort required while it steams.

Use boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs cut into equal sized pieces so they cook at the same rate. Serve over fresh greens or grains to soak up the delicious juices.


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (5-6 oz each), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Steam Chicken
Steam Chicken


  1. In a medium bowl, mix olive oil, lemon juice and zest, garlic and broth. Add chicken and toss until evenly coated in marinade. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes up to overnight.
  2. Pour 2 cups water into a medium pot with tight fitting lid. Insert steam basket and cover. Heat until water boils then add chicken in a single layer, leaving space between pieces.
  3. Steam chicken pieces uncovered for 6 to 8 minutes until cooked through (165°F).
  4. Transfer steamed chicken to a serving platter. Pour any juices from steam basket over the top. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Asian Steam Chicken with Ginger and Scallions

For this flavorful recipe, chicken marinates briefly in a quick ginger scallion sauce before steaming atop a bed of aromatic vegetables.

The steam gently infuses the Asian flavors into the chicken to creamy, succulent perfection in minutes right in your steam basket.


  • 1 1⁄2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
  • 4 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced


  1. Cut chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl. Whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, oil, ginger and garlic. Pour over chicken and toss to coat. Let marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour water into a steamer pot with tight fitting lid. Insert steamer basket and add carrot and mushrooms in an even layer. Top with marinated chicken and any juices.
  3. Steam uncovered over boiling water for 15 to 18 minutes until chicken is fully cooked (175°F).
  4. Transfer chicken, carrots and mushrooms to a serving bowl. Garnish with sliced scallions.
Steam Chicken
Steam Chicken

Tips for Perfectly Steam Chicken Here are some useful tips to help ensure tender, juicy steamed chicken results every time:

  • Boneless chicken cooks faster than bone-in. Cut pieces to similar size to ensure even cooking.
  • Pat chicken dry before marinating so flavors absorb better.
  • Arrange chicken in a single layer in steam basket, not overcrowded.
  • Use a thermometer to accurately determine doneness. Chicken should reach 165°F.
  • Allow chicken to rest 5 minutes after steaming for juices to redistribute.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to seasoning steamed chicken. Tailor the ingredients to suit your tastes or what you have on hand. Steaming seals in flavor and moisture better than almost any other cooking method.


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