How To Steam Buns Without A Steamer

How To Steam Buns Without A Steamer

If you want great-tasting hamburger buns that just melt in your mouth and are easier to handle, steaming them is a must. There are multiple methods for steaming hamburger buns if you do not have a steamer. If you do not have a steamer, you can steam hamburger buns with a microwave. Wrap the hamburger bun in a lightly wet paper towel and heat for 5–10 seconds. Carefully unwrap and voila!  Find out why you need to steam buns and how you can steam buns without using a traditional steamer below.

Why You Should Steam Buns

The texture of fresh bread is always tender and fluffy, similar to the feel of a new pillow. Due to their moisture loss, most bread products can stiffen and become firm when they lose moisture. Bread comes out fresh with a balance of moisture and air inside, but as the bread is stored, most of this air escapes, altering the bread’s texture. If you store the bun in the fridge, things get even worse! Cooler temperatures tend to dry out food faster – and this isn’t just true for buns.

When some vegetables are kept in the fridge for a few days, they can prune and wilt? This is usually due to dehydration, which affects the surface layer. Buns, on the other hand, are much less dense than vegetables, so this effect is more pronounced.  On a bun’s cross-section, you would see ridges and caverns that fold into themselves with empty spaces in between.

Fresh buns have a bit of resistance and a fluffy texture because air and moisture in the bread push against these microstructures.  A bun springs back up to its original shape when you push down on it, like a sponge! Its infamous firm texture comes from the loss of air and moisture as the bun becomes stale.

Consequently, they can be difficult to cut and may even break apart when you run the knife in a sawing motion – and, if you’re like everyone else, you know the importance of a soft, fluffy bun! You can fix it in a number of ways, fortunately.

How To Steam Buns Traditionally

Traditionally, steaming requires a steamer or a steaming pot. The base of a steaming pot is filled with water, while a strainer sits on top.  Water boils and evaporates, resulting in hot droplets that pass through the strainer above, hydrating and heating the food. Most people, however, do not have steamers on hand. Fortunately, alternative methods are available!

How To Steam Buns Without A Steamer

These are some of the most popular ways to steam a bun without a steamer:

  1. Method using microwaves

  2. Method of pan-steaming

  3. Method of using an air fryer

  4. Steamer Method: Makeshift

1. Microwave Method

A microwave, a damp paper towel, and a microwave-safe plate are all you need to steam buns! Unlike indirect heat methods, microwaves work by applying energy to water molecules inside food, causing them to vibrate and create heat! This is why some people believe microwaves heat food from the inside out. Most people get this wrong, though!

Steaming the bun as it is will cause the microwave to heat any moisture inside and puff them up, giving them a soft texture – job well done, right? Wrong! Direct steaming of the bun will only give it its fluffy texture for a short while, since once the bun reaches room temperature, it will start to firm up again.

In the end, you will likely end up with a worse bun than you started with when you assemble the burger.

For added hydration, we recommend using a paper towel.  Damp towels create a moist environment and trap steam, which helps hydrate the bun and add moisture instead of evaporating the remaining moisture.

Here is a detailed step-by-step guide on how to use this method properly:

  1. Make sure the paper towel is large enough to completely cover the bun.

  2. You want the paper towel to steam, so dampen it lightly – do not soak it in water!

    • Spray the towel lightly with a spray bottle for the best results!

  3. You need to create a seal by wrapping the bun inside the wet paper towel. Make sure you do not tear the towel during this process.

  4. Heat the bun for about 5–10 seconds in the microwave by placing it on a microwave-safe plate.

  5. As soon as you see steam coming out of the paper towel, remove the plate and place it on a counter. Let the wrapped bun rest for 2–3 minutes.

  6. The bun will likely be very hot so open the towel carefully and check the texture.

    • You can rewrap the bun and let it run for another 5–10 seconds until it softens.

    • As soon as you are satisfied, simply use the bun as directed!

2. Pan-Steam Method

It is not ideal, but it is still a great way to reinvigorate a bun and give it a soft texture if you don’t have a steamer or a microwave.  Although this method isn’t ideal since it involves direct contact with the pan, it might work if you already wanted to toast the bun. Water, a lid, and a nonstick pan are all you will need for this method.

It is important to heat the pan until it is warm. If it gets too hot, the bun will likely cook before it is steamed. Water must be added to the pan as the pan reaches the right temperature.

Here is how you can steam a bun using a pan:

  1. Turn down the heat to low after heating a pan at medium-low.

  2. If no steam appears, just raise the temperature very slightly until the water droplets start to evaporate. Let the pan evaporate any remaining water. You are now ready to steam!

    • This method can also be done with a spray bottle.

  3. The bun might start to cook if it is directly in contact with the pan. Gently place it in the center of the pan without pressing down on it.

  4. If available, spray some water around the bun. Don’t make a large pool of water around the bun – only make sparse puddles. Cover the pan with a lid for about 2–3 minutes as the bun steams.

  5. Allow the buns to rest in the pan for an additional 2–3 minutes after turning off the heat.

  6. Check the bun’s texture after removing the lid.

    • You can remove it if it is sufficiently soft.

    • The bun can be steamed again if it hasn’t softened yet.

3. Air Fryer Method

Buns can be softened in an air fryer without having to worry about overcooking them! Food is effectively heated in air fryers using high heat directed around a small area.  The microwave method above can be used for this method as well. You can steam the bun without cooking it by wrapping it in a wet towel. Not only will the towel seal the bun in heat, but it will also act as an insulator!

Here is how you can use this method:

  1. Preheating the air fryer to 350°F is optional, but it will prime the heating element and make more steam if you do.

  2. Wrap the bun with a lightly damp paper towel. Don’t add too much water or the air fryer will have to evaporate the water from the towel’s superficial layer before the bun can be heated.

  3. The wrapped bun should be placed at the center of the air fryer. Do not place any foil or baking paper at the base since the basket needs free circulation.

  4. Make sure the bun is steaming after 3 minutes by setting the air fryer to 350°F and heating the bun for 3–5 minutes.

    • Let it rest in the air fryer for about three minutes if it shows signs of steaming.

    • Steam can be added to the bun at 2-minute intervals if it has not yet steamed.

  5. Using tongs, remove the steamed bun from the air fryer. Remove the paper towel from around the bun and use it as directed.

4. Makeshift Steamer Method

The method may seem difficult at first, but it’s actually quite straightforward once you’ve mastered it – and it may even help you with other steaming recipes in the future. To make this method work, you will need to create a makeshift structure that elevates the food without touching the sides. With this method, a base is added to the pan-heating method described above. A deep pot with a lid and a heat-safe bowl or aluminum baking cup are required.

To create an elevated base, you will simply place the heat-safe bowl upside down on top of a small pool of water about 0.5-1 inch deep. Once the water is steaming, place the bun in the center and heat the pot again.

Here is how you can use this method:

  1. When boiling, add water around the base of an inverted bowl or a baking cup to prevent it from splashing around.

    • Overfilling the pot may cause the bowl to float around.

  2. Let some steam accumulate inside the pot after turning on the heat and covering the pot. Bring the water to a boil.

  3. Place the bun (without any wrapping) in the center of the bowl, put the lid back on, and turn the heat down to low so the water won’t splash around the bun.

  4. After steaming for about 3–4 minutes, turn off the heat completely and let the bun rest for 2 minutes.

  5. Remove the bun from the steamer (caution: hot!) and place it on a plate. Voila! You have successfully steamed a bun.

In order to steam multiple buns at once, place a plate over the inverted bowl to create a larger, more stable surface. Make sure the plate is small enough to comfortably fit over the bowl without blocking steam.

Related Questions 

It’s easy to steam buns without a steamer if you know the right strategies. Here are some related questions you may have.

Do large buns require more steaming time? 

Steaming time depends on the type and size of the buns. If the buns are stale and especially firm, steaming them longer may be necessary to rehydrate and soften them.

It takes about 2–4 minutes to steam most hamburger buns. Larger buns may require additional heat time. If the bun is particularly large, firm, or old, add 2–3 extra minutes to the steaming process.

Should you wait until the buns are at room temperature before steaming?

While room-temperature buns will steam and hydrate faster than cold buns, you don’t need to store them at room temperature before steaming them, especially if you’re using the microwave. Bringing the buns to room temperature shouldn’t take more than 2–3 hours. Just wait 30 minutes and then steam them as needed.

Can you steam any type of bread using the same method? 

Yes, most soft breads like burger buns, hotdog buns, or dinner rolls can be steamed using any of the above methods!

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