Done properly, steaming is one of the best ways to cook vegetables. Its gentle but speedy heat preserves flavors, texture and nutrients. But those results aren’t a given. Ignore a few simple guidelines and you can just as easily end up with the sort of mushy produce that helped give cafeteria food a bad reputation. Luckily, we have some easy tips for ensuring perfectly tender-crisp steamed vegetables every time.

For equipment, all you need is a pot and a steamer basket. Whether stainless steel or bamboo, all baskets work the same: suspending food over hot water and allowing steam to gently cook the food above.

But it’s important to gauge the water level. Too much will swamp the steamer; too little boils off too soon. So before cooking, place the empty basket in the pot and add enough water to reach just below the level of the basket. Then bring the water to a simmer over medium-high before adding the vegetables. Prep is important, too. Vegetables should be cut into uniform sizes so all pieces cook at the same rate.

Finally, pay attention to timing. We tested our most frequently steamed vegetables to find the optimal cooking times. This chart is especially helpful if you’re steaming a mix of vegetables. Start steaming the denser, longer-cooking vegetables first, then add the more delicate produce later to ensure they all finish at the same time. Steaming, solved.

Vegetable steaming times to tender-crisp, in minutes.
Vegetable Steaming Times
Asparagus8 ounces pencil-thick spears, 2 trimmed
Broccoli2 cups florets 4 (about 11/2 inches wide)4
Carrots2 medium carrots, sliced into 5 1/4-inch rounds (about 2 cups)5
Cauliflower2 cups florets 4 (about 11/2 inches wide)4
CornOn the cob; 4-inch-long pieces4
Green Beans8 ounces, trimmed3½-4