Since the turn of the 20th century, American home cooks have had the choice of using gas or electric ovens. Gas ovens remained predominant until their electric counterparts became more widely available in the 1920s. By the 1940s, ovens of all kinds became well-established kitchen staples, and by the 1950s, the availability and affordability of electricity led to electric stoves outselling gas stoves.
In recent years, the home cook’s dream has been the “dual fuel” approach – a gas range plus electric convection oven. In late 2013, convection steam ovens (also known as combination ovens, or “combis”) emerged into the wider commercial market having previously been a luxury reserved for professional kitchens.
Now that convection steam ovens are widely available and highly sought after, let’s see what sets them apart from their predecessors.
What is a Steam Oven? Three types of steam ovens exist in the marketplace today: 1) Steam-only ovens that work well for steaming large quantities of food, defrosting, and reheating; 2) Electric ovens that feature a moisture function—good for keeping the oven cavity humid while baking; and 3) True convection steam combinations—these will knock your socks off with all they can do. Creating steam requires water, of course, so steam ovens require a water source. Ovens typically come with a built-in water reservoir, so no additional plumbing is required.
Why Steam? The majority of American homes are equipped with electric ovens. While these tried and true appliances can roast a chicken or warm a casserole, the heat inside an electric oven tends to be dry. Dry heat is problematic for delicate baked goods, and it zaps up moisture and flavor when reheating leftovers. Gas ovens create a moister environment, but the heat tends to be unevenly distributed with limited ability to achieve a quality broil.
By incorporating steam into your baking and cooking, you can not only expect all the benefits of a traditional convection oven, but you will also enjoy faster cooking times, better preservation of nutrients in the food you make, and limited need for extra oils and fats to add moisture to your food—the steam does the trick! Because convection steam ovens are able to maintain temperatures <100ᵒF, they are great for safely defrosting frozen foods and gently proofing baked goods.
When commercially available convection steam ovens came on the scene a couple of years ago, Food & Wine Magazine writer Daniel Gritzer hailed the combination oven as “the best new chef tool” and “the Swiss Army knife of ovens.” This is not your grandma’s oven!
In case you’re still not convinced, check out this demo video by our friends at Wolf. Bon appétit!