APPLIANCE GUIDES, OVENS

What Is A Steam Oven? – Pros, Cons & Expert Advice

Are you tired of serving up dried-out chicken and overcooked veggies? Say hello to your new kitchen best friend: the steam oven!

With its powerful combination of steam and heat, this appliance is the secret weapon that chefs and home cooks alike swear by for perfectly cooked meals every time. But what exactly is a steam oven, and is it worth the investment?

In this post, I’ll take you on a steamy adventure through the pros and cons of steam ovens, and give you expert advice on whether this kitchen gadget is right for you.

Let’s dive in!

In a hurry? Here are the key takeaways:

  • What is it? A steam oven uses steam to cook, delivering moist and flavorful results.
  • Key Benefits: Faster cooking times, preserved nutrients, versatile cooking options.
  • Perfect For: Health-conscious individuals, gourmet cooks, and those seeking a kitchen upgrade for flavourful cooking results.

Read on to learn more…

What Is A Steam Oven?

A steam oven is a kitchen appliance that uses the power of steam to cook food. Unlike traditional ovens that rely on dry heat (air), a steam oven uses moist heat (steam) to cook food, which can result in more flavorful and nutritious meals.

One of their main benefits is that it can help to retain the nutrients and vitamins in the food, as the moist heat can prevent the loss of water-soluble nutrients.

Additionally, steam cooking can help to preserve the natural flavours and textures of food, which can lead to more delicious meals. 😋

Miele built-in compact pure Steam Oven
Miele Steam Oven

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How Does A Steam Oven Work?

At its core, a steam oven’s primary tool is water. Here’s a simple breakdown of how it works:

  1. Water Reservoir: Steam ovens come equipped with a water reservoir or tank. Some high-end models might even be directly plumbed into a water source.

  2. Heating Element: Once the oven is activated, the heating element begins to heat the water.

  3. Steam Production: As the water heats up, it turns into steam, which then fills the oven cavity.

  4. Circulation: Fans or natural convection circulate this steam around the food, ensuring even cooking.

It’s pretty simple really! 😃

However, steam isn’t just hot air. It brings several benefits to the cooking process.

The inside of a 'Pure' steam oven with the water tank on the right-hand side.
The inside of a ‘Pure’ steam oven with the water tank on the right-hand side.

Pros Of Steam Ovens

  • Retains nutrients. Steam cooking can help to retain the natural vitamins and nutrients in food, as it cooks food without the need for excess oil or fat.

  • Enhances flavours. Steam cooking can help to enhance the natural flavours of food, resulting in more delicious and flavorful meals.

  • Versatile. Steam ovens can be used to cook a wide variety of foods, from vegetables and fish to meats and grains.

  • Healthier cooking option. Steam cooking is a healthier cooking option as it uses moist heat to cook food, without the need for added fats or oils.

  • Preserve texture. Steam cooking can help to preserve the natural textures of food, preventing overcooking and resulting in more tender and juicy meats and vegetables.

  • Energy efficient. Steam ovens can be more energy efficient than traditional ovens, as they can cook food more quickly and at lower temperatures, saving both time and energy.

  • Easy to clean. Steam ovens are typically easy to clean, as the moist heat can help to loosen and remove food debris and grease from the oven walls and racks.

  • Reheating leftovers. Using the steam or steam-combi setting is a fantastic way to reheat food. Bringing food back to life without drying it out.

Cons Of Steam Ovens

  • Higher cost. Typically, steam ovens will be more expensive than traditional ovens.

  • Learning curve. They may require a bit of a learning curve, as cooking times and temperatures may need to be adjusted to accommodate the different cooking methods.

  • Water and maintenance. Steam ovens require a water source, which can add to the maintenance and upkeep of the appliance. The presence of water and steam may also require more frequent cleaning and maintenance.

  • Limited browning. Steam cooking typically does not allow for the same browning or crisping that can be achieved with hot-air cooking methods, which may be a drawback for some dishes.

  • Size. Pure steam or compact steam ovens are usually smaller than your average-size built-in oven. So you may not be able to fit large amounts or multiple trays in to cook at once.

The Different Types of Steam Ovens

Here’s where things can get a little bit ‘technical’ and somewhat confusing as there are different types of steam ovens.

I’ve broken them down into the four main types below:

Pure Steam Oven

A pure steam oven uses only pure steam to cook food. Unlike other types of steam ovens, pure steam ovens do not use any external heating elements or microwaves to cook food.

Instead, they rely solely on high-pressure steam to cook food quickly and efficiently. They are typically a more compact size than regular ovens.

Miele ContourLine DG2740 Built In Compact Steam Oven
Miele ContourLine DG2740

Full Steam Oven

A full steam oven is an appliance that can exclusively use steam to cook food, use steam alongside regular oven cooking or just be used as a standard oven.

The full-steam setting is ideal for cooking vegetables, fish, and other delicate foods that benefit from gentle, moist heat. While the ability to use other regular multifunction oven cooking makes them very versatile appliances.

Neff B48FT78H0B N90 Slide & Hide FullSteam Single Oven
Neff B48FT78H0B N90 Slide & Hide FullSteam Single Oven

Steam-Assisted Oven

A steam assist oven (sometimes called an oven with steam function or a combination steam oven) is an oven that uses a small amount of steam to help cook food more evenly and prevent it from drying out.

However, they are not able to use full (pure) steam to cook food.

These ovens typically have a water reservoir that releases steam during the cooking process but also use traditional dry heat cooking methods to create a crisp exterior on foods. Steam-assisted ovens are ideal for cooking roast meat, poultry, and baked goods that require a crispy exterior.

Miele ContourLine H7164BP Built In Electric Single Oven with Moisture Plus
Miele ContourLine H7164BP Single Oven with Moisture Plus

Combi Microwave Oven With Steam Function

A combi steam oven combines the features of both a full steam oven and a convection oven. These ovens offer the ability to use steam cooking, dry heat cooking, or a combination of the two, depending on the cooking needs of the user.

In addition, some combi steam ovens also offer the ability to use microwave technology, which can help to speed up cooking times. Combi steam ovens are versatile and can be used for a wide variety of cooking tasks. However, they are typically a compact size and smaller than a steam-assisted oven.

NEFF N50 C1APG64N0B Built-in compact microwave with steam function
NEFF N50 C1APG64N0B compact microwave with steam function

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Key Features to Look for When Buying a Steam Oven

Purchasing a steam oven? These are the important features I would focus on:

  • Capacity and Size: Match the oven’s size to your kitchen space and cooking needs. Consider if it’s large enough for big family meals or compact for smaller kitchens.

  • Pre-set Cooking Programs: Seek ovens that offer pre-set programs. This feature simplifies cooking by auto-adjusting the temperature and time for various dishes.

  • Water Source: Decide between a Water Tank (manual refill) or a Plumbed-in Model (direct water connection). While tanks are more portable, plumbed models eliminate the need for refills.

  • User-friendly Controls and Display: Opt for an intuitive interface. Clear displays and easy-to-navigate controls enhance your cooking experience.

What Is The Difference Between A Steam Oven And A Conventional Oven?

AspectSteam OvensConventional Ovens
Cooking MechanismUtilize moist heat by producing steam from a water source.Rely on dry heat, circulating hot air around the food.
Cooking TimeTypically faster due to the efficient heat transfer of steam.Can produce crispy roasts and golden-brown baked goods but risks drying out food if not monitored.
Food Texture & FlavorFoods remain juicy and tender. Ideal for vibrant vegetables and moist baked goods.Can produce crispy roasts and golden-brown baked goods but risk drying out food if not monitored.
Nutrient RetentionGentler on food’s nutrients, retaining more vitamins and minerals.Higher temperatures and longer cooking times can sometimes lead to nutrient loss.
VersatilityGreat for steaming and moisture retention. Combi-ovens offer both moist and dry heat options.Require frequent cleaning to prevent mineral build-up and mould due to moisture.
MaintenanceCan produce crispy roasts and golden-brown baked goods but risks drying out food if not monitored.Maintenance involves cleaning up food spills and crumbs; less concern about mold or mineral deposits.

What can I cook in a Steam Oven?

A steam oven can be used to cook a wide variety of foods, including:

  • Vegetables. Steaming vegetables is a popular use for steam ovens. You can cook anything from leafy greens to root vegetables. Some popular options include broccoli, asparagus, carrots, and squash.

  • Fish. Steam cooking is an excellent method for cooking fish, as it can help retain natural moisture and delicate flavours. Some popular options include salmon, halibut, and sea bass.

  • Meat. While steam cooking may not be the ideal method for cooking some types of meat, such as steak or pork chops, it can work well for cooking tender meats like chicken breasts, turkey, and fish.

  • Rice and grains. Steam ovens can be used to cook rice and grains like quinoa, couscous, and bulgur.

  • Bread and pastries. Some steam ovens offer the option to use dry heat in combination with steam, which can be ideal for cooking bread and pastries. Steam cooking can help to create a crisp crust and moist interior. Perfect if you love to bake!

  • Eggs. Steam ovens can be used to cook eggs in various ways, such as poaching, hard-boiling, or soft-boiling.

Grab yourself a copy of Miele’s Steam Oven Cookbook PDF for some great steam cooking recipes.

Are Steam Ovens Worth it?

Whether or not a steam oven is worth it depends on your individual cooking needs and preferences. Essentially, it boils (or steams) down to this:

Your Cooking Style: Perfect for delicate foods like fish and veggies which benefit from moisture retention. Not as necessary if you mainly roast or bake with dry heat.

Your Budget: Typically pricier than traditional ovens. Evaluate if you’ll use its unique features enough to justify the cost.

Your Kitchen Space: Requires adequate space. If limited, weigh its benefits against the footprint it’ll occupy.

In essence, while steam ovens are great at preserving moisture and nutrients, conventional ovens offer a broader range of cooking styles.

However, if you frequently cook delicate foods and are looking for a versatile and convenient cooking appliance, a steam oven may be worth the investment.

FAQs

Can a steam oven be used as a regular oven?

Yes and No. Whether a steam oven can be used as a regular oven will depend on the type/model you purchase.

Some steam ovens are equipped with a combination cooking mode. This allows the user to use both steam and/or dry heat to cook food.

However, pure, steam-only steam ovens are designed to cook food using only steam.

Are Steam Ovens energy-efficient?

Steam ovens can be energy efficient for certain types of cooking, but the specific energy savings will depend on the model and how it is used.

Steam ovens can sometimes be more energy efficient compared to traditional ovens. As steam ovens use moisture to cook food, they can help to retain moisture and reduce the cooking time for certain types of food. This can result in energy savings, as the oven does not need to be heated for as long as a traditional oven would.

Final thoughts…

So there you have it, everything you need to know about steam ovens!

From perfectly cooked vegetables to deliciously moist cakes, steam ovens offer a unique way to prepare a variety of foods.

While they may not be for everyone, steam ovens can be a great addition to any kitchen for those looking to experiment with new cooking techniques and flavours.

So why not give it a try? Your taste buds (and your stomach) will thank you!

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Author

Michael from Kitchinsider.com

Michael is a kitchen designer from the UK. He's been designing and project managing new kitchen installations for over 10 years. Before that, he was an electrician and part of a team that fitted kitchens. He created Kitchinsider in early 2019 to help give people advice when it comes to getting a new kitchen.