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As more appliance brands launch steam ovens onto the market, I’m seeing a lot of confusion about what exactly the different ovens can do, and how to use the various settings.
I meet people online and in person every week, who’ve bought what they think is a steam-only oven, but turns out to be a combination steam. Or, disappointingly, they’ve been sold what they were told was a combination steam oven but is actually a regular oven with the option to add some humidity. The nuances seem small but they can make a big difference to the operation, and the end results of your cooking.
I’ve had so many reader emails with questions around this lately that I think it’s time to address this. So what are the different types of steam ovens, and what’s out there in the world of steam oven technology?
Although I could never hope to fully review every model on the market in a single post, I’m going to clarify the terminology and main offerings from the 7 most popular steam oven brands – Miele, Neff, Wolf, Gaggenau, Bosch, Thermador and Cuisinart. Yes, there are many more brands, but these were the most widely owned ones when I polled a couple of hundred readers recently, so we’ll start with them.
I’m going to focus particularly on all the jargon words around steam functions, so if you’re in the market to buy a steam oven, hopefully you’ll be able to shop with more insight into what your chosen brand offers.
This is a long read, so you might like to bookmark it for easy reference later.
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Let’s get started.
Three types of steam oven – which one are you buying?
First off, I want to touch on the three main types of steam oven available today, and to say that when I use the term ‘steam oven’, I’m applying it as a catch-all to describe the category as a whole. It gets confusing thanks to the proprietary terms many brands use to define these three categories, but stay with me.
Full steam or steam-only ovens
These are exactly what they sound like: an oven which steams your food. They operate at a maximum temperature of 100°C/212°F, and 100% humidity. It’s the oven version of a saucepan with a steamer basket sitting on top. Because full steam ovens don’t have regular convection oven capabilities, they’re usually the least expensive option in the category.
Combination or convection steam ovens
Mostly referred to as combination steam by the European makes and convection steam in the USA, these are regular ovens to which you can add steam to the cooking process, rendering your food incredibly moist and steamed on the inside but golden brown and crispy on the exterior. They’re the most flexible of all steam ovens, and a true combi or convection steam oven will also allow for steam-only with 100% humidity. Often, you can vary the level or percentage of steam you add to your oven cooking. Some combination steam ovens can be completely plumbed into your kitchen, but most require manual filling and emptying of a tank or reservoir when using steam functions.
Added moisture or added humidity ovens
This is a newer addition to the category of steam ovens, and confusingly is also sometimes referred to as a combi steam oven. An added moisture oven is just that: a regular oven to which you can add some humidity to keep food moist. You might be wondering how this is different to a combination oven, and it’s a fine line. In general, though, added moisture ovens don’t have as much steam capability as a combination or convection steam. They’re designed to keep food moist during cooking, rather than using high proportions of steam to actually cook with. They also don’t offer 100% humidity at 100°C/212°F for true steaming.
Miele steam ovens
Miele had their millionth steam oven come off production lines in 2016, making them certainly the leaders in steam oven cooking by sales volume. Their ovens are widely available and highly regarded around the world, and Miele put substantial resources into demonstrations and training for their appliances.
Miele’s full steam or, as they call them, classic steam ovens, use what the company refers to as MultiSteam technology. This means the steam is generated outside the oven cavity and flows in through several inlet ports to surround and steam food. For those who can’t install an appliance in the wall, Miele also offers a benchtop full steam model.
Miele’s combination steam ovens come in multiple variants, but the key points to know are that they offer either an XL (45x60cm/18x24in) appliance or an XXL (60x60cm/24x24in), and the ability to vary steam percentages when using combination cooking functions, all the way up to 100% steam/humidity. Their combination steam models also contain a grill/broil function, making them truly multifunctional and able to cook almost anything. Miele is big on automatic menu programs, so you’ll find plenty of those available to help you achieve perfect results with the specified dishes. Their top-of-the-line combi steam oven models can be plumbed in.
For added moisture oven options, Miele makes a range of regular ovens with what it terms Moisture Plus capabilities. Users can select varying levels or ‘bursts’ of steam to keep food moist. The Moisture Plus setting is also applied to some of the oven’s automatic functions.
Lastly, Miele offers something most other brands do not, a full steam oven with microwave. The steaming operation in this 'speed oven' appliance has a huge number of automatic programs for ease of cooking.
Miele steam ovens are available in most major markets around the world.
Neff steam ovens
Like Miele, Neff make a wide variety of steam ovens. Although not as well-known outside of Europe as Miele, their appliances are very popular throughout Europe, the UK and Australia.
Neff have a single full steam oven in their product range, which is referred to as a Pure Steam oven. This is a built-in appliance which relies on a manual-fill water tank housed in the side of the oven, and steam is generated inside the cavity via a reservoir with heating element at the bottom of the oven.
Neff’s combination steam ovens are, somewhat confusingly, called FullSteam ovens. There are several options spanning both compact (45x60cm/18x24in) and full size (60x60cm/24x24in) models. All the FullSteam ovens can do true steaming at 100% humidity and 100°C/212°F. The term VarioSteam refers to the combination functions in these ovens, and users can select from low, medium or high intensity levels of steam to vary the amount of moisture added to their cooking. All of Neff’s combination steam ovens now have water tanks in the top part of the oven, with steam generated outside the cavity and piped in. There are no fully plumbed options.
To add to the confusion, Neff market their added moisture ovens with the VarioSteam moniker as well. The difference here is that a regular oven with VarioSteam won’t do true steaming as the FullSteam ovens above can do. Rather, you can use the low, medium and high intensity VarioSteam settings to add moisture.
Neff also make a combination microwave oven with VarioSteam capabilities.
At the time of writing this post, Neff appliances are available in the European and Asia-Pacific markets, but not North America.
Wolf steam ovens
Part of the Sub-Zero Wolf group, Wolf appliances are sturdy and distinctive. They’re most widely known in North America but are starting to make their way into other parts of the world including the UK, Asia and Australia.
They offer a range of different finishes and two sizes (60cm/24in and 76cm/30in) in their built-in steam ovens, but the functionality of Wolf’s steam ovens doesn’t vary across models.
Essentially, when you buy a Wolf steam oven you get a fully functional convection steam or combination steam oven with the ability to operate as a full steam oven, plus a setting which allows for added moisture (what Wolf terms convection humid). The convection steam and convection humid settings don’t give the option for variable humidity/steam levels, rather the oven adjusts the humidity level itself according to the temperature you cook at. This means if you’re reading recipes like the ones on this site, when you see an instruction to select the percentage of steam as part of a combination steam setting, you don’t need to worry about doing so. Just set your cooking temperature and let the oven do the rest.
One of Wolf’s major selling points for its convection steam appliances is the Gourmet mode. In the company’s own words, users can “simply tell it the type of food you are putting in the oven… The climate sensor detects the volume, shape and consistency and adjusts time, temperature and humidity for guesswork-free delicious results, every time.” Reports about how well this function works in reality are mixed, but it does offer those who are nervous about using their new steam oven a simple option for trying out dishes.
Wolf steam ovens do not come with a plumbed option. The water tanks sit outside the main oven cavity, and steam is generated externally then pumped into the oven during cooking.
Gaggenau steam ovens
Gaggenau have long been known as the ultra-premium appliances brand, and their steam ovens definitely show off the precision and fabulous cooking results the Gaggenau name is synonymous with. They are overall the most expensive steam ovens on the market, but you really get what you pay for, with hand built German appliances offering distinctive design, top quality components and the most precise, even cooking I’ve found in any steam oven. All Gaggenau steam ovens have side hinged doors rather than the usual bottom-hinge, and buyers can choose a left or right hinging oven to suit the layout of their kitchen.
Depending on which part of the world you’re in, Gaggenau offer a 60cm/24in full steam oven which operates at 100% humidity and has a temperature range of 30°C-100°C (86°F-212°F). This model is a tank version, with the tank set inside the door in the side of the oven, and it generates steam via an internal reservoir at the bottom of the cavity.
Gaggenau’s combination steam ovens come in various colours and styles, and two sizes – 45cm/18inx60cm/24in and 45cm/18inx76cm/30in. It’s important to note that both sizes have the same compact internal size – the wider appliance is simply housed in a larger external body to provide something which matches in with Gaggenau’s 76cm/30in convection ovens.
The top of the line combi steam models are fully plumbed and include a glass ceramic roof with grill/broiler. They are also fully self-cleaning, which is not something you can get currently in any other steam oven brand. I have seen the self-cleaning function in action, and it is pretty impressive – imagine the inside of the oven turned into a dishwasher (which you do by inserting a proprietary cleaning cartridge into the top of the cavity), complete with drying function.
Gaggenau combination steam ovens have the capability to use full steam and combination steam with varying humidity levels (30%, 60%, 80% and 100%) at whichever cooking temperature you choose. The plumbed models generate steam in the housing of the appliance and pump it into the cavity, while the tank versions produce steam via an internal reservoir in the floor of the oven.
Gaggenau don’t currently offer any added moisture oven options in their range.
Bosch steam ovens
Bosch home appliances are known throughout most of the world as reliable, workhorse machines which are well designed and well built. Their current Series 8 steam ovens aren’t the most exciting on the market, but they are fairly user-friendly, and priced and designed firmly for the middle of the road buyer, making them a popular choice.
Bosch make one full steam oven which does exactly what it says on the box. It’s a (45x60cm/18x24in) model, with a manual-fill tank housed in the door of the oven and a reservoir at the bottom of the oven cavity to produce steam.
Keeping things simple, Bosch also offer one combination steam oven, the compact sized 45x60cm/18x24in. When users choose to add steam, which can be done in conjunction with several of the oven’s regular convection settings, they can select low, medium or high intensity steam levels to adjust the proportion of humidity being added to the oven cavity. This appliance can also do true steaming at 100% humidity and 100°C/212°F. The water tank sits behind the top control panel, creating steam externally to the cavity and pumping it in during cooking.
There is a single added steam option in the Bosch Series 8 catalogue too, simply called the built-in oven with added steam. It’s a 60x60cm/24x24in, and like with the combination steam model, steam can be added in low, medium and high intensity levels to several of the convection functions. The water tank sits in the same position as its combination steam sibling’s does, and generates steam outside the oven cavity. This oven does not have the capability to do true steaming.
Bosch ovens can be purchased in many regions around the world including Europe, the UK, North America, Asia-Pacific and Africa.
Thermador steam ovens
Thermador’s parent company is the BSH group, who also produce Bosch, Siemens, Neff and Gaggenau appliances. Because of this, you can expect to see similar technologies in Thermador’s steam oven offerings as the Bosch ones. The style and market positioning of their ovens is quite different though, with Thermador giving buyers the uncommon option of dual-fuel freestanding range ovens which incorporate a convection steam oven alongside a regular convection oven.
Thermador don’t offer a full steam oven, but their steam and convection appliances are fully functional combination steam ovens with the ability to do steaming at 100% humidity and 100°C/212°F. As with the Wolf ovens, there is no option to vary steam/humidity percentage in the steam convection mode, and the oven adjusts the humidity level itself according to the temperature you cook at. This means if you’re reading recipes like the ones on this site, when you see an instruction to select the percentage of steam as part of a combination steam setting, you don’t need to worry about doing so.
Although Thermador’s steam oven options come in a few different sizes and styles to suit particular aesthetics and layouts, like Gaggenau, the internal cavity of the ovens doesn’t vary. It’s not the largest on the market, but the Thermador website says you can comfortably cook a 14lb turkey in there, making it large enough for most domestic kitchens.
Thermador appliances are manufactured in California and available to the North American market.
Cuisinart steam ovens
Cuisinart are known more for small kitchen appliances like blenders and toasters, so they might seem an unusual inclusion on a list of popular steam oven brands. Their little countertop CSO-300 convection steam oven, though, is incredibly well priced and a great choice for people looking to try out steam oven cooking without committing to a built-in appliance.
I bought one of these ovens a while back to see if it really could cook a decent meal and was happily surprised with the functionality. The biggest drawback is its very small size – beware if you want to cook a loaf of sandwich bread in a tall pan, it might do what mine did and stick to the top baking element!
The Cuisinart oven offers a full steam function as well as combination steam, referred to as Steam Bake. It also has a broil/grill function which can be combined with steam – something even most of the more expensive built-in appliances don’t offer. This oven does not have a fan, so be aware that evenness of cooking isn’t quite as good as the high-end models. For around a tenth of the price of the cheapest built-in steam ovens, though, it’s an understandable sacrifice.
The water tank sits on the outside of the oven, with the steam generated in the housing and flowing in through holes in the internal cavity.
Cuisinart’s steam oven is available throughout North America and from select retailers in other parts of the world including Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Asia.
Over to you – I hope this has clarified some of the big manufacturers' key offerings in steam ovens! If you enjoyed this article, or have comments, I’d love to hear what you think. You can leave a comment on this post, find me on Facebook or get in touch via the contact page.
Do you represent one of the brands above and think I’ve missed something? Please get in touch so I can update the post.
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