Should you really buy a combi steam oven? Find out whether you really need the current darling of kitchen appliances in your home, and which ones to consider.
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Pros and cons of buying a combi steam oven
I love cooking in combi steam ovens, and I’m always happy to show off what these outstanding appliances can do. I know, though, they’re not suited to all of us.
Today I’m going to run you through the pros and cons of buying a combi steam or convection steam oven.
If you aren’t really sure what a steam oven is, take a look at this post I wrote a while back. It’s recently been updated, and will give you more of a background on how a steam oven cooks.
Who actually buys steam ovens?
Steam ovens make up a small fraction of overall kitchen appliance sales. They're enjoying huge sales growth in Australia, the USA and Europe, though, and you might be seeing them everywhere in appliance showrooms and home magazines. That's for good reason - they really are the way of the future for home kitchens and just about all the major manufacturers have released their own versions in the past 5-10 years.
Despite their current must-have status in appliance circles, steam ovens are still relatively niche in the wider domestic kitchen market, and they do take some getting used to when you've never cooked in one before.
So who’s buying them?
Well, there’s always going to be a small group of experienced chefs and gourmands happy to spend up big on a fancy steam oven because they really understand what to do with it. But in my experience, most of the people adding a combi steam oven to their kitchen are middle income earners with families, or empty nesters with frequent family visitors and a love for entertaining.
Often, people turn to steam oven cooking for the health benefits. The growing trend for people to turn towards simplified, healthy meals means we’re likely to see a lot more talk about healthier ways of getting dinner on the table fast. Steaming certainly fits that brief and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see steam ovens gain more popularity thanks to their ability to make steamed foods easier.
How much do combi steam ovens cost?
Combi steam ovens have traditionally been sold as premium appliances to a higher end of the market, and that’s still where a lot of the stalwart brands are positioned. Think Miele, Gaggenau, Neff, Bosch, Wolf, V-Zug, Asko, Siemens and Thermador. At the time of writing, these premium brands have price tags ranging anywhere from about $3000 all the way up to $8000 (USD).
There is a subtle shift happening, though, with manufacturers making less expensive models aimed at a more entry level customer, or someone who wants to experiment without committing the big bucks up front.
Cuisinart’s little 'plug and play' CSO-300N1 (USA) and CSO-300NXA (Australia) combo steam oven (around $299 USD) is a great example of steam oven appeal for a broader market. It's also the cheapest combi steam I’ve come across by a long way. I recently bought one to take it through its paces and have tested several recipes in it so far. I’ll be back with a full review on my experience with it very soon.
Some of the cheaper inbuilt steam oven brands include Whirlpool, Artusi, Beko, Baumatic, Westinghouse, Caple and Euro. They are less expensive in general than the premium brands but still pack a punch with price tags starting around the $1000 mark.
There are other brands at each end of the scale, and variations in brand name and availability for different parts of the world. Thermador steam ovens, for instance, are the USA’s rebranded version of a Bosch model.
I have no idea what to cook in a combi steam oven
Not really a question here, but it certainly is something people think about when they’re considering buying one, or looking at their newly installed appliance in the kitchen!
There’s no doubt you’ll have some learning to do if you want to make the most of a steam oven. If you’re old enough, think back to when microwaves were new to kitchens. No one knew what to cook in them either (turns out, not much! But you know what I mean). It took experimenting, sharing and learning a new cooking ‘language’ for most people to figure them out. The same is true here, although the health benefits are nowhere near as questionable.
If you wonder what you might make in a steam oven, feel free to browse the recipe index on this site for some ideas, or check out my Pinterest boards for different categories of foods which suit steam oven cooking.
Basically, almost anything you cook in a regular oven, with the exception of maybe cookies, is likely to benefit from some added moisture. Some things work better than others but vegetables, most meats, fish, cakes and breads, grains, pulses and eggs are all things which regularly get cooked in my combi steam oven. And even if you’re just using the steam function, you’ll be surprised at how much you can do. On any given day I might steam oatmeal or eggs in the morning, vegetables or last night’s leftovers at lunch, prove some bread dough in the afternoon and steam chicken, rice and greens for dinner. A pudding for dessert might be included if we’re feeling indulgent.
Are steam ovens hard to maintain?
This comes up so often when I run people through the pros and cons of steam ovens. I wish I could tell you steam ovens require zero maintenance but I’d be lying (although Gaggenau’s plumbed, fully automatic cleaning model comes close if you’ve got $8000 or so to spare).
Here’s the great thing about maintaining a combi steam oven: a lot of your cooking will be ‘wet’ so the oven won’t get as dirty as a regular oven. Really baked on grime just doesn’t happen that much, and the steam cleaning cycles mean you can soften up dirt easily to wipe off.
And here’s the down side: appliances which cook using water need regular descaling, and if you have a tank model you’ll need to make sure you empty and clean the tank regularly. None of it is difficult, in fact I’d liken it to the routine maintenance of a coffee machine. You just need to allow 15-30 minutes every so often to make sure everything stays in good working order. Most models will let you know when they require descaling, so you shouldn’t have to guess at whether it’s time to run the cycle.
What’s the verdict? To buy or not to buy?
For me, the benefits of cooking with a combi steam oven far outweigh the cost of the appliance, but I have advised other people against them if they aren’t particularly interested in cooking at all, or if they’re very hesitant to experiment in the kitchen.
I’m sure you already know this, but no one can decide whether you should spend the money on a combi steam oven except you. It’s definitely a luxury purchase but it’s one which will potentially bring you much pleasure and ease in the kitchen if you love to cook.
I hope this discussion of combi steam oven pros and cons is helpful. My Combi Steam 101 post, and this one with 7 Questions to Ask Before Buying a Steam, Combi Steam or Convection Steam Oven, might also be useful to you.
If you take the plunge I look forward to welcoming you back for some cooking inspiration when your new oven is installed!
For more combi steam tips, recipes and help, sign up to the Steam and Bake mailing list, follow the Facebook page and join the the exclusive subscribers-only Combi Steam Cooking Facebook group. It’s full of people at all stages of learning about combi steam cooking, and I’m in there answering your questions, posting videos, tips and cooking inspiration. I’d love you to join in.