Steam ovens: a guide

Billed as the faster, cleaner way to cook, are these on-trend ovens all they’re cracked up to be? We take a close look at their rising popularity, USP versus the traditional convection cooker and how each type rates in terms of form, function, and above all, flavour in this buyer’s guide.

The premise
Steam cooking isn't new, but the recent wave of impressive, multi-function steam ovens has seen a shift towards a healthier cooking method that produces tender, flavour-packed food. They harness hot pressurised steam, versus the dry heat of an electric oven, sparing the need for butter, oil or any other (albeit delicious) baste that's usually vital when cooking. How does the steam generate? They're fitted with a water reservoir that can be filled manually (or hooked up to your home's plumbing system) and, as science dictates, heat turns the water into steam.
There are three main category offerings: standalone steam ovens, combination (or combi) steam ovens, and electric ovens with an added moisture function.
Standalone steam ovens
Steam ovens have a single purpose: steaming. You won't find them baking or browning, but they're damn good at what they do, artfully steaming various types of produce while maintaining impeccable individual flavours. What they lack in versatility, they make up for in speed; though it has to be said even the most avid of steamers would struggle to exist on a steam oven alone. Consider it an addition to your cooking arsenal, not an all-purposes appliance. Try Miele Built-In Steam Oven, $2,699.
Combi-steam ovens
Combi-steam ovens are the new kids on the block, offering by the far the most versaility. As their name suggests, you get the benefits of a steam oven combined with convection functionality, all wrapped up in one aesthetically-pleasing package. In most cases, they include a manual reservoir tank, but plumbed-in capabilities can be found at the higher end of the scale. Try V-Zug Combi-Steam Electric Wall Oven, $8,499.
Electric ovens with an added moisture function
Not convinced you want to go full steam ahead? Some electric cookers offer a steam injection functionality which essentially sends bursts of steam into the oven during baking, roasting, etc. to let you tap into the tender perks while keeping the crisp and crunch you get with electric ovens. The dip-your-toe-in-the-trend option can be more accessible in terms of price, but it won't let you fully steam items. Try Siemens Electric Wall Oven, $3,195.
There are many. Aside from the obvious health benefits, including oil-free cooking, retained nutrients and an added burst of colour and flavour, you'll find produce cooks faster in a steam oven. A win whether you're cooking for one or entertaining a crowd. They're also arguably easier to clean-some are even self-cleaning, but a simple wipe down instead of a battle with stubborn, baked-on stains is always preferred-and they also make defrosting and reheating a viable option, managing to keep the original flavours intact while avoiding drying out food. Some new models also come with in-built programmable timers that call time on steaming if you're busy or distracted.
The main bugbear with standalone steam ovens is the lack of crisp. Can you live without crunch in your life? Your call. Of course, the easy get-around is a combi-oven; even the firmest critics can't deny that a combi-oven's versatility more than justifies its heftier price tag in comparison to its electric counterparts. Con-wise, the reservoir maintenance needs to be factored it, too.
Still, there's a reason steam ovens (of some kind) are at the top of the appliance trend lists so if you're being swayed by steam, here are a few final pointers.
Size matters. Steam ovens typically come in two sizes, compact (35cm high) or full (45cm high). Niche dimensions can be found at an additional cost. When deciphering size, consider function, not just form. If you expect to use it frequently, for large-scale gatherings, opt for a full-size.
Added extras. Look out for triple door glazing and a fan-forced function, both of which can speed up cooking times and offer a more even and efficient steaming process.
Top dog.V-Zug are considered market leaders in this category, so if you're unsure where to start, look to the Swiss appliances giant for pointers in what's out there in terms of technology and functionality.
This article is presented by Winning Appliances