Steam ovens are restaurants’ best-kept secret. Does the smaller consumer version deserve a space in your kitchen?
Published Jan. 18, 2023.
Countertop steam ovens resemble toaster ovens but differ in a key way: They inject steam into the oven cavity during cooking. Steam speeds up the cooking process and is especially useful when baking, preparing large cuts of meat, or steaming vegetables or fish. We recommend the Anova Precision Oven as the best countertop steam oven as it offers customization and precision for enthusiasts who want to dial in the perfect settings for a recipe.
Traditional ovens use dry, hot air and radiant heat to cook food. By adding steam—which transfers heat more effectively than dry air—you can speed up the process and cook more evenly. Advanced steam ovens also allow for more precision and customization of not only the oven temperature but also how much steam you’re adding and when. German company Rational pioneered the concept in 1973 and it was then widely adopted by commercial kitchens. These ovens can steam, convection bake, or do a combination of the two, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as “combi ovens.” Interest in both countertop and traditional steam ovens is growing in America, according to Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of the Boston-area kitchen-appliance chain Yale Appliance.
Countertop steam ovens have an external water tank located either under the cooking chamber or on the side. The regular steam function is similar to steaming on the stovetop, where food is fully immersed in hot, wet air in a sealed space at 212 degrees—great for poaching delicate proteins and vegetables.
Then there’s the “steam-bake” function, which injects steam into the oven during the baking process. It’s especially helpful for breadmaking. The initial release of steam softens the exterior of the dough, which allows the interior to expand more, creating a taller loaf. In a traditional oven, dry air will harden the exterior, so the interior can’t push the crust up as much. Steam ovens can also help with proofing dough, as you can calibrate the warmth and humidity for the optimal environment for yeast development.
The basic models we tested offer “steam” and “steam-bake” functions, the latter programmed to inject a set amount of steam. With a more advanced model, we could adjust the humidity level when steaming and steam baking in increments of 5 percent. The percentage of water vapor held by the air (the “dew point”) in the cooking chamber can reach 100 percent. The higher the percentage, the faster food cooks.
In addition, this model offers another feature: a “sous vide” mode that allows for sous vide cooking without plastic bags or a water bath. It keeps the oven at the con...
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Valerie is an assistant editor for ATK Reviews. In addition to cooking, she loves skiing, traveling, and spending time outdoors.