Is a combi-steam oven worth the investment?
For the first time, we’ve tested combination steam and convection ovens (or combi-steam ovens as they’re known). These multifunction ovens combine the baking and grilling functions of a standard convection oven, with steam-only and combination steam/convection cooking. So, do they offer the best of both worlds?
We put all three combi-steam ovens through our usual tests: grilling toast, baking scones and meringues, roasting chicken and cooking a pizza. For the roast chicken test, we followed the manufacturers’ instructions and used the combination steam/convection function suggested.
We tested steam-only cooking performance by “boiling” eggs, then steaming fish, rice and vegetables on separate shelves at the same time and finally, steaming a golden syrup pudding.
We recommend one model from this test – the Miele DGC 6800 XL CleanSteel. It achieved very good results in the cooking and steaming tests. Importantly, it was the top performer in the two tests which proved toughest for the combi-steam ovens – roasting a chicken (using a combination steam/convection function) and the multiple-shelf test where we steamed fish, rice and vegetables at the same time.
The Miele performed this test incredibly quickly: we followed Miele’s instructions and steamed the rice for 7 minutes before adding fish fillets and baby bok choy to the oven and steaming for a further 7 minutes. Dinner in only 14 minutes! And it was all perfectly cooked. The Miele’s only downside was its price: $8499.
Curiously, the Smeg produced a great deal of steam even when the water tank was empty and the oven dry. This meant it produced disappointing results for our cooking tests where no moisture is required (pizza and meringues).
There are two other choices when it comes to steam ovens.
You can go for a standalone steam oven. These are good for steaming large quantities of food over multiple shelves without fusing flavours. For example, you can steam fish, rice and vegetables and a pudding at the same time, and quickly too. But you can’t brown food so they’re not a versatile option.
The other choice is a multifunction convection oven with an added moisture function. This is usually the cheapest way to go. These ovens don’t have steam-only settings, but inject bursts of steam into the oven during normal baking to help retain moisture. Some ovens have a water tank, and a drain and tube for emptying condensation, while others draw water through a siphoning tube which you position into a glass of water. We've tested 2 of these types of ovens – the Electrolux EVEP618BB and the Miele H6461 BP.
Overall, we were disappointed by the performance and the ease of use of some of the combi-steam ovens tested. We expected better results for the combination cooking functions of these expensive appliances. We also expected all models to have comprehensive instructions with more intuitive cooking programmes and controls.
If you steam foods often, particularly for a crowd, or if you like to steam several dishes at the same time, a combi-steam oven may be a useful addition to your kitchen. But for most cooks, a stovetop or microwave steamer will do the trick.
Size: Combi-steam ovens generally come in two sizes: compact (450mm high x 600mm wide) or standard (600mm x 600mm). If you’re intending to replace your standard built-in oven with a combi-steam oven go for the largest model you can find.
Water tank: A larger water tank means you shouldn’t have to refill it during cooking. Ideally, look for a model with a tank that can be refilled without opening the oven door. This prevents heat and steam loss and minimises the risk of steam burns. There are also plumbed-in options, but these require extra maintenance and they’re even more expensive to buy and install.
Condensation removal: Some models (like the Miele), have condensation tanks that need to be removed, emptied and replaced. Others are drained by inserting a tube into its drain hole so that water flows into a container you hold below it. Another type need the oven cavity sponged out after each use. The AEG has an indented collection cavity in its base that is easily soaked up with the sponge provided. The Smeg had no condensation tank or collection cavity, you wipe dry the interior after each use.
Comprehensive instructions and cooking guidelines: A steamed dish can be ruined by only 30 seconds of overcooking so accurate cooking guidelines mean less trial and error and getting the hang of steam-cooking sooner.
Controls: Clear, intuitive controls and labelling is even more important with combi-steam ovens due to all the extra cooking functions. Try them out before buying if possible.