When it comes to specialty ovens, you’ve got quite an array of cooking styles to choose from– each with their own pros and cons. We’re going to walk you through the basics of Steam, Convection, Steam Convection, & Speed Convection ovens so you can make an informed decision and find the best cooking companion for you!
Let’s break it down, starting with “convection:” what it means and why it matters.
Convection is a cooking process that moves the air in an oven around to evenly distribute the heat. No one wants to eat a turkey if the front half is still raw, even if the back is a nice golden brown. On its own, convection is a rather dry method of cooking since it moves hot air around in the unit via a fan (sometimes a dual fan, on leading models) and it filters out that air through an exhaust system in the back of the oven.
Convection ovens allow you to cook faster, thereby saving you time, energy and money, and they cook the food evenly. Convection cooking is great for baking because it gives you that perfect browned and crispy exterior that we’re all craving. That being said, convection ovens don’t work for really delicate dishes like souffles and others that need a slow and steady cooking time.
Convection is perfect for baking, roasting and toasting, while Steam cooking is the way to go for moist and healthy food preparation. Steam cooking is great option for the health conscious cook. It’s the healthiest way to prepare your food because it preserves the food’s nutrients better than any other method, and it keeps the moisture in your food. It’s also the best way to reheat your food because you lose less of the food’s initial nutrient content.
Steam ovens utilize a water reservoir to hold the water that will be converted to steam in the unit to heat food. Steam is an oil-free cooking method which has its own laundry list of benefits. Steam ovens can be used to proof breads as well, but steam can’t do any heavy duty cooking on its own and steam also takes longer to cook than convection. That’s why there are Steam Convection ovens.
This oven option gives you the best of both worlds. Steam is the best way to cook delicate foods that can easily burn or dry out like sea scallops. The downside is that steam cooking can’t create an outer crust or effectively brown the food. However, a convection steam oven, or Combi-Steam oven, can. Convection cooking uses fans to move the heat around to evenly distribute it. A Steam Convection oven lets you cook more types of food that need a crispy exterior, like pastry puffs. It’s also a great way to heat your food because it preserves the nutrients in your food (like the Steam-only oven). Check out how that works from this Bosch Benchmark HSLP751UC video on our YouTube channel:
The heat from steam cooking alone sits in the oven on the food– kind of like when you sit in a sauna. The heat envelopes the food and cooks it through heavy heat and moisture so the food remains moist. With a convection fan or two in the mix, the unit provides that same moist heat, but it’s moved around and therefore creates a wave of heat that can brown the surface of the food. You don’t have to worry about loss of moisture when cooking and you’ll get enhanced speed. But, if you’re a gal/guy on the go and you need even more speed, the Speed Oven may just be your perfect choice.
Speed Ovens are the fastest cooking units currently in the market. As the name entails, they produce food at a rapid rate. This relatively new industry innovation utilizes two familiar methods of cooking: microwaving and convection. Convection has quickly become a culinary classic and it is a great feature to keep in mind while shopping for an oven or range. These are the two fastest methods of cooking out right now so it’s no wonder that a combination of the two can yield results that will give The Flash a run for his money (pun intended). The ratio of microwave cooking to convection cooking varies on the cycle you select and what you’re cooking.
Here’s a video where Chef Scotty Campbell gives us an in-depth look at the Bertazzoni Speed oven– an excellent choice. More than that, it gives you a glimpse into how Speed Ovens in general work and how much power they have.
A Speed Oven is a great multipurpose and time saving appliance; it’s a convection oven, a microwave and it can cook a turkey in under twenty minutes.* If speed is not on your list of top priorities and you’re not in the market for a microwave substitute, the steam convection oven is the one for you– especially if you’re interested in healthy eating! If you opt for a Speed Convection, you’ll get that rapidity, but you’ll lose the nutrients and moisture preserved by the Steam option. It’s all a matter of what’s more important. On a bit of a side note, it’s worth noting, that Speed ovens tend to be smaller than regular ovens and other specialty ovens. The size difference helps the food cook faster because there’s a smaller oven capacity to heat.
Another key element to take into account is maintenance, more specifically cleaning the oven. A steam oven naturally prevents food from baking on to the interior so it’s easier to clean manually.
A convection or speed convection oven does not have that feature. Therefore, any accidental spill is likely going to be a pain to clean up. However, some Speed convection ovens (like the Bosch HBL8751UC) have a self-cleaning cycle that will vaporize the food gunk and all you’ll have to do is wipe up the little pile of ash at the end of the cycle.
That’s a lot of info to take in, so here’s a quick recap of the Pros and Cons for of the four ovens we mentioned:
Steam Ovens: This is a good but limiting choice. It can’t brown food but the nutritional benefits and moistness of the food are big pluses. If you’re a frequent steamer, this is an ideal choice. But if you want that versatility and crisp exterior, the Steam Convection oven is a better choice.
Steam Convection Ovens: This oven offers greater culinary versatility since it steams and browns food. If you’re looking to get the benefits of steam and you don’t need a faster paced kitchen system, this is an excellent choice. It can’t cook as fast as a Speed Convection or a Convection oven, but it does cook faster than its steam-only counterpart.
Convection Oven: Many range ovens have convection capabilities now so this would be a good complementary oven if you wanted two such units. Convection cooking is great for baking because it created crispy crusts and an even golden exterior. It is, however, a very dry method of cooking by comparison, so you’ll be losing moisture and the nutritional benefits of your food. That’s not to say you’re eliminating them entirely, but there is a deterioration with the greater heat.
Speed Convection Oven: This is the best oven for the perpetually busy person. If you have no time, this will get you out the door with a meal in the time it takes you to finish your morning routine. It’s fast but thorough and you’ll get great results in each of the various features. It’s a space saver because it’s essentially two appliances in one (a convection oven and a microwave). Even if you’re a stay-at-home parent, this makes lunch and dinner a breeze. It also helps cut down on those all-night cooking sprees before a big holiday feast.
Specialty ovens are not necessarily intended to be used as a sole oven system therefore our final thoughts on each oven are written with that in mind. However, if you’re looking for an oven to replace your current model entirely and be your sole method of cooking, I agree with Chef Scotty, the speed oven is the way to go. It gets more done and it doubles as two standard types of cooking units (convection and microwave). It’s the most versatile of all the oven types and so it’s perfect for everyday use. It all depends on what you cook. If you’re an avid baker, the Steam Convection (or Combi-Steam) choice is the way to go. Either way, we recommend going with one that has a convection element whether it’s speed or steam because it gives you greater flexibility with what you can cook.
**Featured image is the Thermador MES301HP Steam & Convection Oven.
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