What Is a Steam Oven?

Plus, how they work and the benefits of cooking in them.

January 31, 2023

Photo by: Miele


By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

Maybe you’ve noticed steam ovens cropping up on your social media feeds or gracing the pages of your favorite home and cooking magazines. But what exactly is a steam oven and how does it work? For more info, we consulted Eddie Casanave, owner of Distinctive Kitchen & Appliance World in Raleigh, North Carolina.

What Is a Steam Oven?

A steam oven is an oven that uses hot steam to cook food instead of hot air.

How Do Steam Ovens Work?

Steam ovens work by drawing water from a small tank into a built-in boiler, heating it to 212 degrees Fahrenheit and releasing steam into the oven cavity. Cooking with steam is just as effective as the hot air in a traditional convection oven. And it’s even faster, too. “Although a steam oven is not a pressure cooker, it employs the same principle of cooking with moisture and heat,” Casanave explains. “You can expect to cook food on average between 20% and 30% faster than with a regular oven.”

HyperFocal: 0

HyperFocal: 0

Photo by: Miele


Types of Steam Ovens

There are two types of steam ovens: steam ovens and combination steam and convection ovens. A combination steam oven, or combi steam oven for short, works like a regular oven and a steam oven combined. “Many manufacturers have focused on building combination steam ovens that have the benefit of using convection for browning and steam for cooking,” Casanave says. “Ovens that don’t have the convection feature do not brown while cooking.”

Casanave says that steam ovens range in price from $500 to $5,000. Typically, countertop steam oven units are less expensive than built-in models, though pricing also varies by brand and features. But because countertop models take up a lot of counter space, many of Casanave’s clients prefer built-in models.

Meal Prep Steamed Vegetables

Meal Prep Steamed Vegetables

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

What Are the Benefits of Cooking In a Steam Oven?

One of the main benefits of cooking in a steam oven is producing healthier, more nutritious food. Steam does a better job of preserving foods’ vitamins and minerals, and because it creates a moist cooking environment, there’s no need to add oil like you would when using a conventional oven. Case in point? These Meal Prep Steamed Vegetables (pictured above).

Additional benefits of cooking in a steam oven include:

  • Extra juicy proteins: Retains natural moisture, ensuring juicy results for proteins such as pork chops and chicken breasts
  • Faster cooking time: Water is a more efficient heat conductor than air
  • Reduced risk of burning: Owing to the use of moist heat
  • Efficient re-heating: Warms food more effectively than a microwave, without drying it out or affecting its texture
  • Fast defrosting: Defrosts foods more quickly, evenly and gently than at room temperature
  • Cook many foods: Ability to cook a variety of foods at the same time

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What to Cook In a Steam Oven

Use your steam oven to cook a variety of proteins such as fish, chicken and pork, vegetables and grains such as rice, pasta and quinoa. It's also great at making a large batch of hard-boiled eggs. Steam ovens are the secret to perfect cheesecake since the moisture helps prevent cracking, no steam bath necessary. You can use your steam oven to defrost frozen vegetables and foods or gently reheat leftovers without risking partially cooking them, drying them out or ruining their texture.

“I use my Viking combination steam oven for a variety of things, but my go to recipes include steam-grilled fish and pork chops, along with veggies like cauliflower, asparagus and broccoli,” Casanave says.

We love the idea of cooking all the parts of this Pork and Broccoli Grain Bowl (pictured above) separately in the steam oven without adversely affecting the taste of each component. Plus, the moist heat would ensure that lean pork tenderloin doesn’t dry out and help maintain broccoli’s vitamins and peak nutritional value. The ability to make big batches of steamed grains, proteins and veggies in a steam oven makes meal prep a cinch, too.

Just remember that unless you have a combination steam and convection oven, a regular steam oven does not brown food, so it’s not effective for applications such as searing meat or baking casseroles. If you have a combination steam oven, then it can be used to cook, steam, roast or bake any dish.

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