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how do steam ovens work

Appliance 101: How Do Steam Ovens Work?

Along with juicers, air fryers, and individual blenders, steam ovens have become a kitchen trend that emphasizes healthier eating and cooking. How do steam ovens work? As their name suggests, they use steam to cook food instead of hot air. Learn more about steam oven cooking, and its pros and cons, to determine if this cooking innovation is right for you.

How Do Steam Ovens Work And Does My Kitchen Need One?

Steam ovens are easy to use and certainly have their advantages, specifically when it comes to healthier eating. But how do steam ovens work and do their advantages outweigh the downsides? The following facts can help you make an informed choice for your kitchen.

What Are Steam Ovens?

Standard and convection ovens use hot air to cook food that’s heated via a gas or electrical heating element. By contrast, a steam oven doesn’t use any hot air and, instead, cooks by converting water to steam. While most are designed as a single wall oven, small, countertop steam ovens are available as additions to standard or convection models. Many convection wall ovens also include a steam option, combining both cooking methods in a single wall unit.

steam oven pros and cons
Image from Cnet

How Does a Steam Oven Work?

Instead of a gas or electrical heating element, steam ovens only need access to water to create steam for cooking. Some steam ovens can be connected to your home’s water supply line for constant water access. However, most consist of a small tank that must be filled via an outer compartment before each use. Water from this tank is then heated in the oven’s built-in boiler to 212℉, the point at which water converts to steam. 

Once the water reaches this point, the steam is released into the oven’s cavity. How do steam ovens work to cook food? Water is a significantly better conductor of heat than air. Once the steam is released into the oven’s cavity, the moist heat envelops food for rapid cooking. 

Should I Buy a Steam Oven?

The best way to decide if this cooking appliance is right for you is by looking at steam oven pros and cons.

Advantages of Steam Ovens:

  • Healthier cooking: Many foods lose their vitamins and nutrients in the hot air of standard and convection ovens. This type of heat is also drying, necessitating the use of butter or oil to retain moisture. Steam better enables food to retain its nutrients during cooking. Its humidity also keeps food moist, reducing the need for fats like oil and butter. 
  • Better flavor and texture: The gentle heat of steam better enables food to retain its texture, flavor, and color, creating a more pleasurable eating experience. What is a steam oven used for, ideally? Fish and vegetables are cooked to perfection with steam heat, retaining their color and moisture. Rice, stews, and meats that are cooked in sauce also emerge fluffy and perfectly moist.
  • Faster cooking times: Since water is a better conductor of heat than air, food often cooks faster, even when compared to convection ovens. And while a standard oven won’t cook evenly sometimes due to pockets of hot and cool air, the steam provides a more steady, even heat.
  • Improved reheating: Steam ovens can reheat leftovers without drying them out like a microwave or standard oven.
steam oven cooking
Image from Kitchen Stories


Steam oven disadvantages:

  • Price: Steam and combination steam/convection ovens are significantly more expensive than standard and convection models, with prices ranging from $1500 – $5000. While a countertop steam oven price may be a less expensive alternative, they can still cost between $400-600.
  • Temperature limits and lack of browning: While the concentrated heat of steam makes it feel hotter than 212℉ and can cook numerous foods, it’s not ideal for everything. Meats that benefit from browning via high heat should be cooked in a standard or convection oven. Muffins, bread, cakes, pies, and cookies are also best cooked in these ovens as opposed to steam models.
  • Inconvenient refilling: Having to fill a steam oven’s tank before each use can be inconvenient, especially if it also requires additional water during cooking.
  • Labor-intensive cleaning: How do steam ovens work when they have to be cleaned? Steam ovens must be wiped down and dried after every use to avoid a buildup of condensation. The water tank also requires regular descaling to prevent hard water buildup, mold, and mildew.

Whether you choose a standard, convection, or steam model, oven heating issues can still occur from time to time. When they do, call your local oven repair service for a prompt and professional repair!