What is a Combi Oven: Pros and Cons

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Medically reviewed by:
Dr. Jennifer Hughes, MD

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If you’ve ever mastered a perfectly roasted chicken in your oven one day, and then the next time, it’s dry and rubbery even though you didn’t do anything differently, the imprecise and inconsistent heating of your conventional oven may be to blame. 

But what’s the solution? 

In the past, only restaurants or commercial chefs have had access to the precise and versatile cooking that comes with a full-size combi oven—but now, these appliances are smaller in size, more affordable, and readily available for every aspiring home chef to cook, steam, roast, braise, and bake everything to perfection. 

If this sounds great, but you’re not entirely sure what a combi oven is, we’ve got you covered—keep reading to find out how combi steam ovens work, the pros and cons, and the most frequently asked questions about these unique appliances.

What Is a Combi Oven?

cooking chicken in anova precision oven
Anova’s version of a combi oven cooking a whole chicken perfectly.

Combi ovens—short for combination ovens—are essentially three-in-one ovens that allow you to cook with steam, convection (hot air), or a combination of the two.

These options give you better control of temperature and uniquely allow you to control humidity, providing precise and consistent outcomes with whatever you cook.  

Cooking with steam enables you to steam vegetables and rice to the perfect texture or poach fish, while convection cooking circulates dry heat to bake bread and pastries or roast meats. 

When used together, the dry heat and steam duo produces moist and flavorful meats and vegetables, ​​but with the bonus of browning that comes from convection heating.

A professional-level combi steam oven at a fraction of the commercial price is the Anova Precision™ Oven, which perfectly controls the temperature and humidity, allowing you also to defrost, reheat, dehydrate, air fry, or cook in sous vide style—all in one microwave-sized appliance that fits on your countertop. 

How Does a Combi Oven Work?

Although they seem complicated, combi steam ovens are actually quite simple. 

A fan—or multiple fans—will circulate dry heat evenly throughout the appliance, similar to commercial-grade convection ovens. 

You can use the oven just like this, which is perfect for baking bread or making French fries, or turn on the “combi” part and utilize the steam function. 

The oven will inject water or steam into the oven, which raises the humidity to a precise level, locking in flavors and moisture and resulting in quicker cook times

Conversely, combi-steam ovens can also remove moisture from food by releasing steam, leading to perfectly crisped skins or dehydrated food. 

You can also solely use the steam function, which is ideal for poaching vegetables or seafood—this mode simply uses circulating steam to create a moist heat cooking environment. 

Pros and Cons of a Combi Oven

5 benefits of combi oven cooking

While there are plenty of advantages of using these appliances, a few downsides still exist—let’s take a look at both. 

Pros of Combi Steam Oven Cooking 

  • Versatile: The most significant advantage of combi ovens is the versatility in what you can make—and how you make it. Combi steam ovens are perfect for meat, vegetables, bread, pastries, desserts, fish, seafood, pasta, rice, grains, eggs, and just about anything else you can think of. 
  • Consistent temperatures: Most home ovens can fluctuate up to 60°F, making it frustratingly difficult to create precise and consistent meals. Combi steam ovens allow you to control the internal temperature closely.
  • Humidity control: Regular ovens do not utilize or control humidity, making combi ovens ideal for cooking juicy and flavorful foods. 
  • Faster cook times: Due to the combined effect of steam and convection, these unique ovens can cook your food more quickly, which is also more energy efficient. 
  • Perfect crispiness: Unlike a regular oven, a combi steam oven can achieve the perfect outer crispy crust on roasted chicken, salmon, and sourdough bread, for example, as the precise moisture control retains juices or inner softness while the convection air crisps the outer layer.

Cons of Combi Oven Cooking

However, there are a few disadvantages of combi ovens, including: 

  • Cost: Although the cost has become much more affordable, they can still set you back $300-1200, depending on the brand. 
  • Size: In recent years, combi ovens have moved from solely commercial to residential, with ones like Anova’s Precision Oven being about the size of a microwave. However, this might still be too large for comfort if you have a small kitchen space. 
  • Cleaning: Some of these combination ovens typically need to be cleaned more often than regular ovens because ​​condensation or fat droplets can build up during cooking. 
  • Learning curve: Because combi ovens cook faster, there may be a learning curve of how long things will take—especially if you don’t have a “smart” combi steam oven like Anova’s. 

FAQs About Combi Ovens

What Is the Difference Between Combi and Convection Ovens?

Convection is one component of a combi oven, which combines steam and dry heat. 

However, convection ovens solely utilize circulated dry heat with no steam component. 

Are Combi Ovens Microwaves?

A combi steam oven can provide most of the same effects as a microwave—with the downside of not being able to pop microwave popcorn—but a microwave cannot do everything that a combi oven can do. 

The two appliances also use different methods of heating, as microwaves use, well, microwaves and combi ovens utilize steam and convection. 

There are also combi microwaves on the market, which have a fan function and a heating element on the top.

Does a Combi Steam Oven Cook Faster?

Yes, combi steam ovens will cook food faster than a traditional oven.

Can You Cook Pizza in a Combi Oven?

Yes, pizza is great to cook in a combi oven, as it can create a crispy crust without burning the toppings.

Can You Defrost In a Combi Oven?

Yes, combi steam ovens allow you to defrost food more quickly than using a microwave oven.

How Do You Clean a Combi Oven?

Although it may differ for each brand, Anova describes how to clean their precision oven in this way:

– Clean the appliance interior after each use, as fat accumulation or other food can result in a fire. 
– Clean stubborn dirt with an oven cleaner.
– Clean the front of the appliance with a soft cloth with warm water and a cleaning agent.
– Use a stainless-steel cleaner to clean the metal surfaces.
– Use a mixture of distilled vinegar (a few drops) and warm water to sponge off mineral buildup on the bottom of the interior. 
– Do not use abrasive scrubbers or cleaning agents, as they can cause damage to the oven.

Can You Cook Pasta in a Combi Steam Oven?

Yes, you can steam pasta to create typically cooked pasta or use the combi feature to make baked pasta dishes.

Can You Put Foil in a Combi Oven?

Yes, you can wrap your food or cover trays or baking sheets in foil when cooking in a combi steam oven.

However, never place foil on the floor of the oven or touch the oven’s walls with the foil, as it can cause damage.

Can You Bake Cakes in a Combi Oven?

Yes, you can bake cakes in a combi steam oven—the precise steam control keeps cakes and other pastries moist and fluffy.

Key Takeaways

  • Combi steam ovens have three modes of operation: steam, convection, and a steam-convection combination. 
  • This cooking method is highly versatile, uses precise temperatures and humidity control to create consistent meals, and cooks faster than traditional ovens. 
  • However, combi ovens can be expensive, more challenging to clean, and take up valuable counter space.

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