What is a Steam Oven?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Cooking with steam has long been a preferred method for certain vegetables and meat selections. There are a number of products that allow one to steam nearly anything. Until recently though, no one has considered cooking virtually everything by steam. Recently, however, Miele, Sharp and other manufacturers have each launched several varieties of the steam oven.

Steam ovens use steam to cook food.
Steam ovens use steam to cook food.

The steam oven can be either a countertop stove, sized about the same as a mid-size microwave, or it can be installed in a kitchen. The price is prohibitive for some. These ovens range in price from about $1,500 to over $5,000 US dollars (USD). The device comes equipped with a reservoir that is filled with water to begin the baking process. Even installed ovens do not need to be hooked up to a water supply, like an ice-making refrigerator, because in most cases the reservoir is detachable or easily accessible.

Steam cooking is the preferred method of cooking some meats, like seafoods.
Steam cooking is the preferred method of cooking some meats, like seafoods.

Temperatures of steam ovens vary. Different systems can cook food at temperatures of 212° to more than 572° F (100° to more than 300° C). Cooking a chicken in a steam oven set to 212° F (100° C) would take about 20 minutes to cook rather than the two hours it'd take in a traditional oven.

Some steam ovens use fans to circulate steam, which helps to cook food through convection.
Some steam ovens use fans to circulate steam, which helps to cook food through convection.

Steam oven manufacturers claim that their ovens not only reduce cooking time, but also lower the fat content of food. Dry heat cooking tends to rely on added fat to keep meats from drying out. With steam, meat needs no supplementary fat, and will definitely not be dry because of the constant injections of steam. Steam cooking also retains more vitamins than other cooking methods and is therefore touted as a far healthier way of preparing foods.

Vegetables are often cooked using steam.
Vegetables are often cooked using steam.

A steam oven cannot brown items, and this may be one drawback for people considering the purchase of one. Most meat needs to be grilled or browned prior to cooking in the oven, or the result is a rather pallid-appearing meat, much like meat cooked in the microwave. Breads or pies cooked by steam will also appear quite pale, and may need to be browned in a conventional oven. This drawback results in an extra step and extra time added to the cooking process.

Some oven suppliers have combined steam with convection. The convection process employs a fan to circulate the steam around items being cooked. This increases the speed of cooking time but does not aid in browning foods.

Though the term "oven" suggests that one can only bake with a steam oven, manufacturers also recommend using this type of oven for quickly preparing pasta or soup, or even for sterilizing baby bottles. A new product based on an ancient theme in cooking, the steam oven may well be poised to become the next great kitchen appliance.

When cooked with steam, food retains more vitamins than when it is cooked using other methods, which makes it healthier.
When cooked with steam, food retains more vitamins than when it is cooked using other methods, which makes it healthier.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


First, a microwave isn't "bad" for you. It just stinks at cooking most things. It doesn't melt or even heat most plastics you'd normally use. For the most part, if the plastic melts, your massively over heated food surface did it. They don't cook from the inside out; they cook from the outside in, like any other heat source. The RF does also enter the food, but it's absorbed from the outside in. If it weren't, it would heat anything but pass right through, like it does with plastic.

Steam has a higher specific heat than dry air. It's hotter (more energy) than dry air at the same temperature so it transfers heat quicker. That's the main advantage. You can use steam (you can do the same thing with a spritz bottle and a iron dutch oven in a regular oven) for bread for the first part of the baking process.

Some vegetables lose nutritional value and others gain it when cooked. I guess faster would be better and you're not boiling the vegetables and washing their nutrients away. A pressure cooker is different because the steam is under pressure. That keeps water from boiling until it hits about 250F at a standard 15psi pressure.

The steam can't do much for keeping moisture in meat, for the most part. That's primarily a function of not over cooking it and getting the proteins to contract expelling moisture. Over cooked meat is dry even if you boiled it.

Tougher meats stay moist and get more moist at slightly higher temperatures because of their higher amount of connective tissue, which breaks down and gels at a slightly higher temperature than say, white meat chicken. "Perfect" chicken (not that there is such a thing) would be white meat that saw 150F for 5 minutes and dark meat that saw 165-170 for say, 10 minutes.

At that point you've achieved the USDA recommended point for safety and kept the moisture in the meat. 165F is the 0 second temperature for safety. 5 minutes for 10 percent fat white meat chicken accomplishes the same thing.

IIRC 140F for 35 minutes would have the same safety margin as hitting 165 for low fat white meat chicken. That would be more moist and slightly pink and as safe as sawdust chicken at the 0 second hold time printed on your meat thermometer.


@Giulia: I have at home a Unox XVC 305 combi steamer and couldn't be happier. It is industrial and holds 5 GN trays (Gastronorm standard). If you get a combi steamer, make sure you get an automatic washing system. It makes cleaning and your life a LOT easier. I also have a steam condenser unit and a second thinner sous-vide probe.

The XVC 305 is on the smaller side for a commercial unit, but it still is bulky and may need a kitchen makeover. You need both cold water and plumbing for the unit. I renovated the whole kitchen when putting the unit in and had to make a 200 mm deep niche behind the unit which is standing on a 700 mm deep countertop in order to fit the plumbing etc.

As for the oven, I couldn't be happier. Poultry turns out succulent and juicy and this unit will fit any turkey.


Oh, boy. The latest fad in cooking. If you can afford it. Stupid.


I was looking for different brands of freestanding steam ovens producers. Any help would be very much appreciated.

Thanks, Giulia


The steam keeps the crust of the bread soft early in the baking, while it is still rising. If the crust becomes hard early it will not allow full rising of the dough. Only the first five minutes is needed for the bread.


I don't know how to benefit from my new steam oven. Can anyone tell me where to find good recipes and tips?


Not sure about the vegetables, but for bread, steam in the oven makes a fantastic crust. The steam is in the oven only for the first part (3 to 5 min.) of the baking process. The remainder of the bake time is dry.


I have been using a quality steam oven for five years. The product is a valuable and excellent tool in my kitchen. I use it every day and it does so much more than just the vegetables!


How could steam ovens yield a good crust on bread if the food is damp the whole time it is cooking and does not brown?


Is it bad for you like microwave? What's good about it? Does it take the vitamins out of your food? Does it melt plastic?


What is a good alternative to a microwave since it really isn't good for you. Is an infrared oven good to replace it or maybe a steam oven.

What is the good benefits of the Avanta oven? What does it do different than a microwave if it is different?


How does a steam oven differ from a stove-top pressure cooker?

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