When asked at Smart Kitchen Summit in 2017 what appliance he was waiting for to make its way to the consumer kitchen, award-winning chef Philip Tessier said, “the combi oven.”
As it turns out, Tessier wasn’t the only chef that day who thought a steam-powered consumer kitchen was a good idea. When asked the same question a couple of minutes later, Serious Eats’ Kenji López-Alt agreed.
“I was going to say combi ovens too,” said López-Alt.
The combi oven, also known as combi steamer, combines traditional convection (dry) heating and moist heat using steam to enable the cook to do all sorts of things they can’t do with traditional ovens: Sous vide cooking, steaming vegetables, and baking moist delicious bread to name a few.
While steam cooking has been a long-time fixture in pro kitchens, it has never taken off in a big way in the consumer kitchen. But that might be changing. In 2020, Anova finally started shipping their countertop Precision Oven, and the critics embraced it. Since that time, the company has had trouble keeping the $599 appliance in stock.
Other upstarts such as Tovala and Suvie are also bringing different spins on steam-powered cooking to consumers. And LG, which introduced steam cooking into their convection ovens in 2018, is now adding Steam Cook functionality to the microwave.
In some ways, steam cooking is following the same early path pioneered by sous vide circulators. Like sous vide, steam cooking is a technique long-embraced in the pro kitchen, and it is also finally reaching consumer price points and showing up in friendlier form factors.
However, while sales of sous vide circulators eventually hit a wall because most consumers didn’t have the patience to cook meat in water baths for hours on end, my guess is steam cooking has a much wider appeal. A big reason is that unlike sous vide, steam cooking arrives in the kitchen via traditional-looking appliances (not to mention steam ovens like Anova’s allow you cook sous vide without the water bath or the plastic bag).
If 2021 was the year air-fry was everywhere, I suspect in 2022 we might begin to see the year the chefs get their wish and steam cooking begins to enter the mainstream.