What Is a Steam Oven—and Do I Need One?

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What is a steam oven? It's an oven that circulates steam rather than hot air to cook food. It keeps more nutrients and color in your food—cooks lightning fast, too.

If you happen to visit someone’s house after a kitchen remodel or rent an Airbnb, look closely at the oven. You might find a small compartment to pop open in the top corner. Not all ovens have this compartment—it’s a rare find. It means you’re looking at a steam oven!

What Is a Steam Oven?

It looks like a standard oven, but cooks food with steam, not hot air. You can pair it with a convection oven for the ultimate appliance artillery, because there’s nothing that you can’t do when you have both options on hand! But some loyal fans  replace a standard oven with a steam oven for several reasons. Because it cooks with steam, this kind of oven keeps food moist, locking in nutrients and flavor while canceling out the need for extra fats and oils. (It’s kind of like cooking sous vide, but without a water bath.)

A steam oven cuts down cook time, too. And some people also find a steam oven more efficient when it comes to reheating leftovers and will use it in place of a microwave.

What’s That Compartment on the Oven?

Most steam ovens have a small tank you fill with water, which is the compartment that pops out near the top of the oven. It heats up in a boiler, and then gets dispersed as steam to cook your dinner. Some high-end models can be directly hooked to a water line, negating the need for refills, but unless you’re planning a kitchen remodel, we like the idea of being able to easily install a steam oven into the existing kitchen cabinets.

If you stick with the refillable model, all you’re required to do is add some water every now and then. Otherwise, the steam does all the work!

Do I Need a Steam Oven?

If you often host gatherings or family holidays, then a steam oven is worth exploring. You’ll save time when it comes to cooking, cut calories and end up with moist, flavorful meals. You can find steam ovens in all shapes and sizes—countertop models to replace your microwave, wall-mounted ovens and even a range with a built-in steam oven.

It comes down to personal preference, but for cooks who want flexibility, start your search with a combination steam oven, like this luxe Thermador wall oven. It has both steam and convection capability, so you can cook vegetables or a turkey with steam, but stick to the convection setting for pastry crust and crusty homemade bread.

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Hannah Twietmeyer
Hannah is a writer and content creator based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a passion for all things food, health, community and lifestyle. She is a journalism graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a previous dining and drink contributor for Madison Magazine.