Updated: Nov 7, 2020
Even though it has many other problems and crazy things happening, 2020 continues to be a great year for electronic kitchen and outdoor cooking appliances and gadgets for sure! I recently purchased the just released Anova Precision Oven which promises to bring some of the awesome features of sous vide cooking to a counter top convection oven without the water bath. There are some other counter-top sized steam ovens out there, but none of them have the versatility or functionality of the Anova model. Although I will be doing an in-depth review of the Anova Oven and another less expensive steam oven very soon, I thought I would go over some of the features of these type of ovens in case you were interested.
What is a Combi Steam Oven?
Now, Combi Steam ovens have been out there for a few years now, and like sous vide they started on the commercial side as a better and more accurate way to cook. Many restaurants and commercial kitchens use Combi Steam ovens either in conjunction with or instead of sous vide set ups. Back a few years ago in New York City the local health department pretty much banned sous vide cooking in restaurants because of the lower temperature nature of cooking so a lot of them switched to Combi Steam Ovens. The commercial versions of these ovens require a lot of money, dedicated water lines, and larger electrical outlets to use. Some higher end home appliance makers such as Wolf and Miele have been marketing home steam/combi ovens for a couple years now but they are in the $4,000 plus price range.
So, with the release of the Anova oven, this puts the power of these ovens in the hands of most Americans! Like their very popular sous vide circulators, The Anova Precision Oven has both manual controls and a fully functional wifi app for your mobil devices with built in recipes and features. More recipes will be added as time goes on with updates. Besides the sous vide type function, Steam ovens offer some amazing cooking benefits for things like breads, cakes, and many other foods. The ability to add steam and humidity during cooking can change the way you cook for the better.
Can it Sous Vide?
So, the biggest question that has come up in the online groups about this oven "Is this really sous vide since there is no water bath?". Well, I recently had the Chief Marketing Officer and key designer of the oven for Anova, Scott Heimendinger, on my podcast and we discussed some of the features of the oven and how this is different but similar to what we know as sous vide cooking. The more expensive commercial "Combi Steam" ovens have what is know as a "Wet Bulb" thermometer. Most other ovens we have only measure "Dry Bulb" temperatures. The difference in the two temperatures are pretty self explanatory. "Dry Bulb" temperature is the temperature of the dry air in your oven, and "Wet Bulb" actually will measure the temperature of the higher humidity atmosphere inside a steam oven. Think of the "Wet Bulb" temperature to be what the weather man says the "Feels Like" temperature may be during a hot humid summer day.
The Anova Precision Oven can not only measure this "Wet Bulb" temperature, it can also adjust and manipulate it to replicate the control you have over the water bath in sous vide cooking. Another thing the Anova Oven has that the others are lacking, is a built in food temperature probe. This probe is another feature that makes the Anova a much more precise cooking device as it will allow you to cook food to a predetermined internal temperature. Scott also said that you can get very similar results in the Anova Oven even without cooking the food in a bag like you would traditionally with sous vide.
Higher end combi steam ovens have had "Sous Vide Mode" for a few years now and they use that term mainly so people who are familiar with that type of low, precise temperature cooking can understand that they can use the same types of information that are used in sous vide cooking and it has been an industry standard for a few years now well before Anova created their oven. Anova uses the term "Sous Vide Mode" in the Anova Precision Oven to differentiate to the user that it is using the "Wet Bulb" probe to measure the temperature instead of the "Dry Bulb". So, is it really sous vide cooking? I'll leave that up to you to decide.
Can All Steam Ovens Sous Vide?
No, not all steam ovens can do what the Anova Oven does. Not all home countertop steam ovens can be considered "Combi" ovens either. The more basic and cheaper models do nothing more than just inject steam into a regular convection oven. Although the steam does help cook the food a little faster, and may prevent your food from drying out, most do not measure or adjust the wet bulb temperature.
The other cheaper ovens can perform a little better than some of the other convection ovens other there as far as baking and reheating food for sure. There are some units such as the F.Blumlein models that claim they have a "combi oven" feature, but can not claim that they have precise temperature controls like the Anova Oven does. There are also such units as the "Tovala" Steam oven that are primarily used to re-heat the companies prepackaged meals from their mail order service with not many other functions.
Is A Steam Combi Oven right for You?
Only you can answer that question. These are a great tool that has many different functions that include baking, reheating, and steam cooking. Will they replace your microwave or convection oven? maybe. They can do some things much better than those appliances for sure. I do not think it will completely replace sous vide cooking though. Sous Vide is really good at longer cooks where you want to tenderize and cook at lower doneness levels, and it can also do some things that you will never be able to do in these ovens. In my personal opinion they have a place for sure especially if you love to bake. I look forward to delving deeper into this rabbit hole and I will make sure to report back my findings!