The Wonders of Combi Ovens

The latest, most innovative equipment every restaurant should have would have to include a combi oven.

And while they may have been around for quite a few years the combi oven has been continually improved.

And now they should be considered a must-have item in every commercial kitchen cooking line.

What is a Combi Steamer Oven?

Combi ovens combine steam cooking, convection cooking and a combination of the two, hence the name.


The first combi steamer oven was invented in the 1960’s. In 1976 two German companies, firstly Convotherm and secondly Rational introduced their initial models of basic combi ovens.

Combi Ovens Today

Today combi ovens have evolved into irreplaceable items in many commercial kitchens around the world. They now feature Touch Screen controls, store hundreds of pre-programmed recipes and when used correctly can save food businesses both on their electricity bills, their food bills and on their cost of wages.

And who wouldn’t want that?

Types of Combi-Steam Ovens

1. Boiler-based combi ovens

A steam generator creates and injects the steam directly into the oven chamber. They are available in either gas or electric though electric is by far the most popular. This style combi is the more expensive of the two.

Boiler style combi ovens can be used for more delicate cooking procedures, such as  the delicate poaching of fish, and intricate desserts.

2. Direct water injection combi steamers

Also known as ‘Spitters’, the steam is created by injecting water directly onto the heating element in the oven chamber.

Water injection models are generally the most affordable and the most popular of the models available. Today they are found in a variety of commercials kitchens.

This style of combi is also suitable for the country area where water quality is generally harder. Boiler units can suffer from calcification issues from the water quality and this reduces the effectiveness of the oven. Calcification is much easier to control in a water injection combi steamer and can be removed during the standard cleaning program.

The Science of Cooking

When food is subjected to heat the molecules inside that food collide, causing friction. It is friction that causes the food to heat internally [rub your hands together and you will see what I mean] and the cooking process has begun. The unfortunate result of the cooking process is that any moisture contained in the food starts moving towards the surface.

A classic example of this would be a steak on the barbecue. As the steak cooks the moisture move to the surface of the steak. When you flip the steak, the moisture is now at the bottom and directly on the heat source. This moisture is quickly burned off and the more times this procedure is repeated the drier and tougher the steak becomes. We have all been to that barbecue!

One of the reasons that steaks often taste better in restaurants is that the product is generally only turned once during the cooking process and the steak is allowed to rest prior to being served to the customer. Resting allows for the moisture to slowly work it’s way back into the steak.

About Combination Steamer Ovens

Steam is one of the most effective styles of cooking as it can penetrate into the product. The cooking process is from inside to outside.

Convection cooking, on the other hand, cooks from the outside. As the product is exposed to more heat the cooking process then gradually moves inwards to the centre of the product.

The advantage with the introduction of steam into a commercial oven is that the moisture in the chamber allows for the food to be cooked while limiting the reduction of the moisture in the food.

Advantages of Combi Steamer Ovens

There are many benefits for the hospitality operator in owning a combi-steam oven.

Combi steamer ovens allow for greater precision in the cooking process by controlling both the temperature and humidity in the cooking chamber.

You can cook food at lower temperatures and get better product and results, including retaining more of the foods nutrient value. Lower temperatures also allow for less shrinkage of the product you are cooking.

When used correctly, your meats will be more tender, your vegetables more flavoursome and your results generally better and repeatable.

When you use the program features you can achieve standardised performance, One of a combi ovens’ great benefits is that you can have standardised results for ever meal produced in your kitchen, from executive chef to apprentice or weekend cook.

You can cook multiple products at the same time without cross contamination of flavours. One of the best examples I have seen was the baking of a whole snapper and a chocolate cake at the same time. The fish was amazing and the chocolate cake only tasted of chocolate. Try that and see what happens!

Improved results, your food is more flavoursome.

Combi ovens have a regeneration capability, allowing you to prepare your weekend meals during the latter part of the working week and use the regeneration facility built into the combi ovens programs to reheat these meals, saving your business money on wages without sacrificing food quality. There is no loss of moisture or crispness of the product in this process.

Imagine preparing all the food for that big function during the working week and still producing a better result than food cooked on the day! And reduce the impact of weekend penalty rates from your staffing costs.

Use Cook and Hold ability to cook food at lower temperatures overnight and then hold that food at the appropriate temperature for when your staff arrives in the morning.

For hotels, you could also use the combi to prove croissants and then walk in to your kitchen in the morning and have perfect croissants to serve immediately to your breakfast crowd at the buffet.

Or perhaps you are serving steaks at lunch and dinner. You can use the Cook & Hold feature to slow cook your meat overnight, retaining all the moisture, flavour and nutrients of the product and then bring them up to temperature on the char grill for serving and perfect presentation.

With the introduction of all the food reality cooking shows on television, the Sous Vide technique is gaining a significant foothold in the food industry and combi ovens can deliver perfect results.

Everyone likes to save money and combi ovens deliver exceptional results for all food businesses. There are two main areas of savings:

  1. Food costs
    Combi-steamer ovens provide a better cooking environment which dramatically reduces food shrinkage during the cooking process. As an example if you are currently cooking in a static of convection oven, your shrinkage on roast beef would be about 30 percent. This means that if you start with 3kgs of meat your finished product weighs only 2kgs.
    Now if you are paying $20.00 per kilo for meat the real cost is $30.00 per kilo after cooking.
    Combi-steamer ovens can reduce this shrinkage to as little as 5 to 10 percent depending on how you use the oven. Your savings potential here, on an annual basis, is enormous and your return on your investment in the combi oven will be quickly realised.
  2. Wages 
    Combi-steamer ovens allow you to prepare weekend food during the week, at less costly wage rates. On the weekend, you simply require someone to use the regeneration facility to re-heat the food. Potential savings are again enormous.

Improved product results

  • Roasts: More usable product, a more tender product, more flavoursome result.
  • BBQ Chickens: Retain their size so you finish with a larger, more appealing looking product with no more pink bits around the bones.
  • Cakes: Rise more during the cooking process, and your cake has more moisture.
  • Pastries: Become lighter, crispier and fluffier.
  • Steaming: Produce all your steam vegetables without any product degradation, no more over cooked product and never again pour the nutrient value of the vegetable down the sink with the water it was boiled or steamed in.
  • Poaching: Whether you are poaching fish or a delicate dessert you can achieve perfect results every time.

Combi ovens can be a space saving device as fewer appliances would be required in your kitchen. Recently we were able to show a nursing home that three items in their current cooking line could be replaced with just two including a combi. And the end results would be a better, healthier product for all the customers in their care.

Potentially you can retrofit a combi steamer oven into your commercial kitchen and your cooking line as long as you can create some space for the oven. That space doesn’t even necessarily have to be under the kitchen exhaust canopy as many combi ovens now have an optional venting system that can be purchased with the unit. These vents come with the same compliance certificates that are supplied with your kitchen exhaust canopy but check with your local food authority or council first for their approval.

And lastly, you can create a safer workplace for your staff with improved Work Health and Safety Issues. Lifting and carrying large heavy pots of boiling water can be a thing of the past with combi ovens. You can now produce the same food with better results in a combi steamer oven.

How to size the correct combi oven for your establishment

Typically one gastronorm sized tray equates to 10 people served. So, if you typically do a function for 100 people or 100 covers in your restaurant then you could easily consider a 10 tray combi oven.

What equipment works hand in hand with a combi oven?

The two best items that you can purchase to enhance your combi oven purchase would be a vacuum sealer and a blast chiller/freezer unit.

The blast chiller/freezer allows you to cool the food down rapidly through the food danger zone. This zone is where bacteria proliferate and is between the temperatures of 5°C and 70°C. In Europe, it is now standard operating procedure that cooked food must be brought down to less than 5°C in under 90 minutes, something that is just not possible with other forms of refrigeration.

The time will soon come in Australia when this will also become a requirement to conform to the food licensing laws.

The vacuum sealer allows you to store both fresh and prepared food and then hold that product for use at a later date. Potentially it will also allow you to better control food costs.

For a busy club environment serving freshly made pizza, you could bag all the fresh toppings, allowing for exact measurements in each bag and then control both the food costings and the cooking process. Once the pizza has been ordered, then the operator simply has to sauce up the base of the pizza, but the bag containing the toppings and spread them equally around the pizza base.

If you were also using a high-speed oven at the delivery point, you could be serving a cooked pizza under 120 seconds, depending on the base used.

Combi Oven Brands in Australia

There are many combi oven brands available in Australia, with the main ones being:

Sydney Commercial Kitchens sells all of brands of combi steamer ovens at competitive pricing, Australia wide.

The next blog post on the latest innovative commercial kitchen equipment series will be on must have refrigeration products.

Sydney Commercial Kitchens has a special offer for Alsco customers. Get $500 discount for combi steamer ovens. Offer expires on 30 September 2015. Hurry, Grab yours now!




Alsco would like to thank Neil Willis from Sydney Commercial Kitchens for sharing another informative article.

‘Who wants to eat some cake’? – a famous baker usually asks this to all his guests and customers.

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Disclaimer – These articles are provided to supply general health, safety, and green information to people responsible for the same in their organisation. The articles are general in nature and do not substitute for legal and/or professional advice. We always suggest that organisations obtain information specific to their needs.