Many chefs do not own it yet but 98% of chefs were interested in using a combi oven, according to the Star Chef research.

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

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

According to the same research, the combi ovens have improved up to 50% in comparison to their initial models. Isn’t that amazing?

Today, combi oves should be considered a must-have item in every commercial kitchen cooking line, together with suitable kitchen staff uniforms, tools, equipment and appliances.

So, what is this miraculous combi steamer oven? What does it even do? Why does your kitchen desperately need one?

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

The History of Ovens

Even the ancient Egyptians and Romans made brick or stone ovens to bake bread. In ancient Egypt, there were even entire bakeries. This can be seen in the ancient pictures of many people making bread.

Romans also had organised bread baking. Their furnaces for baking were actually in the shape of baking bells. They even managed to create a mobile oven.

It was in the Middle Ages when baking became very popular. Especially baking bread and pastry. Monasteries had their own big bakeries because they gave bread to everyone who came to them. A large variety of breads dates from this period.

In Colonial America, people designed special brick ovens, shaped like a beehive. Sometimes, these would be inside their homes, but often, those would be completely external.

In the 18th century, the first cast iron ovens started to emerge. This may be the first step toward designing the ovens in a way they are made today. They were still using firewood as their source of heat.

Several decades later, in the 19th century, gas ovens started being produced. At first, they were big, industrial ovens and they became common household items only later.

A couple of years shy of 20th century, the first electrical ovens were invented. Electrical ovens and stoves were a real revolution in the kitchen world.

However, the development of ovens and new technologies didn’t stop there. Somewhere around the 1950s the first microwave oven was produced. That was yet another drastic change in the way people prepared their food.

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-Steam 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?

The ovens are being developed every day. Still, the most of combi steam ovens can be classified into two groups:

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.

How Combination Steamer Ovens Work?

Steam cooking 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. Moreover, they are usually faster than the traditional ovens. Here are some more advantages of these ovens:

Advantages of Combi Steamer Ovens

There are many benefits for the hospitality operator in owning a combi-steam oven. Some experts recommend it as a supplemental oven to your professional kitchen, but in practice, they have been proven to be enough on their own.

You can improve the taste and quality of your food

You can cook food at lower temperatures and get better product and results, including retaining more of the foods nutrient value. When used correctly, your meats will be more tender, your vegetables more flavoursome and your results generally better and repeatable.

  • 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 overcooked 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.

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!

You can always get the same, amazing results

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 every meal produced in your kitchen, from executive chef to apprentice or weekend cook.

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

You can save time by preparing in advance

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. 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 make 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.

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 reheat the food. Potential savings are again enormous.

You just need to make sure your tables are perfectly set and that your chefs and waiters have amazing uniforms. Since you will have enough savings and enough time, you can invest in a more professional look of your restaurant.

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You can save money on food

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 3kg of meat your finished product weighs only 2kg. 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.

You can save space in your overcrowded kitchen

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. 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.

Still, even with the combi oven in your kitchen, this doesn’t mean that you should neglect your First Aid efforts. Hot steam and other dangers are still around. Therefore, follow the regulations and ensure your restaurant has the necessary First Aid cabinets and trained employees.

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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 a 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:

How to choose the Right Combi Oven for Your Establishment

You need to make the right choices when it comes to size and the quality. 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.

As for the quality, consulting professionals with experience will be of great help. Sydney Commercial Kitchens sells all of brands of combi steamer ovens at competitive pricing, Australia wide.

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.

How to choose the right kitchen equipment for your restaurant is a huge question, and, just as important is how to choose the correct company to supply you with this equipment. We always want to make sure that we only serve the best foods and pastries.

Here at Alsco we always want to keep your kitchen people looking smart and feeling comfortable with our good quality products and services.

Learn about our Hospitality Workwear and Chef Clothing in which you can cook comfortably and look professional. These clothes the food industry hygiene standards. Grab your phone and call 1300 659 892! Our friendly representative awaits.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Images by West Midlands Police