Combination steamer-convection ovens, referred to as combi ovens, are chef-driven pieces of equipment. These units provide multiple functions in one piece of equipment, with the ability to smoke, roast, fry, steam and bake items.
Foodservice operators most commonly use combi ovens in a combination mode that pairs hot air or convection cooking with steam. Cooking in a moist environment not only retains food’s natural nutrients and increases yields, but it also can reduce cooking times. Units can operate solely as a steamer, providing consistent temperature control. Combi ovens also provide convection modes that use dry convective heat to roast, bake and finish food.
In banquet operations or other instances that require food preparation far in advance of serving, staff can use these ovens to rethermalize menu items as part of a cook/chill operation or for precooked convenience items. Electric or gas combi ovens are available with boiler or boilerless steam generation. If the foodservice operator plans to use a unit more like a steamer with continuous full-load steaming, a boiler-based combi would be more suitable than a boilerless type.
Operators can choose from various pan capacities as well as different footprint configurations. These include full- and half-size combi ovens as well as countertop models. Sizes range from smaller units that accommodate four half-size steam pans to large roll-in units that can accommodate up to 40 full-size steam pans. Larger units for 6 to 20 full-size sheet pans also are available.
Combi ovens utilize either basic manual controls or more sophisticated digital and programmable controls. The most recent control type is a touch screen, where operators can select a cooking mode from photos or a list. Some ovens have larger screens that can display training videos.
Construction of combi ovens includes various gauges and types of stainless steel. The majority of combi ovens have corrosion-resistant stainless steel exterior panels. Cooking chambers generally feature 304 stainless steel because these areas remain subject to potential
water quality issues from steam and convection cooking technology.
A number of standard features are available, including hinged or sliding doors, humidity control systems that provide the ability to use moist or dry heat, a choice of manual or automated cooking, automatic cleaning cycles, core temperature probes, USB ports for programming updates and downloading HACCP data, and spray hoses. Depending on the model, ovens may have recipe management systems and auto-reversing fans with a choice of speed settings and power levels.
Combi oven options vary from stands and units with stacking capabilities to water filtration
systems and advanced cleaning systems. The ventless hood option allows operators to place the combi outside of a traditional kitchen hood, which can create space in the kitchen. The smoking option allows chefs to use hot or cold smoke to create unique flavors for an expanded menu.
There are a number of innovations with these units, such as combis with smaller footprints that provide high production capabilities. Models with triple-pane glass help keep heat inside the oven and the door cool to the touch to safeguard employees. At least one manufacturer offers an option that automatically evacuates steam from the oven cavity after cooking to prevent burns to operators opening the oven door.
Newer hands-free cleaning systems include automatic drying and steam disinfecting features.