Combination steamer-convection ovens, referred to as combi ovens, are chef-driven pieces of equipment. These units can provide multiple functions in one piece of equipment, with the ability to smoke, roast, fry, steam and bake items.
Combi ovens can be used in all types of foodservice operations’ cook lines, from white tablecloth restaurants to schools. By combining hot air with heated steam, combi ovens balance humidity, convection oven capabilities and steam.
This equipment takes the place of multiple pieces of equipment, including convection ovens and steamers, thus potentially saving space in the back of house. These units also can replace cook and hold cabinets, proofers or slow cookers when used at low-heat settings.
Operators can choose from three combi oven sizes for different applications. Floor models have 20 shelves for holding 20 sheet pans or 40 hotel pans. Tabletop units have 6 to 11 shelves for half-size sheet pans and full-size hotel pans and can also be placed on stands. Mini ovens have six shelves and can accommodate three to five pans.
Both gas and electric models are available. Gas combis have Btus ranging from 45,500 to more than 170,000, while most electric units are 208V or 240V.
Operators can choose between boiler and boilerless combi ovens. Some units utilize a heat exchanger onto which water is sprayed to create steam in the cabinet. Another traditional method uses a steam generator or enclosed box to boil water and produce steam, which is piped into the cooking cavity continuously at a measured rate. Other boilerless units are advanced and preheat the water using the unit’s own heat to run the water through a tube system. Water is preheated before it will be injected. This results in a faster recovery time and energy savings.
More advanced technology includes ventless systems that do not require a ventilation hood for versatile use, browning controls to add color to food and smoking capabilities that use real wood chips. Models with UPC code scanner capabilities utilize preloaded cooking instructions to set oven controls automatically. Other units offer HACCP documentation with and without the use of kitchen management software.
While some models include a steam release mode, others allow operators to add food in during the cooking cycle, which automatically adjusts to ensure proper cook times. Self-cleaning units offer push button use. If the cleaning cycle is interrupted due to a power outage, these systems will automatically begin a long rinse to eliminate soap residue in the oven.