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.
These units are not for everyone. Operators using a combi oven solely as an oven or a steamer are better served buying a convection oven or steamer as it will cost less to purchase and maintain than a combi oven.
Before purchasing a combi oven, operators need to determine the type of food they will produce in it as well as the quantity to ensure the unit can accommodate the volume. Size is a key consideration when choosing a combi for a cook line. The unit needs to first be sized for the space, with clearance requirements considered.
Keep in mind that these units accommodate specific pan sizes. For smaller footprints, an oven that fits half-size pans may be necessary. With roll-in units, it is important to have the correct number and size of racks. Also, operators will need to designate a spot to stack these racks outside of the oven.
Operators also need to assess their power supply to determine if a gas or electric combi is preferable. While gas models offer a choice of natural or propane, electric ovens vary from single- to three-phase with different voltages. Verify the utility availability to ensure proper support of the combi.
Assess the operation, menu and staff skill level to see what type of controls are necessary. Operators can choose from a variety of control options, with digital or manual programmability varying in complexity. Although programmable types are easier to use and can be pre-programmed, some chefs prefer to have manual control over the cooking process.
Combi ovens create steam and typically require an exhaust hood by code, but it’s recommended that operators check local codes to confirm requirements prior to purchasing. While combis in some regions may need exhaust ducting, others will necessitate fire-rated grease ducting.
While traditional combi ovens create steam with a built-in water boiler system, boilerless units have fewer parts and tend to require less maintenance and service over time. Choosing between boiler and boilerless ovens comes down to how fast a recovery is needed. Steam generators recover faster and can produce steam on demand, so this type is recommended for banquets and other operations that need quicker service and have higher volumes. Units with steam generators tend to cost more as well.
One important combi oven accessory that is frequently omitted or specified incorrectly is the water filter. This can severely decrease the combi’s service life over time and result in many service calls. Test the water quality prior to choosing the correct filter.
Look over the available oven options to see what add-ons are needed. Many units feature programmable cooking cycles, settings for quick defrost, rethermalizing, poaching, gentle steaming, warming, and smoking, among many others available. Some also offer a self-cleaning option. Combi ovens with a side-mounted hose and sprayer simplify cleaning.