So, when I’m on the market for a new cooking tool, the same standard applies—it basically has to do it all. This is why I tend to gravitate toward the 10-in-1-style appliances (love your forever, Instant Pot) that are not only super convenient but also make the space they occupy in my cramped kitchen well worth it. And after graduating from culinary school, where I cooked with hundreds of different appliances, I’ve concluded that combi ovens—like the Sharp Smart Combi Built-In Steam Oven—are my absolute favorite do-it-all machines... especially if you want restaurant-quality results at home.
Why? Unlike the solid conventional oven that may have been in your kitchen for a couple decades, combi ovens can do much more than just bake and broil, thanks to their dual convection and steam-cooking capabilities.
How does a combi oven work?
To get into the nitty-gritty science behind the technology used in combi ovens, I spoke with Matthew Vecera, director of brand marketing at Sharp, who explained exactly how a combi oven works. “To be called a combi oven, the product needs to be able to blend steam and radiant heat to cook food,” Vecera says. So what's the difference between a combi and a regular oven? "A regular oven, like you would typically see in a slide-in range oven, may have one or more convection fans to circulate the dry heat generated by the radiant coils, but no moisture," he says.
The steam in combi ovens helps preserve a food's internal moisture levels, while the radiant heat and convection fan help the exterior crisp up to perfection. Ever felt like you had to burn your oven fries or roast chicken in order to get the interior to cook through? Yeah, that doesn't happen in combi ovens: They can cook veggies and protein so they're both perfectly tender on the inside and caramelized and crisp (but not burnt) on the outside.
“Or, for instance, if you ever baked French bread in a regular oven, you either need to put a pan of water on the floor of the oven or spray the top of the loaves with water in order to achieve the ideal tender-crisp results. If you were making a cheesecake or custard, you would also have to place the pan in a water bath,” Vecera says. However, with a combi oven, the machine does it for you thanks to the high-power steam.
What really sets the Sharp Smart Combi Built-In Steam Oven apart from other combi ovens is that the heat is created by circulating various amounts of piping-hot steam from a single convection fan. Because all of the heat that's generated through steam and hot air, foods cook extremely quickly and evenly. And unlike other combi ovens that generate steam at a maximum temperature of 212°F, Sharp’s model uses radiant coils that superheat steam, which can reach up to 485°F.
“Steam this hot can roast meats and caramelize sugars so your food can be brown and crispy on the outside, and tender and juicy on the inside,” Vecera says. This has been a long-kept secret of the restaurant industry—and why restaurant food often tastes so good. "Genuinely new home cooking technologies are rare, but when they arrive, they tend to come from the restaurant industry. The restaurant and hospitality industry have been using combi ovens for decades. If you have ever ordered a meal in a restaurant that needed to be cooked in an oven, it almost certainly was cooked in a combi oven," he says.
And most importantly, unlike other combi ovens, Sharp's requires no direct water line and uses a standard 120V power outlet—basically, you can just plug it in and get cooking.
Why I think the combi oven is far superior to a regular oven
As I've learned from many chefs in the industry and from my own experience, cooking foods in a combi oven is one of the easiest ways to achieve restaurant-quality meals—meaning perfectly evenly-cooked dishes with the ideal tender, crisp texture—at home. I’ve found that foods like chicken and fish that tend to dry out easily especially benefit the most from cooking in this type of appliance. And it’s the only way I’ll be baking festive, custardy pies all season long.
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