Microwave vs steam oven?
February 27, 2017 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Outfitting our new kitchen - should we get a steam oven instead of a countertop microwave?

We just moved and are almost done fitting out our new kitchen. We have a nice new oven, a decent toaster oven, and a plastic plug-in steamer we use mostly for making rice and hard-boiling eggs. All we need is a microwave to fit in the currently empty 17x12x24 space in our kitchen island...or do we?

People rave about steam ovens. They seem to do certain things better, like roasting meats and baking bread - you know, actually cooking. But we used our microwave mostly for reheating leftovers and hot drinks, heating up soups, sometimes (carefully) defrosting frozen things.

So we're wondering which makes more sense, given a limited budget and what we already have. Steam ovens seem to be more flexible (metal/plastic is ok!) but take longer and cost more. For quick-and-dirty reheating/defrosting, is a microwave fine? Or would we be missing out on a useful new appliance?
posted by gottabefunky to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This claim:
Cooking with steam is said to retain more nutrients than microwave methods
sounds improbable.

Also, I'd expect a steam oven to require a lot more power than a microwave for heating leftovers or a frozen entree. All the heat you feel when you open the oven door is energy that's wasted. Especially if it's hot outside, e.g. summer, that heat isn't enjoyed at all, and might result in _more_ energy use if you're using air conditioning that then has to compensate.

As for baking bread: I do care a lot about my bread! I've recently discovered that a shallow pan -- for me, a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan -- filled with water gives really good results with cinnamon rolls and a loaf of rye I tried. Haven't done much else with the technique yet, but I intend to.

And for specialty foods like croissants etc., I'm more than happy to support the local businesses that have the technology, time, and expertise to do it extremely well. There's a local co-op that has near-legendary baked goods -- I know they use a steam-injected oven, and I would likely weep real tears if they ever stopped!
posted by amtho at 12:50 PM on February 27, 2017

One more thing: with more moving parts, plus a water hook-up needed, I'd really worry about maintenance and repair. Also, I've noticed that even if I'm willing to pay more, appliances just don't seem to be very solidly made lately.
posted by amtho at 12:54 PM on February 27, 2017

We have both, and to me they're completely different appliances for completely different tasks. I use the microwave to reheat food or hot drinks and to defrost. The steam oven (ours has no water hook-up btw, just a container you fill with tap water) gets used for actual cooking (potatoes, vegeteables, chicken legs, ...). Reheating food in it would take a long time and probably much more energy than a microwave. It sounds like you would get more use out of a microwave.
posted by amf at 1:10 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a steam oven. See my earlier question here. It's a Miele.

I cook a lot, and after nearly three years in my house, I've yet to find a compelling use case for my steam oven--which, to be clear, is steam only, not combination. We used it a fair amount when our kiddo was little to make purees--and we continue to use it occasionally to steam some veg.

There's a fair amount of clean up, at least with my model. Mine is not plumbed for a drain (I don't know whether any are, though some are plumbed for supply), so in addition to washing and drying the containers that go into it (you can use standard gastronorm sizes), you have to sponge up the interior, which is a minor, though perceptible, hassle. And, because it seals up tight, once we use it, we generally have to leave it open to air dry.

I've tried reheating in it, and it was better than a microwave, but it took a while. And if I'm reheating something, rather than cooking fresh, I'd prioritize speed and convenience.

It really does do a bang up job with steamed veg, and sometimes the set-it-and-forget-it convenience of a steam oven is great if you're cooking a complicated meal. But I haven't found any other recipe that really works. I tried for a while to get risotto to work, and it was never close to being as good as risotto made on the stove.

That said, I'd never cook anything in a microwave--it's just for reheating/thawing/boiling water. If you're looking for something to cook in and you have a few grand to throw at a steam oven, go for it! But otherwise, I'd get the microwave.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:19 PM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Are there kids involved? I can and have lived without a microwave, but I've had my teenaged nephew living with me for the past six months and discovered that 90% of everything that he is willing/able to cook on his own is done in the microwave. The microwave seems a lot more useful and safer for kids transitioning into independence.
posted by peeedro at 1:30 PM on February 27, 2017

I'm doubting you can easily do popcorn in a steam oven. At least not as quickly or as well as in a microwave.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:36 PM on February 27, 2017

Unless you have some very specific use cases (or endless counter space), a steam oven seems like a solution in search of a problem.

If I want to the quickly roast meat, then that goes in the oven on convection. If I'm worsed about something drying out, then I baste it or cover it. When I want to steam veggies in the microwave there are tons of inexpensive options.
posted by 26.2 at 1:50 PM on February 27, 2017

We have a steam oven and no microwave. We love our (combination) steam oven but it is a better substitute for a toaster oven than a microwave. For reheating food we use mostly stovetop, and occasionally the steam oven if we are heating up a chicken or something. No drain is required on these things, as per an earlier comment.
posted by andreapandrea at 7:41 AM on February 28, 2017

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