Equipment Education: Combi Ovens
Though combi ovens are growing in popularity in professional kitchens, many operators are still sometimes scared off by their high price tag and apparent technological complexity. However, when viewed in relation to the cost of a fine-dining or large foodservice kitchen’s overall equipment package, and with an understanding of the usefulness of the cooking options such units provide, the purchase of a combi oven can be effectively justified.
To begin, combi ovens are so named because they offer three methods of cooking in one unit: pressureless steam, convected heat and a combination of both.
The benefits of such a unit are clear: a combi oven, while typically more expensive to purchase than a steamer or convection oven alone, can be bought in place of both units, thereby lowering the total cost of an operation’s equipment package and potentially reducing the amount of square footage required in the back of the house. In addition, combis can offer further savings by being set at low temperatures and used in place of proofers, holding cabinets and slow cookers.
Since combi ovens are designed to offer very accurate controls, they can allow foods to be cooked at the precise temperature and amount of steam operators desire, giving them great flexibility when preparing dishes “their way.”
When used in steamer mode, a combi oven will cook at 212° F., which is best for producing delicate items, such as vegetables and sea foods. The convection oven mode is best for cooking pizzas, cookies, cakes and related dishes. The combination mode allows food to be cooked with both heat and steam. This setting is highly applicable to preparing certain breads, since the moisture in the cooking chamber will encourage crusting.
In addition, combi cooking is well-suited to producing roasted meats. The dry heat introduced into the chamber will do most of the cooking, while the moisture from available steam helps to prevent meats from drying out and shrinking. Combi cooking can, therefore, result in higher-quality meat dishes that offer more servings than those cooked with only dry heat.
When considering the purchase of a combi oven, however, operators should examine their menu programs thoroughly. Those who are planning to buy a combi oven in place of two or more pieces of equipment should be sure that their menu and type of operation will not require the unit to handle different functions simultaneously. While a combi oven can act as both a steamer and an oven, it can’t act as both at the same time.
Operators who purchase combi ovens should take special care to maintain these sophisticated pieces of equipment. As with all equipment that uses water-from steamers to ice machines-the water that is fed into a combi oven should be treated with a filtration system. This will slow mineral deposit build-up in the unit’s water lines. It will also reduce the build up of scale on a combi oven’s heating units, water probes and cooking chamber, thereby helping it operate as efficiently throughout its use-life while reducing the amount of time that staff will be required to spend cleaning the unit.
While it may not be the best choice for everyone, those operations that are able to make a combi oven work within their menu and production demands will find it to be one of their most productive kitchen equipment investments.