What is a Combi Oven?
In a commercial kitchen, time and space are valuable resources. Combination oven-steamers were first developed and introduced in Europe in the late 1970s where tight commercial kitchens were very common. The multi-function capabilities and impressive performance of the combi-oven caused the convection oven and steamer to quickly go by the way side in the eyes of European chefs.
In the United States, adoption has been slower with many operators first overwhelmed by all the advancements that combi ovens have to offer, as well as the sticker shock for the equipment. However, as operators in the United States learn the simple versatility of these multi-functioning machines, the ability to increase productivity and save on labor costs while taking up a smaller footprint in the kitchen has caused a spike in acceptance.
Combi ovens get their name because they offer three ways to cook from one unit: pressureless steam, convection heat, and a combination of the two. This unique ability makes it possible to steam, poach, roast, blanch, bake, rethermalize or reheat, prepare sous vide products, and in some models, proof. The ability to perform each of these functions make it possible for commercial kitchens to consolidate both a convection oven and a steamer into a combi oven, helping to justify the seemingly high cost of the equipment.
Types of Combi Ovens
Gas vs. Electric
The decision of a gas or an electric combi oven may be limited by the utilities available in the kitchen. However, it is important to keep in mind that even gas models will require an electric connection to power digital displays and fans. Other things to keep in mind when considering if gas or electric is better for your kitchen:
- Generally, more efficient to run — some models running almost 50% more efficient than electric models
- Lower entry cost
- Increases temperature instantly in open burner models through direct transfer
- Best in high elevation where gas equipment does not function as well
Touch Screen vs. Dial
Combi-ovens offer two choices for controls: touch screen or dial. Both options function well in commercial kitchens – it simply depends on the personal preference of the operator.
- Touch Screen controls allow for quick, simple adjustments to cooking as well as intuitive menus with interactive visuals. Do you have a few recipes you use countless times a day? Load the product into the combi, select the loaded cooking instructions from the menu, and let the oven do the work.
- Dial controls are simple to operate. Easily scroll to your preferred settings, and you are good to go.
Boiler vs. Boilerless
Another big difference to consider with combi-ovens is boiler vs. boilerless system. A boiler, or a steam generator model, produces steam that is injected into the oven by using a tank that boils water in large quantities. Meanwhile, a boilerless model injects water right onto the heating element. Due to rising concerns about hard water conditions and the amount of maintenance required for a steam generator oven, the boilerless models are more common in the US.
Generally speaking, combi-ovens mirror convection ovens in the size, pan capacity, and styles available. With tabletop, floor (single and double stack) and roll-in configurations, manufacturers offer a wide variety of size options made to fit your commercial kitchen. Limited on space? Countertop models are a great option for having the countless benefits of a combi-oven in a small commercial kitchen!
Energy Star products are given their designation due to designs that cut your energy usage, contributing to a cleaner environment. These Energy Star products lower your utility bills due to the lowered energy usage and in some states, qualify for large rebates, making these products even better investments! Learn more about Energy Star Rated Combi-Ovens from Central Restaurant Products.
Commercial exhaust hoods are required in commercial kitchens in order to capture and contain heat, moisture, smoke, and grease-laden vapors. These hood systems are a major purchase for any commercial foodservice facility – also representing one of the largest uses of energy. However, manufacturers have begun creating ventless hoods to use in conjunction with combi-ovens that are more affordable and allow the ovens to be placed just about anywhere in the kitchen.
Combi Oven Maintenance and Cleaning Tips
When properly taken care of, a combi-oven can survive 10-12 years of hard use. However, it all comes down to proper training with staff members to protect the large investment. Slamming doors, using knives on the touchscreen control, and improper cleaning are unfortunately all common.
Manufacturers have very detailed users’ guides that outline daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly maintenance intended to keep your combi-oven operating like the day it was first installed.
One of the most important pieces of proper maintenance includes the use of filtered water. First and foremost, filtered water improves food taste – a huge factor in keeping loyal customers. Additionally, filtered water slows mineral deposit buildup in water lines and will reduce the buildup of scale on heating units, water probes, and cooking chamber to keep the unit running efficiently.
Tips for Proper Maintenance
- Always use filtered water
- Service the equipment often – following manufacturer recommendations, or every 6 months
- Keep door seals clean and lubricated for proper door sealing
- Ensure drain screen is in place to avoid food build up that can block the equipment’s drain
Manufacturers have taken different approaches to simplifying combi cleaning. Due to the misuse of cleaning chemicals that can cause damage to equipment and staff, combi ovens feature self-cleaning systems. These systems utilize tablets or liquid detergents, but differ by the manufacturer. Always check your user’s manual for what cleaners to use and instructions for cleaning each model. The ease of cleaning these machines allows hard use for 10 to 12 years when they are properly maintained. The more often you clean it, the longer it will last! With available self-cleaning options, your equipment easily follows the recommended cleaning requirements with little labor required.
Tips for Proper Cleaning
- Avoid abrasive cleaning tools such as scourers, steel wool, or wire brushes that damage equipment
- Always clean the food probe to avoid cross contamination
- Wipe down the silicone door gaskets with soap and water daily
- Clean debris out of floor drain
- Wipe the oven clean with a non-abrasive sponge before using the self-cleaning cycle
- Follow the manufacturer recommended instructions for cleaning using the self-cleaning feature
- Check out our other tips for keeping your restaurant clean
Our Best Combi Oven Vendors
Vulcan: Vulcan is among the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial cooking equipment. With a rich history traced back to 1865, Vulcan has grown to a worldwide distributor of the broadest lines of gas and electric cooking equipment. Vulcan utilizes a masterful design and state-of-the-art innovation to be recognized as top-quality equipment that produces consistently spectacular results.
Blodgett: Blodgett Ovens dates back to 1848 when Gardner S. Blodgett built his first oven for a local Vermont tavern owner. Today, Blodgett remains located in Burlington, Vermont, just one and a half miles from where Gardner Blodgett built his first oven. As a leading manufacturer of commercial ovens, Blodgett provides the industry with everything from convection, hydrovection, combi, rotation rack, and deck ovens.
Southbend: Southbend has been manufacturing top-quality commercial cooking equipment for over 100 years. From ranges and convection ovens to broilers and steamers, Southbend products are recognized by chefs and industry experts as the best in the industry. Southbend is committed to constant innovation in energy savings, cooking speed, automation, and safety to ensure their products are top-quality.
Adriane works as a Content Specialist at Central Restaurant Products. She has more than a decade of experience as a copywriter and e-commerce strategist, with most of that time spent focusing on the restaurant industry. When she’s not writing about foodservice, Adriane enjoys cooking, hiking, traveling, and hanging out with her dog.