How Does a Steam Oven Work?

Microwave ovens remain a common alternative to the standard electric oven in American kitchens. With an increasing focus on healthy eating and faster meal preparation, some cooks are discovering the advantages of steam ovens. The ovens are conveniently sized, affordable and can help you prepare a variety of healthy meals in less time than stove tops or traditional ovens��.


Ancient Chinese cooks developed the process of steaming food by placing reed baskets over water-filled hot woks. In the modern era, pressure cookers, invented in France in the 1950s, made steam cooking a convenient way to prepare meat and vegetables. The latter part of the 20th century, restaurants used steam ovens to prepare food quickly and to keep it warm until serving time. Steam ovens are compact and affordable for use in home kitchens. They are sold as stand-alone appliances or incorporated into multi-function ovens.

How It Works

A steam oven can be placed on a counter top, mounted on a bracket above a stove or built into the cabinetry. The oven features a reservoir that must be filled with water for it to work properly. When the oven is turned on, the heat turns the water into steam. The countertop oven has a valve to release pressure, much like a pressure cooker or even a teakettle. Food cooked in steam retains its moisture, unlike food cooked in a convection oven, which tends to dry food out. Additionally, steamed food retains more vitamins and minerals than boiled food. Kitchen Solutions asserts that refrigerated, frozen or microwavable food items can be reheated a steam oven in less time than in a microwave oven.


Steam ovens feature temperature settings from 90 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Users can adjust the humidity level inside the oven for different recipes. One drawback is that a steam oven cannot create food with a crispy exterior, a requirement for certain recipes. Some steam ovens, however, feature a hot-air-only convection setting for crispy dishes.

Other Advantages

A steam oven's cooking time is much shorter than that of a conventional oven. Faster preparation does not reduce the flavor of steamed food. Steam ovens are more energy efficient than stove tops. In stove top cooking, the heat used to create food often escapes cooking pots, which does not occur with steam oven cooking. Foods cooked together in a steam oven generally do not mix flavors; you can place meat, vegetables and dessert in the oven at the same time. Cleaning steam ovens requires less effort than conventional ovens because food splatters and spills are never baked on the oven surface.