Last week I had the distinct pleasure of going to Cleveland for Cleveland Range’s Steam School. It was four days of intensive training on steamers, combi ovens, braising pans, and steam-jacketed kettles, and a few evenings of good fun with fellow food service professionals--the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was a highlight. While I got to work with many cool pieces of equipment, and learned a great deal, on little tidbit really stuck out to me: while I was aware that Cleveland makes a small combi oven, I did not realize how competitively our Mini Combi Oven was priced. Specifically, I didn't realize that for the price was so close to the standard and least expensive countertop steamer that restaurants commonly buy.
But why would I want to spend more for a combi over a countertop steamer? Ever watch Alton Brown? Ever hear the word: "Unitasker"? A steamer does one thing really, really well, and that is steam foods. If that is truly all you need, get a Cleveland steamer: they are the originals and still the best at this important cooking method. Steaming is wonderful, steaming is great, but when was the last time you went to a restaurant and that was the sole cooking method? And would you go back?
As great as steam is for preparing flavorful seafood and veggies, did you know it could also cook a steak? No really, it will! The steak will be disgusting, but it will cook it. If you like zombie-like gray steak, give it a whirl. Carmelization is something that combi ovens can do that a steamer cannot. To put it simply: a combi can steam like a steamer, bake like a convection oven, and combination-cook foods in a way that nothing else can, among other things (including proofing bread, grilling, retherming, and low-temp steam sous-vide cooking). A combi-oven is the most "Multi" of any multi-tasking kitchen cooking tool. For less than $1000 more than a countertop steamer, why not give yourself the ability to do all of these other things. I'll have more posts on combi cooking in the future, where I will get into more detail on the things a combi oven can do; but I having worked with them a good bit in the last year and having talked to end-users, suffice it to say that I am sold on them completely. And while they can be a bit intimidating the uninitiated, they get so much easier when you finally realize that, "Hey, it's just an oven, that can do more stuff".
One more thing before I’m through: there is another countertop mini combi oven on the market. It is cheaper. But if you come across it, take a look at it: it is a toy. Cheap plastic parts and thin metal pieces...more a device for a homeowner in my estimation. The Cleveland Mini Combi Oven is built like all of Cleveland Range's equipment: Solid. It is a truly professional piece of equipment that will give you years of use. So if you are in the market for a countertop steamer, at least consider the Cleveland Mini Combi Oven.