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Apr 16, 2014

The Best Of Both Worlds: Tips For Buying A Combi Oven

Though the first combi ovens hit the market in the late 1970’s, they have only recently (within the past 10 years) started to appear in more and more commercial kitchens across the country.  Quite literally a combination of a steamer and convection oven, combis are multi-use machines that can be a perfect addition to a wide range of operations.  Shopping for a combi oven, however, can be a tenuous undertaking for those uninitiated.  To make shopping for these easy to use but intimidating pieces of equipment easier, we have put together a brief guide of some of the most common questions customers have when searching for their ideal combi oven.

What Do Combis Do?:  Combi ovens can perform a wide range of functions.  Combis have variable humidity control, and are able to operate with anywhere from 0-100% environmental humidity in the baking chamber.  The baking chamber of a combi oven can be used to traditionally steam and to dry bake as a standard convection can, but combis have the distinct advantage of being able to cook at high temperatures with high levels of humidity.  Standard steamers can only cook around 212° F (or slightly above in the case of pressure steamers), and most steam injection ovens can only bake with a small percentage of humidity.  The variable humidity that a combi oven offers allows it to operate as either of these machines, but gives it the distinct advantage of being much more versatile than both.

Why Combis Are Useful?:  There are a number of reasons that combi ovens can be a useful addition to a commercial kitchens.  The precise cooking nature of a combi oven has many inherent benefits, such as reduced food shrinkage, little to no flavor transfer among food products being cooked, and, of course, their sheer versatility.  Combi ovens can not only bake and steam, but can also be used as a proofer, rethermalizer, roasting oven, and can even be bake items in a manner that replicates frying (without the use of oil).  It should be noted, however, that while a combi is versatile, it can only operate one function at a time, and it is important that those shopping for a combi know they will not be able to do things like proof and bake simultaneously.

What Kinds Of Kitchens Can Benefit From A Combi?:  Combi ovens are ideal for a number of different kitchens.  Traditionally, combis are better suited to kitchens that offer a wider range of menu items.  Catering and banquet operations, buffets, and institutional cafeterias are among the most common operations that invest in combi ovens, as they tend to offer tremendous selections of food that change on a daily basis.  These are not, however, the only operations that combis can be found.  As they become more common, and consumers learn more about the machine’s capabilities, combis have started making their way into chicken roasting operations, bakeries, and other commercial cooking environments.

What Size Combi Is Right For Your Operation?:  Though they were originally only available in large models, combis now come in a tremendous variety of sizes.  When trying to size your ideal combi, first decide on a footprint.  Most combis fit pans front to back, and there are four main pan types combis are designed to fit: 2/3 hotel pans, full size hotel pans, half sized sheet pans, and full sized sheet pans.  Though most standard combis have a different shape footprint than standard ovens (which usually accommodate pans left to right), there are a number of combi / hydrovection ovens that are designed to fit in the footprint of full size and half size convection ovens.  It is important to take note of the room available and the desired footprint when shopping, but bear in mind the volume of cooking your combi will be doing as well.  A 2/3 size 6 hotel pan capacity combi may fit on a counter, but it will obviously not cook as much food as a roll-in 20 sheet pan capacity combi oven.  Additionally, shoppers would do well to examine whether or not two smaller ovens would be a better fit than one large oven because, as previously stated, combi ovens can only operate at one cooking level at a time.

Boiler Or No Boiler?:  Combis are available with and without boiler units.  These boilers keep hot water in steady supply so that steam is continually available, and units without them create steam by injecting water directly on the heating elements.  Most all large models of combi ovens will come with a boiler because of the sheer volume of steam needed, and most smaller units will not require a boiler to maintain proper humidity levels.  Mid-sized combi ovens, can be found in both configurations, however, and businesses that will be using steam more often than not while using their oven or using it for extended periods would be wise to invest in a combi with a boiler.

What Kind Of Controls Are Right For Your Ideal Combi?:  The control panels for combis will vary by manufacturer, however most offer two primary control panels.  The first is a manual control panel.  Manual control panels are the basic control packages that come with combis, and feature manual knobs to adjust temperature, humidity, and cook function / fan function.  These combis usually have a timer, and from time to time will have an optional cooking probe to stop the cooking process when product reaches a specific temperature.  Digital / programmable control panels operate with a digital user interface, and though the controls can be adjusted manually like with a manual control panel, they also have a number of programmable preset baking programs that can be saved.  Combis with a programmable control panels almost always have a temperature probe for precise cooking, and also have additional features such as a self-cleaning cycle, pre-programmed cook cycles for specific menu items, and even USB interfaces so recipes can be uploaded.  In kitchens that will be using their combi in a relatively straight-forward manner a manual control panel may be the prudent choice, but kitchens looking to maximize the versatility of their oven would do well to invest in a combi with a digital control panel.