The definitive buyers guide
It goes almost without saying that a combi oven is one of the most versatile tools in a professional kitchen. While restaurants can vary dramatically, from quick service restaurants with a focus on providing good food at good value, to the pioneering establishments with Michelin stars to their name, the beauty of a combi is that it is just as at home in either setting.
While its versatility is second to none, there are a host of features and functions that chefs and operators may not be aware of. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about combi ovens, including:
What is a combi oven?
As you would expect from the name, a combination oven – most commonly known as a combi oven – combines multiple different types of cooking in one piece of equipment – typically convection, steam, and a combination of the two.
Given the rapid development in the technology of combi ovens in recent years, a good combi oven can help a chef to execute a large number of processes, including roasting, grilling, poaching, steaming, baking, frying, and many more besides.
Continued innovation means chefs can also use a variety of accessories from ridged griddles, volcano smokers and sous-vide attachments to exploit the new techniques cropping up in restaurants across the country. Naturally, this is incredibly helpful when it comes to menu development.
How does a combi oven work?
In its purest form, a combi oven uses mains water to provide the steam element, and then electricity or gas (LPG or mains) to power a fan for the distribution of dry heat throughout the chamber. The steam setting is perfect for cooking fish and vegetables without diluting the flavour, while the traditional convection mode facilitates traditional roasting and other high-heat demands.
Where the technology comes into its own though, is the combination setting, which allows operators to precisely control the humidity within the oven. As such, humidity settings can be quickly optimised for different functions, such as baking (removing the need for a traditional water pan to get a great crust); and then changed to dry frying mode – a healthier equivalent to deep fat frying – at the touch of a button.
While it is probably fair to say that operators only use 10 to 20% of the features on their combi ovens, exactly which features make up this 10 or 20% differs hugely from kitchen to kitchen. For example, high-end kitchens may rely heavily on a combi’s precise cooking functions or humidity control, while operators needing to produce a lot of dishes in bulk will probably find it is the automatic processes or programme functions which are the greatest help.
What are the benefits of a combi oven?
With kitchen footprint at an all-time premium, the fact that a combi oven can take the space of just one piece of equipment means it can offer enormous scope when it comes to developing a menu. From traditional functions, such as roasting and baking, through to more specialist uses, such as making mulled wine or sous vide duck rillettes, there really is very little you can’t do with a combi.
Likewise, combis are a great way to slow cook cheaper cuts of meat, allowing chefs to exploit off-peak energy tariffs by setting them to operate overnight. Given the cost pressures faced by kitchens across all areas of the professional catering industry, a good combi oven can allow those who work with lower budgets to still deliver high volumes of tasty food without overstretching themselves financially.
Modern combi ovens also come equipped with a variety of technical functions which help to further extend the level of precision and control in the kitchen. A typical example of this would be a built-in temperature probe, which can alert chefs as to when the desired internal temperature of a piece of meat has been achieved.
Electrolux Professional’s air-o-steam Touchline combi oven also features the e-chef touchscreen panel, which gives chefs the option of using pre-programmed recipes from our Global Chef Academy, or save their own recipes to speed up their daily processes
How do I pick the right combi oven for me?
Different operators will use a combi oven differently; the fact the there are lots of functions available allows an operator to choose the ones they need, and disregard the ones they don’t.
With that in mind, the most important thing for everyone involved in the process of buying a combi oven – be that specifiers, chefs or distributors – is to be really clear what their individual requirements are, before committing to purchase.
Knowing what combi oven will best suit your needs will ultimately make it easier to ensure the correct decision is made. In our case, we hold these conversations through our nationwide partner network, meaning there’s always somebody nearby who can talk you through the options available
What size of combi oven do I need?
There is no hard and fast rule to sizing a combi as such, as it will largely depend on the type of establishment, be it a school, hotel, hospital or restaurant; the number of services a day it will be catering for, and the number of covers for that kitchen.
Footprint is another factor. With restaurant design often geared towards smaller kitchen space to maximise dining room capacity, combi ovens need to be flexible enough to work around other critical equipment.
However, the beauty of a combi oven is that – just as it can offer a variety of different cooking techniques – it can also be configured in a number of different ways. From a typical 6-rack combi oven, which can sit on top of a counter, or be stacked in series with another combi or a blast chiller, through to a full-size 20-rack variant, the set-up can be easily tailored to the kitchen’s output.
How do I maintain and clean a combi oven?
Anything that makes an operator’s life easier is a welcome addition, especially given the fast-pace of a commercial kitchen environment. With this in mind, a self-clean function would be the minimum we’d expect for any combi oven. The Electrolux air-o-steam Touchline combi oven possesses a built-in efficient self-cleaning system which makes maintenance simple and helps to save energy, water, and rinse aid, as this will help to save time and enable the oven to run as it should for its full life cycle.
Form a maintenance point of view, implementing a planned preventative maintenance (PPM) programme can go a long way to tackling any small issues before they become unrepairable. Many equipment manufacturers, Electrolux Professional included, offer such contracts as part of aftersales support packages.
How energy efficient is a combi oven?
As a combi oven is likely to be in use from sunrise to sunset (and beyond), efficiency should be a key purchase driver. Energy efficiency has always been at the heart of our own R&D process. The air-o-steam Touchline combi oven boasts best-in-class air-o-steam gas burners and heat exchangers that offer up to 20% savings on gas consumption compared with traditional burners. The self-cleaning mechanism also features a ‘Green Spirit’ setting, which can reduce running costs by up to 50%, by using a reduced water consumption and skipping the addition of rinse aid, and of the drying phase.
How much does a combi oven cost to run?
Purchasing separate convection and steam ovens may cost less that a state-of-the-art combi oven, however they will also take up twice the space and fail to offer the flexibility and versatility of a combined unit.
While cost is often the operative factor, it should go without saying that the capital cost isn’t always reflective of how much an oven is going to cost over its full life cycle. With that in mind, it’s always worthwhile to be aware of the various other factors, from energy usage through to cleaning costs, that will add up over time and really affect whether a particular oven will be a sound investment.
Ultimately, a combi oven can be the lynchpin of a commercial kitchen, offering unrivalled flexibility from a compact footprint. From Michelin-starred restaurants to hospital canteens, a good combi oven can cover a host of different cooking functions, and free up a chef’s time to work on other tasks.
While there are a host of combi oven manufacturers on the market, chefs should be cautious in their approach and not rush the decision making process. Work closely with your equipment distributor and really drill down into what you need your combi to do for you. Once you have those priorities established, you can make the most informed decision.
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