In 1973, retired physicist-turned-entrepreneur Carl Sontheimer traveled to the National Housewares Exposition in Chicago and presented an appliance that would revolutionize American kitchens. He called it the “food processor,” and it was capable of cutting, grating, slicing, dicing, kneading, chopping and blending foods hard and soft, large and small. For decades prior, similar machines had been mainstays in commercial kitchens throughout Europe, manufactured by restaurant supply label Robot-Coupe. But Sontheimer, himself raised in France and an adept cook, saw the machine’s potential for domestic disruption and distributed it stateside under the Cuisinart name.
Initially dismissed as superfluous, Cuisinart’s food processor slowly gained traction, due in great part to spirited endorsements from renowned chefs like Craig Claiborne, who called the appliance “the cooking gadget I would least prefer to do without,” and James Beard, who likened it to “having another person in the kitchen who can be talked into doing practically anything.” Subsequent reviews from The New York Times and Gourmet magazine lauded the appliance’s efficiency, and the food processor took off, solidifying itself as a staple among home cooks in the decades since.
How Does a Steam Oven Work?
Water molecules conduct heat more efficiently than dry air, allowing food to cook faster in a steam oven. And because moisture circulates in the oven, there’s less of a chance that something — a Thanksgiving turkey, for example — will emerge overcooked or dried out. What dry heat can do, and what steam can’t, is brown your food. That’s where the dual functionality comes into play: cooking first with steam (or a balance of steam and convection) and finishing with a blast of dry heat, producing the same effect that searing would.
The food processor’s ubiquity in restaurants and subsequent entrée in the domestic sphere is mirrored by the combination oven, which combines the consistency of convection with the power of steam. World-renowned chef André Soltner prophesied its rise in 1987, telling The New York Times that it was the best addition he had made to his kitchen since the food processor he had brought from France two decades prior. Developed in Europe during the 1960s, the appliance revolutionized restaurant kitchens by reducing cooking time and yielding more consistent results. And it’s now beginning to seep into the domestic sphere. For now, full-sized ovens are offered almost exclusively by high-end appliance companies, and countertop options remain limited (though they’re expanding, with Anova slated to introduce a precision oven in the coming months).
The combination oven shares many of the same traits that have allowed sous-vide cooking to gain traction among home cooks — namely a forgiving technique made simpler by Bluetooth-connected devices. What’s more, the utility of a combination oven far exceeds the sum of its parts. Used in steam mode, a combination oven can cook rice or sous-vide vacuum-sealed items, eliminating the need for a circulator altogether. It can reheat leftovers without turning them into rubber and it can revive stale bread. Despite presently limited options, the steam oven remains a worthy investment — a game-changer for the time-harried and health-conscious, and those who want high-quality meals with minimal effort.
Best Full-Sized Combination Oven: Full-sized combination ovens are more powerful than their countertop cousins — but Wolf’s is in a league of its own. Internal sensors detect the size and thickness of food and adjust the cooking time accordingly, alternating between wet and dry heat for optimal results. It’s spacious enough to hold a 15-pound turkey and has 10 presets, including settings for slow roast, convection steam, bake and reheat.