The Brava smart oven’s value proposition is fairly simple: cook dinner as quickly and efficiently as possible. The countertop oven itself, however, is not so simple. By way of wi-fi connectivity, a custom-built programming language, meat thermometer and something called Pure Light Technology, the Brava Oven claims to cook three different things at once, all at different temperatures. And the results, though made on a similar path of least resistance, taste nothing like the product of a microwave.
Brava isn’t alone in the mission to make the domestic do-it-all oven. A slew of similarly well-funded competitors have their own super-ovens. So how does the Brava Oven compare? We used one to cook a week’s worth of lunches — some using Brava’s own pre-packaged meal kits — to find out.
The Good: From temperature to sear, Brava executed all of the meal kits as advertised. The meals I made controlling the oven manually were similarly well-executed. And though I worried it would take some time to learn the ins and outs of the machine’s touchscreen interface, it didn’t — the interface is straightforward and guides you through subsequent steps without issue. The ability to cook different foods at different temperatures, simultaneously, is undeniably impressive.
Who It’s For: This is the question that’s defined Brava since its launch last year. The person who will get the most from the Brava Oven should relate to at least two of three things: a desire for more control over what they’re eating, a lack of interest in learning how to cook themselves and a dearth of time (or patience). It’s not for someone who enjoys the act of cooking and it’s definitely not going to show you how to cook. But the Brava Oven effectively turns out solid meals in a simple, timely manner.
Watch Out For: The Brava Oven will make you dinner but it’s not going to teach you how to cook. If you opt to skip the meal kits — which cost about $14 per serving — you’ll still need a basic understanding of what comprises a meal and how to make it passable to the palate. Finally, its $995 price tag is high, and a 1-year warranty is uncomfortably short for a product this tech-reliant (though it seems to be a standard warranty among its competition).
Alternatives: You may be surprised to learn the smart oven market is quickly growing. June ($600) is a carbon fiber-heated countertop oven that’s larger and a bit better at recognizing food; it also sports a simpler interface than Brava. Currently available in Europe, Miele sells a full-size smart oven that makes similarly plethoric claims regarding multifunctionality, gourmet food prep and so on. Tovala ($249) is a smart steam oven that promises to perform the usual oven functions without drying out food (there’s a slightly cheaper food subscription add-on as well).
Every smart oven has its own niche benefits but none are really alike. Brava can cook three different foods at three different temperatures simultaneously, but it doesn’t brown food as effectively as Miele’s smart oven. June can automatically recognize and cook a tray of veggies to doneness, but it costs hundreds of dollars more than Tovala. Here’s the gist: the Brava Oven is the most multifunctional, hands-off of the bunch.
Review: First discussions about Brava are often punctuated with a lot of question marks. To understand exactly how it works would require pre-knowledge of light ray science, frequencies, surface temperatures and a lot of math (Brava developers literally invented a coding language just to design recipes for it). Thankfully, none of that is necessary to cook steak and potatoes.
Setting up the Brava Oven is quick and straightforward — you download the Brava app, connect your machine to your phone and give the two included cooking trays (aluminum and glass) a good wipe down. Its MacBook-looking grey anodized aluminum body also looks pretty good on the counter, though it’s bigger (11.3 x 14.1 x 16.7 inches) and heavier (34 pounds) than most countertop ovens.
Operating the oven is similarly easy — punch what you’re making into the machine’s touchscreen interface and it’ll tell you what “zone” to put each food item in (each tray has three zones marked by number imprinted on the tray). Once the cooking process has begun, you’re given an estimate of when the food will be ready — it’s important to note that it’s just an estimate, as the one-and-a-quarter-inch steak I cooked changed its done timer between 11 and 19 minutes before eventually landing on 15 minutes. If the variance is annoying, it’s tempered by the oven’s auto-shutoff, which ensures no food is severely overcooked.
All of the food I made in the Brava oven was cooked to the exact temperature — or doneness — inputted, even food that would usually call for browning. The ribeye and hanger steak I made were reasonably browned and within three degrees of proper temperature upon finishing their cook cycles. Similar results came from roasting a whole chicken, which took about 50 minutes once in the oven.
Meats’ brown bits weren’t nearly as satisfying as the crispy crust you get from a cast-iron skillet, but it took next to no effort to produce. As a person who enjoys cooking and spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about ways to better roast a chicken, this isn’t a selling point. But for the cook who sees cooking as a means to an end rather than something to enjoy, I see the appeal.
At the end of the day, the app worked as intended, the touchscreen interface easy to control and the food pretty tasty. But is that all worth $1,000? Only if you view food and cooking as a chore, rather than a hobby.
Verdict: Unlike June, Tovalo or other ovens — smart or not — Brava can prepare meals with multiple parts and cook times simultaneously. Brava marketing materials describe the machine as “the art of cooking, streamlined.” This is accurate. Using one feels the Jetsons might have used — log what you want to cook into the machine and out it comes. It feels, and is, mathematic. If you can stomach the cost and are happy pretty good food that’s ready really fast, it’s worth considering. If you enjoy the act of cooking, you can likely skip smart ovens altogether without much pause.
What Others Are Saying:
• “That’s the odd conundrum with the Brava. It’s such a novel way to cook that traditional cooking rules don’t apply. Yes, the Brava can cook foods faster as long as you know what you’re doing or if you’re following along on a prepared recipe. That might be interesting to cooking novices or those who are simply passionate about trying cutting-edge kitchen tech. For me, I found it to be a limiting and unsatisfying way to cook. If I were in the market for a smart oven, I’d likely opt for the recently updated June instead.” — Nicole Lee, Engadget
• “Was the Brava oven competent? Absolutely. Meal kits were tasty, the oven includes plenty of customization options for cooking and it saves time with the ability to skip preheat. Still, Brava doesn’t match the food-recognizing smarts of the June Oven or the simple meal kits of Tovala, and it’s more expensive than both of those. For that reason, I can’t recommend it over its competitors.” — Molly Price, CNET
• “Ultimately I’m still not sure who this is for — other than rich people who live in a tiny apartment with no oven or stove. But even Sharp’s Superheated Steam Countertop Oven also eliminates the need for preheating for a much more reasonable price at $500, and the second generation of the June, which we quite liked apart from its exorbitant price tag, is now just $600. The Brava simply doesn’t make sense or perform well enough for its cost. So skip it, get one of the cheaper options recommended above or just learn to cook on your damn stove or order delivery.” — Victoria Song, Gizmodo
Brava provided this product for review.
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