Looking for different appliances to cook with can be both exciting and confusing. I like buying new things for my kitchen, but I always want to know how they compare with other appliances, and what they can and can’t do. Steam oven vs microwave seems to be an interesting debate, and so I decided to take a closer look at the difference between steam ovens and microwaves.
So steam oven vs Microwave – what is the difference? In steam ovens water is placed inside prior to cooking, and as the oven heats up the water turns to steam, which in turn cooks the food. A microwave cooks by passing radio waves quickly through food. This causes the molecules in the food to vibrate, which in turn heats up the food quickly.
This is a very quick explanation showing the differences in steam oven vs microwave oven, more specifically how exactly the food is cooked. Below I’ve provided a much fuller explanation of the cooking processes of both, as well as some differences in price.
Steam Oven vs Microwave
There are so many different appliances that you can use in your kitchen today for cooking. How these all work can differ so much. This can definitely be said when looking at the differences between steam ovens and microwaves. To start with I’ll take a look at regular steam ovens, before I talk a little bit about steam convection ovens.
How Does A Steam Oven Work?
Steam ovens vary greatly from conventional ovens and microwaves. Steam ovens have a reservoir which is to be filled with water before the oven is used. As the oven heats up, the water in the reservoir turns into steam. Food inside the oven is then cooked in the steam. So rather than being cooked in the kind of dry environment provided by a normal oven, food is cooked in a moist environment.
Cooking food using the steam provided in the steam oven allows food to stay moist during the cooking process. Many people prefer this method of cooking. Cooking food in steam like this can help to retain more vitamins and minerals.
One of the disadvantages of a straightforward steam oven is that it is not as versatile as conventional ovens and microwaves. Steam cooking on it’s own is not really going to cook at a high enough temperature to brown your food. It also cannot make it crispy if that’s what you are after.
Steam Convection Ovens
Most people these days don’t want stand alone appliances in their kitchen that can only do one thing. This is where the steam convection oven comes in. When people talk about buying steam ovens for their kitchen these days they are generally referring to this kind of oven.
A convection oven is an oven that cooks food by circulating hot air. They will be equipped with a fan inside that pushes the hot air around, ensuring that food is cooked evenly.
Conventional ovens don’t use this method, and just cook by distributing heat into the oven. In a convection oven food is cooked both with the radiant heat experienced in a regular oven, and the hot air that is blown across the food. This tends to cook food more quickly and evenly.
The combination of steam and convection coking in a steam convection oven allows for the cooking of foods using steam, which helps the food to retain moisture, and also allows for the convection element of cooking to brown food and create a crispy texture.
How Does A Microwave Work?
Microwaves cook food in a completely different way to conventional ovens, steam ovens and convection ovens. They can be seen in most kitchens for the simple fact that they are incredibly versatile. They can cook pretty much anything, and can do this faster than conventional ovens.
Microwaves primarily cook food using radiation. While this sounds scary, it’s really not. A microwave contains a microwave generator called a magnetron. The magnetron turns electricity into radio waves.
These radio waves effectively bounce around the inside of the microwave reflecting off the mirrored surfaces on the sides and roof of the microwave. While these radio waves bounce around the inside of the microwave they penetrate foods or liquids.
When this happens they cause the molecules inside of the food or liquids to vibrate, and it is this vibration that causes them to heat up. The higher the heat of the microwave, the stronger these vibrations will be, and the faster food and drinks will heat up in the microwave.
Whilst microwaves are extremely versatile in that you can pretty much be used to cook most things, because of the nature of the cooking methods this works better with some things than others.
The radio waves created by the microwave struggle to pass through foods that are more than a couple of centimetres thick. This means that if you are trying to cook a large piece of meat, the outside will be cooked extremely well, whilst the inside will remain uncooked. For this reason microwaves are best for cooking liquids and smaller items of food.
Advantages Of Cooking With A Steam Oven
- One of the main advantages of cooking with a steam oven is the health benefits. Foods cooked in steam like this retain moisture, vitamins and minerals, allowing for a much healthier cooking experience.
- Due to the food retaining moisture, a steam oven will cook food that is in most opinions much more tasty.
- Steam ovens can be used to cook almost any type of food, from vegetables to all kinds of meats.
- Oil free cooking which is much healthier.
- Using a steam oven to reheat food is a great alternative to using a microwave. It allows you to reheat food without drying it out, which a microwave can often do.
- Steam ovens tend to be much smaller than other conventional ovens, and so the cooking time can be reduced vastly.
- You can use a range of cookware in steam ovens, such as glass, ceramic and metal dishes.
- Due to the use of steam, these ovens tend to be rather easy to clean.
Disadvantages Of Cooking With A Steam Oven
- A standalone steam oven without the convection aspect will not brown foods or cook them to a crisp.
- The condensation build up inside of a steam oven can take quite a while to wipe up.
- A steam oven will need descaling fairly regularly.
- If you want a steam oven that does more, and opt for a steam convection oven, this is going to be more expensive than buying a simple microwave.
Advantages Of Cooking With A Microwave
- Microwaves are fairly versatile, and can be used to cook a wide variety of foods and liquids.
- Due to the cooking method, microwaves can heat up food extremely quickly. This obviously depends on the size and consistency of your food.
- Microwaves are compact, so they tend to not take up much space in your kitchen.
- Food splatters and spillages are fairly easy to clean up in a microwave.
- Using a microwave doesn’t heat up your kitchen in the way a conventional or steam oven will.
- You can use a microwave to quickly and safely defrost food.
- Microwaves tend to use a lot less power than other types of ovens.
Disadvantages Of Cooking With A Microwave
- Due to the cooking method, using a microwave can cause foods to dehydrate. It is better to cook foods that are high in moisture in a microwave.
- Cooking with a microwave will not allow your food to brown or crisp, which is similar to standalone steam ovens.
- Trying to cook food that is too thick will result in uneven cooking. This means that whilst the outside is cooked, the inside is not. This can in some instances mean that bacteria normally killed in the cooking process will survive, which can be extremely unhealthy if eaten.
- The types of containers and cookware you can use in a microwave is limited. You can not use metals and some types of plastics.
You can read more detail about this in my post on the advantages and disadvantages of microwave ovens.
Steam Oven Vs Microwave – Differences In Price
When deciding which appliances I am going to buy, cost is always a huge factor. I want to know exactly what kind of value for money I’m getting when I buy something for my kitchen, and you should be working this out too. Spending a lot of money on an appliance that can only do one thing is very off putting, especially when I have limited space in my kitchen. Let’s take a look at how much you can expect to pay for a decent steam oven and microwave.
How Much Does A Steam Oven Cost?
The answer to this question can really vary depending on what you want. You can buy an entirely steam oven, which can be fitted as a built in appliance like your regular oven.
This can range anywhere between $2000 and $8000 depending on how much you want to spend. You can also opt for a built in steam convection oven, which is also going to set you back thousands of pounds.
If you just want a simple steamer to work with small amounts of fruits and vegetables, you can pick one of these up from Amazon for a very reasonable price. This Cuisinart Digital Glass Steamer is fairly cheap in comparison to a full blown steam oven.
It has 5 pre-programmed settings for seafood, poultry, grains, vegetables an manual, with a 60 minute countdown timer. It comes with a 5 litre, dishwasher safe glass pot, stainless steel steaming tray and glass lid, with a 1 litre removable water tank.
For me if I was going to look at buying a smaller steam oven that I could fit in my kitchen alongside my other appliances, I would be looking at a steam convection oven that can stand on a work surface.
These have really come down in price now, and you can expect to pay anywhere between $200 and $400 for one of these. I really love this Cuisinart Convection Steam Oven which is I would say mid range in terms of price.It’s not the biggest, but if space is an issue in your kitchen like it is in mine, this may well be perfect for you. It will steam uninterrupted for 120 minutes, and you can fit a whole 4.5 lb chicken or 12 inch pizza in easily. It cooks super fast, and has an easily removable 47 oz. water reservoir.
How Much Does A Microwave Oven Cost?
Answering this question is really like answering the question how long is a piece of string? Microwaves can range from anywhere between $30 and $8000. This is dependent on size and what you want them to do.
Obviously you get what you pay for. So if you pay $30 for a microwave, you are going to get a mall microwave with limited functionality. If that’s all you want then there is no need yo pay big bucks for a microwave.
My personal choice is this Toshiba microwave. I saw it as a recommended product on Amazon and here is what I like about it.
- It has vast number of pre-programmed menus for a whole host of foods.
- It has a high power at 1100 watts.
- The display is a large and easy to read.
- The menu system is very easy to navigate
Do steam ovens need plumbing? Whilst more high end steam ovens can be plumbed in to fill the reservoir with water, most cheaper steam ovens have a removable water reservoir to fill up prior to use.
Can you cook a pizza in a steam oven? Yes you can use a steam oven for cooking pizzas. A number of higher end steam ovens will have a designated pizza setting, so it is just as easy as turning the steam oven on and placing the pizza in.
What is the difference between a convection oven and an air fryer? Whilst both of these appliances circulate hot air around the food to cook it, the smaller cooking chamber in an air fryer allows food to be cooked more quickly with a more crispy texture.