As we begin the New Year, some of you may be planning on walking the halls of the 2017 Kitchen/Bath Industry Show. You’ll be meeting with your trusted and respected current suppliers, as well as searching out new products your firm can benefit by representing, or new technologies that you, as a design professional, should be aware of – regardless of whether you specify and sell the products.

For those who will not be attending KBIS, I encourage you to visit all the major manufacturers’ websites during the month of January. When new products are introduced at KBIS, they are featured as “New Products” on the manufacturer’s website. Therefore, you can learn about these new products even if you’re not able to travel to Florida.

But regardless of whether you sell/specify specific brands or simply recommend a generic category of appliances, smart designers realize the value of being familiar with new appliance technologies. Knowing how they work is essential to determine if they are viable options for a prospective client. Knowing how new appliances work also leads to finding the best place to put these new appliances in the kitchen design so they are accessible and usable by all.

This month, we’ll look at two new, small, special-purpose cooking appliances: the “combi” steam oven and the microwave/convection/browning appliances that take the place of a standard microwave and give the cook an option of a second smaller oven. First, I’ll give you an overview of how these appliances work, and then suggest some placement locations that you may not have thought of.


Steaming is considered a healthy cooking technique for vegetables. The advantages of steaming have now been incorporated in built-in ovens and are combined with convection heat transference in these new appliances.

We all understand the health benefits of steamed vegetable cooking. Let’s talk about cooking a wider variety of foods in a steam bath. There’s been some current interest in a cooking method first described in 1799, and then rediscovered in the mid-1960s and employed in the industrial food industry, called “sous-vide” (French for “under vacuum”). Sous-vide is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times – 72 hours in some cases – and an accurately regulated temperature much lower than that normally used for cooking (typically around 131° F to 140° F for meats and higher for vegetables). Advocates of this method of cooking feel that this is the best way to cook an item evenly, and to prevent it from being overcooked on the outside; therefore, the food is the juiciest.

For sous-vide enthusiasts: It’s all about control. In normal cooking, heating stops a few degrees below the targeted temperature while residual heat continues to cook the food for a while; overcooking can be the result. In sous-vide cooking, the process stops when the center of the food has reached its targeted temperature. It is then removed and will not cook more after it stops being heated.

The limitation of sous-vide cooking is that the low temperature does not brown foods. And, the flavors and texture produced by browning cannot be obtained with only the sous-vide technique. Therefore, these food products must be browned after being removed from the water bath using techniques such as grilling or searing in an extremely hot pan or with a blowtorch.

The introduction of the “combi” steam oven, which uses preset recipes to cook with steam and then finish with convection, offers the consumer a very functional alternative oven.

These new versatile “combi” ovens use the steam to preserve nutrients and tenderness in meats and other products. The revolutionary advantage of adding convection is that the oven now also evenly bakes breads and pastries, and browns roasts or other meat products. Therefore, when steam and convection are used together, food is always going to be tender and juicy inside, and roasted or crisped outside.

You have excellent results in the finished product because the convection mode gives you high heat, which circulates around the food surface, cooking from the edges all the way to the core. This heating via air movement improves moisture retention. And then, when you add steam, you inhibit cellular breakdown, and that improves texture and flavor in your food.

Cooking with steam is also an excellent choice for the home pastry chef or bread maker! In a conventional oven without humidity, a rigid crust forms on the bread, preventing the dough from fully expanding. The difference with steam is this: Steam delays the crust from forming too soon. The flexible dough fully expands. This significant rise in dough is known as “oven spring,” and the steam helps create a light, airy loaf. Steam ovens also offer a “proofing” setting that’s useful at the beginning of the baking process.

Additionally, steam is excellent for defrosting. No “hot spots” are created, which is a typical concern of microwave reheating. Another advantage that home cooks rave about is the ability for a steam oven to “refresh” the food, rather than just reheating the food. For instance, your leftovers won’t be dried out anymore; you’re not going to have soggy pizza slices.


  • Currently, these ovens are all 24″ wide. Do not hold your breath for bigger steam ovens: As I understand it, the size, the stainless steel interior and the racking system are all engineered to maximize the steam’s ability to fill the cavity and surround the food.
  • Appliances are on the market that are both 110v and 220v powered. In my research, when cooking a 3-1/2 pound roasting chicken, there was only about a 10 minute difference in the cooking time between the 110v and 220v units. Therefore, I believe the power source does not dictate the quality of the results.
  • For all of these ovens, the door hinges down and the water reservoir is either accessed at the top of the appliance or on the side. For that reason, you do not want to install these appliances too high!
  • The appliance comes with very specific racks, which are used interchangeably. Try to include a drawer immediately below the steam oven so there is a place to store racks not in use – this saves adjacent countertop space for the cook’s prep work.


Cooking with microwave energy combined with a convection air movement function and broiling/browning element is the second valuable appliance designers should be familiar with.

While we all know how a microwave works (energy is transferred from a microwave element to the liquid molecules in the food itself and these molecules begin moving rapidly, causing the food itself to heat) – we all appreciate that microwave cooking is not a great idea for many food products.

However, when microwave energy is combined with a convection cooking system, the microwave oven becomes a “speed cook oven.” All the limitations are gone. The oven still serves as a simple microwave – or it can be a straightforward, small convection oven. The best application of the combination technology is when both heating methods are combined and controlled by the oven’s built-in preset control panel, that way the appliance can serve as both a regular oven and a source for quick microwaving. Foods will always be moist, juicy and browned in a shorter amount of time.


  • These ovens are available in varying widths so that they can be combined with 27″ or 30″ full-sized ovens.
  • The appliance door hinges down. Do not make the mistake of assuming the appliance has a typical left hinge door. You cannot place this appliance above the user’s eye level.
  • The appliance typically has a set of special cookware to assist the browning process. Try to include a drawer below the appliance to store these items when not in use.
  • These appliances are available in both 110v and 220v units. There is a difference in the cooking speed of these two voltage appliances. Speak with your appliance specialists so you can fairly compare 110v vs. 220v appliances.
  • Some appliances on the market have an oven browning element that provides even coverage. Others use a halogen light source. Make sure you see both in action.
  • Figuring out how to combine a microwave energy/convection air movement and browning element is tricky: The best appliances have preset menus to take the guesswork out of this for your consumer.


There are specific recommendations for cookware in an oven cavity that combines microwave/convection/conventional browning elements. All recommendations are the same: glass, ceramic glass or earthenware (pottery or clay) bakeware, which is ideally suited to cooking when combining microwave energy and convection heat transference. While these cookware materials can work in a combination oven, they vary in their desirability as a container to bake in. From a baking standpoint, metal bakeware has always been considered the best because of even browning. However, this is simply not a choice for the microwave/convection oven.

  • Glass Bakeware: Glass conducts heat extremely well. Therefore, it is an excellent baking container. A word of caution: recipes with a lot of sugar (pound cakes and cookie bars) might start to burn before being cooked all the way through. Glass always has the advantage of being non-reactive: You can store foods in the baking dish without worrying about the food picking up metallic flavors. It is excellent for baking, casseroles, puddings and other dishes where browning is not of key importance. Pyrex® is a popular brand.
  • Ceramic Bakeware: A similar concern as stated above with glass pans regarding browning. A well-known brand is CorningWare®. The original pyroceramic glass version of CorningWare® was introduced in the 1950s as a product usable on a cooking surface, as well as in the oven. Current CorningWare® is no longer pyroceramic – it has been reformulated in vitroceramics (this is aluminofilicate glass) for cookware. Usage instructions for newer CorningWare® branded cookware says specifically they are not for stove top use: they are for oven use only.
  • Silicone Bakeware: Silicone has great non-stick attributes; however, it is a poor heat conductor and baked goods tend to brown very little, if at all, when baked in these pans.
  • Earthenware (Pottery and Clay): Earthenware bakeware has a clay base that is sometimes fired with a ceramic coating. Popular brands are Emile Henry® and La Chamba®.

Emile Henry® is made from local clay in a small town in Burgundy, France. It is fired with a ceramic top coat. These earthenware products slowly and evenly diffuse the cooking heat to the very center of the cooking dish. Therefore, food is cooked evenly. The products have superior heat retention properties, which keep food hot when resting on the dining table or kitchen table. They can go from freezer to oven because of their thermal shock properties. These products should be seasoned prior to their first use.

La Chamba® cookware has an equally impressive pedigree: its origin traces back 700 years to vessels and pitchers found in pre-Columbian archeological sites. La Chamba® pottery is made from the area’s coarse black clay, which crafted, dried outside and then fired in small ovens. A red or terra cotta colored slip is applied prior to firing and enables La Chamba® to be burnished in a fine sheen.


Now, to the big question: Where should these ovens be placed?

These new cooking ovens have new touch-control technology that the user interfaces with – much like a tablet screen. Some ovens can be controlled remotely by a hand-held device. Because of these control factors, it’s important to know who will be using these appliances – the full-time cook in the family, or maybe a specialty cook – before determining placement. Is the new appliance considered a special ancillary tool – or is it literally taking the place of another appliance?

Find out how each cook operates within the space. If there are several individuals who cook together concurrently (people will be moving around one another in the cooking center at the same time), traffic patterns and door opening swings become an important consideration for this type of “team” cooking. Separating “point-of-use” equipment will help separate the cooking activities.

Alternatively, when a prospective client says, “We cook together,” do they really mean that one person is the helper who does not enter the cooking zone nor use the cooking appliances? In such a situation, the cooking center is really serving only one cook – so “point of use” appliances should be grouped together.


Designers are challenged to create more extensive cooking centers that combine traditional radiant ovens and a variety of new combination or new special-purpose oven-type appliances.

Let me share with you four great kitchen solutions that propose new installation possibilities for the innovative equipment I’ve been discussing (see figures 5-8). I hope these design ideas suggest a fresh approach to a cooking center you are planning.

Over the span of my career, one ongoing discussion among designers had been about how involved they should get in the appliances planned for a client’s new kitchen. In the past, it was so much easier – you picked the best brands, you worked with a trade professional and our classic kitchen guidelines provided all of the direction we needed. Today, there are so many special pieces of equipment that may be just right for a client you will serve this year. So I think wise designers realize that in 2017 and beyond…they must understand how these appliances work and how they interface with the classic range, range top or built-in oven.

That is why I wanted to take a moment to share with you some planning thoughts in this article about these two very intriguing special-purpose appliances. I hope the information helps you “get the sale” – and create great kitchens your clients enjoy working in for years to come!

Ellen Cheever, CMKBD, ASID, CAPS, is a well-known author, designer, speaker and marketing specialist. A member of the NKBA Hall of Fame, Cheever gained prominence in the industry early on as the author of two design education textbooks. She manages an award-winning design firm, Ellen Cheever & Associates, and has been part of the management team of several major cabinet companies.

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