In general, electric steamers offer these advantages:
- Electric units are more efficient, adding less heat to the kitchen which ultimately must be removed by the cooling system.
- Electric units require less maintenance and ventilation, and are more portable.
Steamers look and operate much like ovens. An electric or gas boiler creates the steam, which is injected into the cooking compartment. Steam is a much quicker heat transfer medium than hot air. For example, a full size turkey that takes hours to cook in a conventional hot air oven will cook in minutes in a steamer.
Steam energy is transferred to the food at lower temperatures than hot-air cooking, reducing the chance of overcooking foods. For example, steamers operate at temperatures of 212° to 240°F, while a typical hot-air oven operates between 350° and 450°F.
However, cooking at this lower temperature does not brown food as well as a hot-air oven. For this reason, chefs often use a steamer to cook food almost to completion, and then transfer the food to a conventional oven for a short period of time for surface browning. They can also accomplish this using a combination oven/steamer, which is designed to do both steam and hot-air cooking.
Steamer cooking performance depends on food product cooking time and the output capacity of the steam generator. Cooking food for the proper amount of time within the capabilities of the steam generator results in consistent quality, portion after portion.
Many new steamers have programmable controls to maintain consistent cooking time and steam volume inside the unit. Food service operators simply set the amount of time a dish must cook. The programmable controls also permit a chef to pre-program cooking times so less experienced employees can simply choose the food item from a menu on the control panel.
Energy & Money Saving Tips
Here are a few common-sense operating tips that save money:
- Steamers preheat relatively quickly because of steam’s high heat transfer. The units are usually well insulated to reduce heat loss to the kitchen and to require less energy to maintain temperature during slow times. However, if using multiple steamers during peak times, turn one unit off after the peak cooking cycle.
- Try to keep each steamer unit fully loaded when possible. The steamer operates at peak efficiency and productivity at full load.
- One key to efficient steamer operation is controlling water quality. If water in your area is “hard” or contains significant levels of chemicals, the compounds in the water can coat and corrode the steaming components. Such scale and chemical carryover can deteriorate steamer performance and food quality, and almost always results in premature steamer component failures. Always check with a professional water treatment company about proper water softening for your steamers.
- Keep each steamer unit properly maintained; a clean and well maintained unit operates more efficiently and reduces repair costs. Check that the door seals properly so steam doesn’t escape into the kitchen. Also ensure that the boiler is clean, burners or heating elements function properly, and steam injectors are free of debris.