The benefits of cooking with a commercial convection steamer are many, and there are also many things to consider before choosing one. Steam uses all of its energy to cook food quickly, without affecting the integrity of that food. It will be important to make considerations like whether you have access to steam if you're purchasing a direct steam model or if you want your steamer to fill and drain itself. You'll also need to think about the capacity the steamer will need to accommodate.
Countertop models take up less space and tend to be less expensive, but they may not provide the output capability medium- to high-volume establishments need. Floor models are more costly to purchase, but their capacity can be double that of countertop versions, potentially leading to better efficiency in the long run.
Digital controls will allow for programming and timing. This could be helpful in areas of high employee turnover and for high-output kitchens that need to be able to focus on many things at once. Controls of this type can be programmed with recipes that allow for set-it-and-go operation. Manual controls are relatively inexpensive to replace and easy to use, but they may limit your ability to make the most of the steamer.
Electric steamers take longer to heat up and cool down than gas models, but they can provide more flexibility in where they can be installed. Gas versions operate using LP or natural gas (NG). Either of these options is more efficient than electricity; however, natural gas may not be provided by your municipality. Space limitations may also make using LP impractical.
Incoming water does not come into actual contact with food in models that use a steam coil to prepare food. Instead, incoming steam heats fresh water from another source, either an incoming line or water that is manually added. This may be a viable option in facilities where steam is already piped throughout. Direct steam models will need to have access to clean, non-toxic, uncontaminated steam. Plumbing into pre-existing steam sources, like heating boilers, may not give you the purity needed for producing safe, high quality food. When using direct steam, a good rule of thumb is that if you wouldn't drink the water you're using to generate steam, you shouldn't cook your food with it.
- Broiler-based steamers produce the driest steam and the highest temperatures. The downside of this type of steamer is that they require an enormous amount of water, and most of that water literally goes down the drain. The wasted water must also be cooled to below 140 degrees Fahrenheit before it can be emptied into sewers in most areas.
- Boilerless steamers do not have any water specifications and do not require deliming. They can also use recycled condensed steam to create more steam, thus potentially creating a more cost-effective solution. They do not reach temperatures as high as boiler-types, and the steam they produce is not as dry.
- Connectionless models will require someone to empty the basins, and that could lead to burns and other accidents. They also create a wetter heat, but they tend to use less water and are easier to maintain. They are best suited for light-duty batch operations, and when preparing items high in starch, foam can build up and cover the food.
- Units that have an external source generate their steam anywhere other than within the unit itself. This can make the unit less expensive to purchase, however, if one steamer is all you need, it may not be cost effective to install a steam system for just one cabinet. In this case, a unit that is self-contained would be a better option.
Pan Type and Capacity
The size of the commercial food steamer you choose will dictate its pan capacity. Some steamers can hold one half-size pan, while others can hold up to 12 full-size pans. It is recommended that pans do not exceed 2-1/2 inches in depth and that they be perforated. This will maximize the surface area and produce more consistent results. Units with drawers may be best suited for establishments where the steaming needs are not as regular or demanding.
Number of Compartments
Steamers usually have one to four compartments and they can come in a variety of configurations. You may choose to have one compartment with pressure and one without. Some compartments can function autonomously, allowing you to customize the use of each compartment to suit your needs.
- A compensating thermostat will provide constant, even temperatures after adding additional product or opening the steamer door. These thermostats will also switch the unit into standby mode, so the unit doesn't have to be constantly producing steam if it isn't needed.
- Many convection steamers will have a descaling port that helps keep unwanted contaminants from building up in your machine, leading to loss in performance and costly repairs.
- Steam can be diverted to an integral kettle in units with that option. This will allow you to cook stews and soups without worrying about scorching and without added energy costs.
- You may need for your convection steamer to include a worktop. This could be extremely beneficial when loading and unloading food. It can also provide a bit of added workspace where countertop space may be limited.
- A condensate drain cools the condensate before it empties into a sewer. Many local codes require that the temperature of the condensate be below 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- There are steamers that have compartments or modes that will allow for pressure operation. Units with pressure use the energy generated from the steam itself to cook the food. This causes higher temperatures, allowing you to cook foods that are dense and less impacted by high temperatures more quickly. High-pressure chambers or ones that have been switched into pressure mode must equalize the pressure before they can be opened.