steam oven microwave comparison

In our busy modern lives, having efficient and versatile cooking devices in the kitchen has become very important. Two popular appliances that have revolutionized modern kitchens are steam ovens and microwaves. Though they differ in many aspects, they share a common goal: to make cooking more convenient and efficient for the home cook. But which one is the right option for your kitchen?

By understanding what steam ovens and microwaves have in common, and what sets them apart, you’ll be better equipped to make an informed decision when selecting the perfect appliance for your kitchen. Let’s take a closer look at these two cutting-edge appliances, examining their features, strengths and weaknesses.

What is a steam oven?

A steam oven is a kitchen appliance that uses steam generated from heated water to cook food. It provides gentle, even cooking and is known for preserving nutrients, flavors, and textures in food, making it a popular choice for health-conscious individuals and those who enjoy versatile cooking options.

panasonic steam oven

What is a microwave?

A microwave is a kitchen appliance that uses electromagnetic waves to quickly and efficiently heat and cook food. It is popular for its convenience and speed in reheating, defrosting, and cooking small portions of food, making it a common household appliance in many kitchens.

black & decker microwave

Steam Oven vs Microwave – Key Differences

Design and Apperance

Steam ovens resemble conventional ovens or built-in microwave ovens, featuring a stainless steel, black, or colored exterior, a glass door, and an easy-to-use control panel with buttons, knobs, or a touchscreen display. Steam ovens may also have interior lighting and transparent doors, allowing users to monitor the cooking process. They can be found in various sizes and capacities, including countertop models or built-in units that fit into standard oven cavities or custom cabinetry. The design of steam ovens can vary between brands and models.

Microwaves come in various styles and designs, catering to different kitchen layouts and aesthetics. Some common features include a metal or stainless steel exterior, a glass door with a window for monitoring the cooking process, and an easy-to-use control panel with buttons, dials, or a touchscreen display. There are various types of microwaves, including countertop models, which are portable and easy to install; over-the-range microwaves, which save counter space by doubling as a range hood; built-in microwaves, which are installed into cabinetry for a seamless look; and microwave drawers, which are installed below the counter. Some microwaves also feature additional cooking modes, such as convection or grilling, for added versatility.


Steam ovens are designed to provide gentle, even cooking by circulating steam throughout the oven cavity. They typically feature a built-in water reservoir or a connection to a water line, heating elements, and a fan to distribute the steam evenly. When the oven is turned on, the heating elements heat the water in the reservoir, turning it into steam. The fan then circulates the steam around the oven, surrounding the food with hot, moist air. This method of cooking allows for even heat distribution and preserves the food’s nutrients, flavors, and textures.

Microwaves are designed to cook food quickly and conveniently using electromagnetic waves. They consist of a microwave generator called a magnetron, a waveguide to direct the microwaves into the oven cavity, a turntable or stirrer to ensure even heating, and a metal enclosure that keeps the microwaves contained.

Energy efficiency

Microwaves are generally more energy-efficient than steam ovens. They use electromagnetic waves to heat food directly, making the cooking process faster and more efficient. As a result, microwaves typically consume less energy than steam ovens, which rely on heating water to create steam and require a longer cooking time. However, it is important to note that energy efficiency can vary depending on factors such as the model, size, and usage of the appliance.


Steam ovens are generally more expensive than microwaves. These ovens, especially combination or “combi” ovens, come with more advanced features and versatile cooking options, which contribute to their higher price.

Microwaves, on the other hand, are more budget-friendly and widely available at various price points. Basic countertop microwaves can be quite affordable, while higher-end models with additional features, such as convection or grilling capabilities, can be more expensive.

cooking in a steam oven

Cooking in a Steam Oven vs. Cooking in a Microwave

Cooking method

Steam ovens use steam generated by heating water in a built-in reservoir. The steam is circulated throughout the oven, cooking food evenly and gently. Microwaves cook food using electromagnetic waves that agitate water molecules, generating heat within the food. The most common cooking techniques in microwaves include reheating, defrosting, and cooking small portions. Some advanced microwaves also offer combination cooking options with convection heating or grilling.

Cooking time and temperature

Cooking times in steam ovens are generally longer than in microwaves but shorter than in conventional ovens. Steam ovens usually operate at temperatures ranging from 100°F to 450°F (38°C to 232°C), depending on the model and cooking technique.

Cooking times in microwaves are typically much shorter than in steam ovens or conventional ovens. Microwaves don’t have temperature settings like ovens; instead, they use power levels that control the intensity of the microwave energy. Cooking times vary depending on the microwave’s wattage and the type and size of the food being cooked.

Suitable food types

Steam ovens are versatile and can cook a wide variety of foods, such as vegetables, fish, poultry, meat, rice, pasta, and grains. They are also great for cooking delicate dishes like custards and soufflés, as well as for reheating leftovers without drying them out.

Microwaves work well with foods that have high water content, such as vegetables, soups, and sauces. However, they may not be suitable for cooking large cuts of meat or achieving a crispy texture, as they may cook unevenly or not brown the food well.

Food containers that can be used

Suitable food containers for steam ovens include heat-resistant glassware (e.g., Pyrex or borosilicate glass), ceramic or porcelain containers, and stainless steel containers designed for steam ovens. Avoid using plastic containers, as they may release harmful chemicals or melt and containers with non-heat-resistant paint or decoration.

Plastic containers can be used in microwaves, but you need to look for the “microwave-safe” label or symbol. Other containers that can be used are heat-resistant, ceramic or porcelain containers marked as microwave-safe and microwave-safe paper plates and bowls. Do not use metal containers, or containers with metallic paint or decoration, as they can cause sparks and damage the microwave. Also avoid non-microwave-safe plastics and foam containers, as they may release harmful chemicals or melt.

Cleaning and Maintenance

When it comes to cleaning and maintenance, there are some differences between steam ovens and microwaves that you should consider:

Cleaning process

Steam ovens are relatively easy to clean but require regular wiping after each use to remove moisture, food particles, or residues. Some models come with self-cleaning features or cleaning modes, which use steam or high heat to loosen any residues or baked-on food particles.

Microwaves are generally easier to clean, with interiors that can be quickly wiped down with a damp cloth or sponge. Many microwaves have removable turntables or trays for easy washing, and some models feature special interior coatings or materials that simplify the cleaning process.

You may be interested in: How to clean a commercial oven


Steam ovens may require periodic descaling, especially in areas with hard water, to remove mineral deposits that could affect performance. Regularly checking the seals and gaskets for wear or damage is also important to ensure proper functioning and energy efficiency.

Microwaves require less maintenance compared to steam ovens. However, it is essential to check the door seals and hinges periodically for wear or damage, as these can impact the microwave’s efficiency and safety. In case of a burnt-out light bulb, you might need to replace it.

Overall, microwaves tend to be easier to clean and maintain than steam ovens. However, both appliances require regular cleaning and occasional maintenance checks to ensure optimal performance, efficiency, and hygiene.

Which one is healthier?

Both steam ovens and microwaves offer different health advantages, and the healthier option depends on factors such as cooking method, food type, and personal preferences.

Steam ovens use steam to cook food, which helps to retain nutrients, particularly heat-sensitive vitamins and minerals. This gentle cooking process helps preserve the natural flavors, colors, and textures of the food.

Microwaves cook food quickly, which can help retain nutrients that are sensitive to prolonged heat exposure. However, some studies suggest that microwaving can also cause certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, to break down more quickly than other cooking methods.

Since steam ovens don’t require oil or fats for cooking, they encourage healthier cooking methods, such as steaming and poaching, which can help maintain the food’s nutritional value. Microwaving can also be a healthy option for reheating food or cooking small portions, as it requires little or no added fats. However, it may not be the best choice for cooking all types of food, as it can sometimes result in uneven heating and altered textures.

Which is better?

It is not possible to definitively state whether a steam oven or a microwave is better, as the ideal choice depends on individual preferences, cooking needs, and lifestyle. A steam oven excels in nutrient retention, versatile cooking options, and even cooking, while a microwave offers quick and convenient heating, typically at a lower cost and with easier maintenance. The best choice will depend on your specific requirements and priorities.

Why do we compare them?

While steam ovens and microwaves are indeed quite different in their functionality and cooking methods, comparing them is valuable for several reasons:

  1. Kitchen space and budget constraints: Many people have limited kitchen space or budget for appliances, making it essential to choose the most suitable option for their needs. Comparing steam ovens and microwaves allows individuals to understand the benefits and drawbacks of each appliance and make a more informed decision on which one would better fit their specific requirements.
  2. Cooking preferences and versatility: Understanding the differences between steam ovens and microwaves can help individuals select the appliance that best aligns with their cooking preferences, dietary needs, and the types of food they frequently prepare. Comparing the cooking methods and capabilities of each appliance enables people to identify the one that offers the desired versatility and convenience.
  3. Nutritional considerations: For those who prioritize healthy cooking and maintaining the nutritional value of their food, it is crucial to compare steam ovens and microwaves to determine which appliance is more likely to support their goals.
  4. Energy efficiency and environmental impact: Comparing the energy consumption and environmental impact of steam ovens and microwaves can help eco-conscious individuals choose the appliance that aligns with their values and sustainability goals.

Consider buying a steam oven if:

  1. You value nutrient retention and healthier cooking methods: Steam ovens are ideal for preserving the nutritional value of your food, as they cook gently with steam, which helps retain vitamins and minerals. Additionally, steam ovens often require little or no added fats, making them suitable for health-conscious individuals.
  2. You cook a wide variety of foods: Steam ovens are versatile and can handle a broad range of food types, including vegetables, fish, poultry, meat, grains, and delicate dishes like custards and soufflés. If you enjoy experimenting with different recipes and ingredients, a steam oven might be a great addition to your kitchen.
  3. You appreciate enhanced flavors and textures: The gentle steam cooking process in steam ovens helps preserve the natural flavors, colors, and textures of food, resulting in delicious, restaurant-quality dishes.
  4. You frequently reheat leftovers: Steam ovens can reheat leftovers without drying them out, maintaining their original taste and texture.
  5. You have the budget and space for it: Steam ovens can be more expensive than microwaves and may require more space. If you have the budget and space to accommodate a steam oven, it could be a worthwhile investment for your kitchen.
  6. You prefer a more even and consistent cooking process: Steam ovens distribute steam evenly, ensuring consistent cooking results, which can be especially beneficial for larger and more delicate dishes.

Keep in mind that steam ovens may have longer cooking times compared to microwaves and may require more maintenance, such as refilling the water reservoir and descaling. However, if the benefits align with your cooking preferences and lifestyle, a steam oven could be an excellent choice for you.

Consider buying a microwave if:

  1. You value quick and convenient cooking: Microwaves are known for their speed and convenience, making them perfect for reheating leftovers, defrosting frozen items, and cooking small portions of food quickly.
  2. You have limited kitchen space: Microwaves typically take up less space than steam ovens, making them an excellent choice for smaller kitchens or apartments with limited countertop or cabinet space.
  3. You are on a budget: Microwaves are generally more affordable than steam ovens, so if you’re looking for a cost-effective cooking appliance, a microwave might be the better choice for you.
  4. You primarily use it for reheating and defrosting: If your primary purpose for the appliance is to reheat leftovers or defrost frozen items, a microwave is a suitable option due to its quick and efficient heating capabilities.
  5. You want easy maintenance: Microwaves usually require less maintenance compared to steam ovens, as they do not have a water reservoir that needs refilling or descaling.
  6. You prefer an appliance with a simple user interface: Microwaves often have a more straightforward interface, with preset cooking times and power levels, making them user-friendly and easy to operate for most people.

Microwaves might not be the best for cooking all types of food, as they may not brown or crisp food well and can sometimes result in uneven heating. However, if what microwaves have to offer meet your cooking preferences, and lifestyle, a microwave could be the best option for your kitchen.

We hope that this comprehensive comparison of steam ovens and microwaves has provided valuable insights into their respective features, advantages, and limitations. Remember, the ideal choice will depend on your specific needs and priorities, whether it’s the versatility and nutrient retention offered by a steam oven or the speed and convenience of a microwave. We hope this article has been helpful in guiding you towards the best appliance for your kitchen. If you have any more questions feel free to reach out!