Serious Eats / Grace Kelly
Steam-injected ovens are what give bakeries the ability to churn out crusty loaves of bread on a daily basis. Alas, they’re often too big and expensive for the home cook, leading many bakers to recreate the steaming effect using a Dutch Oven and a dish of water. But the Anova Precision Oven packs this ability into a slightly smaller, less expensive package. The oven also promises a sous vide feature (minus the vacuum-sealed bag and water submersion) and normal roasting, toasting, and air frying (and more) abilities. I got my hands on an oven (provided by Anova) and used it for around a month on a near-daily basis to see if made good on all of its promises.
Serious Eats / Grace KellySous Vide Roast Chicken Test: I made the Anova oven’s app for sous vide roast chicken, using the sous vide and roast functions. This recipe also used the oven’s probe. Steamed then Roasted Potatoes Test: I followed the app’s recipe and instructions for roasted potatoes, which used the ovens’ steam and roast functions.Steamed then Baked Potatoes Test: I made the app’s recipe for baked potatoes, which used the steam and roast functions. This recipe also used the probe. Sous Vide Reverse-Seared Steak Test: I used the app’s recipe for sous vide reversed seared to cook two filet mignon steaks before searing them in a cast iron skillet. This recipe also used the probe. Steamed/Baked Yeasted No-Knead Boule Test: I used the app’s recipe for a yeasted no-knead boule to steam and bake a loaf. Steamed/Roasted Broccoli Test: I used the app’s recipe for steamed and roasted broccoli.Roasted Ribs Test: I used the app to make ribs, and also used it to adjust the cooking temperature and time whilst out and about. Toast Test: I examined the oven’s ability to heat evenly by toasting nine slices of store-bought bread on the rack. User Experience Tests: I connected the app to the oven and used it to follow and set the oven to make many of the recipes listed above. Throughout testing, I noted how easy or difficult the oven was to use, and if it was easy to wipe out and clean.
What is a Steam Oven, and How Does It Work?
A steam oven is pretty self-explanatory—water in an attached tank is heated until it evaporates and the steam fills the interior of the oven. The Anova oven features different steam levels (from 0 to 100%) depending on what you’re making (for example, the baked potatoes we made used 100% steam, while a recipe for New York Style Cheesecake sets it at 50%). While you can steam things like potatoes and vegetables and call it a day, many folks might be interested in this oven because of the possibilities it brings to baking. In short, when you want to bake up a big ol’ crusty boule, steam helps with the final stage of fermentation, known as oven spring. This occurs when your bread starts to warm up in the oven, causing the remaining yeast to off-gas and your bread to rise. If the oven is too dry, a crust will form too soon, stunting your loaf’s rise.
“Steam is great for bread baking, especially in the case of crusty loaves, because the steam prevents the crust from setting before the loaf has had a chance to expand fully, for maximum oven spring,” says Andrew Janjigian, Serious Eats contributor, author of the Wordloaf newsletter, and bread guru. And once you stop the flow of steam into the oven and blast the heat, the remaining moisture absorbs into the exterior of the bread, dissolving into the dough’s sugars. The Maillard reaction ensues, and a brown, shiny, crunchy loaf emerges. “It also gelatinizes the crust, which is what gives you that sexy crackled, crisp exterior,” Janjigian says.
The Anova oven also promises a sous vide feature, and we reached out to an Anova rep to learn more about how this differs from steam injection. She said that their product manager explains it in these terms: “Much like how if you go to Florida in the summer and you notice it’s quite muggy (as hotter temps can hold more relative humidity), we’re saturating the air so it’s humid—and creating a similar environment to a water bath.” The rep went on to explain that sous vide is done at temperatures less than 100°C (212°F) while steam is normally hotter than that.
What We Learned
The App Was Very, Very Helpful
Serious Eats / Grace Kelly
While some users mention difficulty connecting the Anova oven app to the oven, I had no such troubles. In fact, when my husband decided to use the oven, he was also easily able to connect the app on his phone. While in the past I’ve found other appliance apps lacking in usability, the Anova app was extremely helpful. Not only are there a wide variety of recipes on it (Basque Cheesecake, Asparagus Puff Pastry Tart, and even Grilled Cheese) but it proved quite useful in getting the hang of how the oven works.
The oven’s user interface is quite minimalist—it features a changing array of indicators for oven heat direction, start/stop, and a timer and/or probe temp, among others—which is quite different than any other countertop oven I’ve used (for example, the Breville Joule oven I tested has roast, toast, bagel, air fry, and more, all clearly labeled and always present). I found myself relying on the app to make nearly every recipe I used; even if I deviated slightly from the recipe in terms of seasoning or finishing, the app provided essential in understanding how to, say, steam a baked potato before roasting it to crisp up the skin, or sous vide a spatchcocked chicken. It even helped with the most basic kind of things, like toasting bread. This gets me to my next point.
There Was a Learning Curve
As with home sous vide cooking, unless you have extensive experience, it would be difficult to pick a recipe off the internet, adjust it for steam or sous vide, and toss it in the oven. One night, when I wanted a side of crispy roasted potatoes, I was about to grab a pot to parboil them before just roasting them in the Anova, but I stayed my hand. Instead, I searched the app and found a recipe for crispy roasted potatoes that used the oven’s steam function to par-cook the potatoes before roasting. If not for the app, I would have had no idea how long to steam the cut-up taters without some rigorous internet searching. This experience is emblematic of what it’s like to cook with the oven; it requires a different perspective and until you’re comfortable with it, and have the experience built up, you’ll likely rely on the app (and there’s no shame in that!).
Sous Vide Cooking Was Unconventional, But Effective
The sous vide and broil functions ensured a moist, juicy roast chicken with crackly skin.Serious Eats / Grace Kelly
The sous vide function, much more so than steam, was the big puzzler: how do you sous vide without a bagged, vacuum-sealed ingredient and a pot of water? Instead of submerging your food into a vat of water, the oven relies on steam to create a humid, damp atmosphere at a controlled, low temperature. And it worked really well. The sous vide steak and sous vide chicken I made were both moist, tender, and incredibly easy to make. The probe, which you stick into whatever you’re cooking, attaches to the oven and tracks the temperature, which you can also view on your phone. And, just like the old-fashioned sous vide way of cooking, you can set and forget (which we literally did once) without worrying about rubbery, overcooked results.
The Oven Struggled a Teensy Bit with Even Browning
I made a few off-script items with the oven, including two recipes for hot cross buns (it was close to Easter at time of testing, alright!). Both times, I noticed that one-half of the buns (the left bit, to be specific) seemed to brown faster than the other side. However, at the end of baking, the entire top was nice and evenly golden. I also toasted six pieces of toast using the app’s “Toast 101” setting, and the results were quite pale, with the most toasted pieces in the center of the rack.
The Steam Feature Went Beyond Bread
The Anova’s steam feature went beyond bread. We used it to steam potatoes before roasting them.Serious Eats / Grace Kelly
While most folks who might eye this oven may be the types to bake crusty loaves a few times a week (cough *commerce writer Jesse Raub* cough), I am here to tell you that even if you consider yourself to have a black thumb when it comes to yeast, the steam function is still mighty useful. I mostly used it to steam potatoes (I am to potatoes what Jesse is to bread), but you can also use it to steam vegetables (like broccoli or Brussels sprouts or even whole corn cobs) and desserts that require a gentle, moist cook, like souffle, flans, or cheesecake.
The only downside to the steaming feature is that there isn’t a built-in ventilation system, so some recipes, like steamed and roasted potatoes, have you pop open the door to release the remaining moisture before searing.
The Anova Precision Oven is a great do-it-all piece of gear, and (nearly) everything we made in it turned out perfectly cooked. There are only a few drawbacks: it was a little weak on the toasting front, lacked an adequate way for steam to vent, and there is a learning curve to using it—but the app helps you hit the ground running.
Almost every feature of the oven—from roast to steam to sous vide—was accurate and worked very well. Roast chicken was moist on the inside and crispy on the outside; sous vide steak was perfectly cooked and tender; and boules sported a nice oven spring and crunchy crust. Oh, and the roasted and baked potatoes were some of the best I’ve ever made at home. The recipes on the app were also diverse and delicious, and I liked that I could control and track the oven from afar via the app. And if you have an Alexa, you can connect it to the oven for voice control and the ultimate hands-off cooking experience (okay, you’d still have to open the oven and put your food inside, but that’s pretty minimal).
While this is a home steam, combination oven, it’s still pretty darn big—22.4 x 17.7 x 14.1 inches (for context, the Breville Joule Smart Oven, which I always considered big, is smaller, at 21.5 x 17.3 x 12.8 inches)—and also pretty pricey at $700. I also found the door, which is flush with the oven and tightly sealed to avoid steam spillage, difficult to open—I had to push against the water tank on the side whilst pulling it to break the seal. And since a lot of the recipes called for a perforated sheet pan, it would have been nice if that was included. The oven’s also not super intuitive to use at first, but the app helped a ton in that regard. And one last dig is that it wasn’t the best at toasting evenly.
Wattage: 1800 WattsExterior dimensions: 22.4 x 17.7 x 14.1 inInterior dimensions: 16.9 x 12.4 x 10inWater tank capacity: 1.3 gallonsFunctions: Sous vide, steam, convection bake, bake, proof, air fry, broil, roast, toast, defrost, dehydrate, reheat Temperature ranges: Overall range is 77–482°F; Sous Vide range is 77–212°F Temperature accuracy: Overall accuracy: +/- 9°F; Sous Vide Mode Accuracy: +/- 0.6°FSensors: Ambient temperature sensor, wet bulb sensor, food probe, steam boiler sensorWhat’s included: Food probe, two sheet racks, one sheet panCare: The interior does puddle up after sous vide or steam cooking; to clean, wipe down with a dry cloth after the oven has cooled. You can read more about how to clean the oven here. Warranty: 2-yearPrice at time of publish: $700
What can I cook in the Anova Precision Oven?
The possibilities are pretty much endless in terms of what you can cook in the oven: bread, meats, desserts, vegetables, etc. And since the oven has features such as convection, steam, sous vide, roast, air fry, and more, you can pick your poison.
What is steam good for?
Steam is great for baking bread since it helps with oven spring and getting a nice, crusty crust. But even if you’re not an avid baker, steam is great for cooking vegetables and tubers, and can serve as an alternative to par-boiling.
How does sous vide work in the Anova Precision Oven?
The sous vide features fills the oven with steam, creating a damp environment that is regulated to ensure temperature consistency. The steam used in the sous vide feature is at a lower temperature than the steam used to, er, steam.