Before you make a purchase
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Commercial steamers are still relatively niche products, but they are highly prized in kitchens that focus on healthy cooking, vegetarian or vegan cuisine, seafood, and on fast cooking in general.
Steamers are extremely efficient - they are able to cook faster than competing methods, with the added benefit of preserving the nutrient value and moisture of the food better than competing methods. Steamers work by boiling water and transferring the heat created by that boiling water to the food (the details may vary depending on the type of steamer you choose, however).
Before you purchase a steamer, consider the availability of quality water for steaming, kitchen space, the need for a steamer (whether your menu could benefit from the purchase of an independent commercial steamer), the cost, and the per hour efficiency necessary to meet your production needs.
Water Quality Maintenance
Of prime importance to the operation of a steamer is the quality of the water that is boiled to heat the food. If the water is of low quality, there will be significant negative effects on the flavor of the food. To ensure that you do not encounter any flavor issues related to low quality water, follow the manufacturer’s recommended solvent levels to determine whether the water being used to steam is of sufficient quality. As a general rule, do not attempt to steam with water that does not meet the manufacturer’s standards.
Pressure Steamers vs. Convection Steamers
Both convection steamers and pressure steamers use steam to cook food, but in convection steamers, the steam is circulated at normal pressure by convection with a fan, while in pressure steamers, the machine is tightly sealed, enabling a large buildup of pressure - and thus heat - that steams the food. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type.
- Cooks faster than equivalent convection steamers, as it typically cooks at higher heat and pressure.
- Good for large batches of food, such as in cafeterias, universities, hospitals, etc.
- Works especially well with starchy or tough foods, such as potatoes and meat.
- Initially more expensive than equivalent convection steamers.
- Larger, less safe, and more difficult to use.
- The taste of some foods may sometimes transfer to the next batch made in the steamer.
- May not handle delicate foods as well as convection steamers, such as vegetables.
- Cannot be opened while it is cooking, which means that workers cannot check the food inside during operation.
- Usually produces higher quality results due to the lower cooking temperature, which preserves more of the nutrients, moisture, and texture of the food cooking inside.
- Doesn’t suffer from taste-transfer issues.
- Can be opened during operation to check on food or alter the food, making it easier to use and adapt to in a hectic commercial kitchen.
- Initial costs are lower.
- Takes longer to cook (but still faster than conventional ovens!).
Should you purchase a steamer with a boiler?
Choosing between a boilerless and boiler-included steamer will depend largely on the volume needs of your kitchen. High volume kitchens (and in which the steamer will be frequently in-use during serving hours) will most likely require a boiler, despite the fact that the inclusion of the boiler makes the steamer more difficult to clean and requires more maintenance overall. On the other hand, small volume kitchens (or any kitchen in which the steamer will not be seeing high volume use) will most likely do better with a boilerless steamer, as they require less maintenance, are easier to clean, and last longer. Ultimately, you’ll want to choose a boilerless steamer (for lower costs, maintenance, and labor) unless there is a volume need that demands the inclusion of a boiler.