This sleek toaster oven uses steam to cook—at a steep price
Now we're cooking with steam.
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Countertop smart ovens had a really big year in 2019, and things don’t look to be slowing down in 2020. But one long-forgotten cooking method is getting reincorporated into some of these new devices: steam. Brands like Anova and Tovala have finally recognized the power of steam for precise temperature control, crispier crusts, juicy roasts, and traditional baking techniques, all things that European chefs have understood for a long time.
Sharp is the latest to tackle steam with the Sharp Superheated Steam Countertop Oven ($199 on Amazon). While it sounds like a traditional steam oven, it’s actually a toaster oven that gets a boost from superheated water. It’s designed to do everything a conventional toaster oven does, just a little bit better. But is it worth its super high cost? We got our hands on a unit to find out.
How does the Sharp Steam Oven look and feel?
No doubt about it, the Sharp Superheated Steam Countertop Oven looks like a high-quality appliance suitable for a luxury kitchen. It’s sleek and almost entirely brushed stainless steel. The settings are displayed on a small digital panel and are controlled by buttons and a smooth-turning dial.
With the oven, you get two very sturdy accessories: an enameled crisper rack and a broiling pan, which slide in on side supports, eliminating the need for wire racks. Below the front door, but out of sight, is a removable plastic tray that catches juices and crumbs that may drip down when the door is opened.
What does it do?
While Sharp calls this a superheated steam oven, it is actually a toaster oven that has the same capabilities as a typical model: toast, bake, and broil. In addition, it has pizza and warm settings. It doesn’t use steam alone, but rather to enhance traditional heating.
As it’s wider than most toaster ovens, it can easily accommodate 9 slices of bread without squishing them, a 12-inch pizza, or most standard bakeware. It is also shorter and will easily fit under a cabinet, but it won’t hold a whole chicken or a bundt pan.
What we like
- It’s attractive and solidly built and comes with sturdy accessories.
- The controls are easy to operate and the water tank is easy to fill.
- It performs well as a toaster, oven, and broiler.
- No preheat is required.
What we don’t like
- It’s expensive.
- It’s large and heavy.
- Before each use, you have to remember to fill the water tank, as well as to empty the tank and run the oven to dry it out after use.
- It’s not tall enough to accommodate a whole chicken.
- It sounds like a microwave when it’s running, and a fan continues to make noise for up to 5 minutes after cooking.
- The ready alert is not very loud and hard to hear.
How does the Sharp Steam Oven perform?
The Sharp is an excellent toaster, browning bread perfectly evenly at each setting—as long as you only toast two slices. If you take advantage of its ability to hold nine slices at once, you’ll find some variation from slice to slice. It takes exceptionally long to toast, even for a toaster oven. The programmed time at the medium setting is six minutes. If you like dark toast, you’ll be waiting eight minutes. This is surprising considering steam’s typical ability to heat food quickly.
One of the things we love is that no preheat is required for baking, although we did find that we had to bake for the maximum recommended time. Still, biscuits came out golden and flaky in less time than if we had used the oven.
As promised, the Sharp shines at producing pizza with a well-cooked crust. Frozen slices, as well as both classic and rising-crust frozen pies came out with impressively crispy bottoms. Here too, not having to preheat was a timesaver.
Broiled chicken breasts were browned and juicy. When we tried the “Honey Mustard Salmon” from the cookbook that came with the oven, we got lightly seared and very moist results in the recommended time.
Reheating and warming
The Bake setting can also be used to reheat. It took a lot longer than a microwave to get chicken parmesan and spaghetti to serving temperature but the crumb coating came out crispy, not soggy as it would’ve if it was zapped; the chicken was moist and tender and not at all dry and overcooked as it might’ve been if it had been heated in the oven. While on the warm setting, the meal stayed hot as well as juicy for 45 minutes.
Is it easy to use and clean?
To get the benefits of steam cooking, you have to remove and fill the small water tank before each use. While it’s easy to do, it’s also easy to forget, especially when you’re in a rush. We wish that there was a reminder light or beep to prompt you to fill the tank before you cook.
To operate the oven, you turn a knob which displays the five programs on a screen. You press the select button to choose the one you want, then scroll again to see the temperature and/or time options and press select to opt for the ones you want. Lastly, you press start. For each program default, the time and temperatures are displayed, and you only need to press start. There’s no need to preheat, which shaves a few minutes off of cooking.
Although there’s an interior light, it’s hard to see what’s cooking on the upper rack position without bending down to look into the oven.
When it’s running, the oven pretty much sounds like a microwave, which is annoying compared to a traditional toaster. And after it’s finished, a cooling fan continues to whir for up to another five minutes. The ready beep is not very loud and easy to miss but if it does bother you, you have the option of deactivating it.
I found the enameled trays easy to wash and they can be popped in the dishwasher. The drip pan doesn’t require much more than a rinse and the oven stayed fairly clean inside and was easy to wipe out.
My biggest complaint about maintenance is that Sharp recommends that you empty the water tank and run the unit empty for 20 minutes at the end of every day to dry out the oven. Not only is that hard to remember, it seems like a waste of energy and if you’re anywhere near the kitchen you’ll have to listen to it run and cool down for another 25 minutes or so.
Sharp offers a one-year limited warranty on parts and labor.
What owners say
There are only nine user reviews on Amazon.com with an average rating of 3.7 out of 5 stars. While consumers say they love the way it toasts, some are dissatisfied with the high price. It has an average of 4.5 stars on Best Buy’s website, with users raving about its ability to do exactly what it’s supposed to do: brown food without drying it out.
The bottom line
The Sharp is a great but very pricey toaster oven with some inconvenient features. Filling the water tank before you use it and running the oven to dry it out at the end of the day are extra chores to add to your list. Roasting a chicken is not a possibility given the height of this oven. However, for broiling chicken and fish, it’s a lot handier than using the oven and if you make a lot of frozen pizza and are never satisfied with it, you’ll love the way it crisps up the crust.
And if you’re frustrated at the way the microwave makes reheated food soggy while the oven makes it dry, you can get the right balance from the Sharp. But with an MSRP of $399 and a current retail price of $199, it seems like a lot of money to pay (and a bit of a hassle to operate) for a toaster oven.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
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