Top critical review
67 people found this helpful
Good food quality, bad manual and accessories
on September 9, 2014
The CSO-300 is a home version of a commercial CombiOven that lets commercial chefs use steam along with radiant heat. Its operation is easier done than described, but everything starts with a big chrome click wheel. The click wheel rotates to select between operating modes (there are nine), then a push of the click wheel lets you set temperature within the operating mode, and another push lets you set time. You then push a separate stop/start button to begin the cooking. It's easier than it sounds, although the black-on-blue LCD display isn't as legible as you might think. The only other front button controls the oven light.
The nine cooking modes are Toast, Convection Bake, Bake Steam, Broil, Broil Steam, Steam, Super Steam, Bread, and Warm. It does remember the settings within each mode, so that if you like your Toast at setting 3, it remembers that for next use.
I was underwhelmed with the quality of the CSO-300's accessories. The baking pan, chromed wire shelf, and chromed wire roasting rack are laughably cheap and warp in the dishwasher. Think Mattel EZ-Bake Oven quality.
Another big disappointment is the manual that ships with the product. The operations manual has one table showing suggested times for food categories, but this is minimally useful. If you want to dry-roast you can refer to traditional cookbooks or convection books, but the whole point of this oven is to combine steam and radiant heat and they're aren't a lot of consumer references to help (the Williams Sonoma website does have a few more recipes). The same printed manual (turn it over and read from the back) serves as the cookbook. Unfortunately, the recipes are inappropriate for someone just learning combination cooking (steam plus baking or broiling). There are 32 recipes in no discernible order. Not all of them even use the oven (e.g., champagne vinaigrette?). Several are overnight recipes or rely on previous preparation of other recipes. For example, the Red Chile Pork taco filling sounds great...but it takes 3 hours, and you have to already have made the Red Chile Sauce, which takes 80 minutes...and the Red Chile Sauce assume you've already made the Roasted Tomatoes, which take 20 minutes. This is nothing but food porn if you've come home from work and need to cook dinner. Even worse, the recipes are badly written and have obvious errors. For example, the recipe for roast chicken says to season the whole chicken with pepper, "toss with the garlic and fresh herbs" then "marinate" overnight.
Steam comes from a reservoir on the right side of the oven that you remove to fill, much like a single-serve pod-style coffeemaker. The tank is large enough that it lasts for a full cooking cycle. Preheating is very fast in convection baking. You can cook rice, proof bread, or bake bread with steam for an artisanal crust. Steam begins within a minute or two when a steam cooking mode is selected, and it's of impressive volume. Adding steam during cooking makes for surprisingly moist meat roasts. Overall I found the food quality to be very good. Roasted/steamed veggies are moist and deliciously caramelized. The machine produced passable slow-cooked ribs (tender and moist) in a couple of hours. Dry roasting is good. Be aware of the pull-out drip pan beneath the machine that catches condensed steam, as dumping it in the sink is precariously like carrying a wide flat roasting pan full of water.
Cooks well, looks great, but minus one star for horrible manual and minus another star for cheap build quality in accessories.
An 8" Lodge cast iron skillet fits well inside. A small (11.75" x 8.25") Silpat fits on the shelf but not flat within the baking pan.