The Brava oven ($995) is frequently compared to an Easy Bake oven. It uses light bulbs to cook food, after all. But it’s more like cooking by numbers. Tap, the oven’s screen, follow the instructions, wait about 20 minutes, and you have a full meal ready for your tummy.
While we were prepping some chicken for the Brava, we were listening to Samin Nosrat (author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) on Fresh Air talk about how inconsistent ovens are, so cooks have to use their senses to ensure everything’s browning properly. The Brava replaces the traditional oven glass door with a camera, so you can keep track of your food as it cooks. Using six lamps, preprogrammed recipes, and a temperature probe, the Brava is supposed to cook everything to perfection, eliminating any guesswork from the user.
Light bright (then dim, then dark)
Roughly equivalent to having a countertop microwave, size-wise (11.3 by 14.1 by 16.7 inches), the Brava looks more like it belongs in the lab than the kitchen. Perhaps it’s the silver, windowless exterior that reminds us of a centrifuge. What goes on inside is just as mysterious. The touchscreen features a view of the fisheye camera, and you get flashes of images as the bulbs turn off, turn on, and change intensity. That means at any given moment, you could be looking at a black box, or your chicken bathed in a sepia tone, or a more true-to-life white light. None is truly a substitute for opening the door and taking a gander yourself.
Inside the cooking compartment (6.4 by 13 by 12.5 inches) are two slots for upper and lower tray placement. The Brava doesn’t use traditional racks. Instead, you’ll insert a metal or glass tray in either position, depending on the recipe. The trays are designed specifically for the Brava with zones 1, 2, or 3 indicated on them. The meat typically goes in zone 1, while you can put the veggies in 2 and 3. We fit a pound of chicken thighs and a head of broccoli on the metal tray, but we didn’t even attempt to fit our Thanksgiving turkey in the cavity.
In the upper left of the cavity is a slot for the Brava’s temperature probe. It’s not simply a thermometer but instead measures the temperature at five points along the probe. It also has markings to help you measure the thickness of your salmon, letting you give the oven a better idea of how long it will take to cook.
Protein plus veg
We’ve reviewed complicated appliances before that throw newcomers in the deep end with recipes that are way too advanced for learning a new machine. The Brava keeps things simple with a variety of combo meals. Broccoli and salmon. Chicken and cauliflower. Pork chops and sweet potatoes. These meals for two take advantage of what the Brava does best: cook two very different food items simultaneously in a way that both come out great.
The Brava keeps things simple with a variety of combo meals.
Based on what you’re cooking, the oven adjusts the frequency of light. Lower frequency, longer wavelengths will penetrate more deeply into the food, while shorter frequency, higher-energy wavelengths won’t go as far. Because the six light bulbs are arranged over the different zones, they can emit different frequencies from each other. That way, your broccoli doesn’t char while your chicken bakes. That’s why the bulbs change color. The sepia-toned images show the oven emitting a lower-frequency wavelength. It’s a bit like cooking with a precisely controlled heat lamp.
There is a pro-mode that’s available in beta on the Brava, but it doesn’t really seem like the oven is set up to teach users how to cook. Because you’re not dialing in specific temperatures (unless you’re using the also-in-beta bake mode), it’s hard to transfer knowledge between the Brava and a conventional oven. Also, there isn’t a lot of flexibility to make changes to the preset recipes, for example. The combos are pre-selected, instead of letting you choose your protein and vegetable separately, for example. When a recipe called for bone-in chicken thighs, we couldn’t tell the oven that our thighs were actually boneless.
Also, we substituted broccoli for carrots. This led to the cooking time to stretch from 15 minutes to 30 as the oven tried to figure out what the hell was going on. The touchscreen showed the probe’s current temperature compared to the target temperature for the chicken, 185 degrees Fahrenheit. After it reached 183 degrees, the oven chimed. The chicken was still juicy, and we used a thermometer to test. It was well above the USDA-recommended 165 degrees in all the places we poked. The broccoli was lightly browned on top but a darker, more appealing color where it came in contact with the metal tray. Maybe one of the times we opened the oven door to peek at the chicken, we should’ve given the tray a shake to get more even results with the broccoli.
Aside from that mishap, the Brava is generally quite quick. Most recipes seemed to take no longer than 20 minutes in the oven, with no preheating time. What wasn’t quick? Trying to find a recipe on the app, where there is no search function. The recipes are separated into categories, such as dinner and combo, but trying to find that Moroccan chicken thigh recipe a second time took forever. Once we did, we bookmarked it, and it automatically showed up under that tab on the touchscreen. Since we first reviewed the oven, Brava has updated the app to include a search function.
Because the six light bulbs are arranged over the different zones, they can emit different frequencies from each other.
In addition to a mishmash of recipes, the app also lets you monitor the oven’s timer and see what’s happening inside via the camera. You can also order Brava-specific meal kits, which range between $28 and $45 for two servings. We made a few, which all took under 30 minutes to prep and turned out to taste quite good. Still, $30 for steak tacos for two was pretty pricey, especially since we were the ones doing the cooking and clean up.
The touchscreen is a bit easier to navigate than the app, with foods broken down into categories, such as fish, chicken, vegetable, and so on. There are a few other modes, like reheat for leftovers, sear, and toast. The toast gives very clear instructions – letting us pick by bread type and level of preferred brownness — but we were a bit flummoxed by reheat. We tried to warm up our Thanksgiving leftovers, but we had no idea how long to set the timer for. One minute? Five? We started with one and eventually stopped around four minutes. The turkey was just sort of warm.
The touchscreen is also where you’ll get the bulk of the actual instructions for the recipes, like what position your tray should be in and how high your veggies should be piled up. (They should really keep a low profile.) From there, you press the start button, kick back, and wait for the oven to ding. Even though the Brava is incredibly smart, we’re guessing Samin Nosrat would still want you to open the door every now and then and let your senses be your guide.
The Brava Oven has a one-year, limited warranty.Our Take
There’s a lot to like about the Brava Oven if you like to eat at home but aren’t really interested in cooking. While there’s room for potential experimentation with more seasoned cooks, the Brava doesn’t give a lot of guidance that’s transferable to a more conventional oven. Still, it will make you a mean meal of meat and mushrooms, all at the same time.
What are the alternatives?
Both the $349 Tovala and $599 June are less-expensive smart ovens than the $995 Brava. The June uses a camera and software to recognize exactly what you’re cooking without you having to tell it, while the Tovala uses steam for some unique results. The Brava’s included recipes are more versatile than what the Tovala gives you to work with. Meanwhile, the June doesn’t have its own meal kits, but it has partnered with Whole Foods for preprogrammed settings for some of the grocery store’s semi-prepped foods.
How long will it last?
We always worry about a company going out of business and leaving users with an expensive, smart appliance that doesn’t work anymore. Presumably, the Brava could still function as an oven, even if the company no longer supported the app. However, all the controls are on the touchscreen, leaving it with the potential to go permanently dark.
Should you buy it?
The Brava has a lot of cool tech and takes a lot of the guesswork out of cooking for novices. However, it’s quite expensive for a countertop oven, and the bake function is still in beta, so maybe would-be buyers should wait for some updates and the price to drop.