6 Best Solar Ovens | April 2017
- usable from sunup to sundown
- capable of unattended cooking
- setup can be confusing
|Rating||4.3 / 5.0|
- stay-cool wooden handle
- can be used to boil or bake
- limited time range of usability
|Rating||4.0 / 5.0|
- includes recipes and videos
- sets up in minutes
- highly resistant to wind
|Brand||SUN OVENS International|
|Model||All American Sun Oven|
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
- great for tailgating or camping
- can be used to dehydrate foods
- some proceeds donated to charity
|Rating||4.9 / 5.0|
- capacity of more than 1 gallon
- can reach 600 degrees with reflector
- includes sturdy silicone stopper
|Brand||Rand Solar Cooker|
|Rating||4.9 / 5.0|
- comes with detachable reflector
- accommodates two 10-inch pots
- water pasteurization indicator
|Rating||4.9 / 5.0|
Science, Sunlight, And Cooking: The Solar Oven
A solar oven is an elegantly simple device in concept, yet is complex and clever in design. By harnessing the sun's energy with carefully placed mirrors and carefully selected materials, a solar oven can concentrate the heat of the sun's light so much that it creates temperatures suitable for cooking or for boiling water. The solar oven frees its user from the need for any external fuel source, meaning a camper or climber need not carry cans of fuel oil and the home cookout requires no use of charcoal or propane.
Cooking with solar heat may well be the cleanest possible way to prepare food, and it's certainly the most eco-friendly: using a solar oven creates no emissions of carbon, methane, or any other greenhouse gas or pollutant. And after the initial expense of buying a solar oven, its operation is essentially cost free: you don't need to pay for sunlight, you just need to step outside and set up your solar oven.
When considering a solar oven, first decide whether you are more interested in the unit based on actual practicality or as more of a novelty item. There is no wrong or right answer here. As a cooker that requires no additional fuel, they are viable ovens for use while camping or picnicking; as a unique way to prepare a meal and amuse your friends or as a device that can be used to help teach a class about solar energy, a solar oven is equally as valid.
If you are planning to actually use your solar oven to prepare meals while away from home, then try to find a unit that weighs as little as possible. There are several decent solar ovens that weight in at less then ten pounds and that can often be divided into their components, helping spread even that moderate load across several trekkers. Most of the more compact solar oven can only achieve top temperatures in the 350 degree range, which means longer cooking times for many meats or for baking, but most campers, hikers, or for those on kayak or canoe trips, patience is worth overall reduced weight and baggage. On the other hand, there are solar ovens that can reach temperatures well above 350 degrees and that need surprisingly little time to do so.
Simple properties of physics dictate that, unfortunately for the camper or hiker, the most efficient and effective solar ovens are also far and away the largest units sold. There are solar ovens available that can bring an entire liter of water to a full boil in just ten minutes, a speed and potency few camp stoves could ever match; yet these units weigh as much as three dozen pounds or more and span nearly three feet when setup. That precludes their use on a journey where your gear is strapped to your back, but still makes them a great choice for "car camping" or cabin camping trips.
And as a backup cooking unit for those times when your home experiences an issue with its regular gas or electric stove, a solar oven is a great thing to own. Even in the event of a natural disaster or civil emergency that leaves your home without the usual means to prepare food or boil water for many days, you will still have a simple and reliable way to make meals and to purify drinking water.
Perfect Foods For Solar Cookers
A solar oven is not suitable for all foodstuffs. Anyone trying to prepare a pot roast or a dish of lasagna in a slow cooker is probably in for some disappointment, to name but two examples. It's a better idea to accept that your solar oven is not a full substitute for a traditional oven for for a grill or fire, either. When you choose foods that require less cooking time and temperature in general, you stand to get the best results from your solar oven.
If you want to cook meats in your solar oven, consider sticking with fish fillets, thin cuts of chicken (ideally boneless), or with red meat cut down into chunks (tri tip is perfect for this). Thinner pieces of meat are better suited for solar oven cooking because they don't require the long exposure to heat needed to cook a thick chop or roast through its center.
As for vegetables, one of the best ways to use a solar oven is to cook a veggie that can be eaten raw, but that tastes even better when seared or baked. A perfect example of this is cooked corn on the cob that is baked in your solar oven prior to the removal of its husk. By leaving the husk on the corn, you help the food to further contain and concentrate the heat produced by the oven, making the cooking process that much more efficient.
If you have the commodity of many hours of sunlight on your hands, then you can in fact use a solar oven to create certain foods that require longer, slower cooking times, especially when the food in question is not often subject to becoming overcooked. Consider basic bread recipes that can be prepared with just a few ingredients and then left in the solar oven for hours to slowly bake to perfection.
How Solar Energy Can Be Used To Cook
As noted, one of the reasons solar cooking is so well liked by so many people is the purity it allows: solar cooking uses no fuel sources that create smoke or scents that can in any way alter the aromas and flavors of your food. All you will taste when using a solar oven are the cooked ingredients you put in your cooker.
But how can solar energy be converted into enough heat for cooking in the first place? The answer is "radiationless transition," also often known as "internal conversion." When the invisible infrared waves of the sunlight spectrum hit any type of object, they induce vibrations down at the atomic level. These vibrations don't result in the release of any photons -- thus the "radiationless" term -- but they do result in the generation of heat. The more vibrations created, the more heat that is generated.
Thus when a solar oven concentrates sunlight, it is concentrating the invisible but warming infrared light that, when focused well enough, generates sufficient heat for cooking.