You may have heard about the craze in cooking that costs you absolutely nothing to run. Solar cookers in some shape or form have been around for centuries and are becoming more popular with chefs and cooking enthusiasts who would prefer to cook their food in a way that is kind to the environment and their pocket.
What Exactly is a Solar Cooker?
A solar cooker is a cooking device that uses sunlight to get its energy in order to cook food. Since it needs the sun to work, it is used outside.
Benefits of a Solar Cooker
- Costs nothing to run – you only pay for the setup equipment.
- No nasty gases or fuels needed
- No pollution
- Can help slow deforestation
What are Solar Cookers Made of?
There are many kinds of solar cooker; home-made devices crafted out of cardboard boxes and aluminium sheets, wood or glass boxes built into the side of a home, or factory made products. Making your own solar cooker may seem a little tricky, but there are different options available for you to buy that are simple to use.
Types of Solar Cookers
All types of solar cooker are based on the same concept of using sunlight to produce heat and cook food. The big difference between them is how they concentrate light and the temperatures they can reach.
There are three main types of solar cooker that you can buy:
Solar Panel Cooker
Best for: Cooking slow one-pot meals like stews and soups.
How it works: It has flat or slightly curved reflective sides that concentrate light into cookware. The panels are opened and aligned with the sun. The pot used to cook food is placed in a glass bowl, polypropylene greenhouse or heat-resistant plastic bag then placed inside the cooker.
How long does cooking take: 2-4 hours, but non-meat dishes can also be left all day while you are out if set up correctly to get the noon sun.
Good to know:
- Simple and affordable
- Generates low temperatures
- Most effective when sheltered from the wind
- Slow cooking provides delicious flavors
- Can be left unattended
Solar Oven (AKA Box Cooker)
Best for: Baking
How it works: Like a panel cooker, although it has an insulated box for keeping heat in plus a set of reflective panels.
How long does cooking take: About twice as long as cooking in a conventional oven.
Good to know:
- Can reach temperatures of up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
- Use dark colored bakeware to retain heat better
- Cooking can be mostly unattended
Parabolic Solar Stove
Best for: Grilling, steaming, frying, sautéing and boiling.
How it works: Heat is generated by a curved reflector which concentrates light on bottom of cookware or bakeware just like a stove top. Quality, curvature and size of the reflector determines the power output.
How long does cooking take: About the same time as it would using one burner of your conventional oven.
Good to know:
- Generates temperatures over 450 degrees Fahrenheit, even up to 800 degrees.
- Can cook from sunrise to sunset even in cold climates, as long as the cooker is aligned with the sun correctly.
- Best to keep an eye on this kind of stove due to the high heat.
Special Mention - Go Sun Solar Cooker
This is actually a product by the Go Sun brand who make unique solar cookers that don’t fit into any of the above categories.
Best for: Cooking everything! You can even boil water so is great for camping.
How it works: Food is placed into a glass vacuum tube that is surrounded by parabolic reflectors, and the vacuum effect retains the heat inside.
How long does cooking take: As little as 20 minutes depending on the dish.
Good to know:
- Portable and affordable
- No need to monitor
- Temperatures can get up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit.
- You can find two other models from Go Sun – the Go Sun Sport and the Go Sun Grill.
What Solar Cooker is Right for Me?
Each kind of solar cooker creates different heat levels, and while you can cook a variety of dishes in all of them, they each have their specialities.
Some points to consider before purchasing a solar cooker:
- How often would you like to use a solar cooker?
- Do you have enough regular sunlight?
- Will you keep it in a permanent position outside?
- What kind of dishes would you like to make mostly?
- How many people are you cooking for on a regular basis?
Anything Else I Should Know?
- Small quantities of food will cook quicker than larger quantities.
- Food will continue to cook so long as you have 20 minutes of sun per hour.
- Even though a recipe tells you to cook for two hours, you can still simmer for another hour or so to tenderize meat. Sometimes you may need to use a food thermometer to double check that everything is cooked inside.
Like your home kitchen where you have a combination of appliances such as oven, microwave, toaster and grill, it is possible to design your own full solar kitchen outside. Many solar chefs use a combination of solar cookers, so they can cook every single item they need for an entire meal using only the power of the sun.
Purchasing a solar cooker is a great way to save on electricity and gas bills without the need to use fuel. All you need is one of the great solar cooking products mentioned above plus the promise of sunlight and you’re good to go!
Let us know in the comments if you use a solar cooker and what are your favorite dishes to make.