SURVIVAL KITCHEN

Solar Cooker, All American Sun Oven

solar-cooker-sun-oven-cooking-pan

This post originally aired years ago when we lived in ‘sunny’ California. I wanted to re-post it and discover if any of you currently have a solar oven or live in a climate where it would be useful more than just a few months a year ;)

We will be taking ours out pretty soon and start using it again…

Here’s the original article:

 
I enjoy experimenting with all things related to harnessing energy from the sun.

Living in a part of California where the sun shines all summer long, I use solar energy to produce electricity, heat water, and sometimes to cook with. Learning to harness the sun will not only potentially save you money, but it brings you closer to self-sufficiency.

During the past several years I have built (and purchased) several solar cookers. The solar cooker that I purchased is named “Sun Oven”, and has been a reliable and HOT cooker during the 2 years I’ve had it. My homemade solar cooker does not get as hot, but high temperature doesn’t really matter when it comes to cooking most foods.

(UPDATE) The solar cooker is now branded as the All American Sun Oven

I believe that a lot of people have it in their head that food must be cooked at 350 degrees in the oven, because it’s the most referenced temperature in recipe books for oven cooked foods.

But guess what… so long as the internal temperature of most foods is heated to 165 degrees, then it becomes safe to eat.

A solar cooker that maintains 225 degrees for a long enough time, will easily cook the food up to 165 degrees. Of course, the higher the temperature of the solar cooker, the faster your food will reach 165 degrees.

My homemade solar cooker has a hard time getting hot enough during the winter (although I have plans to build a new one that will be better!), whereas the “Sun Oven” does much, much better because it’s more efficient at capturing the sun’s rays and keeping the heat inside.

 
Hot Tip
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For those of you starting out with solar cooker cooking, I want to tell you one of the secrets to getting even more deliciousness out of many meals, especially baked potatoes. OK, here it is… add some water to the pan, and keep the pan covered. Simple! Of course, spice it up to your delight.
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Since solar cookers generally cook slower than a conventional oven (except for the solar cookers that truly hit 350 degrees or more on a good day), a long slow cook at say, 275, combined with a bit of moisture for the food to draw in, will turn out scrumptious!

Kind of like a slow cook crock pot.

The food won’t burn (it generally doesn’t get hot enough to burn) and won’t overcook (exception being solar cookers that truly reach conventional oven temperatures).

For long cooked meals, to maintain a high enough temperature may require that you rotate the solar cooker a few times during the cooking process to keep facing the sun.

During the summer months when the sun is high in the sky, rotating the solar cooker repeatedly to face the sun is generally not required (unless you’re really trying to optimize temperatures).

During the Spring, Fall, and Winter when the sun is lower in the sky, you will probably need to keep up with it.

One problem during months when the sun is low in the sky is that more obstacles will get in the way and shade an area. So, unless you have a fairly wide open space, surrounding trees will become an issue.

 
Okay folks, what about you? Anyone have a solar oven?

More: Cooking Without Electricity – Solar Oven Cooker

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36 Comments

  1. – We’ve used a home-made one a few times; the biggest problem around here is not the presence or lack of sun, it’s the ever-present wind! ( Our area is described as the Saudi Arabia of wind power) there’s just too much flapping in the breeze going on.
    – Papa S.

    1. Papa Smurf – Same here. My wife and I have looked at Solar Ovens, but we think that the amount of wind that we get out here on the prairie on a seemingly continuous basis would wreck havoc with one, or severely limit its use. There’s a reason that you can see commercial wind generators popping up around the area so much (enough of them to see them on the local weather radar).

      As far as heat in the kitchen goes, we turned our home kitchen into sort of a summer kitchen several years ago. We heat it in the winter, but we don’t cool it in the summer, and we use it for preparing almost all of our meals year-around. During the summer, whatever the temperature is outside, it’s 2-5 degrees cooler in our kitchen.

      CD in Oklahoma

      1. CD in OK Bricks friend Bricks and tube construction adhesive or like one friend I know he built a lockable turnstile bird waterier looking thing that I helped concrete into the ground.

        I a lot of 3rd world places I visited they buried a concrete block with a cable bike lock sticking out of the earth more to keep it from walking but….

        Where there is a will there is a way :-)

        1. NH Michael – Thanks. Yea, but if I used bricks and adhesive, I’d probably have to get someone to help carry it out and set it up for me. If I concreted it in the ground, then I’d have something else in the way to mow around. Some of us can just be so picky, huh? LOL! :)

          CD in Oklahoma

          1. Use bricks to block the wind, and adhesive to lock down the person turning it for you.

          2. Lauren – Good ideas, but really, it might be just about as easy to set the pot on the dash of the pickup with all of the windows up during summers here. Don’t even need to move the truck. “Automobile Hood-fried Eggs” has been a featured delicacy on the local news channels at times when the temp stays in the triple digits for a few days.

            CD in Oklahoma

          3. I’ve actually used the car for a dehydrator–never tried to use it as an oven. Temp inside on a 70 degree day gets up to 120 or beyond. I’ll have to try that this summer. :)

          4. An elderly couple I know who lives in a apartment complex uses a Red Wagon to carry the solar oven around to the best solar exposure. They also put their folding chairs and a small cooler as to enjoy the cooking date outing.

            CD you might add some bricks to keep the solar oven/red wagon from blowing away :-)

  2. LOVE my SunOven. It does require planning ahead (have it set up by 10 at the latest if you plan to eat at noon, it takes longer to reach oven temps than a traditional oven) and you have to turn it toward the sun about every half hour to maintain the temperature.

    Even on cloudy days it maintains around 200 degrees. It will reach and maintain 350 degrees, which means make sure you have hotpads available! It WILL burn things at that temperature, regardless of the advertising.

    I probably won’t be able to use mine as much this year–last year something died in the garden and I used that space. It needs a clear space all the way around for manipulation.

    I suggested to SunOven that they create a solar “still” for purifying water, but they said they haven’t been able to find a way to bring the water up to temperature without clouding the glass, which brings the temps down. The solution is to put the water in a sealed container inside. In my head a 1 inch hole is drilled in the upper side of the glass, a sealed container inside with a hose going out the (sealed) hole. Once the water reaches the outside air it condenses and drips into a collection pan. Somebody want to try it?

  3. I have had my SunOven for years, and primarily use it to make bread. I can usually bake 2 loaves at a time. On a cloudless day in Wisconsin, the SunOven usually holds a 325 – 350 degree temperature, which easily bakes the bread in about 2 hours. As Lauren mentioned, it does take some planning ahead, so that you take full advantage of your hours of sun. The SunOven is one of my best purchases for a grid-down or SHTF situation, and I keep plenty of flour in storage to last for months of bread making.

    1. Fresh bread in August without heating up the house! I did a lot of cooking with mine last year.

      1. Yes, Lauren! That’s one of the best things…not heating up the house in Summer! :) I also have been successful in baking bread in the Winter in the SunOven, on a clear and bright day, but took a bit longer to bake.

    2. ChristopherThings,
      That is one of the main things I want to start doing with mine that way I don’t have to heat the house in the middle of summer to make bread.

      1. MrsUSMCBG, I put in a standard metal bread loaf pan. Pans and cooking containers dark in color work best in a SunOven or other solar ovens. I use a VERY simple recipe, which still makes GREAT tasting bread:
        1 package yeast
        2 cups water
        4 1/2 cups white flour
        2 tablespoons white sugar
        1 teaspoon salt
        MIx it up to sticky dough. Let rise until doubled, place in bread pan, let rise another 1/2 hour. SunOven it for 2 hours or until golden brown. (Wipe inside SunOven glass to keep free of moisture as needed during the baking period.) Need that sun to work! :D

        1. Whoops…I’m really not anonymous, MrsUSMCBG… Just forgot to type my name. ;)

      2. Have read articles on using these things, one i read the guy puts a dutch oven in it, increases his thermal mass so the temps stay more consistent.

  4. With my altitude and with a lot of sun, mine works really well. I need to use it more as the food has always been delicious.

  5. We actually dont get enough sun, generally, and lately its been worse, but usually it starts clouding over by around 11:00 or therebout, lately its been cloudy all the time, good practice for me moving to Hermits neighborhood.

    1. Hey Nailbanger
      We don’t get many clear sunny days from Oct to May – I have not looked up the numbers for Idaho, but this has been my experience. Just a lot of sunny dispositions here. :)

      1. Hermit
        Im tellin ya, im thinking this is a primer for me moving up there to Id, its raining again today, in the fog, had volcanic haze this morning, wild weather, we went from drout 4 years ago to now we dont get more than a day or two with no rain and none of the days are sunny all day even if they are clear. I think i can do it! Build me a mini house and a nice big shop and ill be happy! 😎👍🏻

  6. A very simple way to use solar energy for keeping food warm is to use foil-faced styrofoam and line a cardboard box with it which can also be used for a cooler.

  7. Picked up a small solar oven at a Goodwill thrift store and new in the box. Haven’t had chance to try it yet. Packing for my “European vacation” with some trepidation. I’ve never been to Europe and am looking forward to it. I’m not looking forward to refugee encounters. Please don’t let the SHITF until I get back in two weeks. I’m always more nervous when I’m further from my preps than I can walk.

  8. Thanks, Ken, A very timely post. I received a solar oven a couple years ago and have never used it. I am hoping to change that this year although competing with the wind may be a challenge. I would really like to be able to use it during the summer when it is to hot to cook inside. I would like to be pretty proficient with it then if or when the day comes that that is my way to cook I will know what I am doing haha.

    1. Works well enough in bright sunshine as it does not have the reflectors to increase the solar energy collection area. Low mass item this solar oven and most other box style units can use some thermal mass like dark colored rocks or bricks to carry over solar cooking when a cloud blocks the oven.

  9. Ok
    A little.off.key here, but some of this talk of homemade bread, makes one hungry.
    So what I’m looking for is a bread recipe that consist of long term storage ingredients.
    –Yeast up to six months
    –Baking powder up to 12 months.
    Not long enough for me.
    Any ideas and recipes? Maybe for a.Saturday convo.?
    I’m not a butcher, a BAKER, nor.a candle.stick.maker. Just love bread.

    1. Dry yeast will store in the freezer indefinitely. Learn to do sourdough, then freeze a piece of the sourdough for a starter when you need it. During hard times make a loaf every other day and keep a piece of the dough for the next batch. If it gets to that point, use the last of your yeast as a starter for your sourdough. There is also the possibility of capturing wild yeast, which can be as simple as putting a piece of dried fruit in a cup of water with a little sugar. When it smells “yeasty,” it’s ready.

      If you decide to go the wild yeast route, make sure you get used to how it works now, because it won’t act the same as you expect from domestic yeast.

      1. Lauren
        Thanks for the reply and info.
        But I’m thinking beyond, what if there is no freezer for the yeast or sourdough?
        Heck I can’t bake bread now. Present time. Let alone SHTF.time
        Second time baking bread.tonight. first time I tried… major fail. Dogs buried it
        I’m on my second rising, with this batch. Will see how the ‘simple’ recipe turns out. Was cold rainy and windy tonight. Thought I’d broaden my horizons……lol
        GF was impressed. She’s coaching me also.
        Definitely ain’t my mother. Good baker and cooker she was.

        1. You handle the livestock, am I right? So consider yeast livestock. It’s alive, after all.

          I’m writing up an article on capturing wild yeast (actually a re-write from my blog), but for now take a piece of fruit, dried or fresh, and put it in a jar with some water. I used dried. Put a lid on it. In a few days it should start to smell like yeast. Then take a bit of that water and put it in some flour so it’s like a soft bread dough. It should start to rise within 24 hours. Possibly sooner, or later. When it doubles, you have a yeast starter. Your new favorite pet.

          Yeast is everywhere–we’re just used to domesticated yeast rather than wild yeast. Our ancestors didn’t have domesticated yeast–they used what they did have. Usually a piece of the previous loaf was kept in a jar or bowl and used to make the next loaf. No refrigeration. If their starter died they either got one from someone else or made another one.

          1. Lauren, you are AMAZING with plant life, and yeast too!
            So, is there a subtle way we can know what your blog is? :)
            Thank you for sharing on this blog, you inspire us all!

  10. To Joe C.

    Practice makes for perfection so practice with your bread making on days off and practice with both yeast and baking powder. Once you learn all the tricks involved, making bread is like riding a bicycle in that muscle memory will carry the day.

    I do like the Joy of Cooking butt I also like many of the old cook books that came out specialize on breads only. ( I found some from Sunset Magazine of all places.).

    With yeast breads, I try to keep the yeast warm and happy. Once I add the yeast to the other ingredients in order to form the dough ball, the water, flour and all other ingredients are warm to the touch but not hot. If the water is too hot ( enough to burn your hands,) odds are it will kill your yeast and you will end up with bricks instead of loaves. Likewise if it is too cold, the yeast will take much longer to rise. I let my yeast breads rise 2x before I turn on the heat on the risen loaf of bread. ( let rise, punch down, repeat cycle 2x)

    I like a mix of 50/50 of whole wheat flour to white flour for my bread and I also add an egg to the recipe that gives it a heartiness that so many people like. Using 100% of whole wheat can be a bit heavy for most people’s taste and 100% of white flour will shoot up a diabetic’s glycemic index too fast.

    Lastly, if you are just getting started in bread making, You may want to work with the standard ingredients before you expand into using whole grains or exotic grains. I always start new bakers and old family recipes with Gold Medal Flour. It has been around and unchanged since I began baking as a child.

    Good luck in your learning curve.

    1. Lauren & Cali
      Thanks for the additional info. Your info goes on the hard drive. Pen/paper
      Last nights bread was edible. Lol
      A little heavier than I like, but…not too bad.
      And the kitchen clean up……wellll

  11. Also, Lauren
    After reading only your first sentence, I paused and laughed.

    Lauren 05/12/2018 8:23 AM
    You handle the livestock, am I right?

    Yes I know……wash your hands first….
    😁

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