A solar oven uses the power of the sun to cook our food. In our climate, that means that the majority of days we can cook our meals outside without using additional energy, saving our precious emergency fuel storage. Storing enough fuel to last through a crisis of an undetermined duration can be a bit challenging. A quality sun oven can be part of the solution.
How do you store enough fuel to outlast the disaster? You learn to take advantage of the miracle of solar cooking whenever the sun is shining. Solar energy is a clean, inexpensive, abundant, and renewable energy source. It is definitely a skill worth perfecting for everyday life, as well as for a time when a crisis leaves you without public utilities and a limited supply of fuel.
Cooking with a Sun Oven
We have experimented with several solar cookers, but my favorite is the the All American Sun Oven. It can reach temperatures up to 400° but usually hoovers between 300-325°. It is easy to use, safe, portable, and almost never burns your food. I have baked bread, cobblers, chicken, roasts, cakes, brownies and some incredible chili … not to mention an 18 pound turkey.
Just about anything can be baked in a sun oven. For optimal temperatures use dark, non-reflective cookware. However, I have used bread pans, glass pans, and muffin tins and they all turned out great. We have even pasteurized water in the sun oven in a variety of re-purposed glass bottles and quart canning jars.
Sun ovens use safe, abundant, renewable energy. This oven is a valuable tool for provident living and emergency preparedness. Foods can be safely cooked outside without heating up the kitchen on those hot summer days. We have two sun ovens so that I can bake dinner and dessert at the same time for our large family.
Solar ovens do require periodic adjustments for optimal performance and there is a learning curve, but don’t give up! You will become an expert in short order.
Science Behind Solar Cooking
Basically sunlight is allowed to enter the solar oven directly or by reflection. The solar oven acts as a greenhouse to absorb and hold energy, similar to your car on a sunny day. This solar energy is absorbed by the black interior of the oven as well as the cooking vessel, which is generally, but not always black or dark colored.
This solar energy is converted to heat energy that cooks our food. This process is most efficient when the sun is highest in the sky (Summer Solstice) and least efficient at the Winter Solstice when the sun is lowest in the sky. Of course, each day will be different and some Winter days will be better than some summer days, but as a general rule you can use the UV Index as an indicator of how well your solar oven will do that day.
Optimal cooking occurs when the UV Index is 7 or higher. However, don’t give up on days with lower UV Index, just cook more forgiving foods such as those you would cook in a slow cooker. Beans, potatoes, roasts, and casseroles will do fine if the temperature in the solar oven hovers between 225-300 degrees. Water can be easily pasteurized at these lower temperatures also.
Bake bread on days with higher UV Index. In my experience, when bread is cooked at lower temperatures the bread tends to raise and raise until the final result is a funny looking pale loaf of bread. On optimal solar cooking days the bread in the solar oven turns out better than the bread in my regular oven. It takes a bit of practice to figure all of this out, but it is well worth the effort.
To check the current UV index in your area go to the UV Index Forecast Map.
Generally speaking, solar ovens work best between 10 a.m.– 4 p.m. Some directional adjustments are usually required during the cooking process to take best advantage of the sun. It is important to start cooking early enough in the day to ensure enough sunlight to complete cooking your food. If you start bread too late in the day it will raise and raise and never really cook. Yes, I learn things the hard way.
Remember that solar cooking can still occur when the UV index is lower or on partly cloudy days. It is just not as efficient. Solar ovens are incredible, however they have some limitations. You just need to understand the limitations and work around them.
Solar Cooking in January
A couple of the photos below were taken on a chilly 10 degree day in January. I put the oven up on a table because I was worried about cold transfer from the ground. I’m not sure that was necessary. It reached a high of 360 degrees on a clear winter day in the Mountain States. Believe it or not, it was a perfect day for solar cooking.
The first photo with our girls was taken in late spring. The challenge with solar cooking in the springtime is the cloudy or rainy days. That is why it is important to have a back-up plan. However, there are still plenty of great solar cooking days in every season to make it worth your while.
The All American Sun oven comes with a levelator tray that keeps food level regardless of the angle of the oven. In order to take best advantage of the sun, periodic adjustments are necessary to aim the oven as the sun moves across the sky. If I am going to be gone for awhile, I put the food in the oven and then aim it in the path of the sun. That seems to work well for me.
One awesome advantage to solar cooking is that when I get distracted or delayed the food doesn’t burn. Solar cooking is very forgiving.
How to Cook a Turkey in a Solar Box Oven
I have cooked a couple of turkeys in our solar oven and was thrilled with the results. It was quite empowering to me to learn that I could literally cook anything with nothing more than the energy of the sun.
My first turkey was a giant, thawed 18 pound bird. I removed the levelator tray in order to accommodate the huge turkey. I dressed the turkey and placed it in an oven-safe roasting bag, then I placed it on the bottom of the oven. It was about 11 am on a Sunday morning. I aimed the oven in the path of the sun and left for church. Three hours later our family came home to the beautiful turkey in the photo. It was tender and absolutely delicious!
The one mistake I made was placing it directly on the bottom of the oven. Some of the juices from the turkey leaked out and damaged the paint on the interior of the oven. It was a bit of a mess to clean up. I used black barbecue high temperature spray paint to repair the damage and it was as good as new.
My second attempt was with a smaller turkey, probably about 12 pounds. I prepared it the same way I had the previous bird in an oven safe roasting bag. I lined the bottom of the sun oven with a kitchen towel in an effort to learn from my previous mistake. It was another beautiful Sunday morning and I aimed it toward the path of the sun and left for church.
We were disappointed when we returned from church 3 hours later and the turkey had not finished cooking. This time the smaller turkey took a total of 5 hours to cook. It was amazing … just took longer than expected.
We have learned to expect this when cooking with the sun. There are variables which affect cooking temperature and time. Do not expect it to work the same way a gas or electric oven does. You will be disappointed. It is a small inconvenience for the amazing results. I am a huge fan of solar cooking.
Homemade Solar Ovens
The photos below show a brilliant design by a friend of ours. The homemade oven is placed on a heavy-duty cart to make re-positioning the heavy solar oven easy. It is stored tucked away on the porch in the backyard until needed. They can cook up to 6 full sized loaves of bread in this simple solar box oven.
There are many good designs for solar cookers online. Be careful that you do some good research to ensure that the design you choose will work well. You may want to explore solarcooking.org.
Solar Funnel Cooker
This homemade solar funnel cooker is a creative design adapted from Dr. Steven Jones’ original idea. It utilizes a canning jar as a type of pressure vessel to speed the cooking process. It absolutely works, and this knowledge may enable you to construct something to cook your food (with minimal resources) in an emergency situation.
A reflector is created using a reflective material. We used a car windshield reflector from the dollar store. Air must be able to circulate under the jar so we took some old wire and created a basket for the bottle to sit in. A small piece of reflective material covers the base. The exterior of the canning jar should be sprayed with black barbecue high temperature spray paint. The jar is placed inside of an oven safe roasting bag and set inside the reflector.
The design works fine, but it is a bit of a pain to use. Don’t put the pressure vessel (canning jar) in the dishwasher as it will result in a dishwasher full of black speckled dishes. Don’t ask me how I know this!
I do not like using it for everyday cooking because it is inconvenient. I am a busy lady and have little patience. Jonathan loves the fact that it is dirt cheap and does a good job. The bread comes out of the bottle in chunks instead of my gorgeous sliced loaves. Great for emergencies, but not my choice for everyday cooking.
Solar Cookers Are a Must for Every Prepper
Whether you purchase a commercial solar oven like the All American Sun Oven or build your own, a quality solar cooker is a must for every prepper. We strongly encourage everyone to add a good solar oven to their emergency cooking options. A solar oven will significantly extend your emergency fuel stores. Best of all, the energy is FREE!
You can find plans on the internet or there are many commercial brands available. Research well before purchasing. We spent a couple of hundred dollars on one solar oven that is lousy and just poorly designed. It never gets used. Don’t make that mistake. A good solar oven can help you stretch your fuel storage to outlast the crisis. Quite frankly, I’m always amazed at the miracle of solar cooking.