Sweltering summer temperatures can be a serious drag, but here at Earth911, we try to look at the glass half-full. An unseasonably warm summer may lead us to crank our air conditioners more than usual, but it can also hold the secret to energy-free cooking.
You may be familiar with solar ovens from whipping up s’mores other camping treats, but you can actually use these sun-powered wonders to cook just about anything – without using a single kilowatt-hour of electricity. Check out these five tasty recipes for a solar oven, and take advantage of summer heat by cooking with the power of the sun.
Choosing and using your solar oven
Basically, a solar oven consists of a system of reflectors and a cooking pot. The setup coverts the sun’s rays into heat energy to bake, boil or steam your next meal. In a solar oven, you can cook anything that you can cook in a conventional electric or gas oven and many meals that you can cook on the stove.
As an added bonus, heading outside to use a solar oven makes cooking your meals a fun-filled event for the whole family. The young (and young-at-heart) will love watching lunch slowly cook under the sun’s rays, and your meals will be even tastier after you’ve had to work a little for them. Solar ovens are also easily portable, meaning you can cook a hot meal at the beach, park, campground or wherever your heart desires.
If you’re the DIY type, you can easily make your own solar oven out of items like cardboard, a thermometer, foil, glass and black spray paint. Use these step-by-step instructions from Instructables, or check out this how-to video from aysproject to build your oven.
You can also opt for a store-bought solar oven. As you may expect, purchased models will cost a bit more than DIY alternatives, but they tend to heat up faster and reach higher temperatures. If you’d rather purchase a ready-made oven, check out the Global Sun Oven ($299) or the Solar Oven Society’s Sport Solar Oven ($135 plus shipping).
No matter which model you choose, the cooking method for your solar oven remains about the same. Start by placing your oven in direct sunlight, and allow the internal temperature to reach at least 200 degrees Fahrenheit before placing your meal inside.
Think cooking with the sun takes all day? Think again. If you refocus the oven to follow the sun’s rays every 30 minutes, your cooking time will be similar to cooking with a conventional oven or stove. You can also use a solar oven for slow cooking, like a crock-pot. If your cooking pot does not have a lid, you may want to create some sort of makeshift cover to keep heat from escaping the pot – which can greatly increase cooking time.
Keep in mind that browning is unlikely in a solar oven due to lower temperatures and lack of air circulation. On the bright side, this means that you don’t have to worry about your food getting dried out or burned. On the not-so-bright side, you probably won’t achieve the crispiness or caramelization you could expect from a conventional oven. So, choose your recipes accordingly to avoid surprises.
As for cooking vessels, a dark, thin-walled pot with a lid works best, according to the makers of the Global Sun Oven. Dark pots change the sun’s rays into heat energy, while shiny aluminum pots cause light to be reflected outward – reducing the oven’s temperature. Glass casserole dishes with lids will also do the trick.
Editor’s Note: Pictured foods are not actual prepared recipes but rather representations of main ingredients.