Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Off The Grid — Solar Cooking

You've heard the old saying about the day being so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk — well, we just finished cooking our dinner by using solar energy, and it wasn't even a very hot day. The outdoor thermometer sat complacently at about 53º F. and there was a slight breeze, so it wasn't exactly tropical.

But inside our Global Sun Oven, the thermometer showed a temperature just above 300º F. Inside our black enamel pot was a 4-pound turkey breast resting on a trivet, surrounded by half dozen whole red potatoes, and some cut up yellow onions, A half-inch of chicken broth covered the bottom of the pot to help steam the meat.

I have to admit this was only our second experiment with solar cooking, so I wasn't sure about the outcome. None of it made much sense, because the day wasn't very warm. But at least the sun was shining, and that was supposed to be the key to the whole process.

Not knowing exactly how long to cook the food, we set the oven out in the sun about 2:30 in the afternoon, with the reflective surfaces pointing slightly southwest. Every 30 minutes or so, we shifted the angle of the oven to follow the path of the sun. They clue to when you have the oven aimed correctly is to  look at the shadow cast by the oven. When the least amount of shadow shows  on each side and behind the box, it's aimed. It's kind of a no-brainer.

After 4 hours, we decided to replace the black enamel metal pot lit and substitute a glass lid from one of our crock pots. That enabled us to insert a meat thermometer in the turkey breast and monitor the meat's internal temperature. Much to our surprise, it already registered a solid 190º F, exactly what is required for safe cooking of poultry. We tested the potatoes with a fork and they were tender. Dinner was on.

The meat was perfect — tender, just the right amount of moisture (a tough challenge with the white meat of a big turkey breast), and tasty. Our first experiment with solar cooking was s success.

So why is this story relevant for a survival forum? The answer is because this is an alternative method of cooking that can be taken with you and requires no fire and no electricity. We used zero grid energy, zero fuel of any kind (unless you count solar power as fuel), and found out that we are able to prepare decent meals with our portable solar oven. According to more experienced users, you can even bake bread in these things, although we haven't tried that yet. Essentially, you can prepare any kind of food that could be cooked in a conventional oven.

We purchased our oven from the manufacturer at www.sunoven.com but some folks experiment with building their own out of salvaged materials. The principle is the same — capture and hold solar energy inside a sealed cooking chamber, using reflectors to amp up the capture process.

We'll talk more about this later, but I wanted to let you know that this solar oven thing is not a gimmick. It really works very well, and is now a solid component in our emergency preparedness supplies. It will not only cook our meals, but it will quickly purify water through the pasteurization process, dehydrate surplus foods, dry out damp tinder, etc.


  1. There's all kinds of sites that show how to make solar ovens, surprised you didn't make your own. Now if we just got more reliable sun here.

    But I'm sure not complaining about our current weather, if I don't kill these tomato plants I may even get a few tomatoes this year.

  2. It's nice that you had four hours messing around cooking something, but it just proves that you are retired and have the time.

  3. I am toying with the idea of making a parabolic solar grill, using an old satellite dish we no longer need as the foundation. I've seen lots of experiments with this, done by other people, and think it's a great idea to be creative in coming up with solutions to needs such as cooking. But the Sun Oven we purchased was something my wife wanted. It's relatively lightweight, durable and portable. Sets up in about 15 seconds if you're taking your time about it. And it cooks very well — but only if the sun is shining. So it's prudent to have other alternative means of cooking.

  4. It's been so nice recently that I'm beginning to think about thanking mankind for global warming. Maybe I'll make a solar oven, and checking into growing bananas.