5 Top Tips for Solar Ovens | Solar Cooking Made Easy
Solar cooking can be surprisingly easy if you understand what's involved in the process, and follow a few basic rules.
Here's five top tips for solar ovens to get you started.
Tip #1: Buy a hybrid solar oven if you can
There's a multitude of solar ovens to choose from, ranging from home-made designs to commercially manufactured solar cookers.
My preference is for the 'box style' oven made by Tulsi. I have one and love it. My solar cooker is powered entirely by sunshine.
However the same solar oven is available in the hybrid version and can also be used to cook in the dark. (The basic type simply won't work without direct sunshine.)
Before you race off and buy any type of solar oven, it helps to assess whether the hybrid or non-hybrid variety is best for you.
What is a hybrid solar oven?
A hybrid solar oven can be powered by both sunshine and electricity. What a wonderful invention!
Just as a hybrid car is designed to run on both gas and electricity, the hybrid solar oven is an oven that can be powered 100% by sunshine ... or plugged into a source of electricity to operate when there's no sun available.
I never thought the day would come when a solar oven can successfully be used:
- in the dark
- inside your rv
- outside on a cloudy day!
For the past eight years I've been packing my much-loved solar oven away for winter. When spring brings sunshine, I unpack my solar oven and clean my wood-burning stove.
That's the routine for me, living off the grid. I cannot expect my solar system to support an electric oven so I mainly rely on my solar oven in the summer and my wood-burning stove in the winter. I also have a barbecue and a conventional oven powered by LPG (propane) if I have no other option, but my life is about to change!
I am about to buy a solar/electricity hybrid oven so I can use my solar oven year-round, day and night, by simply connecting to an electricity supply from:
- solar storage batteries (my regular supply of power, living off the grid)
- car battery (if I'm desperate)
- my inverter generator.
Tulsi's hybrid solar oven runs on a mere 25% of the power required to run a conventional indoor oven, meaning I could cook for free in the sunshine during sunny, summer weather - and cook (also for free) using my solar batteries and photovoltaic panels to power the hybrid oven for most of the cloudy and winter weather.
On the rare days when I'm forced to rely on generator power, I'd be pulling about 200 watts to power the oven. Oh, the convenience of having a hybrid solar oven!
In this video he cooks with the sun ... like I do!
Solar oven features to look for
Here's some of the features I value most in my solar oven.
- 95% reflective reflector panel
- Reflector panel is scratch-resistant
- Double-paned oven face / window retains heat and energy more effectively than a single pane. (Think of the comparison between single window panes and double-glazing on windows in your home.)
- Double rubber seals for extra heat retention
- Wide oven space. Sometimes I wish my solar oven had extra depth, but given the choice between compromising either surface space or depth, there's more advantages to the design of mine. Heat is evenly distributed, and I can place a number of small pots and trays side by side.
- Additional depth is provided in the American-made 'Sun Focus Solar-Electric oven' that is based on the Tulsi. (I plan to buy one of these very soon.)
- 4 cooking pots designed specifically for solar cooking are included when purchasing the Tulsi oven - so you are ready to start cooking. A number of solar oven manufacturers provide cooking pots with their ovens.
- Portable - My solar oven (like the Sun Focus Solar-Electric oven) folds up, locks, and is carried with a handle. Self-contained and easy to pack in the car.
I store my pots, baking trays etc in a kitchen cupboard. However, if I want to take the solar oven with me on a trip, I wrap them in tea towels and pack them inside the oven itself.
The tea towels protect the black paint within the oven and on the pots, so there's no scratching or damage.
Plus I use the tea towels to protect my hands from heat when removing hot pans from the oven. By packing them in the oven as protection for my pots, there's no danger of leaving the towels at home.
Solar oven that also cooks with (minimal) electricity
This version does everything my solar cooker does in the sunshine ... plus can be connected to electricity to cook indoors - or even in the dark! When cooking with electricity, it only uses 200 watts (+ or- 10%) so is ideal for being powered by solar batteries or a small generator. (Plus, even if you connect it to your mainstream grid power supply, you'll save about 75% of power used by a conventional indoor oven!)
American made hybrid oven (solar and electric powered)
If you like to buy products made in America, this solar oven is also hybrid and looks very similar my Indian-made Tulsi oven. Because it can be powered by solar and/or electricity, it will also cook indoors when the sun's not shining.
Tip #2: Black cookware is best in a solar oven
If you want the best and quickest results when cooking with sunshine, choose black cookware to use in your solar oven.
The reason why black cookware is best for solar cooking is simple. Black absorbs the heat faster and holds the heat longer than any other color.
Yes, you can use colors other than black but a curry or casserole dressed in yellow or white will take longer to cook than the same food in a dark pot.
Black cookware like this is best for baking in a solar oven
Tip #3: Smaller portions cook faster
If you want to feed an army with a meal cooked in a solar oven, you'll be looking for a big pot ... and a solar oven bigger than mine. (Some solar cookers have a lot more depth than my Tulsi solar oven.) If you set your solar cooker up at about 9 or 10 in the morning on a nice sunny day, you'll be ready to feed the troops at dinner time.
But if you want to feed a small family a hot meal at lunch time, I strongly recommend using a bunch of smaller cooking implements than a big pot, because small portions cook faster.
Apply the same principle as you would in a standard oven. Cupcakes cook faster than large cakes. Bread rolls cook faster than large loaves.
I am very excited to have discovered a range of baking pans that are much smaller than those generally found in kitchens around the world ... so I bought lots of them. As you'll see in the photos, instead of baking one large loaf of bread, I can now bake a few small ones in the same space. If I want more, I'll just load the solar oven again.
Smaller portions cook faster
Tip #4: Food won't burn in my solar oven
As you become more comfortable with solar cooking, you discover just how forgiving a solar oven can be.
Here's an example: If I am cooking with a convection oven and forget to remove the baked chicken and leave the boiled vegetables on the stove for too long, I'll have spoiled food. The chicken will burn and the vegetables will either stick to the bottom of the pan or disintegrate into mush (or both.)
If I'm cooking the same chicken and boiled vegetables in my solar oven and I decide to delay the meal for a couple of hours while I have a long telephone conversation with someone who calls unexpectedly with lots of news, I have nothing to worry about. As long as I've prepped the food properly and the lids of the pans are tightly sealed (so I'm not letting all the moisture evaporate), I can take my time without fear of the food spoiling.
I can't vouch for other manufacturer's solar ovens - especially if the sun is targeted directly onto cookware from a dish-shaped solar oven - but the design and specifications of the box style Tulsi has prevented my food from burning long after it would have been ruined in a conventional oven.
Presumably the American-made version with the deeper base will behave in a similar way, which is why I plan to buy one. It will allow me to cook with 100% sunshine during summer as I already do, plus use it indoors during winter.
Solar cookware that won't spoil or burn food
Solar cooking made easy!
As anyone who reads my articles will know, I look for easy options and shortcuts in preference to wasting time and energy on any mundane, daily task. I live off the grid so I need to effectively complete many tasks most people take for granted.
That's one of the reasons I love my solar oven. I put the food in and it cooks. I take it from the solar oven and serve it to my family whenever I'm ready - with no fear of the food spoiling from extra time.
It is also the reason why I intend to upgrade from my 100 percent solar oven to a hybrid that can operate on solar power or electricity. I would like the same kind of convenience in cooking, year round.
The first hybrid oven I heard about was the Tulsi, made by the company that made my original solar oven.
- The hybrid version of the Tulsi oven automatically switches between solar and electric power, depending on whether or not there's sunshine.
It cycles itself on and off between electric and solar, so there's no need to run back from my vegetable garden to the solar cooker near the house just because clouds roll in. "The Tulsi-Hybrid’s two setting thermostat automatically controls and maintains the cooking temperature inside the oven chamber so your food is always safe and cooked to perfection even when the weather isn't."
Wonderful. All I need to do is remember to bring it indoors before it starts raining! lol.
- The Tulsi hybrid oven's electricity power source can be from the electric company, a DC/AC inverter, or any back up generator.
- When cooking indoors on 100% electricity, it will draw between 250 and 500 watts (but conventional indoor electric ovens draw up to 2000 watts.)
Hybrid solar-electric ovens make solar cooking easy - on so many levels!
Then I learned about the American-made solar and electricity hybrid oven, based on the Tulsi. It offers the greater advantage of a deeper cooking space. It still has the all-important large surface area, which I would hate to part with, plus the ability to hold deeper pots.
So that's the one I'll be buying.
If they're not adapted and available in Australia with an Australian power plug, I'll simply purchase one on Amazon and use a readily available adaptor. (The type you can buy at any international airport and many electrical retailers. Tourists use them for hair dryers and other appliances they take on their travels.)
Tip #5: Look what you can cook in a solar oven! Experiment, and have fun.
What can you cook in a solar oven? Just about anything you can cook in a conventional oven - but it is much more fun!
A solar oven can harvest the sunshine to feed you and your family a diverse range of meals. When you buy your solar oven, get ready to have fun as you:
- bake bread and bread rolls
- create curries - a favorite for my family
- rice - so much easier than the way you're used to cooking rice!
- pizza (thinner crusts are the easier option)
- boil vegetables (in minimal water)
- cook poultry (I use small pieces, but with a big enough solar oven you could roast a whole chicken)
- fresh fish (I seal fish in a pot, although some people wrap fish in foil)
- casseroles - meat and/or vegetables
- desserts - puddings, tarts or pies
- create your favorite cakes (but not too tall if your oven is like mine)
- cook muffins - large or small
- dry your fresh herbs (with the lid slightly open)
- sun-dried tomatoes (again with the lid slightly open - to let moisture escape.)
You can cook just about anything in a solar oven, so experiment and make your solar cooking fun!
My solar oven is not hybrid
Should I buy a simple solar oven - 100% sunshine?
A simple solar oven costs much less than the hybrid type.
Here's when the basic 100% solar cooker is your best option:
- If you want to save money; or simply cannot afford the cost of a hybrid,
- You live in a reliably sunny climate
- You have an alternative cooking option as back-up
- A barbecue, rocket stove or even a campfire in your backyard might be your back-up cooking source
- You are confident you'll have enough food in your pantry to eat cold if you need it, while waiting for sunshine the next day!
- Wind is not a problem where you live - or where you intend to cook with solar. Strong wind is your enemy, and a 100% solar oven won't operate if you are chased indoors for shelter.
Here's an important point you must not overlook before choosing to buy a 100% solar cooker ... Your peak hours for solar cooking (assuming it is a sunny day) are between 9am and 2pm.
If you leave for work at 6am and don't get home until 4pm, your better option would be the hybrid solar oven capable of cooking indoors, and after dark.
What's your interest in solar cooking?
Are you already cooking with solar, or are you new to solar cooking?
Are there problems with hybrid solar and electric ovens?
I honestly can't think of many disadvantages to owning a hybrid solar oven. The hybrid solar and electric oven can do everything my 100% solar version can ... with all those extra advantages.
However, in the interests of a fair assessment, here's a few problems to be aware of: -
- The cost of the hybrid solar oven is greater than the non-hybrid version. (However, when you factor in your on-going power costs if you cook with a conventional oven, that additional cost is not really a problem.)
- If you plug it into power to heat it when the oven is too cold, the glass may crack. Allow it to adapt to room temperature if you bring it indoors from a cold, cold outdoor shed.
- If your cat tries to land on the raised lid of your hybrid solar oven, it will probably knock it over. (Of course that's the same with my outdoor solar oven, but cats are more renowned for causing accidents indoors than out.)
- Which raises the issue of children in the home. There's a big mirror that may attract attention, and the only hybrid ovens I know of come in attractive bright colors ... so make sure you keep your hybrid solar oven out of the reach of young children.
If I discover any further problems once my new solar and electric hybrid oven arrives and gets put to work, I'll be sure to let you know. But from where I'm sitting now (on a cold and dark night), I can only see positives!
By the same author ...
- My Solar Oven | Cooking with Sunshine
After 8 years, my solar oven is still cooking healthy, delicious meals with sunshine - and no charge from a power company. Save money with a solar cooker. Sustainable off-grid living!
- What do you need in a kitchen for cooking off the grid?
Helpful hints about designing your kitchen if you want to start cooking off the grid. This is how I cook without electricity. Photos and notes about my off-grid kitchen.
- Top Tips for Living Off The Grid
I love living off the grid. If you are thinking of making the move to an off grid lifestyle, here are the most important things to know - plus some of my top tips to get you started.
© 2015 LongTimeMother