Solar cooking is a method that has been growing in popularity and sophistication in recent years, probably due to the emphasis on emergency preparedness.
A solar oven is basically a box or reflective container that absorbs and magnifies the power of sunlight to produce temperatures hot enough to cook food. It works by converting ultraviolet light rays from the sun to longer infrared rays that cannot escape and have the right energy to make the water, fat and protein molecules in the food vibrate vigorously and heat up. The temperature generally reaches about 200 degrees, although some commercial solar ovens can attain much higher temperatures for roasting and baking. A general rule of thumb is that cooking in a solar oven takes about twice as long as a regular oven. The main drawback is that you can only do it on sunny days. Even a sunny winter day can work, although cold air temperatures will slow down the process. Some people have even successfully cooked a meal on top of four feet of snow!
There are different types of solar ovens. The solar box cooker has a tilt-able reflective lid that redirects the sun’s rays onto the food pot sitting in the box. The solar parabolic cooker looks like a dish-TV receiver with a pot suspended in the middle. A solar panel cooker has reflective panels surrounding the pot of food.
Whatever solar method you use, here are a few tips that will increase your chances of a satisfactory cooking experience:
- Try to have food at room temperature when you begin to cook.
- Place food in a dark pot such as a cast iron or enameled roasting pan. You can use BBQ paint (available at most barbecue supply stores) to coat the outside of any light, shiny pans you plan to use.
- A clear, transparent covering such as a large, clear glass bowl or a turkey roasting bag should be placed over the pot to increase temperatures and prevent heat and steam from escaping.
- Small pieces of food cook better than large thick pieces.
- Wide, shallow pans work better than deep ones.
- Use clean soup cans to bake bread, and for rolls or biscuits, leave an empty space in the middle of the pie tin.
- Any material that is shiny and will reflect the sun’s rays toward the pot can be used—mirrors, foil panels, or buffed tin or sheet metal. These can be tilted or the whole thing turned from time to time to follow the sun and keep the light directed onto the pot.
This unique cooking method is a bright option, and one that may be especially useful in an emergency!