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A solar cooker or solar oven is a device used for cooking that uses the energy of the sun in order to achieve that end. This can be used to cook meats, to pasteurise drink and much more.
While this might sound like a high-tech piece of equipment, the reality is actually that these devices are actually often very simple. They will often be made simply of large pieces of metal that capture the heat from the sun and then warm up. Meat placed on this surface will then be heated up as well.
While simple, these types of solar cookers are nevertheless capable of reaching temperatures of up to 400 degrees Celsius!
Types of Solar Cooker
As mentioned, many solar cookers are actually very simple in terms of the way they work. The most basic form of solar cooker is simply a piece of metal that is angled to heat up in the sun.
A slightly more advanced version of this same idea is the parabolic reflector. A parabolic reflector works by reflecting and redirecting sunlight to a single point. This can then be used to angle it to the bottom of a pot, which will quickly heat that pot to very high temperatures. This is the type of solar cooker that is able to reach high temperatures that rival those of a gas cooker.
Some of these parabolic solar ovens will use cutting edge materials and designs to maximize their heat output. Others are very large and capable of feeding thousands of people! Then there are the portable solar ovens that work this way and manage to stay light and convenient thanks to their lack of gasses and fuels and their relatively small, compact size.
Then there are PV solar cookers (we’ll compare these different types of solar cooker in our solar oven reviews). This is the best solar oven for those that aren’t in very warm climates. PV stands for ‘photovoltaic’ and this means that it uses solar panels that rely on the light. Whereas a parabolic reflector depends on solar thermal energy, photovoltaic energy is created by photos which excite electrons and cause them to move in a current.
This then works in the same way that a solar light does or that a solar fan works: by collecting light and using that to generate energy. Of course, this can also be used to store that energy to cook at a later date. Again, the best solar oven will depend very much on your intended use and your circumstances.
A solar box cooker is a cooker using transparent glass or plastic for a lid and interior reflectors to direct sun to a central cooking area. The top can normally be removed, allowing you to place pots inside. Panel solar cookers meanwhile, simply redirect sunlight to a cooking pot enclosed in a clear plastic bag. This is the best solar oven design for those that want to try and create their own DIY solution: all that is required is a sheet of aluminium foil and a bag!
Finally, one more type of solar oven is the vacuum tube solar oven. This works by using a vacuum sealed between two layers of glass. Of course a vacuum is a complete absence of gas or particles, accomplished by drawing those particles out of the space. This then allows the tube to act like a ‘super greenhouse’ and an insulator. The cooking tube is made using borosilicate glass, which is impervious to thermal shock, and a vacuum is positioned underneath to maintain the atmosphere inside. The inside of the tube will also be lined with copper, steel and aluminium nitrite, which help to absorb and conduct heat as it comes in from the sun.
This is another type of solar cooker that is ideal for camping, hiking and other excursions. This is one of the best kinds of portable solar cooking, because once again there are no moving parts.
Solar Ovens Reviews
With all that said, let’s take a look at the best solar oven for your use and compare some of the different models in our solar oven review section.
Sunflair Portable Solar Oven Deluxe
This portable solar oven is essentially a panel reflector or a box reflector without all of its sides. This is a reflective material that makes three ‘sides’ and into which you can then place a pot and a grill. The cooking utilities are included and as a result you get everything you need to cook with in one place.
The oven itself only weighs around 1lb, which makes it ideal for hiking and walking. This is one the best solar ovens for anyone who wants a portable solution.
A very nice touch is that the manufacturer (Sunflair) will donate a portion of all proceeds toward green initiatives – so by using this cooker, you’ll be helping the environment in more ways than one.
The downside is that this is technically a somewhat ‘low tech’ solution. There are no heating elements of electrical parts and while that’s a good thing really – it does make you wonder why the price is quite as high as it is. Similarly, the lack of focussed reflection means that this solar cooker is unlikely to reach the very hottest temperatures and is not the best solar oven in that regard. You can reach temperatures in the 200 range, but not 300. Expect slow results and be cautious when cooking anything like chicken or pork which may house bacteria.
This is our pick for the best solar oven. The reason it gets high marks is that it combines a vacuum design with a reflector, essentially doubling the speed of your cooking while still remaining light and practical. It’s still not going to be easily fit foods of all shapes and sizes, but for a range of different types of food it will work very well and is an ideal portable solar oven. It’s just a shame it’s a little on the expensive side – but then this is one of the best known makes and models in the industry.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Large Solar Oven/Stove Ecavuated Vacuum Tube Cooker
This solar vacuum cooker from Rand Solar works completely differently from the last option. This is a vacuum tube that creates a ‘super greenhouse’ in order to heat your food. It’s thin and narrow, meaning that it isn’t as perfectly suited to all types of food. If you have something thin and narrow though… then it will cook like a dream in here!
The best options in all seriousness are soups, though ribs, stew and even meats can work well too. It’s light, it’s cost effective and gets very hot – though it can be a little slow.
SolSource Solar Cooker
This solar oven uses a parabolic reflector design, which many will find is the best solar cooker design for a lot of purposes. In particular, this gets hotter than any other option on this list so far and can cook better than many coal barbeques – without all the smoke!
This is how you will likely use this however, as it is too large to be considered a portable solar oven and certainly won’t be easy to bring camping (though it might work in an RV). It’s also worth noting that this is one of the more expensive solar cookers on this list.
Silver Balloon Solar Cooker
Okay, now for one of the most different solar oven designs you’ll likely come across! The silver balloon solar cooker is just that: a silver balloon that can be filled with air in order to house food and reflect sunlight all around the inside to keep it hot.
This makes it an ideal solar camping oven and many of the solar oven reviews looking at this product also enjoy how novel and ‘fun’ it is to use. It certainly is different, though it is also a little flimsy and can be a pain to use. Nevertheless, it does cook food and is probably the lightest option on this list!
Similar to a solar oven is a solar dehydrator. Food dehydrators are designed to dry out fruits, vegetables and other foods to thereby help to preserve it. These device are quickly catching on among those who enjoy eating perishables and are gaining a lot more traction online. But is a food dehydrator really something you need, or is it just another fad? Read on and we’ll take a look at how these machines work, whether you need one and what your options are.
What Are Food Dehydrators?
Actually, ‘food dehydration’ is nothing new and goes back centuries. In the past the process would involve hanging fruits and vegetables out in the sun but of course this process somewhat requires that you live in a warm climate to work! What’s more, they can risk attracting pests and critters to your home that you don’t want there.
If we consider a food dehydrator to be a form of solar oven, then really one of the best solar oven designs has been around for hundreds of years!
Electric food dehydrators then provide a convenient way of dehydrating food in the home. These are large round devices that contain multiple trays filled with thinly sliced foods. Solar food hydrators are more efficient however and simply take everything full circle and once again utilize the power of the sun; only this time you can keep your food covered to avoid smells and pests and to protect it from sudden weather changes. What’s more, solar food dehydrators use more modern technology to fully utilize the power of the sun. These are larger devices with transparent lids and four legs. Again, they will usually have space for trays with the food being thinly sliced before getting inserted.
Which is better? Well arguable an electric food dehydrator is still more convenient seeing as you can have it on your kitchen top instead of needing to head outside. But of course, the appeal of solar food hydrators is that they are kind to the environment and won’t cost you anything to run. What’s more, you can save yourself even more money by going DIY and building one yourself!
This is an ideal option for those that want to be able to dehydrate their fruits and vegetables while doing other things – who perhaps don’t want to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about cooking. Simply set up a solar dehydrator in the garden and leave some fruits and veg in there!
Note that there are other methods you can use to dehydrate food. Industrial systems will often rely on ‘freeze drying’ for instance, which utilizes a vacuum to literally ‘suck’ every droplet of moisture from the food. This is the process used to dehydrate fruit you find in your cereal for instance!
Why Dehydrate Food?
You may be wondering why you’d want to bother with dehydrating your food. After all, don’t most things taste better with a little moisture?
Well firstly, not necessarily! If you’ve ever enjoyed a bag of dried fruit then you’ll know that this can be delicious. So too can fruit of vegetable ‘leather’ which is chewy and sweet.
But mostly, food dehydrators are used to help you store your fruits and vegetables for future use. Buying fruits can sometimes be tricky seeing as they start to ripen so quickly. If you want to ensure you’re eating a nutritious diet, then this can involve repeated visits to the grocers and you’ll still probably end up with waste. By drying your own foods however, you’ll be able to maintain a constant supply of fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals. And what’s more, you can even save yourself money by buying in bulk and avoiding buying out of season!