A Buyer's Guide to Portable Solar Cookers
Posted on August 21 2016
When it comes to cooking, electricity and natural gas are typically the most commonly used energy sources. Both types of energy have limited mobility, and when they do become mobile and portable, it comes with added risks. Butane Gas stoves, the portable version of your gas stove, are often known for their risks for explosions and are even banned in some countries.
Portable induction stove, while safer to some extent, also provides risks for EMF radiation. Besides, as with any electric device, the need for it to be plugged in or charged can be a hassle and inconvenient when you are going portable.
A solar cooker, AKA a solar oven can be the answer for your portable cooking needs for outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, remote adventures , long expeditions, and many others. It even works well for cooking at home as a cleaner cooking method , more efficient energy usage , and almost zero associated dangers.
Before we get started with how to choose your solar oven, let's discuss a bit about the basics of solar cookers.
Introduction to Solar Cooker
In its fundamental principle, a solar cooker concentrates direct sunlight energy to heat food or drinks, and can cook or pasteurize food. The temperature can be as high as 750 °F (400 °C), so it can grill or sear perfectly on a sunny day.
Many methods can be utilized to achieve the concentration of sunlight. However, three remains the most popular methods of solar cooking. They are:
1. Reflecting Panels
This method utilizes reflective panels, the panels are shaped so that the cooking vessel will receive sunlight in a concentrated form from the panels. It can come in many shapes, just like the photo above.
Generally, the cooking vessel should be darkened, and then enclosed in transparent plastic bag or glass bowl.
2. The Box
This is one the most commonly used method, the design is roughly based on a modern conventional oven. The cooking utensil is placed inside a 'box', that is insulated to trap solar energy and store it as heating to cook.
The box is usually covered with transparent material (glass/plastic) to filter out the ultraviolet rays. Only infrared rays, which are utilized to heat the cooking utensils will pass through the glass/plastic, which would allow the box store the solar rays into heat to cook.
Sometimes reflector panels are added to increase the cooking power, to further concentrate sunlight to optimize heating.
3. Parabolic Method
This one is a bit more sophisticated, and complicated to build. As the name suggests, this method uses a parabolic-shaped reflectors to concentrate all the sun light to a single point. As a result, the parabolic cooker reaches higher temperature quicker than any other current method.
However, since the sunlight is extremely concentrated, the amount of food, both in quantity and types, are limited.
After we understand the basics, and these three different types of solar ovens, let's move on to how you can choose your options when selecting one.
Choosing Your Solar Cooker
Now that we have a bit more understanding of the 3 above types of solar cookers , let's take a look at what the difference between them are.
Brand and quality will be a factor, one of the biggest factors is the time frame of cooking,
In general, panel cookers are the slowest at gaining heat, followed by box cookers, and the fastest being the parabolic cookers.
Price-wise, they also follow the similar order, with panel cookers being the cheapest and parabolic cookers being the most expensive.
Here are some of the notable products available on the market today, in no particular order:
1. All American Sun Oven
Known as the ultimate solar appliance. SUN OVEN is one of the leading manufacturer of solar cookers, and not without a reason. Their Global Sun Oven is the best-selling solar oven in the world, now discontinued and replaced by the newer All-American Sun Oven.
Both the Global and All-American Sun Oven utilized the box cooker method, so it's a bit bulky and will require a bit of a space, but it can generate heat in a fairly quick timeframe.
Dimension: 19"x19", 11" depth
Weight: 22 lbs.
- Very light, but heavy enough to withstand winds
- Can reach 360-400 degrees Fahrenheit with ease.Some users even claimed it could reach 450 on a sunny day.
- Easy to Clean
- Pre-heats quicker than other major brands with similar box design.
- The insulation material is of high-quality, can retain heat very strongly even in winter.
- Built-in thermometer
- Relatively large, require bigger storage and transportation space
- A bit on the expensive side, but you do get a very high-quality material
- Cooking space of only 12"x14", might be limited to some situations.
Check it out on Amazon for $298. (aff.)
2. CooKit Solar Oven
CooKit is a very lightweight, panel style solar oven. Made only of cardboard and aluminum foil. Actually, you can build it DIY-style with your household material to achieve the same goal.
However, it's simplicity, mobility, and price put in as one of our choices. Can reach 300 degrees Fahrenheit in sunny conditions.
Size: Adjustable, 13"x13"x2" when folded.
Weight: less than 2 lbs
- Simplicity, easy to transport
- One of the cheapest options without sacrificing quality, it serves its purpose just right
- Can be used with any dark-colored cookware or oven bag
- Being a panel-type, the slow heating characteristic can be put to good use for slow cooking with low temperature for stews, soups,etc.
- Do not perform well in windy areas (panels can move with wind movements)
- In general, panel types are less effective in winters
- Cooking vessel not included, you'll need to replace the oven bags constantly
You can buy the CooKit at Solar Cookers International for only $39.
2. Solavore Sport Solar Oven
Solavore is another box-style solar oven like the All-American Solar Oven above. In general, its characteristics contrast those of All-American, and generally the cons of All-American is the pros for Solavore. The temperature and pre-heat speed are similar between the two.
So if you need a box-style solar oven, you can choose between the two, depending on your needs.
Dimensions: 27"x11"x18"deep for exterior, 18"x9"x9" deep for interior (cooking space)
Weight: 10 lbs
- Very lightweight
- Durable materials, similar to conventional ovens
- Large cooking interior, even larger than most commercial ovens
- Optional solar reflectors are also lightweight
- 2 roasting pots included
- Has two 'modes' for summer and winter
- Great insulation method and material
- Will need the additional reflector in less sunny areas
- Being lightweight, it can move during windy conditions, disturbing the heating process.
- Can't handle as high temperature as All-American, but still can reach 375 degrees Fahrenheit on sunny days
Check it out at Amazon (aff.)
4.One Earth Designs Sol Source Solar Cooker
A parabolic type option, and a very high-quality one. It's claimed to be able to reach 550 degrees Fahrenheit (300 C) in a fairly short time. The highest temperature we got in all our options so far. During testing, it can even reach 750 degrees Fahrenheit in a very hot weather.
Dimensions: 51,2" diameter, 11" height for the dish
Weight: 10 lbs for the dish; 30.9 lbs for the frame
- The most advanced, patented, and award-winning design for parabolic solar cookers available today.
- Best performance among other parabolic cookers on the market
- Very fast, can boil 1 liter of water in 10 minutes or less
- Durable (tested in Himalayan mountains, if you need any proof)
- Unlike most parabolic cookers, very safe, as only the pot stand will get hot
- Easy set-up unlike most parabolic cookers
- Quite large, so a bit hard to transport and store. However, it can be disassembled and re-assembled easily
- Heavy, but can be an advantage in windy situations
- One of the most expensive on the market, but you do get what you pay
- As with any parabolic, need to be adjusted to track the sun every 20 minutes
Get it with Prime free 2 day shipping on Amazon (aff.)
Take action - Start cooking solar now !
In this article, we have covered the basics of solar cookers, as well as some product recommendations.
By understanding the three different types, you can make better decisions when buying a solar oven, as each type has their own advantages and disadvantages.