Solar Ovens: How and why to use one

This Solar Oven Cooking post was written by Bob Wells, owner and Webmaster of the website Cheap RV Living, and is published with his permission. Visit his site for tips on living the RV Lifestyle on a budget, boondocking locations, van conversions, and other ideas for those just beginning their RV life.

By Bob Wells
When I first moved into my box van, I quickly realized that I had to
do my own cooking, or the cost of eating-out at restaurants would eat-
up the savings of living in the van. So I bought a Coleman propane stove
and started cooking my own meals. But I really missed having an oven.
I love cornbread and chili, some frozen pizzas are delicious and cheap,
and fishsticks are a comfort food from my childhood. But they all
(along with many others) require an oven. I tried a Coleman folding
camp oven, but it took a lot of propane to operate, made the van hot in
the summer, and it was hard to regulate the temperature and get
foods cooked right. I had more failures than successes so I soon gave
it away and learned to live without an oven.

It is many years later and I still miss an oven. So a friend suggested
that I get a solar oven, and the light bulb went on, what a great idea!!
I spend my winters in the desert Southwest so I have an abundance of
sunshine making a solar oven the ideal solution for me.

So I started doing some research. The very best thing I did was join the Yahoo
solar cooking group
. If you have any interest in solar cooking, join this group now!

The people there use many types of ovens and are very eager to
help newcomers get started with solar cooking. In their photo album,
there are hundreds of different photos of how people made their
different solar ovens. There are also many do-it-yourself plans on the
web for making your own oven. Some are very cheap and easy, others
are very elaborate and more difficult.

Here is one of the best easy plans.

I also looked at commercially available ovens such as the SOS Sport
(click here: http://www.solarovens.org/) and the Global Sun Oven
(GSO or Sun Oven).

I was very impressed , but the video on the Global Sun Oven
site really sold me on it. While they are both very good
ovens and work extremely well, I strongly prefered the GSO. It’s
large reflectors gather more heat from the sun, which allows the GSO
to attain a higher temperature than the Sport. In good sun the GSO
can get up to 400 degrees. Also, it’s large, self-leveling food tray
allows it to be tilted at any angle which is especially important in the
winter when the sun is low on the horizon. For those reasons I decided
I wanted a GSO, but they are expensive so I had to put off buying one
till later when I could afford it. Well, the next week I was driving
along and saw a garage sale with a GSO set up in it. So I slammed on
my brakes and pulled over. It looked exactly like a GSO but it said
Burns Sun Oven on the side, which confused me, but, not enough to
keep me from buying it! He wanted $60 for it, so without any
hesitation I bought it. Later I researched the name, and it turns out
that a man named Burns had started the company and the early
models had his name on them. That means my oven is 10-15 years old.
Some of the wood is drying, and there is a very small amount of rust
on some of the hardware, but it is 100% serviceable and it should last
me another 15 years. And best of all, it cooks great food!

Everything I had read on the web said that food actually tasted
better when cooked in a sun oven, but I thought that was just
overzealous hype. It’s not! Food actually tastes better when cooked
by the sun! Maybe it is the slow, even heat from the sun, but whatever
the reason, it really is better. I took the oven to a gathering of
members of the vandwellers yahoo group, and we used the oven
almost every day to cook all kinds of food and everyone there went
away wanting a GSO. We all agreed that the food just tasted better.
We made a batch of brownies that was the best I had ever eaten
anywhere. It turns out that the solar oven is a very good mimmick of a
crock pot slow cooker. It makes great soups, rice dishes, stews, pot
roasts, and meat loaf. Anything you would make in a crock pot will turn
out great in a GSO. We also used it for breakfast, making eggs and
oatmeal with it.

Needless to say, I am in love with my GSO. Here’s why:
• It cooks great food.
• It cooks for free and requires no maintanence, other than a quick
wipe down.
• It doesn’t make the inside of the camper hot when I use it.
• It’s light at 19 pounds and fairly compact when folded down so it
fits in my tiny camper.
• It has large reflectors and it is insulated so it to gets hot even in
the winter.
• It’s easily tiltable so it gets hotter in the winter, or cooler in the
summer.
• It has safety glass so it won’t break in the camper.
• It is extremely durable and should last for many decades to
come.
• The outside does not get hot so it won’t hurt animals or kids. The
inside does get very hot, so use oven-mits.

Here are some tips on using a solar oven:
• Set it up half an hour early and let it preheat.
• Use black (or very dark) colored pots that are thin metal.
Silicone also works fine. I have used Glad Simply Cooking
Ovenware that is plastic, and had very good luck with it.
• Cast iron works fine, but because it is so thick, preheat the pan
before putting the food in it.
• Turn the oven every half hour to keep it pointed at the sun. Look
at the shadows it throws and keep them aligned so they are even
on both sides and straight back from the oven.
• Cooking times may vary from a conventional oven, so keep track
of the time food takes to cook so you can learn by trial and error.
I’m a bachelor and not much of a cook, and I have only had one
meal turn out poorly because I cooked it too long. Believe me, I
had many more failures using a conventional oven! It is a very
forgiving method of cooking.
• If you are going to be gone all day, you can still use it as a slow
cooker. Point it due South in the morning and put your food in it.
It’s temperature will steadily rise until mid-day when it will be
it’s hottest, and then slowly cool off until evening when you get
home, when it will be the perfect temperature to serve it.
• Wind is the enemy of a solar oven. It wants to blow the oven over
and even if it doesn’t it blows heat away from the oven. In the
desert and at the beach, the wind blows small dust particles that
will damage ordinary reflectors. The GSO uses polished aluminum
reflectors, so they are nearly impervious to such damage.

PHOTOS

1. Biscuits cooking.
They turned out great

2. The ultimate comfort food,
fishsticks cooking.

3. My first 2-pound meatloaf almost done.
I put it in the oven at 11:30 am and by
2:30 pm it hit 180 degrees and I called it
done. It was March 14, in Pahrump, NV.
The outside temperature was 73 degrees
with partly hazy skies. There was a light
breeze the whole time.

4 and 5. These two pictures show the ingenuis levelor tray that keeps your food
level no matter how it is tilted toward the sun. In the top picture the oven is laying flat on its front side and even at this extreme angle your food is still level. The bottom picture is with the oven flat on its bottom so the levelor hangs straight down. Your food stays level no matter how you
adjust it for the sun angle.

6. The leg mounted on the back of the oven easily allows us to raise and lower the angle of the oven to the sun. In the winter when the sun is low on the horizon we want it tilted all the way for maximum heat. In the hot summer we may not want any tilt in order to lower the temperatures in the oven.

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