How Solar Cookers Work + 3 Recipes for Backyard or Backwoods

If you’ve ever set a piece of paper on fire with a magnifying glass, you understand how solar cookers work. Solar cookers, also called sun ovens or solar ovens, use shiny metal surfaces to surround cookpans, reflect and concentrate the sun’s energy, and cook food with remarkable efficiency. A solar cooker can fry an egg in a few minutes — no firewood or other fuel required.

The next time you’re off camping in the backwoods or just cooking out in the backyard, impress your friends and save a few bucks on energy costs by cooking a delicious meal without power cords, fuel canisters or charcoal — only the power of the sun.

Solar Household Energy (SHE) Training Director Louise Meyer, who heads up solar cooker donation programs around the world, uses a solar cooker in her backyard in Washington, D.C. She loves the fact that it doesn’t heat up her kitchen on hot, humid summer afternoons. She puts the food in the cooker, goes shopping, comes home and dinner’s done.

How fast you can cook food in a solar cooker depends on sun exposure and what you’re cooking. While a 3-lb. chicken will cook at 350° F for 90 minutes in a conventional oven, the same chicken will likely take up to 30 minutes longer in a solar cooker.

Maximum temperatures in solar cookers can range from 250° F to as high as 400° F, depending on the type of construction. If your oven’s peak temperature is in the lower end of this range, foods may take longer to cook than indicated in some solar cooker recipes. Cooking begins at around 180° F. When cooking meat in a solar oven, remember to make sure the solar cooker’s temperature gauge reaches 180° F to thoroughly cook the meat.

Solar cooker recipes

Max Treitler’s Fesenjan*

Chicken with Pomegranate and Walnut Sauce:

1 4-pound organic chicken (or duck), boned and skinned, cut into 10 pieces, or 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup pomegranate syrup
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

If using a whole bird, set wings aside for another use. Trim all excess fat from remaining chicken pieces. Toss chicken with salt. In a large, dark pot with a tightly fitting dark lid, combine chicken with remaining ingredients and bake in solar oven until chicken is cooked through and juices no longer run pink, 1.5 to 2.5 hours, checking after one hour and then every 20 minutes or so. Serves 4.

Note: To make this in a conventional oven, bake at 250 F for 1.5 to 2.5 hours.

*Recipe courtesy of New York Times Magazine story “Kitchen Voyeur.”

Lentil - Rice Casserole

6 to 7 cups water or soup stock
1 cup uncooked dry lentils
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1/2 teaspoon kelp powder
1/2 to 1 tablespoon brewer’s yeast
2 onions, chopped
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients, except cheese, in a dark colored pot.  Cover and place in solar cooker all day or all afternoon (3 hours minimum).
Top with cheese just before serving. For a lower-fat option, top with plain yogurt instead of cheese.

Cornbread à La Sol

Liquid Ingredients:

1 egg 
3 tablespoons oil 
1 cup milk
Dry Ingredients: 
1/2 cup cornmeal 
1/2 cup corn flour 
1 cup white flour 
2 tablespoons baking powder (preferably aluminum-free)
3 tablespoons sugar 
pinch salt

Blend the liquid ingredients together. Add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour into a 7 x 11 inch pan (preferably one with the underside painted black to help absorb sun rays from the reflective inside surfaces of the solar oven). Bakes in about 1 to 2 hours.  Consider it done when “fault lines” appear along the top.

Recipes courtesy of Solar Cookers International.

Image courtesy of Mary Frank


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