Solar Baking at Home - FAQ
Can a homemade solar cooker really cook food?
Yes, most cardboard and tinfoil homemade ovens will cook meals, although the cooking time is approximately twice as long as a commercially-built oven. However, if someone is skilled in carpentry, a well-assembled solar oven can match and possibly outperform a commercially-built oven.
Are there risks of food-borne illnesses possible with solar cooking?
Yes, the same as when preparing and cooking in the traditional manner. The key is to follow standard washing and preparation guidelines for food safety.
Will a solar cooker kill harmful bacteria (pathogens)?
By following basic cooking and temperature guidelines, you can easily solar cook food to the necessary temperatures that will kill harmful food-borne bacteria. Professional chefs use a food/oven thermometer to determine correct food temperatures in conventional ovens and one should also be used in the less controllable environments of gas or charcoal grills, wood stoves, fires, and solar cooking.
Is it safe to cook meat in a solar cooker? Most all professionally manufactured solar cookers are capable of reaching and sustaining the requisite temperatures needed for cooking meats and all other types of foods. And, the same is true of well-built homemade solar cookers.
How hot can a solar oven get?
A solar oven (usually an enclosed box-type cooker with or without the use of reflective panels) can reach 400° F in some latitudes but most usually will cook at temperature ranges between 225°F to 350°F, quite sufficient for cooking most foods. A solar oven will preheat as high as 375°F but lower to around 350°F once room-temperature food has been placed in the oven. As the core of the food reaches the oven temperature, the oven temperature will rise.
What times of year can I cook?
In the United States, you can cook year round, weather permitting; but, due to the lower trajectory of the sun in the winter, cooking times can and will extend an additional hour or two and this time should be factored into food preparation.
Can you use a solar cooker for canning or preserving?
Yes, you can, within limits. The only foods you can do this with are fruits and acidic vegetables like tomatoes, or what is normally acceptable for the standard boiling water bath method for preserving foods. Foods done this way in the solar oven should be kept in the refrigerator for use within the next few weeks. Other foods require high pressure and high heat canning methods to prevent food-borne illness through bacterial contamination, and the solar oven should never be used for this purpose.
Why does the cooking pot have to be black or dark?
Dark colors attract and retain the energy from the sun’s rays better. Shiny surfaces on metal and glass reflect rays away from food. Most websites for solar cooking will suggest thinner, dark pans and casseroles, or painting tempered-glass jars and bake ware with a high-heat matte black paint, leaving an unpainted one-inch vertical strip down the side for viewing of contents.
Why should I bother getting SolarWear™ to cook in the solar oven?
Most mainstream cooks don’t want to have to purchase special pots and pans to do their solar cooking and most definitely don’t want to paint glass containers and pans. SolarWear™ makes it possible to use any current cooking vessel in your kitchen without the need to purchase new pots and pans or use paint, at all. SolarWear™ was specifically designed for balance, safety, and quick vessel removal for either stirring and adding ingredients, or serving, and heat loss is greatly reduced. The solar oven can continue to cook remaining foods without having to add the suggested additional fifteen minutes for each time the door has been opened. Standard pot holders and mitts were cumbersome and made removing hot pans heavy with hot food difficult, and dangerous. SolarWear™ has made transporting hot foods to and from the solar oven safer for cooks of any age and experience.
Why use shiny reflectors on a solar cooker? Shiny reflectors accomplish the opposite effect of the dark vessel. The reflector panels are used to concentrate extra sunlight towards the dark or blackened cooking pot to convert the sun’s UV rays to heat, increasing the temperatures within the pot and food.
Do I have to turn my solar cooker to track the sun? For the maximum and the most efficient cooking temperatures and capacities, you can adjust your cooker frequently to gain the extra advantage but, in general, it is not necessary to do so. Frequency of adjustment can also depend upon the time of the year, summer being the prime time and winter requiring more adjustment to follow the sun’s trajectory.
Cooking times in a commercially-built oven are so close to conventional timing that most foods will cook within an hour and a half, making it unnecessary to adjust the oven. However, only you can personally know what is happening in your location and, until you adjust to this method of cooking, you may want to move your oven halfway through the cooking process. Foods requiring slow cooking or longer cooking times (dried, reconstituted beans and foods) will require adjusting your solar oven every forty minutes, or so.
How long does it take to solar cook food?
That depends upon the food you are cooking and the weather. Cooking times will vary. A rule of thumb is that most foods will take about twice as long in a homemade cardboard and foil solar box cooker as opposed to the traditional cooking methods and will be very close to conventional cooking times in a commercially-made or well-built homemade solar cooker. (Well-built has more to do with craft skills than cookery and a good craftsman makes all the difference.)
That being said, solar cooking should be enjoyed as the method of cooking that it represents, slow and delicious, and a matter of 20 or 30 minutes should not be a reason to not incorporate solar cooking into your lifestyle.
Parabolic cookers can reach temperatures up to 600°F and more! They need constant supervision and repositioning approximately every ten minutes to keep the laser-like heat beam focused on the bottom of the pan. This type of cooker is used primarily for the same type of food processing as grills and skillet meals. The parabolic cooker is very dangerous and children should NEVER be allowed near them. They can also be considered an attractive nuisance within some jurisdictions and you will need to find out if this is so in your area. An uncontrolled, unattended, parabolic cooker’s laser-like beam can blind someone in its path or set fire to dry trees on a neighbor’s lawn. Creative Handz only sells the box cooker, but information and plans for parabolic cookers abound on the Internet. What other uses can a solar cooker have? Disaster can strike at any moment, leaving whole communities without power for days at a time. Besides the obvious benefits, solar cooking will help you to better confront and deal with periods of disaster. Your family will have the ability to enjoy hot meals for strength and pasteurize water for drinking, and a solar cooker should be a part of every family’s Emergency Preparedness cabinet.