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Solar cookers have certainly come a long way since the late 1700s, when Horace Bénédict de Saussure conceptualized the first-known model. There’s no doubt that academics have long touted the benefits of harnessing the power of the sun.
Sunshine is cleaner, more accessible, and, most importantly, free to those with the capacity to harvest and transfer its energy. With that said, solar cookers are some of the most practical solar-powered appliances on the market.
Our Guide to Solar Cookers/Ovens
They have proved useful to everyone from off-grid enthusiasts to those looking to weather storms. Solar cookers help preserve the world’s limited resources while reducing carbon emissions and making hot, pasteurized food and beverage accessible at nearly every corner of the globe. According to Globe Newswire, solar cookers sales are expected to grow exponentially between 2020 and 2026.
In this article, we discuss the various types of solar cookers, point out a few of our favorites, and answer some frequently asked questions.
Panel Solar Cookers
Panel solar cookers consist of reflective panels that focus sunlight onto centralized cooking vessels. The simple, inexpensive mechanisms work best in warm climates where cold air and wind cannot contribute to heat loss. When the cooker is paired with fully enclosed cookware, food can be heated to a maximum temperature of around 284 degrees Fahrenheit.
Generally speaking, panel solar cookers tend to be inexpensive and portable.
Check out the following two highly rated models for a couple of prime examples of panel cookers.
The Sunflair Deluxe is a portable panel solar cooker set that includes all sorts of bonus material. At first glance, this oven looks like nothing more than a windshield shade. It’s a pretty impressive and reliable setup.
The sheer number of cookware items included in the expanded set makes this foldable solar cooker feel even more like a traditional kitchen oven. Customers get one 3-pound round roaster, two collapsible silicone pots, and two baking trays. Solarflair’s WAPI (water pasteurization indicator) is a must-have for backwood enthusiasts who need to know when their water is safe to drink.
The Sunflair is a rugged device that’s built to withstand the rigors of the outdoors. Since it weighs just 1 pound 2 ounces, folds into a parcel the size of a notebook, and comes with a custom carrying case, we cannot think of a better option for camping, boating, tailgating, and other on-the-go activities. The quality of the materials used is reflected in the price. We’re confident you’ll get your money’s worth after a few cooking sessions.
Adding to Sunflair’s appeal is a built-in thermostat. This handy measurement device has colorized zones that indicate when the oven is safe for boiling, pasteurizing, etc. We also love that kit comes in safety orange. As some consumers have pointed out, you might be able to use the bag to signal for help in the case of an emergency.
Check out this video to see an omelet cooked in the Sunflair solar oven:
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The Haines 2.0 is yet another versatile panel solar cooker. This one weighs just 29 ounces and takes just minutes to assemble. The cooker walls are made of high-temperature reflective MPET foam. The set comes with a cooking sleeve that keeps pots well-insulated for cooking and limits surface temperatures for handling.
We love that this model comes with its very own dutch own. The cookware can be used for a wide variety of dishes. The clear cover helps seal in the heat for more rapid cooking times. This particular model enables users to make on-the-fly adjustments to accommodate both high and low sun.
The Haines 2.0 can boil water in 40 minutes. This makes it more efficient than the leading brand of solar ovens. Check out the unboxing video below to see how easy it is to cook a loaf of bread in the Hanes 2.0.
We love the fact that Haines is invested in the environmental and health benefits of solar cooking. The company’s founder, Roger Haines, is a member of Solar Household Energy, Solar Cookers International Association, and the Alliance for African Assistance.
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Box Solar Cookers
Box style solar cookers consist of insulated and reflective walls that trap light and heat to heat food and beverages to substantial temperatures. These cookers typically max out around 392 degrees Fahrenheit. These ovens are extremely popular because they are both affordable and easy to use.
We are showing you the following options, both of which are - as is the case with the panel cookers - some of the best we've found.
The All American Sun Oven is probably the most revered and sought-after box-style solar cooker. This appliance functions just as well as an ordinary kitchen oven, only it uses solar energy (instead of electricity or gas) to heat food and water. The cooker is made from highly polished anodized aluminum. Its unique design enables it to reach internal temperatures of 260 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes.
The oven has a dual-purpose leveling rack that keeps dishes from spilling. Meanwhile, the oven’s built-in thermostat keeps cooks informed throughout the entire cooking process. The Sun Book Cookbook features 40 recipes and cooking techniques. However, there’s no limit to what you can do with this impressive device.
According to Sun Oven, this box cooker can produce a beef roast in 1 hour 20 minutes, rice in 40 minutes, and chocolate cake in 35 minutes. This makes it just as efficient as a conventional oven. Most users say that foods are more moist and robust than those cooked in traditional electric ovens.
It has a built-in sun gauge that eliminates the guesswork that users typically experience when they are aligning their solar cookers with the sun.
Even with a fairly hefty price tag (over $400 as of this writing), this is an especially popular, long-time favorite model with preppers and homesteaders. Even better - if this is important to you - is that it's made in the USA.
In the following video, the user demonstrates the All American in action. Have a look:
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At less than 1/4 price of the All American model, the All Season Solar Cooker by SolCook is a more budget-friendly solar box oven. The camper model boasts a 17-by-12-inch cooking surface that folds up easily for on-the-go cooking. As the manufacturer puts it, this model is perfect for anyone who resides “where the sun shines.”
You can use this cooker at virtually any time of the day, including under broken cloud cover, which will work best if you use their little "sundial" type of device called the "Sunsight" that helps you align the oven to the sun at the best angle and position. This makes it more effective and reliable than your typical box solar cooker. While it doesn’t come with cookware, it can be used with just about any pot or pan.
We love that All Season recommends this oven for things other than meal production. Candle, salt, and jerky production are among their recommendations. It’s also an excellent option for places where campfires are prohibited.
The cooker is constructed of polypropylene-laminated polyester film - as one person put it, it's the stuff they make some political or real estate lawn signs from. So, basically a corrugated type of plastic. The set includes two reusable cooking bags and a rack that can hold two pots or one turkey roaster.
Honestly, for the price, this looks to me like a great option. Just reading some of the Amazon reviews has me convinced. And hungry, because they are talking about all the stuff they have been cooking with this lightweight model!
Here's a video showing the All Season in action:
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Parabolic Solar Cookers
Parabolic solar cookers use parabolic-shaped reflectors to direct sunlight to a specific platform. They can reach temperatures as high as 662 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes them ideal for frying, building, and grilling.
There is a bit of an issue, in my opinion, that makes me hesitant to recommend this style. I'm just not seeing a ton of great options available that are getting good reviews other that the SolSource Classic Parabolic Cooker by One Earth Designs. In fact, that was the one we WOULD recommend.
What Happened to SolSource?
Unfortunately we can't seem to find anything about the company other than old videos that now link to some insecure websites.
The one website we did locate that seems to offer this model (https://www.solarcooker-at-cantinawest.com/solsource_parabolic_solar_cooker.html) shows only refurbished SolSource cookers at this writing (with prices hovering near $500).
In addition - and unfortunately - while we were able to find some videos demonstrating the SolSource, we were able to locate a news article stating that the company just wasn't able to make it (this, even after scoring a $500,000 investment by Mark Cuban on Shark Tank), and shuttered their operation in January 2020.
Any Other Parabolic Options?
This leaves us in a bit of a quandry. What other options are available for a solar cooker using a parabolic design?
Well, you can find a few on Amazon, and I'll link to them here - however, I'm honestly just not feeling like these are going to be the best use of your money. The reviews are not filling me with a lot of confidence - not when there are so many other options available in some of the different designs that we're looking at.
Nonetheless, because you can look at them and make up your own mind, here are a few that seemed like some of the best reviewed in this style.
As you look at these, it may be worth noting that they seem to come from the same source:
Evacuated Tube Cookers
Now we're talking! Evacuated (or "vacuum") tube cookers use Borosilicate (glass) tubes to create a vacuum. This locks in heat for more efficient cooking sessions.
For some reason, I begin to drool when I look at these, because all I can think of is "shish kabab" and "stew" as I watch these things at work. You'll see why as you review these next two top-rated options!
GoSun currently manufactures the industry-standard for evacuated tube cookers. These fuel-free cookers are just as practical as your typical kitchen oven. They reach internal temperatures of up to 554 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes. You can make a hot meal or boil water in just 20 minutes.
The company manufactures a few different models, including the Go, the Sport, and the Fusion. The Go is GoSun’s most portable offering. This evacuated tube cooker has a clamshell-like EVA exterior that houses an ultra-efficient glass cooking tube and stainless steel cooking tray. The Sport has a similar design with a much larger capacity. You can cook three to four meals in one session. The Go is only capable of producing one to two meals of the same size.
The Fusion is the next upgrade option. This cooker blends sun and electric power to offer round-the-clock cooking capabilities for off-grid enthusiasts. If you want to go all-in, you can always opt for the Ultimate Fusion Bundle. This model includes a PowerBank that is capable of charging three devices at once.
We love the fact that GoSun is so enthusiastic about solar cooking. It’s one of the few sales pitches that resonate with us. Over the years, the company has donated thousands of solar cookers to grassroots organizations. In 2019, the crowd-funded company released a DIY solar oven kit that used parabolic reflectors and a cylindrical cooking chamber.
While the company certainly boasts some higher-end products, they haven’t forgotten their budget-minded, DIY customers. There are plenty of unboxing and review videos. Be sure to check a few out so you can see exactly what customers think about the GoSun product line.
But, for starters, here's a basic video to give you a general overview:
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How Do Solar Cookers Work?
Solar cookers are ovens that are fueled by the sun. Most consist of metal reflectors and enclosed cooking areas that are designed to garner and trap light to heat foodstuff and water levels that are safe for consumption. Check out National Geographic’s video on solar cookers to learn more about the benefits of these energy efficiency cookers.
Which Cooker is the Fastest?
According to a study published by Stanford University, parabolic solar ovens tend to be the fastest and hottest solar cookers.
But "fastest" is not always best. Nor is "hottest." There’s no way to limit the temperature on these models, and most require frequent adjustments. Most consumers prefer the panel, box, or evacuated tube varieties because they are portable and heat to temperatures that are more reminiscent of a conventional oven.
While solar cookers are relatively easy and safe to use, there are a few safety considerations that users need to keep in mind.
Stabilization: Some solar cookers, usually panel the box sort, are light enough that they can be swept by light winds. A heavy, well-set cooker should keep a device in place.
Food Safety: Since solar ovens are dependent on the sun, they often lack the consistency that is required to guarantee food safety. You should always use a thermostat to gauge the temperature of your food. Avoid leaving cooked food in an oven for prolonged periods. Memorize food safety guidelines to ensure things like raw meat, fish, and eggs, and unpasteurized water are cooked to a safe level.
Here’s a link to the CDC’s simplified food safety steps. ThermoWorks’s THermapen Mk4 is a rugged, reliable thermostat that can be inserted directly into food. Check out this page to see some contact-free temperature guns. These are only capable of gauging a cooker’s surface temperature. Still, they’re ideal for cookers that are likely to lose heat if they are opened.
In many cases, foods spend too much time in the “Food Danger Zone.” According to the FDA, temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit enable the growth of dangerous bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter.
Of course, any seasoned solar cooker will tell you that there are ways around these food safety issues. For one, you should always wait until an oven has heated to 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit before inserting foods. Moreover, you should always plan your cooking times around the sun. You can see the current sunrise and sunset times for your local area here. Of course, the weather (the presence of clouds, wind, precipitation, etc.) must also be taken into consideration.
Eye Safety: Reflective panels can cause temporary blindness and/or disorientation. Invest in protective eyewear, and avoid looking directly into your solar oven. Solarcooking.com has a great article on the importance of eye safety in solar cooking. Some solar chefs swear by their welding gasses.
Burns: Most solar ovens can get as hot as conventional ovens. While most of the heat should be isolated inside the cooking vessel, there’s always the chance that it can be felt on the exterior of the oven and cookware. Use standard oven safety practices when handling a solar oven.
Can You Make Your Own Solar Cooker?
While there are plenty of amazing solar cooking novelties available, you can still make a homemade solar oven with a few basic, inexpensive materials.
Solar oven construction is an extraordinarily practical survival skill. You can make a simple model with cardboard boxes or a more performance-oriented model with sheet metal. DIY projects like the Pizza Box Solar Oven are easy enough for kids to do on their own.
Check out these video tutorials, gather up the materials (what a great excuse to order pizza!) and try it out! Not only is it an excellent skill to encourage, it will be a terrific family activity.
Video # 1: The Cardboard Box Solar Oven
Video #2: The Home Made Sheet Metal Solar Oven
Video #2: The Pizza Box Solar Oven
Wrapping it Up
No pun intended here, but Solar ovens are hotter than ever. These ingenious cookers enable off-grid individuals, environmentalists, homesteaders, survivalists, and others to enjoy hot food and purified water without having to tap into anything other than the sun.
Organizations have even worked to promote the benefits of solar cookers for those in developing countries or rural areas.
So... If We Had to Buy JUST ONE...
If we were going to deep-dive into solar cooking, we’d opt for something like the GoSun Fusion. Yes, at nearly $500 it's the more expensive option by GoSun, but rest assured you can try another model that's well under $200 (the Camp Stove version seen here). This hybrid solar oven can switch using sun and electricity, meaning you can use it at night and under cloud cover.
Not to mention, it can sustain a maximum internal temperature of 550 degrees Fahrenheit and can cook four-six meals per load. Of course, a model like the Sunflair Portable Solar Oven Deluxe would be perfect for emergency preparedness and outdoor adventures.