I suppose I forgot to mention which solar cooker we actually bought, and that warrants a bit of explanation. I was preparing to order the most expensive solar cooker I found, the All American Solar Oven, because that’s what you do when you don’t know what you are doing but have great intentions. Incidentally, it comes with all kinds of goodies like pots and pans and even trays that say you can bake cookies on them (I’m a sucker for cookies). Then my husband walked in, took one look at it and said, “Can’t we just make that?”
And, of course, he was right. It only took about 5 minutes to Google up enough solar oven plans to make my head spin. There were box ovens, which are large boxes with reflective panels to direct the heat in toward your food. There are also funny satellite dish shaped ones, called “parabolic” ovens, that look like upside down silver umbrellas, and then a strange mix of portable ovens that look like car windshield reflectors that you set around your trusty black pot, which seems to be the only really standard accessory. Size was a major factor for us, as was price, once we started trying to narrow the field of possible ovens to build. We cook from scratch almost everything, and the parabolic ovens seemed too small to accommodate a decent sized pot. We loved that the portable ovens could be made or even purchased cheaply, but they also looked like they could tip over more easily, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice dinner because my kids or dog ran too fast past the oven and knocked it over. In the end, we decided that while we could build a cheap solar oven that would probably win a science fair for under $50, it wouldn’t be worth it for doing any regular cooking. We had tried building one on our porch last year out of boxes and tinfoil, and we ended up with uncooked food and our son playing baseball with tinfoil bits that were knocked off during its one and only use. We wanted something that would be truly durable, and that we could cook food for our entire family on a daily basis. Toward that end, we decided that the large, framed box solar ovens looked like we could fit most of a Thanksgiving dinner in them, and had a sturdy enough construction to stand up to our toddlers (we have 2 now) and our dog. However, creating one would have required a fair amount of time, which is somethings we don’t have alot of right now, and would cost enough to make looking at commercial products worthwhile.
So, after our walk down solar oven lane, we ended up looking at the exact same oven I had put into my online shopping cart the day before – the All American Solar Oven, complete with the accessory kit so we can be sure our black pots and pans all fit into the oven. But I just couldn’t stomach the price of almost $400. So, being the cheapskates that we are, I started poking around on Craigslist and Ebay, and I soon found what I was looking for! The All American Solar Oven is the upgrade of the older model, called a Sun Oven. The main difference between the two is the thickness of the top glass, and a mechanism for angling the sun correctly. Since we live in Phoenix, I’m not terribly concerned about getting the exact sun angle. We usually can almost fry eggs on the sidewalk by summertime. That said, for only about $150, and a decent drive, I was able to purchase a barely used Sun Oven from a nice guy who could vouch that it would indeed cook lentil soup, as that was all he had ever tried. That just left the cookware issue. Luckily, the website for the Sun Oven suggests using what you already have, so long as it isn’t shiny. (Apparently shiny bakeware reflects the sunlight back out, which defeats the oven.) So, after a quick look in the cabinets and a $5 run to Goodwill, we have a cast iron pot and lid for slow cooking, a glass bowl and lid for regular cooking, and a small brownie pan, which really was the most important thing as I should be able to use it for cookies!
Stay tuned for our maiden solar cooking voyage!