The Ultimate Guide to Solar Cooking

someone lifting an pot off of a solar cooker Enjoying the outdoors with a camping trip can be one of the best ways to have fun with others. Experienced campers enjoy planning everything in a way that can make the trip the best for everyone involved. Often, this will include plans to make the most flavorful meals. There are many differnet ways you can cook outdoors these days. You can build a campfire or bring your own camping grill. Or, you can try solar cooking.

A simple, informative reference guide can be helpful for all meal preparations and packing with solar cooking. If you know all the tips and tricks for solar cooking before you go camping, you increase your chances for success. Solar cooking is said to be one of the most natural ways to cook, and it delivers great results if you know how to do it properly.

What is Solar Cooking?

Just how it sounds, solar cooking is when you harness the power of the sun to cook your food. The first solar cooker was created in the 1700s, but the idea of using the power of sunlight in this sort of manner has been around since the time of Archimedes. Modern solar cookers first started popping up during the 1950s, but they didn’t catch on. Today, there are three basic categories of solar cooker: solar ovens (also called a box cooker), panel cookers, and parabolic solar cookers.

Solar cookers can be used to pan fry, bake, boil, deep fry, grill, and even pressure cook. It doesn’t need require you to use any specific pots and pans–your favorite camping gear or home cooking supplies will work just fine. Solar cookers can even be used for things that aren’t cooking. They can heat water without using gas or electricity for use at home, sterilize water, can food, and even soften building materials.

How Does Solar Cooking Work?

a parabolic cooker with a kettle on it It’s common for people to think that solar cookers use foldable solar panels to create electricity, this isn’t how solar cookers work. They exclusively use the sun without any help from another power source like electricity. While it may seem hard to believe that you can cook a full meal with only the sun as a power source, it can be done. All you need is a specially-made solar cooker to do it.

For example, one of the most popular types of solar cooker is the parabolic solar cooker because it can get 100º hotter than a box cooker. This make them more versatile for cooking despite how they have a much larger and more complex design. Parabolic solar cookers use a concave mirror that focuses the sun’s rays on one spot. Support arms hold a pot in the focal point, and the rays bounce off the mirrors and heat the pot.

While sunlight on its own isn’t enough to cook food (unless it’s a fried egg on an especially hot day), solar cookers are able to manipulate the rays to focus them on one specific spot in order to multiply the strength. All solar cookers use some sort of variation on this sort of design, though the shape and size may change.

Common Solar Cooking Devices

As mentioned before, there are three main types of solar cookers: solar ovens or box cookers, panel cookers, and parabolic cookers. However, beyond these three types, there are other devices that are are more specialized. If you’re looking for a solar cooker to add to your camping kitchen setup on your next camping trip, you may find solar grills, stoves, and ovens on the market. Here is a run-down on what each of these are like.

Grills

A solar grill looks similar to a gas-powered barbeque grill you may already have at home. However, when you lift the lid on a solar grill, you find a mirrored tube that the food is inserted into it. Solar grills can do more than just grill: They can also roast, steam, and bake. You may need a grill stand to hold your solar grill, becuase not all models have their own built-in stands.

Stoves

a kettle being heated on a solar stove Solar camping stoves use the parabolic cooker setup. While they can get up to 400ºF, they only have enough space to heat one pot or pan at a time. For one-pot recipes, a solar stove can be a great choice, but they can also be a bit limiting if you prefer cooking that uses multiple burners.

Ovens

Solar ovens, as you might have already guessed, use the solar oven setup. This is effectively a box that has one side open to allow sunlight in. Inside the box is covered with mirrors or other reflective material to direct the rays at a pot or pan. Solar ovens are probably the most versatile of the solar cooking options. They can do anything that a traditional oven can do.

Advantages of Solar Cooking

Solar cooking may seem odd at first, but it offers a lot of advantages that may make it a better choice than traditional portable grills or camp stoves.

No Fuel Required

The first and most noticable advantage of solar cooking is that they don’t require any sort of fuel. As long as the sun as shining, you can cook food. There’s no need to carry around canisters of fuel or wood.

Cleanup is Easy

The least fun part of camping is easily cleaning up after meals. With solar cookers, cleanup is easy. Solar cookers normally cook at a lower temperature than you’d get on a stove, so that means it’s much harder for food to get baked on. If you spend less time cleaning pots, you can spend more time doing activities you actually enjoy while camping.

Food is Healthier

a pot full of mushrooms and peppers cooking on a solar cooker While it may seem odd that changing the heat source while cooking can affect its nutrition, it’s actually true. At high temperatures, some nutrients break down and are lost. A lower cooking temperature means you retain a lot more nutrients. Both while camping and in everyday life, health is important. Using a solar cooker can help make your food healthier.

Solar Cookers are Quiet

While camping, it’s always nice to enjoy the sounds of nature. With a normal grill or stove, there’s a lot of noise from the flames and the canisters. With a solar cooker, there is only silence. Solar cookers don’t make any noise, so you can set it, forget it, and enjoy the sounds of the natural world around you.

Better for the Environment

It’s common knowledge that solar power is one of the cleanest forms of energy available to us currently. If you’re concerned about being as eco-friendly as possible, a solar cooker is one of the best choices for cooking your food. Solar cookers don’t create any greenhouse gasses, and they don’t produce any sort of waste. This makes them great for using while camping in nature because they easily abide by the seven Leave No Trace principles.

Disadvantages of Solar Cooking

While solar cookers have a lot of great aspects to them, like anything, they also have a couple negatives. Here is what you need to be aware of when buying or using a solar cooker.

You Can Only Cook When It’s Sunny

As you can probably imagine, solar cookers will only work when it’s sunny outside. If there is no sun, there is no way of cooking. If you want to eat food made with a solar cooker, you need to check the weather forecast. The food will only cook if it has several hours of continuous sunlight to heat it. This means you won’t be able to cook on cloudy days or at night, so late night snacks are limited to what you can eat cold.

Food Takes Longer to Cook

a series of box solar cookers with pots inside them Because solar cookers rely on sunlight instead of fire or electricity, it takes a lot longer to cook food than it would otherwise. Solar cookers aren’t a good choice if you’re hungry now and want to eat in the next 20-30 minutes. However, if you’re a fan of slow cookers and know how to schedule them appropriately, you can have a lot of success camping with a solar cooker.

Conclusion

Cooking is one of the most important things you will do while camping, and using a solar cooker can be a great way to cook food while having fun with other camping activities. They require more planning and foresight than other cooking methods, but if you’re willing to check the weather and prepare properly, they can be a great addition to your camping gear. Solar cookers provide a lot of benefits that other cooking options currently don’t or can’t also offer. Solar coooking is a simple way to create delicious meals that everyone in your camping party will enjoy.