Have you ever wanted to cook food using nuclear fusion?
Well, you can!
Admittedly, the fusion reactor in question is the sun, about 93,000,000 miles away.
But the sun still puts out a lot of power. But we can capture that power.
Collect that power, concentrate it, and bam! You’re cooking with nuclear fusion!
Though people tend to call it a solar cooker instead.
Read on to find out more!
What is a Solar Cooker?
A solar cooker (AKA solar oven) is an object that concentrates the sun’s energy into your food, raising the temperature and turning cold yucky stuff into delicious food.
This is most often done with an array of mirrors, highly polished metal, or even aluminum foil. The sunlight bounces off of the reflective bit and gets directed into the food. No electricity or fuel required!
Simple solar cookers can reach temperatures that break 300 degrees Fahrenheit. That is enough to bake most foods into edible submission.
People have designed and sold solar ovens which can reach temperatures in excess of 500 degrees Fahrenheit! With one of those babies you can fry and sear foods, without fire or electricity.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Cookers
- Solar cookers require no fuel or electricity, only access to sunlight (which is free!).
- They produce no pollution or any negative byproducts.
- Solar ovens can be used almost anywhere, at home or far off the road.
- You can use solar cookers to sanitize water as well!
- There are no elements to wear out and require replacement (just don’t use the solar cooker as a hammer).
- Food is less likely to become burnt or lose moisture compared with other cooking methods, increasing the quality of your food.
- Solar ovens are available to match a large variety of budgets, from luxurious to shoe-string.
- You only have to pay once, operation is free ever after. If you even pay at all!
- Solar cookers take more time to get up to temperature than almost any other cooking process, so the cooking process takes longer.
- Weather can negatively affect your cooking; clouds will obscure the solar power, and wind/rain/snow will draw heat away.
- If you’re questing for the north pole, there likely won’t be enough solar energy to cook your food.
- Much like a laser, keep your eyes away from the reflected sunlight if you like being able to see things!
- Certain techniques, such as frying or roasting a lot of food at once, may be difficult.
Types of Solar Ovens
There are four main types of solar cookers. These are box cookers, panel cookers, parabolic cookers, and vacuum tube cookers.
Box cookers have an insulated box, the top of which is glass. Reflectors direct sunlight inside the box. These are the least efficient, but easiest to make.
In fact, we have instructions on how to make one below!
Panel cookers are an array of reflectors upon which a pot is placed in the center. This is more efficient than the box style, but is more susceptible to wind induced heat loss.
Parabolic cookers are curved to maximize the efficiency of the captured sunlight. They look much like radar dishes and so are more expensive to manufacture. Some expensive models automatically track the sun as well!
Vacuum Tube Cookers
Vacuum tube cookers are the newest style, and are a glass tube in the center of some parabolic reflectors. The reflectors fold to cover the tube for easy transport.
The glass, much like some double walled travel mugs, is vacuum insulated to help trap the heat.
Why Should You Build One?
Well, you like saving money, right?
Box and panel cookers are simple to make so you can experiment at home to see if a solar oven is for you.
They are not the most efficient styles of solar cooker, but you can still feed your family with one.
In fact, knowing how to make a solar cooker from materials at home—and you most likely won’t need to pick anything up from the store for this—can save your life!
If something happens and you don’t have any electricity or fuel to make food, you can make a solar oven in a matter of minutes and maintain the ability to provide for your family.
Making a solar cooker is an invaluable skill for any explorer or prepper.
They’re also a good learning opportunity for children. Kids love to learn about the power of the sun, and a solar oven is more productive than burning ants with a magnifying glass…
How to Make a Solar Cooker Out of a Shoebox
You can make the simplest form of solar oven, a box cooker, out of a shoebox and a few other materials you most likely have at home.
- Shoebox or other cardboard box
- Sweater or other item you can use for insulation
- Clear plastic or glass
- Aluminum foil
- Sticks or wire
- Tape and glue
- Insulate the inside of the box. Take your sweater or whatever and equally distribute it around the bottom and sides of the box. Tape it in place.
- Cover the inside of the box and all of the insulating material with aluminum foil. Shiny side out! Make sure to tape it in place (extra points if you use metallic waterproofing tape like this).
- Apply aluminum foil to the underside of the lid of the box. Again, the sunny side should be out. Gluing this foil is a good option (you may want to reuse the sweater, see).
- With the lid open, use your transparent material to completely cover the opening of the box. If you’re using glass, its weight should keep it in place. If you’re using clear plastic you will probably have to tape it in place.
- Prop the lid open with your sticks or wire at an angle that reflects the sunlight inside the box.
That’s it! You have a simple, box style solar cooker.
Put it in a sunny place with the food you want to cook inside, play around with the angles to shine the sunlight onto the food, and it’ll cook your food.
If you have extra cardboard, you can create more aluminum foil covered panels to direct more sunlight into the box, cooking your food faster.
Be careful, your food will be hot, so keep that in mind when removing it from the box!
Tips to Get the Best Results
- It will take longer to cook your food in a solar cooker, so start the cooking process well before you want to eat. Add a couple hours to your normal cooking time. During winter it can take half the day to cook your meal!
- Don’t worry, it’s very hard to overcook food in a solar oven. Err on the side of cooking for a longer time.
- If you plan on leaving your solar cooker unattended for several hours, aim the cooker to where the sun will be at the halfway point during the cooking process.
- Your food will cook more quickly if you turn the panels to follow the sun (or buy a solar oven which does this for you).
- If you’re using a pot, make sure it’s black or clear to maximize the amount of energy absorbed. You can paint the pot using a non-toxic paint designed for barbecue grills.
- The more sunlight on the food, the better—use many panels.
- It may be wise to stick to vegetarian dishes until you become skilled at solar cooking. Improperly cooked meat can harbor bacteria.
- Aluminum foil is a good reflective material, but it’s not the best. The surface isn’t completely smooth, and it will tarnish over time. For a better homemade solar cooker, use mirrors or metal polished to a sheen.
If you want a method of cooking that requires no fuel and no electricity while producing no pollution, try a solar cooker. They are more mobile than a normal oven and can be high-tech masterpieces or simple devices made from materials you already have at home.
Looking for more DIY projects? Find some more here!