*Cooking with a Solar Oven*
14 October 2015
These are Hubby's favorite chocolate chip cookies and yes, he likes his cookies man-sized. They are baking in a sun oven.
I prefer to set the oven on the concrete patio rather than the grass. I feel it adds to more consistent heating.
My sun oven is an older unit. It's totally plastic. Newer ones have more features like easy-carry handles and an internal shelf-rack that always stays level. My "lid" is plastic, newer ones are glass. My unit easily accommodates a 9"x13" pan or two 3.5 qt. pots. This size is most convenient. When dehydrating, I can get three shelves stacked in the unit.
A sun oven must be preheated. I point it into the sun while preparing the food to cook. For best results lid and reflectors must be clean and shiny.
To get full heating, the lid must be locked down. On full-sun days my unit will easily reach 375 degrees. On partial-sun days, I attach reflectors that help direct the sun into the oven to heat it up. Today it's 75-degrees outside and the oven was at 275-degrees before I finished the batter (15 minutes). It's 10AM.
I don't need reflectors today, but I put them on so you could see them. Cookies are almost done. It's 10:45.
Food never burns and even if the temperature is less than a recipe calls for, food will cook, it only takes longer. I've often left food cooking while I go shopping. It's fine. No worries about a fire hazard.
If you see a little condensation around the edges, it's OK. But if condensation begins to cover the lid and restricting the sun, then release the top clips and it will clear itself out shortly.
Wind makes a difference. On windy days I'll put it on the concrete rather than on a table top - and shield it as much as possible by stacking patio cushions around it.
I have to remind myself this IS an oven and have burned myself more on this unit than when cooking over the firepit. If you touch the pot it WILL burn. If you touch the temperature gauge, it will burn. Use cooking gloves when removing reflectors - they get hot. When opening the lid to the oven, keep your face well back until the initial heat escapes.
I saw big success when I switched cookware. Thin walled, black and shallow is best. Lids on my pots are glass but black works well also. I prefer pots without handles – handles take up too much room. I just remove the screw in the handle to remove it.
I've used cast iron, it works great once the pot is up to temp, but takes longer to get to temperature. Also, my oven does not have the internal rack. Rather than sitting the pot on the bottom of the oven, raise it up so that hot air circulates all around it. I use a wire rack.
For cookies I flatten them on a black 9x13 cookie sheet. When baking breads and muffins, I use mini muffins and tins – they cook faster. When baking cakes, I lean toward the 9x13. When pasteurizing water I use two-gallon freezer bags.
If the oven isn't getting to the temperature, I add the reflectors. With the reflectors, I don't have to be a slave to re-positioning. Most foods are done in less than 2 hours. If I'm cooking a hunk of raw meat, that takes longer and will require me to reposition it once or twice. When repositioning, I watch the shadow to make sure it's straight and true to know when the oven is exactly pointed right – then move it about an inch in the direction the sun will be in another few minutes.
When baking, most recipes don't require altering. For meats, I'll reduce or omit waters and oils usually added in the conventional oven. Otherwise, just pop it in there.
My unit requires that I remove the reflectors to remove the lid. That's a pain. Newer models allow you to open the lid without removing reflectors.
I've baked everything, heated stews, roasted meat, and pasteurized water and dehydrated. It will heat water but I've never gotten it to rapid boil a pan of water.
I use it in the winter. It works just as well especially on full sun days when snow reflects the sun. Sorry, no photos of that today!
If you want to DIY a solar oven, there are plenty of YouTube videos explaining how to do it. If I you need accessories for your DIY oven, go here:
My unit is from the Solar Oven Society – http://www.solarovens.org/TooshieGalore
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