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Introduction to solar cooking

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Last updated: June 25, 2015      
Yes We Do Solar Cook04:26

Yes We Do Solar Cook

Depending on where you live and how you cook, solar cooking can save you time, work, and fuel. It is also environmentally friendly, and a fun way to prepare your meals. All foods can be cooked in some type of solar cooker.

Solar cooking is often associated with crockpot, or slow cooking. Cooking times for most solar cookers are typically twice that for conventional cooking methods. Slower cooking has its advantages however. Less water is used than with conventional cooking and foods retain more flavor and nutrients, rather than being steamed or boiled off.

Basic solar cookers do not require stirring the food while cooking. By leading the sun orientation a little and adding a bit more cooking time, box cookers and panel cookers can be set and left to cook unattended. Parabolic solar cookers reach higher temperatures requiring more attention to the cooking food. They need to be reoriented to the sun approximately every fifteen minutes, which can be done automatically if they are equipped with a solar tracking device.

For areas in the world experiencing deforestation and limited access to clean water, solar cooking is proving to be a valuable part of the solution, by providing a safe smoke-free alternative to cooking and boiling water over open fires.

Buy or build a solar cooker

CooKit

Solar Cookers International sells the CooKit solar panel cooker for $39.00 USD online here.

If you are interested in trying solar cooking for the first time, you may be wondering whether you should build your own solar cooker, or to buy one from a manufacturer. There are advantages to both options:
  1. Building your own solar cooker can be a fun and cost-effective way to get started.
  2. Purchasing a solar cooker is simple and you will often receive a higher-quality cooker than one you could build yourself.

If you want to build a cooker, visit our build a solar cooker page to choose a design that's right for you. You will find information comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each style of cooker.

If you would like to purchase a cooker, check out the list of manufacturers and vendors on our buy a solar cooker page. Commercial cookers are typically durable and efficient, and offer an easy way for new users to experience solar cooking. As cookers are manufactured globally, consider potential shipping costs when selecting a design.

How do solar cookers work?

Solar cookers work on the basic principle: Sunlight is converted to heat energy that is retained for cooking.

Most basic solar panel cookers and solar box cookers can reach 120°C (250°F). The captured sunlight passes through a greenhouse enclosure enclosing a dark colored cook pot. As it hits the dark surface, the sunlight is converted to heat, which can not escape the enclosure, and cooking temperatures are achieved. This principle is often experienced by drivers returning to a closed car that has been parked in the sun.

Solar Cooking basics, SCI 2004, pg. 1, 12-9-14
Solar Cooking basics, SCI 2004, pg. 2, 12-19-14
  • Parabolic solar cookers use a bowl shaped reflector to focus the light more directly onto the cook pot, usually from below, and typically do not require a greenhouse enclosure to retain the heat. They reach much higher temperature than the other styles of solar cookers and have the ability to fry and broil foods.
SolSource Solar Stove with Cookware

SolSource is an example of a parabolic solar cooker shown with cookware. The light is focussed at the bottom of the cook pot.

Industrial scale cooking, Solare Brucke, 6-10-15

Institutional solar cooking can employ many large parabolic reflectors to generate steam, and cook for thousands of people daily. Many of these systems are in use in India. This example, was built with technology from Solare Brücke.


Solar cooker types

The three most common types of solar cookers are box cookers, panel cookers, and parabolic solar cookers. Hundreds — if not thousands — of variations on these basic types exist. Additionally, several large-scale solar cooking systems have been developed to meet the needs of institutions worldwide.

Box cookers

Box-type

Box cookers cook food at moderate to high temperatures and often accommodate multiple pots, typically taking between one and three hours to cook various foods. Worldwide, they are the most widespread. There are several hundred thousand in India alone.

Panel cookers

Panel-type

Panel cookers incorporate elements of box and parabolic concentrator cookers. They are simple and relatively inexpensive to buy or produce. Solar Cookers International's "CooKit" is the most widely used combination cooker.

Parabolic cookers

AlSol 1.4

An AlSol 1.4 parabolic cooker demonstrates where the cook pot is supported to receive the focussed light from below from the reflector.

Parabolic solar cookers use a bowl shaped reflector to focus the light more directly onto the cook pot, usually from below, and typically do not require a greenhouse enclosure to retain the heat. The parabolic name refers to the shape of the curve of the reflector cross-section.

They will require more frequent reorientation to the sun, possibly every fifteen minutes, but they cook food more quickly at higher temperatures compared to other solar cookers, often reaching over 200°C (400°F). They also have the ability to fry and broil foods. Generally parabolic solar cookers will need to be attended to more than box or panel cookers to avoid possibly burning the food at the bottom of the cook pot. They are especially useful for large-scale institutional solar cooking systems.

More information on pots, glazing enclosures, and reflective material, used to gather additional sunlight.

Cooking with your solar cooker

The golden rule for solar cooking is get your food on early, and do not worry about overcooking. Most people starting to solar cook will be using a solar panel cooker or solar box cooker. These cookers are oriented to the sun and typically don't need to be turned to follow the sun during a 3-4 hour cooking period. Add much less water to the recipe than you would use cooking with more conventional stoves and ovens.

Once you have decided on a cooker, you will need to find appropriate cookware. Thin-walled dark enameled metal cook pots work well. They are good at heating up quickly. Cast iron pots also work, and are typically preheated in the solar cooker before cooking. The advantage of the heavier pots is that they will help maintain an even cooking temperature if the sun is occasionally blocked by clouds, but most solar cooks seem to use the enamel pots. Because dark cooking pots work the best in solar cookers, it is important to remember to use a nontoxic paint for the exterior cook pot surface if you choose to darken your own pots.

Introductory articles

Learn more

Introductory manuals


Solar cookers international handbook
Solar orientation, Construction of solar cookers and driers, Souriau & Amelin, 6-9-15

Solar orientation, Construction of solar cookers and driers, Souriau & Amelin

Audio and video

Solar Cooking in Africa - A Remarkable Technology Transfer09:59

Solar Cooking in Africa - A Remarkable Technology Transfer

External links

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