If you’ve been around enough group campsites, you may have seen someone else break out a weird, shiny contraption– only to realize it was a solar oven! But if you’re anything like us, you probably wondered “does that thing actually work?” or “why would someone actually choose that”.
Well, curiosity got the best of us, and we decided to test a few. And while we’re still partial to a good ol’ butane burner or backpacking stove, we HAVE seen the light (ha), on why these portable solar cookers are growing in popularity.
The Benefits of a Solar Cooker
Theres a certain peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ll literally always be able to heat up a meal with one of these solar-powered ovens. It’s kind of like starting a fire with a magnifying glass– is there an easier way? Sure. But it’s pretty cool!
• Assuming you don’t live somewhere the sun don’t shine, solar ovens are completely free to operate.
• They are a good solution for situations/campgrounds that don’t allow open flame
• It’s actually faster than you’d think to cook a meal
• As opposed to putting out a campfire, its extremely fast to break down
• Lastly, some folks claim the food tastes better. Although we frankly couldn’t tell the difference, which we ultimately viewed as a good thing?
Do I need anything special for cooking in solar cookers?
Yes, not every pot or pan from your kitchen will work effectively in a sun cooker. The best is a thin-walled, dark-colored, covered pot – something that will retain as much heat as possible and absorb the warm light. If you think you’ll be cooking meat, you may also want to pick up a small thermometer such as this basic one, or an electric meat thermometer that has temperature cord. This way, you’ll be able to check not only the oven temperature, but the meat temperature as well (to make sure its cooked thoroughly).
What are the downsides of using solar ovens?
Well, you need sun. So cooking a meal after the sun goes down is out of the question, unless you have about a million flashlights laying around. For this reason alone, we think its always good to have a backup gas-powered burner.
And frankly, they’re honestly a little pricey, which we haven’t been able to wrap our heads around. You’d think they’d be able to produce them for less, but that’s just the way “sun ovens” are, it seems.
..Can’t I Make a DIY Solar Oven?
Yes! There are plenty of Solar Cooker DIY videos that instruct you on how to make a solar oven yourself (makes for a good Scout project, or a science lesson for a groups of kids!). But if you want something that is engineered to be the most efficient, and you have the cash to invest in something that will last a long time, the following solar oven types are all good choices.
That being said, we’ll compare the pros and cons of each:
The 4 Leading Solar Ovens (Reviewed)
Gosun Solar Cooker (tubular dude!)
The GoSun is the strangest design of the bunch, and also the newest– utilizing a parabolic folding design. It’s well-built, and helps that GoSun is a large, trusted brand in the solar appliance space.
If there’s a drawback to this design, it’s that you’re limited to the “tubular” cylindrical cooking drawer in terms of shape and volume. Although, to give the product photos some scale, you can fit XX worth of food into the tube – definitely enough to feed maybe 3 people a lunchtime snack or 1 person a hearty meal.
It’s this very design, though, that makes it a very efficient and FAST solar cooking oven. Great for boat trips, a conversation piece for your backyard patio, or to bring on your next car camping trip.
Sunflare Foldable Solar Oven
As a Boy Scout, this is the one I remember seeing the most at campsites growing up, when they first began hitting the scene. Not quite as fancy as the GoSun, but is much more adaptable of what you can put in it (dutch ovens, covered pots, tea kettles will all work).
Its made of a flexible cloth-like fabric that has a very reflective inside. So you can really never have to worry about it breaking, bending, or taking up too much room in your camper van, boat, or trunk of your car.
The cooking time isn’t as fast as some others on here, but its cost-effective and fun. Also makes for a good backup/emergency solution to have on hand, if you’re the prepper type.
All-American Sun Oven
This Solar cooking oven is just that – a legitimate, freestanding oven. Which means it’s the least portable on the list. But, what I lacks in portability, it makes up in sturdiness and features.
What we like most is the little “sun indicator”, which lets you know when you have the angle and orientation of the oven just* right. There’s a ton of cooking space inside, and it seems really well built, right here in the USA.
In our opinion, this is the best option for someone who is stationary (e.g. lives off-grid or with an eco-friendly mindset), and plans to use it often to cook, bake, and more.
All-season solar cooker
This boxy solar cooker is kind of a blend of the two solar ovens above, and is also the cheapest on the list. And I mean cheapest in both senses of the word. More on that below.
This thing definitely worked, and worked well. There are plenty of panels to move, adjust, and bend to fit the angles you need.
However, while it does fold flat, its essentially made of a plastic cardboard-esque material. It’s not going to rip on you, but we could easily see this thing inadvertently getting weird creases, bends, and less rigid over time. But for only ~$75, its certainly built well enough to last a few years, assuming you don’t need something a little more compact when stored.
Final Tips for How to Use a Solar Oven
Practice makes perfect with these things, although the learning curve is VERY fast. Your first time will definitely be successful, but after a couple uses, you’ll learn how/when to make adjustments based on the moving sun. Use a thermometer to keep track of what works best (and to be able to calculate cooking times accurately).