Solar Ovens: Can I Use My Regular Recipes & Cookware?
One of the concerns that I hear most often from people considering the purchase of a solar oven is that they’re not sure that they can adapt their cooking for a “new” method.
A good solar oven, such as a Sun Oven, is not cheap by most people’s standards. It is an investment that can provide a lifetime of no-cost cooking and wonderful meals.
Good news! There is very little that you need to learn or do to become a really good “solar chef”.
The really good news is, your favorite recipes that you’re accustomed to preparing in your kitchen oven will work exactly the same in a good solar oven. By “good”, I mean an oven capable of reaching 350-400 degrees, as your kitchen oven does.
A Sun Oven can do this easily on a sunny day. Other solar ovens that you can build or buy have trouble reaching temperatures above 220-250 degrees, requiring you to make adjustments in your recipes.The only other things you need to think about are the type of cookware that you use, and what you are cooking.
In general, cookware items made of thin metal, or aluminum work best because they transfer heat quickly. Also, flat black is best because black absorbs heat quicker than any other color, and flat colors reflect the least amount of light.
Reflected light = lost heat when you are cooking with sunlight. If you must use a shiny metal cook pot, wrap it in a dark cloth before placing it in the oven to eliminate reflected light. Pyrex cookware is less effective, because it absorbs little heat and is very slow to transfer the heat it does absorb to your food.
Remember, the cooking chamber of a solar oven has no heating element. The air in the chamber will heat evenly and needs to transfer through your cookware into your food. This is good, because it also means that you don’t need to stir whatever you cook, and you don’t need to worry about it burning.
In general, you want to use a lid on your cookware. The obvious reason would be to retain moisture in your food. The reality is, in a relatively small cooking chamber with no internal heating element, the moisture that escapes from your food isn’t going anywhere.
Yet, it will gather on the inside of your oven’s glass door and condense, which will quickly reduce the amount of light (and resulting heat) entering the oven. I have baked many pies and loaves of bread in covered pans in my Sun Oven, and they brown every bit as nicely as they do in my kitchen oven. You can enhance the browning by lightly spritzing whatever you are baking with a bit of water just before you put it in the oven.
There is a time when you will prefer a thicker metal cook pot, perhaps black cast iron or earthenware. Heavy cookware takes longer to heat up, but it also retains heat longer.
If you are cooking something that takes a long time, and are concerned about increasing clouds later in the day causing a drop in your oven cooking temperature, black cast iron cookware is ideal.
The other use for heavy cookware is when you use your solar oven as a slow cooker. Most people aren’t aware of this, but you can place a “crock pot” style meal in your Sun Oven in the morning, point the oven towards the direction of where the sun will be at mid-day, and just leave it alone until dinner time.
It will heat slowly as the sun moves across the sky during the day, reaching max temperature mid-day, and then gradually cool. Remember, the even, no-burner heat means you don’t have to stir your food while it cooks. Set your meal out in the morning, leave for work, and return to a wonderful hot meal.
Lastly, I like to use canning jars to cook several things at once in the oven while keeping the foods separate. Buy some flat black spray paint that is designed for painting a grill, and put a strip of masking tape down the side of your jars.
Spray them black on the outside, let them dry, and remove the tape. The clear strip that remains under where the tape was allows you to peek at the food inside.
A couple of important things about jars: Be sure to use jars made for canning food. Regular glass jars like the ones that mayonnaise, peanut butter, or pasta sauce come in cannot handle the heat and resulting pressure that forms from high temperature cooking.
Similarly, it’s best to use the two-piece lids that are designed for canning jars. They are designed to vent the pressure than accumulates at high temperatures. If you must use a single-piece lid, poke a 1/4 inch hole in the top before using it, to allow steam pressure to vent.
There you have it! Cooking with a quality solar oven that can reach temperatures comparable to your kitchen oven is really easy, uses no fuel, produces no harmful environmental gasses, and best of all, results in really tasty, moist, succulent meals.