LTM's small farm is completely off the grid. Her family uses solar and alternative power sources for lighting, cooking, animal fencing, etc.
Solar cooking can be surprisingly easy if you understand what's involved in the process, and follow a few basic rules.
Here's five top tips for solar ovens to get you started.
Tip #1: Buy a hybrid solar oven if you can
There's a multitude of solar ovens to choose from, ranging from home-made designs to commercially manufactured solar cookers.
My preference is for the 'box style' oven made by Tulsi. I have one and love it. My solar cooker is powered entirely by sunshine.
However the same solar oven is available in the hybrid version and can also be used to cook in the dark. (The basic type simply won't work without direct sunshine.)
Before you race off and buy any type of solar oven, it helps to assess whether the hybrid or non-hybrid variety is best for you.
What is a hybrid solar oven?
A hybrid solar oven can be powered by both sunshine and electricity. What a wonderful invention!
Just as a hybrid car is designed to run on both gas and electricity, the hybrid solar oven is an oven that can be powered 100% by sunshine ... or plugged into a source of electricity to operate when there's no sun available.
I never thought the day would come when a solar oven can successfully be used:
- in the dark
- inside your rv
- outside on a cloudy day!
For the past eight years I've been packing my much-loved solar oven away for winter. When spring brings sunshine, I unpack my solar oven and clean my wood-burning stove.
That's the routine for me, living off the grid. I cannot expect my solar system to support an electric oven so I mainly rely on my solar oven in the summer and my wood-burning stove in the winter. I also have a barbecue and a conventional oven powered by LPG (propane) if I have no other option, but my life is about to change!
I am about to buy a solar/electricity hybrid oven so I can use my solar oven year-round, day and night, by simply connecting to an electricity supply from:
- solar storage batteries (my regular supply of power, living off the grid)
- car battery (if I'm desperate)
- my inverter generator.
Tulsi's hybrid solar oven runs on a mere 25% of the power required to run a conventional indoor oven, meaning I could cook for free in the sunshine during sunny, summer weather - and cook (also for free) using my solar batteries and photovoltaic panels to power the hybrid oven for most of the cloudy and winter weather.
On the rare days when I'm forced to rely on generator power, I'd be pulling about 200 watts to power the oven. Oh, the convenience of having a hybrid solar oven!
In this video he cooks with the sun ... like I do!
Solar oven features to look for
Here's some of the features I value most in my solar oven.
- 95% reflective reflector panel
- Reflector panel is scratch-resistant
- Double-paned oven face / window retains heat and energy more effectively than a single pane. (Think of the comparison between single window panes and double-glazing on windows in your home.)
- Double rubber seals for extra heat retention
- Wide oven space. Sometimes I wish my solar oven had extra depth, but given the choice between compromising either surface space or depth, there's more advantages to the design of mine. Heat is evenly distributed, and I can place a number of small pots and trays side by side.
- Additional depth is provided in the American-made 'Sun Focus Solar-Electric oven' that is based on the Tulsi. (I plan to buy one of these very soon.)
- 4 cooking pots designed specifically for solar cooking are included when purchasing the Tulsi oven - so you are ready to start cooking. A number of solar oven manufacturers provide cooking pots with their ovens.
- Portable - My solar oven (like the Sun Focus Solar-Electric oven) folds up, locks, and is carried with a handle. Self-contained and easy to pack in the car.
I store my pots, baking trays etc in a kitchen cupboard. However, if I want to take the solar oven with me on a trip, I wrap them in tea towels and pack them inside the oven itself.
The tea towels protect the black paint within the oven and on the pots, so there's no scratching or damage.
Plus I use the tea towels to protect my hands from heat when removing hot pans from the oven. By packing them in the oven as protection for my pots, there's no danger of leaving the towels at home.
Solar oven that also cooks with (minimal) electricity
American made hybrid oven (solar and electric powered)
Tip #2: Black cookware is best in a solar oven
If you want the best and quickest results when cooking with sunshine, choose black cookware to use in your solar oven.
The reason why black cookware is best for solar cooking is simple. Black absorbs the heat faster and holds the heat longer than any other color.
Yes, you can use colors other than black but a curry or casserole dressed in yellow or white will take longer to cook than the same food in a dark pot.
Black cookware like this is best for baking in a solar oven
Tip #3: Smaller portions cook faster
If you want to feed an army with a meal cooked in a solar oven, you'll be looking for a big pot ... and a solar oven bigger than mine. (Some solar cookers have a lot more depth than my Tulsi solar oven.) If you set your solar cooker up at about 9 or 10 in the morning on a nice sunny day, you'll be ready to feed the troops at dinner time.
But if you want to feed a small family a hot meal at lunch time, I strongly recommend using a bunch of smaller cooking implements than a big pot, because small portions cook faster.
Apply the same principle as you would in a standard oven. Cupcakes cook faster than large cakes. Bread rolls cook faster than large loaves.
I am very excited to have discovered a range of baking pans that are much smaller than those generally found in kitchens around the world ... so I bought lots of them. As you'll see in the photos, instead of baking one large loaf of bread, I can now bake a few small ones in the same space. If I want more, I'll just load the solar oven again.
Smaller portions cook faster
Tip #4: Food won't burn in my solar oven
As you become more comfortable with solar cooking, you discover just how forgiving a solar oven can be.
Here's an example: If I am cooking with a convection oven and forget to remove the baked chicken and leave the boiled vegetables on the stove for too long, I'll have spoiled food. The chicken will burn and the vegetables will either stick to the bottom of the pan or disintegrate into mush (or both.)
If I'm cooking the same chicken and boiled vegetables in my solar oven and I decide to delay the meal for a couple of hours while I have a long telephone conversation with someone who calls unexpectedly with lots of news, I have nothing to worry about. As long as I've prepped the food properly and the lids of the pans are tightly sealed (so I'm not letting all the moisture evaporate), I can take my time without fear of the food spoiling.
I can't vouch for other manufacturer's solar ovens - especially if the sun is targeted directly onto cookware from a dish-shaped solar oven - but the design and specifications of the box style Tulsi has prevented my food from burning long after it would have been ruined in a conventional oven.
Presumably the American-made version with the deeper base will behave in a similar way, which is why I plan to buy one. It will allow me to cook with 100% sunshine during summer as I already do, plus use it indoors during winter.
Solar cookware that won't spoil or burn food
Solar cooking made easy!
As anyone who reads my articles will know, I look for easy options and shortcuts in preference to wasting time and energy on any mundane, daily task. I live off the grid so I need to effectively complete many tasks most people take for granted.
That's one of the reasons I love my solar oven. I put the food in and it cooks. I take it from the solar oven and serve it to my family whenever I'm ready - with no fear of the food spoiling from extra time.
It is also the reason why I intend to upgrade from my 100 percent solar oven to a hybrid that can operate on solar power or electricity. I would like the same kind of convenience in cooking, year round.
The first hybrid oven I heard about was the Tulsi, made by the company that made my original solar oven.
- The hybrid version of the Tulsi oven automatically switches between solar and electric power, depending on whether or not there's sunshine.
It cycles itself on and off between electric and solar, so there's no need to run back from my vegetable garden to the solar cooker near the house just because clouds roll in. "The Tulsi-Hybrid’s two setting thermostat automatically controls and maintains the cooking temperature inside the oven chamber so your food is always safe and cooked to perfection even when the weather isn't."
Wonderful. All I need to do is remember to bring it indoors before it starts raining! lol.
- The Tulsi hybrid oven's electricity power source can be from the electric company, a DC/AC inverter, or any back up generator.
- When cooking indoors on 100% electricity, it will draw between 250 and 500 watts (but conventional indoor electric ovens draw up to 2000 watts.)
Hybrid solar-electric ovens make solar cooking easy - on so many levels!
Then I learned about the American-made solar and electricity hybrid oven, based on the Tulsi. It offers the greater advantage of a deeper cooking space. It still has the all-important large surface area, which I would hate to part with, plus the ability to hold deeper pots.
So that's the one I'll be buying.
If they're not adapted and available in Australia with an Australian power plug, I'll simply purchase one on Amazon and use a readily available adaptor. (The type you can buy at any international airport and many electrical retailers. Tourists use them for hair dryers and other appliances they take on their travels.)
Tip #5: Look what you can cook in a solar oven! Experiment, and have fun.
What can you cook in a solar oven? Just about anything you can cook in a conventional oven - but it is much more fun!
A solar oven can harvest the sunshine to feed you and your family a diverse range of meals. When you buy your solar oven, get ready to have fun as you:
- bake bread and bread rolls
- create curries - a favorite for my family
- rice - so much easier than the way you're used to cooking rice!
- pizza (thinner crusts are the easier option)
- boil vegetables (in minimal water)
- cook poultry (I use small pieces, but with a big enough solar oven you could roast a whole chicken)
- fresh fish (I seal fish in a pot, although some people wrap fish in foil)
- casseroles - meat and/or vegetables
- desserts - puddings, tarts or pies
- create your favorite cakes (but not too tall if your oven is like mine)
- cook muffins - large or small
- dry your fresh herbs (with the lid slightly open)
- sun-dried tomatoes (again with the lid slightly open - to let moisture escape.)
You can cook just about anything in a solar oven, so experiment and make your solar cooking fun!
My solar oven is not hybrid
Should I buy a simple solar oven - 100% sunshine?
A simple solar oven costs much less than the hybrid type.
Here's when the basic 100% solar cooker is your best option:
- If you want to save money; or simply cannot afford the cost of a hybrid,
- You live in a reliably sunny climate
- You have an alternative cooking option as back-up
- A barbecue, rocket stove or even a campfire in your backyard might be your back-up cooking source
- You are confident you'll have enough food in your pantry to eat cold if you need it, while waiting for sunshine the next day!
- Wind is not a problem where you live - or where you intend to cook with solar. Strong wind is your enemy, and a 100% solar oven won't operate if you are chased indoors for shelter.
Here's an important point you must not overlook before choosing to buy a 100% solar cooker ... Your peak hours for solar cooking (assuming it is a sunny day) are between 9am and 2pm.
If you leave for work at 6am and don't get home until 4pm, your better option would be the hybrid solar oven capable of cooking indoors, and after dark.
What's your interest in solar cooking?
Are there problems with hybrid solar and electric ovens?
I honestly can't think of many disadvantages to owning a hybrid solar oven. The hybrid solar and electric oven can do everything my 100% solar version can ... with all those extra advantages.
However, in the interests of a fair assessment, here's a few problems to be aware of: -
- The cost of the hybrid solar oven is greater than the non-hybrid version. (However, when you factor in your on-going power costs if you cook with a conventional oven, that additional cost is not really a problem.)
- If you plug it into power to heat it when the oven is too cold, the glass may crack. Allow it to adapt to room temperature if you bring it indoors from a cold, cold outdoor shed.
- If your cat tries to land on the raised lid of your hybrid solar oven, it will probably knock it over. (Of course that's the same with my outdoor solar oven, but cats are more renowned for causing accidents indoors than out.)
- Which raises the issue of children in the home. There's a big mirror that may attract attention, and the only hybrid ovens I know of come in attractive bright colors ... so make sure you keep your hybrid solar oven out of the reach of young children.
If I discover any further problems once my new solar and electric hybrid oven arrives and gets put to work, I'll be sure to let you know. But from where I'm sitting now (on a cold and dark night), I can only see positives!
By the same author ...
- My Solar Oven | Cooking with Sunshine
After 8 years, my solar oven is still cooking healthy, delicious meals with sunshine - and no charge from a power company. Save money with a solar cooker. Sustainable off-grid living!
- What do you need in a kitchen for cooking off the grid?
Helpful hints about designing your kitchen if you want to start cooking off the grid. This is how I cook without electricity. Photos and notes about my off-grid kitchen.
- Top Tips for Living Off The Grid
I love living off the grid. If you are thinking of making the move to an off grid lifestyle, here are the most important things to know - plus some of my top tips to get you started.
© 2015 LongTimeMother
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on July 08, 2015:
Vegetables taste so much nicer when cooked in a solar oven, plus they retain their natural goodness. :)
Solar ovens are changing the lives of many families in communities in Africa, India etc. I am puzzled why people in countries like yours and mine are so slow to take advantage of cooking with sunshine.
Thanks for your comment, the rawspirit.
Robert Morgan from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Gilbert AZ on June 17, 2015:
Thank you. As a vegetarian and a person who cares for the environment I believe solar cookers are the wave of the future. Love to see them given to mothers in villages in africa. Blessings
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 26, 2015:
There's always plenty of other things for me to do while cooking in my solar oven, Au fait, so being patient is not a chore for me. lol.
Personally, I find standing by the stove top having to stir or turn foods before they burn to be more frustrating. I can't wander away for fear I'll become distracted and ruin the food if I'm too slow with the wooden spoon. :)
I'm pleased you enjoyed my review. Thanks for the feedback.
C E Clark from North Texas on May 25, 2015:
I didn't even know there were such ovens before! Very interesting. I'm not sure I would have the patience to wait until dinner was cooked any more than I have patience for crock pots, but it looks like a wonderful idea for people who have the time and who have no other means.
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on May 19, 2015:
Thanks LTM...no I only checked out the one from the Amazon link on your hub. It's probably a similar price to the US made one...though that sound a little expensive.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 19, 2015:
Hi peeples. When you add up the money you save on electricity, the cost of a solar hybrid oven is surprisingly cheap.
I think a hybrid solar oven would be perfect in your situation. Although, because you have more family members to feed than me, you might be better off with the American made one. It is deeper and can hold more food at one time.
I have read it is directly based on the Tulsi ... so I like to think it will offer the same features like electricity turning on and off automatically, and the same level of power saving.
We should all continue the conversation here to educate each other as we learn more. Cooking with solar/electric hybrid ovens is a solution to global problems. I'd love to see them being used all around the world. :)
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 19, 2015:
Hi Jodah. I'm making some enquiries about outlets here in Australia. I want to buy a hybrid oven as soon as possible because I've packed away my 100% solar one for our winter ... although being in Queensland, you probably have lots more sunshine than those of us in the south.
It is many years since I bought our Tulsi. I will have to look into current prices. Will keep in touch to let you know what I learn.
I'd considered buying via amazon - even if I needed to use an adaptor for the power plug. I wonder how long it will be before they are back in stock. Did you find a 100% solar one on amazon? Perhaps it is just the hybrid one that's currently unavailable.
On the subject of making your own, many people have made their own solar cookers ... but I'm not among them. I like to be confident mine will work when I need it. lol.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 19, 2015:
If you have the climate, FlourishAnyway, solar cooking is certainly worth considering. Thanks for your visit.
LongTimeMother (author) from Australia on May 19, 2015:
If I've answered your questions, that's a good day's work. Thanks, ecogranny.
Peeples from South Carolina on May 19, 2015:
Great article! I love ideas of what could be cooked in it. Looking into the hybrid Tulsi, it seems it is about the same cost as a cheap oven here. In the US it is priced around $340. I actually expected higher. I think there are so many possibilities! I can't wait to get one! Bookmarked this!
John Hansen from Gondwana Land on May 18, 2015:
Hi LTM, I have never got around to getting a solar oven but you have almost convinced me to consider it. I have seen a few articles in Grass Roots and Earth Garden magazines on how to build them at home so that's a possibility. I have a cob oven (well two) actually that my wife and I built and use that when we have visitors and have to feed a large number of people. I clicked on the Amazon ad for the Tulsi hybrid but it says "unavailable". Can you tell me an approximate price for it and the non-hybrid oven? I see the American made one is $499. Great hub and very helpful.
FlourishAnyway from USA on May 18, 2015:
I have never even considered using a solar oven. Most of the summer the sun is hot and reliable enough to do so, however.
Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on May 18, 2015:
I dream of the day I have space outdoors to place a solar oven on sunny days. For now, I'm stuck with conventional cooking, but I read articles like yours because one of these days, that will all change, and I want to be ready.
Thank you for a thoughtful article that answered many of my questions as they arose. Well done.