Most of us take for granted the fact that if we want to cook something for dinner we just go into the kitchen and turn on the stove. However, if there is ever a SHTF situation that may no longer be an option.
But it doesn’t have to be that severe of a situation to need or want to cook with solar power, so let’s look at the brighter side of the situation. (See what I did there?)
Why a Solar Cooker?
One reason for needing to use a solar powered cooking device is if you’re homesteading and living off the grid. Or you could simply be one of the many families who enjoy a nice backyard BBQ or cook out.
While most use a gas or charcoal grill, a solar cooker is another alternative. These staples of backyard cooking are fine and dandy but they sure can pollute. If you are environmentally conscious you may want to use a solar cooker just for that reason alone.
Another good reason for using a solar cooker could be when you go camping. You want to spend your time enjoying the outdoors, not cooking. A solar cooker pretty much does it for you.
Since it can take quite some time for the food to cook with solar power, you can set up the cooker and get the food going then play horseshoes, badminton, croquette, archery, target shooting, swimming, or any other fun family activities while the burgers cook.
Using the Sun as a Tool to Cook
Just how will we cook with the sun you ask? Well let’s take a look at several possible ways to do just that. Consider this; many of us have opened our car door on a hot summer day to find the interior unbearably hot. Well, it is by this method that you can make one type of solar cooker: a solar oven.
Solar Energy Cooking Device #1: The Solar Oven
One method of cooking with the sun is to make a solar oven. This is simply an airtight box, painted black on the outside, and the interior side walls covered with an insulated reflective material called Celotex (these are silver foil faced foam sheets sold at building supply companies) that would be ideal but the inside walls.
Start with a Reflective Metal
The inside walls simply painted black will work too, though not as well. There is special foil tape for sealing the edges as well.
You could also line the walls with aluminum foil or any other reflective metal (dozens of cut and flattened soda pop cans for example), the brighter the better. Just look around and see what you have to work with. Remember, the most important tool in your survival arsenal is your BRAIN!
Paint It Black
The inside bottom of the solar oven should also be painted black and a rack to raise the cooking vessel an inch or two off the bottom is ideal.
Let It Shine
The front of the solar oven should have a glass cover through which the sun can shine. A repurposed SINGLE PANE home window is excellent for this.
Do not use a double pane window, as the heat will be trapped between the panes and not go into the box.
The front of the box should be angled at about 45 degrees in order to catch the sun better. There should be a gasket to seal the cover and the cover should latch in place so that the pressure from the heat can’t break the seal and allow heat to escape.
Finishing Touches on Your Solar Oven Build
You can also utilize movable reflectors on the outside to help direct sunlight into the box. The vessel in which the food is placed should seal tightly and ideally the outside of it should be black as well.
Here is a video that shows a similar device:
Solar Energy Cooking Device #2: Parabolic Roaster
Another method of cooking with the sun is with a parabolic roaster. This method of solar cooking is similar to spit roasting over an open fire, but instead of a wood fire under the meat you have a concentrated sun beam heating the meat (or cooking vessel).
With this method you can have the meat being directly acted upon by the sunbeam.
Constructing a Parabolic Roaster
A parabolic hood (umbrella shaped) is made and mounted into a rack so that the parabolic hood can be adjusted to best catch the sun’s rays. It will have to be tended to in order to maintain maximum effectiveness.
Also attached to the same rack is a mount, for either a spit for the meat to be on or a bracket mount to hold a frying pan or cooking pot that is positioned to the focal point of the hood. At this point it is now just a matter of keeping the parabolic hood positioned so that it catches the sun.
Fabricating Your Own Parabolic Roaster
This type of solar cooker is available for sale, but you can build your own by several methods. One way would be to repurpose an old satellite dish. These dishes already have a bracket holding a device in the focal point of the dish so it is easily converted to hold the food or cooking pot. The inside of the dish can be lined by using reflective material such as foil tape until the entire inner surface of the dish is covered.
Here are two videos showing how to make a parabolic cooker from a satellite dish and showing it in use:
Here is a video showing a store bought parabolic solar cooker in action:
Solar Energy Cooking Device #3: Tube-Style Cooker
There is another style of cooker that utilizes a tube and a reflector. The tube has a handle and a slide out tray that can hold several pounds of meat. You can cook chicken parts easily as well as strips of beef and pork. As long as it fits in the tray you can cook it.
The best feature about this type of cooker is the small area that has to be heated. Rather than a large open area with a cooking pot in it the space in the tube cooker is minimized. This helps the space to become heated faster and hotter.
The manufacturer of the commercial version says in the video shown below that it can cook up to 3 pounds of meat as quickly as 20 minutes and can reach temperatures up to 700 degrees F, now that’s a little beast!
Making Your Own Tube Style Cooker
You could easily make your own version of this with a reflector shield, a tube, and a tray all made from whatever material you have on hand. You can make the reflector from cardboard or wood with reflective foil tape over it or from sheet metal that you could polish to a shine.
The tube could be made from vegetable cans with both ends cut off, cleaned (of course) and attached together by making tabs and slots in opposing cans and “clicking” them together:
Another method would be to roll sheet metal over a mandrel (wooden form) or vegetable cans or a fence post, anything that is round. To close the tube you could use the single hem edge joining method like used in HVAC ductwork to close the tube.
The bonus of making your own is you can adjust the size bigger or smaller. You could even make one small enough to fit in your BOB from a vegetable can that could cook a single serving of meat or whatever you can fit in the can.
Here is a video showing the tube style cooker in action:
After Dinner Cocktails
Okay, so we’re not really having cocktails but we can have drinks. In this case, keeping up with the cooking with the sun theme, I bring you a favorite from the south: Sun Tea.
Sun Tea Recipe
To make authentic Sun Tea you simply take a clear vessel with a lid, put clean water in it, and then put your tea bags in it (or whatever else you want to make a beverage from). I’m sure it will work with coffee or pine needles just the same. Then enjoy!
Remember, necessity is the mother of invention. When a human being sees a problem they use their analytical brain and reason to solve the problem. If you have a problem look around you, the answer is usually there to be seen. You just have to think outside the box sometimes.
Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms.
A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method.
The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.