Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Solar Cooking Basics

For our first attempt at solar cooking, I decided to cook a three pound pork roast. Sounds risky, you say, attempting to cook meat your first time, without the controlled heat of your oven?! Here’s something to put your fears to rest. Many people safely use slow cookers. Crockpots and solar box cookers operate on the same principle: food is cooked at low temperatures for an extended period of time. I know, it’s the low temperatures part that scares you. Crockpots usually have two settings. The low setting heats up to between 180 to 200 degrees (F), and the high setting heats up to about 280 degrees. If you look at my solar cooking charts below, you will see that the solar cooker operates on what would be the low setting of the crockpot. This is the setting that most people use while they are away from their food all day. Okay, I know that phrase “most people” isn’t very helpful when you’re worried about food safety. In How to Make and Use a Solar Box Cooker, the author states that “When the solar box is in the sun, temperatures quickly heat to 120 degrees F, where germs stop growing, and then to 150 degrees F-where PASTEURIZATION kills ALL parasites and disease organisms except heat-resistant spores. Foods cook at 180-200 degrees F-temperatures hotter than pasteurizing, so any food that is fully-cooked is also pasteurized.” If you are still concerned, do some research. This is good stuff to know, even if you’re not using a solar box cooker. Here in the United States, we have a government food safety agency. They have an informative website: I inserted a cooking thermometer into my roast, and it indicated that the internal temperature was pork safe at 175. That is another tool to put your mind to rest.
Time Oven Outside Wind Notes
10:30 a.m. 0 74 0 Put oven in sun
11:00 175 74 0 Clear sky today
11:30 175 77 0
12:00 p.m. 210 79 0
12:30 200 79 1 Smells good!
1:00 185 82 5
1:30 185 83 5
2:00 225 85 6
3:00 185 86 4 Condensation
4:00 225 88 3
5:00 225 88 4Ready to eat!

Solar cooking works by channeling rays of the sun and containing them in an insulated box. If it is windy or cloudy, it affects the efficacy of the solar cooker. It is, however, still possible to cook when it’s windy. It’s even possible to cook when it’s cloudy, as long as the solar cooker is exposed to sun at least thirty minutes out of each hour.

The second time we used the cooker, I decided to make baked potato soup. I used a recipe from a crockpot cookbook, which called for five pounds of potatoes! I’ve had difficulties cooking potatoes in the crockpot before, and even in the oven with a chicken. They are stubborn little tubers! And, stubbornly, I followed the directions and filled my roasting pan with cubed potatoes and some chicken broth. You can see that the temperature hovered around the same neighborhood as when I cooked the pork roast, somewhere between 175 and 200 degrees. But when I checked the potatoes at 4:00, they were still hard. So, I rushed them into a big pot and boiled them aggressively for half an hour. The potato soup was delicious. I’m going to try it again in the solar cooker. I am really intrigued by the solar box cooker and think with some experimenting it can be just as easy to cook with as my modern, resource depleting kitchen appliances. It is empowering.
Time Oven Outside Wind Notes
10:15 a.m. 0 76 4 Partly cloudy
10:45 125 76 4 Partly cloudy
11:00 190 78 4 Partly cloudy
12:00 p.m. 210 84 Calm Partly cloudy
1:00 200 85 4 Partly cloudy
2:00 175 86 6 Very cloudy
3:00 175 88 7 Very cloudy
4:00 175 88 6 Partly cloudy


  1. that's pretty cool. i might have to try this out one day.

  2. You should SO try it! It took some planning and some stick-to-it-ness, but it is worth it. Since I've made it, I've heard stories from adults who made a solar cooker in grade school and used it once. But you can REALLY use it! You can use it whether you're a stay-at-home mom (or dad!) or a careerperson. I can't think of many people who couldn't use a solar box cooker. It's almost just like a crockpot. Let me know how it goes if you make one! It's so exciting....