Which solar ovens are best?
Campfires, charcoal grills, and gas-powered camping stoves can definitely make life easier for hungry campers, but they can’t do everything. Sometimes, the only source of heat for cooking is 93 million miles away. A solar oven is designed to capture the sun’s radiation and convert that heat into a slow-cooking oven or food dehydrator. A well-designed solar oven can reach internal temperatures of 350 to 400ºF, which means it can purify water, roast meats, and even steam vegetables.
Many solar ovens are designed with portability and easy assembly in mind. Some can be a little more complicated, but the end result is the same: a heated cooking space protected from the elements. Food safety is also an issue, which is why a food thermometer is a smart idea. The good news is that almost all solar ovens will accommodate standard-size cookware. While the words “instant gratification” and “solar oven” may not go together, it’s a good alternative for those who are temporarily or permanently off the grid.
If you are interested in adding a solar oven to your list of camping supplies, or you find yourself in need of an emergency cooking method, please read our helpful shopping guide. We have compared dozens of solar ovens on the market today and compiled a shortlist of promising contenders. At the top of our list is the All American Sun Oven Dehydrating and Preparedness Accessory Package, a complete kit with a large-capacity cooking chamber, baking and dehydration rack, basic cookware, and a 600-recipe cookbook.
Considerations when choosing solar ovens
When it comes to solar ovens/cookers, there are essentially three schools of design. One of the most common is a solar panel array. Reflective solar panels direct sunlight toward a sealed tube containing a somewhat limited amount of food. The cooking chamber can reach temperatures of 350ºF or higher, but it does not perform well with liquid-based foods. These solar panel cookers are easy to transport, although the cooking tube can be fragile.
Another type of solar oven creates roughly the same environment as a traditional “hot box” oven at home. The reflective walls of the cooker concentrate solar radiation inside the box, and a clear plastic front allows for observation. These solar box ovens are ideal for applications such as baking and slow roasting, but they are not quite as efficient as solar panel models. One good thing is that many solar box cookers are collapsible, which means they are easy to carry on camping trips.
There is one other type of solar oven to consider. Instead of fixed reflective panels, it uses a parabolic dish to focus solar heat on a central location within the curve. Any cooking vessel placed in that spot will heat up very quickly, which makes it ideal for water sanitation or liquid-based food preparation. Because of the extremely high temperature at the focal point, however, it may not be a safe option if children or small animals are in the area.
Size and weight
Most solar ovens, regardless of style, are designed to be easily portable. The lightest models can weigh as little as two to three pounds and will collapse between uses. Some parabolic cookers, however, can weigh as much as 35 pounds, because the solar-collector dish is large, and a stabilizing stand is often included in the kit.
In terms of capacity, some inexpensive solar ovens have limited cooking space, usually enough to prepare a small portion of meat or a limited number of vegetables. Larger solar ovens may have enough room to accommodate standard-size cookware, and they can cook an entire meal for four or more people.
Ease of use
Solar ovens may have some similarities to slow cookers, but they are rarely in “set it and forget it” mode. Some can generate heat at a steady pace throughout the day, but others need to be repositioned frequently for maximum performance. There are no temperature controls, but a quick-read food thermometer is a good idea. Solar panel ovens often have a lot of parts that require precise assembly before use, while solar cooking boxes are often designed to pop into place on their own.
While entry-level solar ovens may just provide a cooking chamber, higher-end models tend to include a few helpful accessories. Many users prefer to suspend the food on a baking rack during cooking. A dehydration rack holds meats and vegetables in place as the heat slowly removes moisture. While standard cookware should fit inside larger solar ovens, manufacturers may include basic pots, pans and other cooking vessels sized specifically for their models.
Solar oven price
Properly designed solar ovens are not inexpensive. Entry-level models with limited capacity can be found for less than $100. Parabolic and solar box cookers tend to run in the $150-$250 range, although total capacity is still not impressive. Expect to pay at least $250 for large-capacity solar box ovens with a decent set of cooking accessories.
Solar oven FAQ
Q. Can I purify drinking water in a solar oven?
A. Yes, you should be able to heat water to a temperature that renders it safe for drinking, cooking and sanitation. It may take several hours to accomplish this, however. Many experienced campers carry a “water pasteurization indicator” (WAPI) that indicates when the water has reached a safe temperature.
Q. Is a solar oven safe to use around small children?
A. The same precautions used for outdoor grills should be used for solar ovens. Some solar ovens have sharp corners, and others get extremely hot around the edges. Adults should warn young children about the dangers of hot ovens and other outdoor cooking gear.
Solar ovens we recommend
Best of the best
Our take: This comprehensive solar oven set has everything a serious camper or survivalist would look for in a workhorse piece of cooking equipment.
What we like: Includes pots and pans. Capable of reaching 400 degrees. Large capacity, standard bakeware will fit. Includes dehydration and baking racks. Durable construction.
What we dislike: Chemical residue must be removed before first use. Reports of missing or damaged components.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Best bang for your buck
Our take: This collapsible solar oven is perfect for those who seek an eco-friendly option that stores easily between uses.
What we like: Food thermometer, trivet and silicone pot included. Collapses for easy storage. Very lightweight, portable enough for backpacking and emergency use. Sets up quickly, no assembly required.
What we dislike: The temperature range does not exceed 300 degrees. Limited capacity.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
Our take: This self-contained solar oven is designed for “set it and forget it” meal preparation, with minimal monitoring required.
What we like: Reaches temperatures in the 350-degree range. Food steams in its own juices. Kit includes cookbook, carrying case and cleaning tool. Retains heat for hours.
What we dislike: The vacuum cooking chamber is very fragile. Does not handle liquids well.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Michael Pollick writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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