Announcing Our New Solar Cooking Initiative


Last December, when the summer heat finally subsided, I decided that since Los Angeles has become the capital of the planet Arrakis, we may as well as make hay with the sunshine. I decided to learn how to cook in a solar oven, and more than that, I wanted to learn how to do it really well.

We have made and used and written about solar cookers here,  and here, which are reflective surrounds for a cooking pots, and which can be quite effective under the right circumstances, but we’d never played with a solar oven, which is, in its basic form, an insulated box with a clear lid. Solar ovens reach higher temperatures than cookers, and can be used in less ideal conditions. But we’d never invested in a solar oven because they are rather pricey, especially for an unknown quantity. Would they really work? Could we make good food in one? I certainly didn’t want to spend a couple of hundred bucks on an oversized rice cooker.

Wait! I almost forgot. We do have a solar oven in our garage! And if I don’t mention it, the Internet will make me a liar. Erik posted on it back in 2013. He was gifted a Sundiner, which is a 60’s era solar oven. We never use it because, being a product of the 60’s, it has a very small, shallow cooking box, suited only for cooking hot dogs and frozen dinners.

So, anyway, being cheap and not fond of TV dinners, I decided to make a proper, box-style solar oven (there are a lot of DIY plans out there) and test it out come the equinox, when the days are longer and the sun a little higher. Then, just as I was about to start construction, the good folks at a sun oven company called Solavore contacted us and offered to loan us their oven, the Solavore Sport, for an extended trial period. It was one of those moments where the universe seemed to be conspiring to help us along, so I answered, “Funny you should offer…”

A few happy emails later, and now we have a shiny new Solavore Sport to explore. In the spirit of DIY, I will still make an oven later this summer and report back on that process, and I will also run a comparison between the commercial oven and the homemade oven and see how they stack up.

But my primary goal in this season of solar cooking is to figure out whether, if properly used, a solar cooker can create meals of the same quality as those I turn out with my kitchen stove. Not “It’s not bad for solar” but “Hey….this is scrumptious!” More than that, I want to figure out what solar ovens do better than real ovens. I want to master the vocabulary of solar cooking.

I figure the learning curve is going to be high–it’s like having to learn how to cook all over again–but I’m excited to have the Solavore Sport on hand for these experiments, because I can focus on the cooking itself instead troubleshooting my construction techniques.

Throughout this short winter I’ve been looking at fusty old solar cookbooks from the library and poking about on the Internet for inspiration, and frankly, most of what I found has been pretty bleak. A lot of the recipes seem outdated or just out of step with what Erik and I like to cook and eat. But, in all my looking somehow I never stumbled on the Solavore website. It turns out they have an attractivecollection of solar recipes, so that is where we will be starting out.

I’m calling this series Solar Oven Summer, and no, I do not find the acronym S.O.S. pessimistic. And yes, it is summer here now, as far as I’m concerned. We’ll tag all these posts so you can find them all at once. In our next post we’ll take a close look at the Solavore Sport, and then we’ll begin learning how to use it, one recipe at a time.

Are any of you solar chefs? Any advice? Horror stories? Favorite resources?

Leave a comment


  1. I have a solar oven that I used to use quite often. Then we moved to a new house with an abundance of shade trees, and finding enough sun is problematic. In answer to your questions — I found that foods cooked in the solar oven were generally much better than foods cooked in more traditional ways. The temperature inside the oven is consistent throughout, which makes for very even cooking. I will say that I had a hard time finding good recipes (as you mentioned) and I did run across one problem related to cooking technique — on occasion, I would put food in the oven on a sunny day and then the clouds would roll in. I found that food that got only half-cooked in the solar oven was strangely resistant to being finished off on a stove top or in the oven. I never did understand why and I never came up with a solution.

  2. I’ve been curious about solar cooking but never have attempted it. We have about 9 months of summer weather here in South Mississippi but our humidity is very high (generally above 70%) and we have rain most afternoons during high summer. The humidity, rain, and clouds seem like discouraging factors. Does solar cooking work more efficiently in sunny arid places? I’ve always thought that it must.

    • Zydny, I was living on the Gulf coast in Florida when I was using my solar oven. It did just fine with the humidity, but clouds and rain are definitely problematic.

    • Yes, agreed– I’m no expert yet, but I think what matters is how many hours of good sun you get, not the humidity.

  3. Ooh, I can’t wait for this series. I bought a sun oven last year but have yet to use it. I need some inspiration.

  4. I borrowed a solar stove for a trip to the 4 Corners area several years ago. It was more of an open design with adjustable mirrors and a wire frame to hold a cook pot, but without an incorporated baking box. I was informed that it worked but took while, so I mixed up a quick-cooking rice dish and left for a hike. I returned later than I had planned and found my rice cooked to a paste with a golf ball sized lump approaching the texture and color of charcoal right in the middle. So yes, they do get hot and maybe merit a quick stir or extra bit of water from time to time!

    • Yes indeed…we’re working that out, too! You can burn stuff, it turns out…that is, when you’re not undercooking stuff. Oh, the learning curve!

  5. Pingback: Meet the Solavore Sport Solar Oven | Root Simple

Comments are closed.