How slow cooking with a DIY solar cooker brought my mind back to my childhood? I have no idea.
But did you also have such fun as a child with a shoelace and a magnifying glass? It was fantastic to try to light the fire by burning the lace with the sun shining through the magnifying glass.
I never thought about that fun again until I started researching solar cookers. Not that we need a magnifying glass for a solar cooker, but the sun is definitely needed.
It’s not that hard to make your own solar cooker. You can also do that with your kids or grandkids, which will be double fun. First the making and then the cooking. Maybe they will even eat those dreaded vegetables if they have had a lot of fun before the meal is ready. 😉
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Table of contents
Tom wrote an article the other day about alternative energy – What is Sustainable Energy and Why Must We all Convert to it – in which he talks about solar panels. Yet, the sun can be put to use in other ways as well.
Solar panels convert the sun’s heat into energy that can charge a battery or directly into electricity to run your household appliances. Solar cookers use the principle of concentrating the sun’s heat (parabolic type) or of a heat trap (box type).
There are various models that you can make, of which I describe the simplest here. Assuming we’re not all one of those top-notch handy humans with a shed full of tools.
Slow cooking, the hipster word for low-temperature cooking, became a hype in the past years. Slow cookers also go under the name of crockpots. The cooking technique uses relatively low temperatures – between 45 and 82 degrees C or 113 to 180 degrees F – and a lot of time and is mainly used for meat.
It’s the opposite of the cooking method Tom and I used when we were just married: pressure-cooking. As a working couple, we didn’t have a lot of time, yet we ate time-consuming food like legumes and brown rice as vegetarians. A pressure cooker significantly reduced the cooking time.
Brown rice takes longer to cook than white, refined rice. If we had studied sustainable cooking at the time, we might have encountered a ‘slow-bag’ sooner. A friend of ours made several that work just fine. They look like an old-fashioned tea cozy, but with a bottom and a zipper. Precook the rice and then put it in the bag for some time.
Slow cooking with a DIY solar cooker
“Phew, it’s so hot outside you could cook an egg on the pavement!” You will surely have heard this phrase or a similar one. Well, why cook on the road when you can use the sun’s power and cook in a clean and safe environment using a solar cooker.
A parabolic type
- An aluminum car sunshade;
- Duct tape or Velcro.
- Cut the sunshade in 2 even halves;
- Place one half on the ground as the bottom and put a pan on it;
- Put the other half upright and fold the bottom around it;
- Stick the 2 halves together at the back with duct tape;
- Try out the solar cooker.
If you have found the ideal curves of the 2 halves, it’s best to replace the duct tape with Velcro. Duct tape will eventually come off due to the heat. Another advantage of Velcro is that you can take the solar cooker apart after use and store it flat.
A box type solar cooker
- A cardboard box. A cube-shaped is the easiest to work with;
- Duct tape;
- Styrofoam, or an organic alternative such as Bio-Foam;
- Aluminum foil;
- A glass plate the size of the top of the box;
- 2 metal rods
- Non-toxic glue.
- Cut 3 flaps from the box;
- Cut 5 Styrofoam plates that will fit into the box as isolation;
- Glue aluminum foil on one side of the Styrofoam plates;
- Line the inside of the box with the Styrofoam plates with the foil turned inwards;
- Tape the glass plate to the side where the flap is still on. It might be best to tape the side of the glass so you can’t cut yourself and to make a handle to avoid burning yourself when you open the plate after cooking;
- Tape 2 cut-off flaps to the existing flap and line the insides with aluminum foil. Depending on the kind of box you have, you might need extra cardboard to extend the existing flap to the right size;
- Glue the rods to the sides of the box so the flap stays at an angle. What that angle is, depends on the position of the sun.
Cooking with your solar cooker
You can use either a small pot or a cooking bag to cook using your solar cooker. Keep an eye on your food because, during particularly hot days at the right angle, it can be ready quite quickly.
The temperatures can differ quite a lot. So if you are making something specific, place a thermometer inside. In any case, make sure the cooking temperature is above 68° C or 155° F to kill harmful bacteria.
You can cook just about anything in a solar cooker. For example, you can cook rice and beans together with some vegetables. Or if you want to slow cook chicken, have a look at Tom’s delicious recipe of chicken with mango and adjust the time accordingly.
Slow cooking with friends
Instead of a barbecue, you can use 1 or 2 solar cookers to party with your friends. The same items you would put on the barbecue can be put inside the solar cooker.
You’ll need the same precautions, such as a wire rack, oven gloves, and a kitchen apron. But you won’t need smelly firelighters and air-polluting wood.
Solar cookers are a great way to save energy, to have a little fun cooking outside, and to teach children that there’s more than one way to cook.
By the way, have a look at this WikiHow for more information and an explanation of a top-notch solar cooker.
Have you cooked in a solar cooker? How was it and what did you make?