Have you ever cracked an egg on the hood of your car on a hot day? While the result would undoubtedly be a slimy mess, you’ll learn that cooking with solar radiation is possible if you use the proper apparatus for it. Normally, households use an oven or a stove for cooking that runs on gas or electricity. However, solar cooking is rapidly becoming a cost-effective, natural, no-maintenance, and sustainable cooking method, especially due to the rising crisis of conventional fuel and energy resources.
If you’re asking yourself, “What is a solar cooker?”, you’re at the right place. This post features a description of what a solar cooker is, how it works, an overview of the types, and its pros & cons.
What is a Solar Cooker?
For decades, we’ve used solar energy to produce electricity. So it’s only logical that we can use the sun’s abundant energy to cook. A solar cooker is a simple device made of reflective material (mirror or aluminum foil) that harnesses solar radiation, concentrates it, and heats cooking pots. In the past, solar cookers were considered too slow and impractical. However, thanks to technological advancements in materials, you can now cook, bake, and fry things in significantly less time. As a result, they’re becoming serious competitors to conventional stoves and ovens.
How Does a Solar Cooker Work?
Solar cookers have a relatively simple working procedure. Once you familiarize yourself with solar cooking technology, you can even take the DIY route to build your cooker and take advantage of the sun’s free energy. Here’s how it works:
Sunlight isn’t hot by its very nature. It requires radiation and vibrations caused by fluctuating electric and magnetic fields. More importantly, to generate the required cooking temperatures, the first step is to gather and concentrate solar radiation using mirrors or any reflective surface.
2. Light to Heat Energy Conversion
Concentrating solar radiation increases its intensity. The next step is to focus it onto a receiver (cooking chamber) to convert light into heat via conduction. If you’ve ever seen a working solar cooker before, you might have noticed that everything is black, from the cooking pot to the utensils. Well, this is simply because dark colors maximize the conversion and absorption. You can further improve this conversion using cookware made of copper, aluminum, or carbon steel.
Types of Solar Cookers
Solar cookers are ideal for anyone looking to reduce their energy bills and switch to a more eco-friendly alternative. Today, there are several types you can choose from. From an oven that can bake a pie, to a stove that can make great barbeque under the sun, solar cooking technology has evolved considerably. However, before you explore your options, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you have sufficient sunlight where you plan to cook?
- Do you plan to switch to solar cooking completely or only do it occasionally?
- Do you plan to use your solar cooker at home or on an outdoor trip?
- Can you adapt your cooking habits or recipes to this new technology?
Answering these questions will help you pick the right type of solar cooker for your needs, in terms of speed, mobility, versatility, durability, cost, and overall performance. Here are the four options you can choose from:
1. Panel Cookers
A panel cooker is essentially a three-sided box made of shiny reflective material with a cooking chamber in the center. When sunlight hits the shiny panels, the cooker creates a heat trap that increases infrared radiation. This radiation vibrates the food particles and heats them in the vessel. Temperatures easily reach 200° F – 300° F, which is perfect for slow cooking and drying.
2. Box Solar Cookers
This is the most popular option available in the market. It’s quite similar to a panel cooker, except the top is covered with high-quality glass which traps heat and light. The inside of the box is painted black to maximize absorption and heat retention. Many modern designs also feature shiny panels on the top or side to redirect more UV rays into the box. And since these cookers have a large center cavity, they can trap heat faster than panel cookers. As a result, they reach higher temperatures, usually between 200° F – 400° F.
3. Parabolic Cookers
Parabolic solar cookers look like satellite dishes. It is made of shiny material that makes the entire cooking surface reflective. When UV rays hit the surface, they’re reflected and directed to the center at high intensity. As a result, parabolic cookers reflect extremely concentrated UV rays that can reach temperatures between 500° F – 700° F, which makes them perfect for grilling and frying.
4. Evacuated Tube Cookers
Evacuated tube cookers are the latest addition to the market. They’re smaller in scale compared to other cooker types, and can easily reach high temperatures – up to 550° F. Their innovative design features a large evacuated glass tube that is surrounded by high-quality reflective material, using which you can cook and bake foods that demand high temperatures, such as meat and bread. However, the most outstanding feature of evacuated tube cookers is that they perform efficiently under cloudy skies and cold weather as well.
Pros and Cons of Solar Cookers
- Solar cookers don’t require any fuel which can help you cut gas or electricity bills.
- Solar energy is a sustainable energy resource
- Reduced carbon footprint
- Solar cooking is safer than using a stove or oven
- Most solar cookers are portable
- You can cook anything in them (depending on the type)
- Solar cookers are generally less useful in cloudy or wet weather
- Takes much longer to cook a meal than using a conventional stove or oven
- It’s difficult to cook extremely heat-demanding foods, such as large roasts and desserts
Our Final Thoughts
Now that you understand “what is a solar cooker,” its working principle and benefits, you can assess your needs and choose the type that suits you best.
Even though solar cookers come in different shapes and sizes, price tags, and build materials, they all serve the same basic function- trap enough heat to cook food. So, whether you’re planning a long camping trip or a simple backyard lunch, solar cooking is a smart alternative to conventional cooking methods.