We admit it. When we saw people cooking with solar at the AltBuild Show, we felt it was a bit extreme. We were wrong.
While it may not be the choice for daily cooking by most Americans, the Sport solar oven does seem to be a viable alternative to gas, electric or wood in certain applications.
The product was designed by solar engineers for use in areas of world such as Kenya, Nicaragua and Afghanistan, where fuel is scarce but sunlight is not. According to the Solar Oven Society (who knew?), solar cooking is also rapidly gaining popularity in America as well.
Several magazines wrote positive reviews of the product after testing. Among them: New York Times Magazine, Gourmet, Boating World, and Cooking Light. Cook’s Illustrated felt their results “still beg the question: Are solar cookers more than just a toy for a food hobbyist?”
The answer to that query will likely depend most directly upon your geographical location, patience and time limitations. Solar ovens capture and convert shorter UV rays to longer infrared light rays that can’t escape the container; thereby creating infrared radiation that makes food molecules, especially the water, fat and protein in meat, vibrate rapidly and heat to a temperature suitable for cooking. So, the short story is that you need a clear sunny day to cook outdoors. Think of it as an outdoor crock pot - not the fastest method of cooking, but one with some savory benefits.
All the reviews felt that the food that was successfully prepared was quite tasty. “Tender, juicy and melts in your mouth” were compliments commonly attributed to the slow cooked meats. Some had problems with time sensitive items such as cookies. Caveat: if conditions are not optimum, care should be taken with meats to avoid contamination issues.
In summary, the most practical applications within the U.S are: camping, boating and leisurely summer cookouts. As a person who loves to cook but would prefer being outdoors rather than in, this is a great option for the weekends. Sure beats sweltering in a hot kitchen! Environmentally conscious culinarians will appreciate preparing a delicious meal without using fuel and omitting smoke.
Features such as lightweight portability, low monitoring requirements and the ability to pasteurize drinking water are attractive to campers and boaters, and would also be useful in a disaster preparedness application.
Overall, the Sport received the best reviews. You can learn more about the Sport at solarovens.org.
Filed under: alternative energy on June 22nd, 2008