If you think there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to preparing family meals outdoors, it may be time to try solar cooking.
Harnessing the sun can take camp cooking to a new level.
The most important ingredient, of course, is the sun.
Solar cooking is not new. Pioneering meteorologist Horace Benedict de Saussure built the first successful solar oven in 1767.
Today, tapping the sun’s rays attracts people drawn to a simple way of cooking that requires no fossil fuels. There are no flames, meaning it is safe for youngsters, with no risk of burning down the forest.
Cooking options for harnessing with the sun come in four forms:
- Panel cookers are simple three-sided boxes surrounded by reflective panels. The sunshine is focused on the cook pan.
- Solar ovens are a fully enclosed black box with a lid and reflective panels. These ovens retain the heat better than the open panel cooker model, making it easier to maintain even cooking temperatures.
- Parabolic cookers look like space-age satellite dishes. They cook hot and fast.
The newest option—evacuated glass tube cookers—are super-efficient and functional under somewhat cloudy skies.
Ready to Give it a Try?
The sun is often most ready to work for you between 10 a.m.
to 2 p.m. You will want two to four hours of sunny skies. A few passing clouds are fine, but you don’t want the temperature inside the oven to drop below 155 F.
Preparing the oven can be as easy as clipping on the reflective panels, positioning it to face the sun, then waiting for it to reach 180 F, the minimum temperature at which most foods will cook effectively.
Anyone comfortable with slow cookers can step into solar oven cooking. It is as easy as putting your meats and vegetables together in a dark, metal pot—graniteware works great—and placing it in the solar oven.
Solar cooking has the advantage of not burning anything, even if you forget. As with using a slow cooker, food comes out tender and the flavors meld together.
Whether chicken, ribs, stews, chilis or lasagna, meals will come out delicious without too much effort from the chef.
One surprising aspect of solar ovens is how well they bake. Cookies can turn out a little crispy if you don’t pay attention, but cakes, fruit crumbles and bread bake well. When baking, the key is to preheat the oven a little hotter than the recipe calls for.
Some oven types cook faster than others. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s recommendation on cooking times.
How Solar Cooking Works
Solar cooking is done by means of the sun’s UV rays. A solar cooker lets the UV light rays in, then converts them to longer infrared light rays that cannot escape. Infrared radiation has the right energy to make the water, fat and protein molecules in food vibrate vigorously and heat up.
For more information, go to science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/solar-cooking1.htm.
Fall-Off-the-Bone Camp Ribs
- 2 slabs of baby back ribs (roughly 6 pounds), cut into 3- to 5-rib sections
- Barbecue sauce
- Dry rub
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
Hawaiian Chicken With Rice
- 1½ to 2 pounds boneless chicken breasts or thighs
- 2 cups sweet peppers,
- finely chopped
- 1/2 medium onion,
- finely chopped
- 1 can pineapple chunks, drained
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 cup rice
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
Camping Carrot Cake
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup applesauce
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 3 cups grated carrots
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch salt