( it's been awhile since we had a guest article-thanks, minion dude! )
I'm not an expert on solar ovens and cooking but here is my experience.
As far as home built, I helped my twin make a parabolic cooker in cub scouts in the 1970s. It was a half cylinder of aluminum flashing that focused sunlight on a coathanger wire spit. Pretty much a hot dog cooker, or more accurately hot dog warmer.
I have handled many cardboard box/foil/black paint projects. Not knocking homemade innovation, but they weren't anything that was going to last and performance was lacking.
I'm pretty capable building and fixing things and have many tools, but chose to buy the ready made ovens. They are a tool that add redundancy to ways I can cook. In current times, they get used about once every 2 weeks unless I read about a sun oven recipe or get on a Gaia kick. Then I'll use them more often.
We don't have an electric clothes dryer and line dry everything. I should plan meals better and use the solar oven as much as the clothesline gets used. Solar cooking mainly happens on Sundays when I'm not working.
For about the last 15 years or so I have owned the All American Solar Oven. I picked up another one on sale a few years back. It is handy to have two ovens going for multiple dishes.
- Preheat the oven whenever you can. As soon as I get the idea to make something to cook in the solar oven, I set it up outside to start heating. Then I do my food prep.
- Solar ovens can double as a hay box.
You begin cooking a meal on the stove, turn off the stove and put the hot meal into the insulated solar oven where it continues to slow cook with no additional energy input
- Besides food, I have used the solar oven to bake moisture out of silica gel canisters.
Also, one oven came with a water pasteurization indicater (WAPI). It's a transparent tube containing wax that melts and drops to the bottom of the tube when 150 degrees F is reached for 6 minutes.
- On the All American oven, the reflector panels fold flat and the whole unit stores easily like a small suitcase and has a carry handle. I store my black enamel-ware cooking pots and baking racks inside. The oven is light enough that you dont dread getting it out to use.
- The newer of the two All American ovens is slightly bigger inside and has a little shadow gauge for precise aiming for max sunlight input. The older version (and any insulated box type sun oven ) is aimed by adjusting the oven's position so its shadow is even on all sides. The oven's tilt foward and back is adjusted with an integral aluminum pole with a detent button. A pivoting cooking platform inside keeps the cooking vessel level.
In summer with the sun generally overhead- not much tilt. In winter with the sun lower to the south- more tilt.
As we revolve and the oven moves out of its initial perfect alignment with the sun, readjusting periodically maximizes temperature. For instance, if cooking a lentil dish and I get it outside by 8am, I might readjust the oven 3 or 4 times if I'm doing things around the house. But if I am not going to be able to readjust the oven a few times, I will aim it roughly for the peak sunlight position of say 11am to 1pm.
- Foods I've cooked and baked in the oven include acorn and butternut squash, sweet and regular potatoes, pumpkin bread, whole wheat bread using fresh ground flour, lentil and bean dishes, cabbage/potato/turkey stew, boiled eggs (no water used, "boiled" sitting in a cardboard egg carton), and other dishes.
- I'm in subtropical SW Florida near the Gulf of Mexico (the growing zone is 11). The sun is brutal and it is very hot and humid for much of the year. Summer is the rainy season, winter the dry.
Sun Oven temps are dependent on unfettered, brilliant sunlight. Air temperature has little to do with it. Our cool winters with generally clear, less hazy skies make it easier to obtain consistent high oven temps.
My average range of oven temps here is probably 250-325, a bit higher in the clearer months of winter. The oven has a thermometer inside that can be read through the glass lid.
For the All American Sun Oven cost, I saw $249 plus $20 Fed Ex to the lower 48 on
one site. Amazon has many offers. One is $275 with free shipping for just the oven. Many offers are for the oven plus accessory pack: enamel ware, baking racks, etc. Look around, study the pictures.
Is this oven worth it? It depends on your situation as far as finances, the number of people you're responsible for, expected time left to get use from it (dollars per year of use). Will this tool get passed to your kids or tribe? Will this tool's value and importance increase after the collapse?
For me the oven has been worth the purchase price. I've cooked quite a few meals, saved some energy, taught the kids another way of cooking, and the ovens continue to work great after many years.
Thanks for reading.