June 9, 2014

Crossed Off My Wish List - A Solar Oven!

Something I've had on my wish list for awhile is a solar oven. Last summer I planned to make my own windshield shade solar cooker, with directions found at the Solar Cookers World Network, but we had such a cloudy, overcast, rainy summer that I didn't bother. I hadn't given it a thought so far this year until a couple weeks ago, as I was waiting for my interview on the Homestead Honey Hour. I was listening to the adverts and one was from Sun Oven. They were offering a discount for Prepper Broadcasting Network listeners. Never one to pass up a bargain, I decided to look into it.

I read through their website carefully and then did a little more research. The most helpful information came from a solar oven comparison page, where even the cons for the Sun Oven weren't so bad. The other oven I considered was a SunCook, which Dani at Eco Footprint ~ South Africa has. I've read her blog for a long time and so trusted her recommendation. The price was considerably higher, however, probably due to shipping because they are manufactured overseas. In the end, I used the discount code from the radio show and got $80 off the All American Sun Oven with dehydrating and preparedness accessories, plus free shipping!
Quick update: I've been authorized by Sun Oven to offer my blog readers an $80 discount like the one I used. Go to this page, and enter the discount code "FiveAcres" at check-out. Offer expires June 30.

In my excitement I don't want to sound like a commercial, so I'll let you read the convincing sales pitch for yourselves here and here.  I will show you some basic features.

The oven can be used for either hot or slow cooking. For maximum oven temperatures, it must be kept aligned with the sun, of course, which requires adjusting its position every half hour of so. In some ways, this is no different than cooking on a wood cookstove, which also requires constant attendance to keep a steady heat. It's easy though, align by standing behind the oven, turning until the shadows are equal. In addition, the oven can be raised or lowered to maintain alignment with the sun.

Back view with adjustable alignment leg.

This is done with the adjustable leg in the back of the oven. The Sun-track indicators on the bottom corners of the oven door (shown below) help adjust to the optimum position. When the dot of light is over the hole, the oven is aligned with the sun for the hottest cooking temperatures.

To maintain a level cooking surface, the oven comes with a leveling rack. It hangs from threaded rods on the inside of the oven and remains level no matter the angle of the oven.

The advertising said the oven maintains an even heat throughout.
I checked this out for myself with a second oven thermometer. Even
heat means there are no hot spots which means no burning of foods.

Mine came with two bread pans and two enamel cooking pots in addition to the dehydrating racks. Dark pots and pans are recommended, such as cast iron, with lightweight pots heating up faster.

The oven is portable, folding up with a handy carrying handle. It weighs 21 pounds, which isn't featherweight, but neither is it too heavy to transport easily.

One other point made about this oven is that even though the surface temperatures get hot to the touch, they aren't hot enough to burn the cook, or curious kids, or curious cats ...

Curious Katy sneaking a peek.

I have found this to be true as well, but I do need hot pads to handle anything inside the oven.

My first project was a loaf of solar bread!

My first loaf of solar bread.

It baked perfectly in exactly the same time it takes in a conventional oven. The next day I baked brown rice and frozen (cooked) meatballs. The sun was intermittent, so I had to finish it up on the stove, but I'm learning. According to the advertising blurbs, I could have started my rice much earlier with out worry of burning because of the moist, even cooking heat.

Even though I got the dehydrating kit, I'm a little dubious about that because we can have some terrible summer humidity here. With blueberry season starting soon, I'll be able to put my oven to the test as a solar dehydrator.

The oven came with a CD containing the same videos as the website and also a cookbook. It's actually cooking software, but for Windows or Mac. Since I'm a Linux gal (see Frugal Computing), it isn't much use to me. We took a look at it on my daughter's computer, but in the end I bought Dani's solar cooking and recipe collection, Free From The Sun. Besides her very inviting recipes, it contains good basic solar cooking information plus lots of tips. I'd also recommend checking out all her solar cooking blog posts.

Lastly, a few more links (1st two from the Sun Oven website):
Besides cooking for free (Happy Feet Penguin ), the best part was not heating up the house, or in my case the back porch summer kitchen. That means a double savings of energy because it means not having to re-cool the house!

We figured out awhile back that going completely solar is highly unlikely for us. But that doesn't mean we can't utilize solar wherever we're able! And, like our walk-behind tractor, my solar oven was purchased with royalties from my book. I could insert another Happy Dance Penguin for that, but instead, I'll just say thank you to everyone who purchased a copy!


Frank and Fern said...

Leigh, we bought a Sun Oven a while back but have yet to try it out. You may have just given me the motivation I need to get it out. Your bread looks great! I was wondering how bread would do in one of these, and now I know. Thanks!


Sandra said...

I have been reading about solar ovens. It is something I am interested in. Thanks for the post sharing your experience.

Mama Pea said...

VERY impressive loaf of bread! As usual, we all benefit from the your fine research put into actual practice. I'll be interested in future posts as you find time to "play" with your solar oven.

Mom at home said...

Last summer you could have baked bread every day here in MO. This summer has started off a lot different with 70's the last few weeks. I'm not complaining because I can't stand the 100's and I'm able to work in the garden. I love the solar oven. I have asked my husband about panels on our home and he said it was too expensive. Sure enough, a man was in our local paper that just purchased enough panels to cover his electric needs and it was $44,000. 30% discount from the government still doesn't make me run out and get them even if I really, really want them:)

Nina said...

I've never really had the urge to try solar cooking in any real sense. I guess with our low light winters, having such a limited useful time worries me that I'd have just one more piece of equipment to store. It's a cool idea though. I'm all for more ways to bake.

Leigh said...

Fern, you will love it! I figure the best way to learn is by doing, so I'm just experimenting and happily enjoying the results. :)

Sandra, you're welcome. Do check out the comparison site. It links to other brands and models, so it should help you figure out what will work best for you.

Mama Pea, isn't it though! I was disappointed that I bumped the pan as I put it in so that the dough fell somewhat. Later, I looked at the solar bread baking video at Sun Ovens and learned that bread does best if it's under-risen. IOW, put it in the oven before it's risen fully. The dip in heat from opening the oven door gives just enough time for the loaf to finish rising and then bake. Can't wait to try my next loaf.

Mom at home, that's the deterrent for us as well, cost. I figured out that it would take 42 years for a solar system to pay for itself! And unless they've changed the rules, the discount from the government is actually a tax rebate, which means the buyer has to pay full cost upfront and then is reimbursed that 30% at tax refund time. Also, the rebates are for grid-tied systems only. For those looking to go off-grid, the rebates don't apply.

Nina, on the other hand I've been inspired and impressed with your medieval oven baking! I can't say this from experience, but the Sun Oven has been reported to have been used by climbing expeditions on Mt. Everest. The sales pitch says a low humidity sunny day with low air temperatures will cook and bake better than high humidity and high air temperatures. I'll have to let you know about that one, cuz it's only what I read.

Renee Nefe said...

How cool (literally if referring to your kitchen ;) )
They have those meat thermometers with a remote you can get...so you could be working somewhere else around the homestead and the remote could let you know when to go check on your dinner.
Glad to hear you're nice and sunny, bet your garden loves it.

Anonymous said...

Oh that looks fabulous! Congrats, and thanks for the link to the "diy" one. Just might have to give that a try :)


Harry Flashman said...

Many people are going this route. I recently watched a show on the Science Channel. An individual lived in the desert, had a home made solar oven. He cooked up impressive dishes, from bread to chicken. No use of electricity, no propane. If your location lends itself to a solar oven then that's an excellent addition to your set up. Alas for me, I live in a dense forest with a heavy canopy. Solar won't work to well here, as I learned to my cost in 1999 when I tried to go off grid.

Dani said...

I'm so happy for you, Leigh. Congrats!! :)

Even though I don't know, nor have experience with a Sun Oven, and how it performs compared to a SunCook you won't regret buying a solar oven.

I have only ever "blackened" tomatoes I was sun drying - everything else just cooks tenderer and tenderer LOL

Thanks for giving the links to my blog :)

Enjoy your new solar cooking journey of discovery :)

Michelle said...

I can't say I've ever given a solar oven a serious thought, but as usual, your research and experience bump it up to "possible." We often have the low humidity/low air temperature you referred to, so that is a plus.

Crustyrusty said...

OT, I know, but I missed the Frugal Computing post... glad to see you've embraced Linux :-) I'm torn between PCLinuxOS and Mint myself, leaning toward Mint Debian edition. I've been off Windows for about 10 years now, only using it for Hauptwerk.

Leigh said...

Renee, I didn't know about the remote thermometers, thanks for that!

Stephanie, do blog about it if you do!

Harry, that's a good point. In fact, if it wasn't for the mostly dead oak we had to cut down last year, I'd only have the front yard for my solar cooker. I wouldn't be too keen about cooking out there, LOL

Dani, thanks! I'm looking forward to learning and experimenting. :)

Michelle, the preparedness reasons are excellent just to have one on hand. It's not only being able to cook without electricity, it's being able to conserve fuel in emergency situations. It can also be used to heat water!

Rusty, I've been a tried and true Windows hater for a long time now. I started with Ubuntu but switched to Xubuntu when they came out with Unity. Other than that, Mint Debian would be a strong contender for me as well.

Woolly Bits said...

hm, I find the idea very interesting, but in our irish climate - we'd go hungry a lot of the time:) we are lucky though - we need the inside oven for hot water and warmth most of the time, so I can cook on that without using extra energy... have fun with trying your new tool - I am sure you'll get all the tricks in no time!

Chris said...

Thanks for the review. I often give these things a thought or two, but don't always follow up with research. I didn't know you had to move it regularly to shift with the sun, but given most dishes won't cook for over an hour, it's not that difficult.

Bill said...

The bread looks delicious! We don't have one of these yet but you make a great case for it. Glad you're enjoying yours. I've shared this with our local homesteading group.

~Bettie said...

That's really awesome! I've thought about getting a solar oven. We have really strong, full sun on our deck from late morning until the sun sets. It would be the perfect place to set an oven on sunny days.

The Cranky said...

We've been considering a solar oven as well so I was very glad to read this; your information is always spot-on and very practical.

Thank you for your kind words btw. =)

Kev Alviti said...

Interesting stuff. We'd never have wnough sun to make it viable here but if we did I'm sure I'd get one. Good luck with it. The bread looks good!

Leigh said...

Bettina, yes, without sun it's worthless! Is your stove by chance an Aga?

Chris, I confess it was the discount that motivated me. And as for having to adjust oven position, I don't know if other brands do that or not. I'm learning that it does help keep oven temp up. We've had a lot of partly cloudy days, however, so I'm still learning the nuances of using it. Lovely to just cook from solar power.

Bill, it's great not heating the house up from cooking! Canning will be a different matter, but every little bit helps. :)

Bettie, sounds like you've got a perfect setup! Convenient too.

Jacqueline, it's a bit of an investment, but I'm so glad I did it. So far I've used it every day unless it's raining or threatening to. Makes the entire back yard smell like baking bread or whatever!

Kev, the bread is great! But yes, having enough sun is key. And that's the reason we'll never consider switching to off-grid solar; we simply have too many sunless days over the course of the year. The oven is a smaller investment and does help, so I'm happy with that.

Kari said...

You've inspired me to get my Sun Oven out and start cooking with it again. Since we don't run the heat during the winter, I actually like the heat the stove puts off. But now that we're running the a/c, I need to switch back into "summer cooking" mode.

I think I'll try baking my sourdough in it this week, to kick things off.

Michelle said...

Congratulations! I've always considered solar ovens to be a novelty, but you might just convince me that they are a viable alternative cooking method.. I look forward to hearing how it works out long term. :-)