Sunday, October 2, 2011

Solar Cooking Wrap-up

A few months back I announced a solar cooking challenge.  No one actually signed up for the challenge, but I thought I should still keep my promise to fill you in on the results of my own solar cooking experiments.

I did a bit of experimenting with cooking in the solar cooker, and I used a spreadsheet to track each cooking experiment (hey, if you are going to experiment, you may as well keep track of all of your variables).  Each time I used the solar cooker, I recorded the sun conditions, time of day, cooking durations, food cooked, solar cooker configuration (facing different directions, using different cookware, etc), temperature of the food, and results.

Pros and Cons of Solar Cooking
Some great things about solar cooking are:
  • It really works! I was so excited the first time I used the solar cooker and found water condensing on the lid of my crock.  My thermometer verified that the food was heated to over 165 degrees.  
  • Solar power is free to use.
  • Similar to cooking in a slow cooker, there is no need to stir foods cooking in a solar cooker, so you can just put the food in and walk away.
  • It reduces the heat in your house during the hot summer months.
I learned some down-sides to solar cooking:
  • Solar cooking takes quite a bit longer than stovetop cooking, and a little longer than cooking in a slow cooker.
  • The solar cooker will not work well if clouds move in.  You really need some great sunshine to make it work the best.
  • There are peak times to use the cooker, and these may not always correspond to when you'd like to prepare your food.  For instance, when I tried to push dinner back an hour to 7:30PM, the solar cooker lost too much heat and the food started cooling rapidly since the sun was going down. To be fair, though, I've heard that this is less of a problem with other types of solar cookers that insulate better (such as box-style cookers).
  • It was a bit annoying having to make sure my toddler wouldn't be out back whenever the solar cooker was in the back yard (although this wasn't a big problem because no one really wanted to be out there when it was around 100 degrees outside anyway).  This would have been less of a problem if I was willing to move a table out into the middle of the yard to put the cooker on, but I didn't want to have to do that repeatedly.

Solar Cooking is Great for Lunch Time!
The prime time to generate heat with the sun in the summer here is from about 10am to 3pm. The solar cooker works great for quick lunch cooking such as reheating leftovers or cooking hot dogs. Hot dogs were ready in about 30 minutes (yes, that is slow compared to the stovetop, but this is solar cooking after all so the temperatures are lower). Raw sausages take a little longer, needing an hour to be cooked thoroughly.

Solar Cooking is Great for Cooking a Winter Squash
One of my favorite ways to use the solar cooker is for cooking winter squash.  All you have to do is put the squash in whole and let it cook for several hours in the sun.  You can do this the day before you need to use the squash, or even early in the day so it will be ready when you need to use it for dinner. 

Tips for Cooking Dinner in a Solar Cooker
  • Make sure you won't be eating too late.  Solar cookers will start to lose heat as the sun starts heading towards sunset.
  • Check your weather forecast.  During our monsoon season of July and August, heavy clouds come in almost every afternoon.  I got so tired of moving food indoors to cook that I gave up on solar cooking dinners towards the end of July. 
  • Plan ahead to make sure you have enough time to cook in the solar cooker.  The cook times really lengthen as you move out of the peak time (which is around 10am-3pm during the summer in our location).

Now What?
Do I use the solar cooker often? No, I don't use it very often.  Most frequently, I use it for cooking winter squash or heating up lunch.  Beyond that, it would also be great to have around in case of an emergency or disaster.  It was a fun experiment, though.

Have you ever tried solar cooking?

This post is part of Fight Back Friday, Pennywise Platter, Real Food Wednesday with Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Fat Tuesday at Real Food Forager and Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist!

    8 comments:

    Emily @ Recipes to Nourish said...

    That's awesome! I have never used one but I have friends that use Solar Cookers all the time.

    Just wanted to let you know that I am paying it forward by awarding your blog with the Liebster Blog Award and some link-love. Check it out if you'd like :)
    ~ Emily @ Recipes to Nourish

    http://recipestonourish.blogspot.com/2011/10/liebster-blog-award.html

    Taryn Kae Wilson said...

    Hi Sarah!
    I would really love to interview you on my blog about the GAPS diet. Would you be interested? If so, please e-mail me at:
    tarynkae21{at}yahoo{dot}com
    and I'll send you questions.

    Love, Taryn

    sunnsalt said...

    How fun! My son and I made a solar cooker out of a shoebox last summer and had fun experimenting with it.

    Jill said...

    Thanks for linking your great post to FAT TUESDAY. Hope to see you next week! Be sure to visit RealFoodForager.com on Sunday for
    Sunday Snippets – your post from Fat Tuesday may be featured there!

    http://realfoodforager.com/2011/10/fat-tuesday-october-4-2011/

    If you have grain-free recipes please visit Wednesday night for a grain-free linky carnival in support of my 28 day grain-free challenge starting Wednesday!

    Barb @ A Life in Balance said...

    So glad you shared this on Fat Tuesday! Your solar cooking set up looks so doable from the pictures. I have a slightly smaller black crockpot insert that I could use; I don't think my bigger green one would heat up as much.

    Anonymous said...

    One can always just set up the crockpot outside in the summer.

    Jimmy said...

    Woah, not bad. :) If you have the time to wait, of course!

    __
    International calls

    Anonymous said...

    Would be cool to have something like this for "just in case" moments...I have often thought about building one but I am sure the husband would think I had lost my mind. I live in the south so in the summer it can be 100 degrees outside, I bet I could cook in record time! lol