Sun Ovens International around a month ago. A solar oven utilizes reflective panels to direct sunlight to an enclosed "oven" with a glass door, as a means to cook food without electricity. "Sun oven" may actually be a better name than "solar oven," which could mislead people into thinking solar cells are involved.
We were eager to try out the sun oven as soon as it arrived. We didn't have any pans suitable for use in the oven, so the first thing we made was baked potatoes. We wrapped them in cling wrap and placed them on the cooking shelf inside the oven, and in a little over an hour, we were ready to eat. The potatoes turned out really well; they were soft all the way through. However, in the process of cooking, we noticed that the glass door on the oven was not getting a good seal all the way around. The hubster called the next day, and we were able to send back the oven (we kept the reflective panels). They sent a new one without delay.
The new oven seals better than the first one, but still does not achieve a solid seal all the way around the glass door. We decided not to try to return it again, as a third unit would probably not be much better.
Next, we ordered some pans from Cantinawest. This website specializes in pans for solar cooking, and will tell you what pans fit in each type of solar oven. We ordered four pans: a 5-quart casserole pan, a 4-quart bean pot, a bread pan and a larger baking pan.
Pans used in a solar oven should be black (or possibly dark blue or brown) in order to "soak up" as much sunlight (and heat) as possible. Using reflective pans or aluminum foil will slow down your cooking time.
Now it was time to try out the solar oven in earnest. I decided to make a roast with carrots, potatoes, turnips and onions. The Global Sun Oven comes with a cookbook on CD and I found a recipe for pot roast, which I modified to my liking.
First, I set up the oven outside, to begin preheating. Right away, however, it became obvious that I would be fighting the wind to keep the unit upright. The hubster rigged a system that involved two pieces of firewood, a patio chair, some bungie cords and some binder clips--all without blocking any sunlight--and the wind could no longer overturn the oven.
I prepared the roast and veggies, put them in the casserole pan, placed the lid on the pan and placed the pan on the shelf inside the oven. The first thing I noticed is that, while the pan did fit inside the oven, it was larger than the shelf.
I should explain about the shelf. It is held inside the oven by two screws, in such a way that it can pivot with repositioning of the oven. The oven itself can be modified vertically with the use of a built-in adjustable stand located at the back and center of the unit. The oven can be tilted forward in order to more effectively capture the sunlight and afford quicker cooking. Thus, the shelf is made to "swing" with repositioning of the oven, in order to keep the food level at all times.
The casserole pan filled the available space inside the oven, which in turn kept the shelf from being able to operate properly. This caused spillage of the food inside the oven when we raised the oven on its stand.
The second thing we noticed was that no condensation built up inside the oven. Apparently, the lidded casserole pan did a good job of keeping the moisture in, which is important, because condensation on the glass door would reduce efficiency.
We let the roast cook for about four hours, adjusting the oven about once every half hour or so to keep in line with the sun. As the sun waned, we had to tilt the oven forward on its stand. I think the spillage I mentioned previously happened when we had the oven tilted forward almost as far as it could go. I say this because that is when we first observed condensation on the inside of the glass door.
If you don't want to adjust the oven to follow the sun, you don't have to. It will just take longer for your food to cook, sort of like a crock pot. This is handy if you're busy with chores and such, and don't have time to check on the solar oven every 30 minutes.
During the last hour or so of cooking, we began to be able to smell the roast. :) The good thing about solar ovens is that it is virtually impossible to burn your food. The roast may have been cooked in less than four hours. We decided to give it that long, just in case it wasn't done. We didn't want to open the sun oven too soon, because we'd lose all the heat that had built up inside.
The roast was wonderful! The veggies were all tender. I didn't get a good picture of the roast right after cooking, but here's a photo of the leftovers I took for lunch today.
I'm excited to keep using the Global Sun Oven. There's not much you can't make with it. Plus, it saves electricity and offers an alternative to heating up the house with an indoor oven.
It's not a perfect system. The wind here will always be a factor. I don't feel safe in leaving the oven unattended, mostly for that reason. But I'm still glad we purchased one.