Cooks don’t use the same sorts of dishes to heat food in a microwave as they do in a toaster oven or conventional oven. They wouldn’t choose identical cookware for a solar oven either. Solar cookware is specifically designed for use in situations where you are harnessing the sun’s power to bake, grill, or cook food.
Harnessing the Sun
There are three types of cookers generally speaking which, when combined, create a fully functional kitchen. The box or oven cooker is like your regular oven; a parabolic cooker directs sunlight onto a cooking pot; and a panel cooker is similar but not as hot, though its panels are adaptable.
These fold in various directions to capture the sun’s rays all day no matter the angle. A parabolic cooker adopts a shape and can be moved as a whole. Ovens are compared to slow cookers because they take a long time to heat up but, once hot, trap heat effectively.
They’re best used for times when you don’t want to supervise cooking. The parabolic cooker acts quickly and requires constant supervision, but doesn’t need a lot of thermal heat; uninterrupted sunlight, however, is imperative.
Heat vs. Light
When it comes to cooking with sunlight, you always have to determine if what you really need is heat or light. Solar power is harnessed in two ways: either the light is being directed onto a surface as with the photovoltaic panels that create electricity, or the sun’s heat is what you are looking for, similar to insulated tubes for heating water.
If you have a lot of time, then lots of heat is easier to ensure, to capture, and to maintain. Sunlight is trickier because you need unimpeded access to the rays themselves, not just an overall sunny day. Even if it’s 85°F outside and a sunny day with full blue skies, unless the sun is bearing down directly on a PV heating source, cooking isn’t going to take place.
Cookware for Solar Applications
Now that you have a sense of what you will be cooking in, it’s important to realize that your cooking vessel plays an important role. Some types of metal and ceramics capture heat well and for a long time; others are highly inefficient. Certain materials will buckle under considerably hot temperatures; others fail to let in enough light.
Select a type of cookware suitable for the food you are cooking and which sort of oven you are using, but almost anything in your current collection will probably be fine. Usually a sort of metal is recommended and some ceramics or pottery could be excellent too.
Cook with Pottery
Is your goal to set food cooking at 9 in the morning and come back at 6 for a meal of beans and rice? You will be using an insulated box oven to capture heat for a long time. Having chosen a place that gets very hot and stays that way, one can easily place a ceramic pot in this spot for many hours.
It’s always best if you can leave it completely so add all the water and seasoning you will need right from the start. Don’t disturb this setup or remove the lid. Bread and other baking also cook beautifully in this kind of oven if you have time to wait for your cake or biscotti.
Cooking with Metal
Aluminum is considered an excellent reflective material for quick heating with direct sunlight as the source of heat. It doesn’t absorb heat as much as allows it through, but aluminum isn’t sturdy like iron or steel.
Iron and steel, like ceramics, will retain heat better and heat slowly compared with aluminum. They aren’t as reflective but you still need to keep an eye on them. In most cases, experts recommend employing dark metals which are not very thick so they let the heat in quickly. You might not have all that much time; not on a day where clouds are variable.
Buying Solar Cookware
Your choices are to either work with what you already have or to buy specially constructed solar cookware from a specialty store. A lot of camp-related gear is already made from thin metal so as to be light and portable, but small dimensions are no good for a stew.
Specially-made solar items are designed very specifically for their purpose so as to endure for years, to resist high temperatures but conduct heat efficiently, and to be food-safe as well. Outdoor adventure stores stock crock pots in several sizes, grill pans, and even baking sheets to supply the needs of the solar gourmet.