If you've ever made sun tea, you've used the power of the sun to do your "cooking." You can do more than that and it isn't complicated at all.
If you've ever made sun tea, you've used the power of the sun to do your "cooking." You can do more than that and it isn't complicated at all. To capture the heat of the sun in the summer, all you need is a sunny area and a dark colored container. You may not be able to roast a chicken, but you certainly can heat water, make quick cooking vegetables, dehyrdate produce and warm up leftovers.
How to use the sun without a solar oven
Have you ever left a water hose in the sun, then felt the temperature of the water when you turned it on? Hot, isn't it? That's because the sun heated the rubber (or plastic), which in turn, heated the water that was left in the hose.
The same principle works when you change the container and liquid, as long as there is enough surface for the sun to heat in relation to the food or liquid being heated.
You don't need a container with as much surface as a 50 foot water hose, but the more surface that you can point to the sun, the better. For instance, a shallow, wide pan with a lid will heat up faster than a tall, narrow one without a lid. The ideal container would be a light weight black frying pan with a snug lid.
Where you place the pan makes a difference, too. Of course, it has to be in the sun. Keep it away from trees, not only because of shade, but because there is up to 10 degrees cooler temperature around trees and in the surrounding area.
If you're lucky enough to have flat rocks, use those for the simple reason that rocks get hot in the sun. Ditto sidewalks and streets, although you may not want to put your pan in the line of traffic on the blacktop! (If you're where you can, you could put it behind or in front of your vehicle, where it won't be run over.) Don't use rocks that aren't flat because the bottom of the pan needs to be in contact with them for the best results.
Use a minimum of water, if any at all. Most things don't need water added; even vegetables cook without it in the sun. Don't peel potatoes before cooking them because they will turn gray and look unappetizing due to interaction with the air. Fingerling potatoes are the perfect size to cook in the sun.
Choose small vegetables or pieces of vegetables to cook in the sun and arrange them so they don't touch each other in the bottom of the pot. Remember that what takes longer on the stove will also take longer in the sun. Some things, like larger potatoes or whole carrots and onions, are not good candidates for this method.
Take advantage of the heat trapped inside your vehicle. Park in the sun, close the windows and put your food inside the lidded pot on the rear deck or somewhere where the sun can hit it directly. Check it now and then in case you have to move it. If this isn't working well, put your container on the hood or roof of the vehicle to take advantage of that heat.
What not to cook without a solar oven
Don't try to cook meat, oily or greasy dishes or fish this way without a well designed and built solar oven, unless you have a thermometer and can see that the temperature is above 300 degrees. If it's lower than that, by the time meat cooks, harmful bacteria may have grown.
Quick breads like biscuits and cornbread are not good candidates for this method. You'll need a solar oven of some sort for that. Cakes and cookies do not do well without a solar oven. Yeast bread will rise and bake but it will take quite some time.
Why go to the trouble of using solar power?
First, you will save on the gas or electricity it would cost to do these things on your kitchen range or microwave.
Second, you can put things out and go about your business - food won't burn, and if covered properly, it won't dry out. It takes longer to process food in the sun, and it will take longer without a solar oven than with one, but you don't have to stir, test, turn the heat up, turn the heat down, add more water...
Third, you won't heat up your home so your air conditioner won't have to work as hard, or if you don't have an air conditioner, you'll stay cooler.
For a fourth reason, knowing how to cook in an emergency situation is invaluable knowledge. If you find yourself without power or fuel, low tech solar cooking can make all the difference in your comfort and perhaps even your survival.