Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sun Oven, Part III: Using the Sun as a Crock Pot

This is the third part of my Sun Oven series. Part One is here and Part Two is there. I wasn't quite ready to post about my attempt at cooking soup in the Sun Oven. As you'll read, I had some more issues to work out and I wanted to play around with it a bit more. The problem is that the weather hasn't been very cooperative.

Great weather for watching football on the TV, not
so great for using a Sun Oven! 

The test of whether there is enough sunlight to cook in the Sun Oven is if it casts a shadow. That's not going to happen when the weather has been like this for a week. I'm going to post my initial experience today and revisit the topic soon.

After the chocolate chip cookie debacle, I'll admit that I was feeling pretty deflated. What's the good of cooking with the sun if the end product tastes like the tire off an SUV? Nevertheless, I pressed on. I announced to the family at breakfast the next day that I would be making dinner in the Sun Oven. Hubby Dear shot me a skeptical look and mumbled under his breath, "I guess I'll be picking up dinner tonight."

The recipe I selected is a simple potato soup recipe that I have been making in the Crock Pot for years. It only takes about 3-1/2 hours to cook in the Crock Pot, so I felt sure that if I started it around noon in the Sun Oven, it would surely be ready by dinner time.

First, the setup:

Cooling rack in place in the bottom of the chamber

Any pot big enough to hold a batch of soup for my family will not fit on the leveling shelf.  I removed the shelf and placed a small cooling rack in the bottom of the Sun Oven. It is imperative that there is air circulation all around the pot so that it cooks evenly, hence the cooling rack.

Pot covered with a dish towel

I chopped the vegetables and assembled all the ingredients for the soup and placed them in a stainless steel pot and covered it with the lid. Since stainless steel is reflective, I covered the whole ensemble with the darkest dish towel I could find and took it outdoors.

It didn't take long for me to notice a problem.

The wind pummeled the reflectors

See the reflector on the left? It's not supposed to be bending like that. Our notorious country winds kept flipping the reflectors around. I didn't know what to do about that, so I just left the reflectors alone and readjusted the position of the Sun Oven throughout the afternoon to maximize the sunlight.

I was a bit disappointed that our local Jehovah's Witnesses didn't stop by that afternoon. The last group that stopped by asked me who I thought was in control of the universe. I was ready if they had visited while my Sun Oven was out. I was going to say excitedly, "You know who is in control? Really? Can you take me to your leader? We're establishing communication with our mother ship!" Maybe that would have weirded them out enough to keep them away for a while. As a rule, I try to be kind to proselytizers. We're just overrun with Jehovah's Witnesses who won't take no for an answer.

 In the midst of my musings about Jehovah's Witnesses, I did notice that the thermometer didn't seem to be climbing as high as I expected it to. The oven hovered around 225 degrees.

I finally took the pot out around 5:30 PM and brought it inside to check the results.

More disappointment. The potatoes and other vegetables were still mostly raw. The soup smelled good, but it was far from edible. At this rate, it would take another 10 hours to cook the soup in the Sun Oven! Since my family wanted to eat dinner sometime before dawn, I went ahead and finished cooking the soup on my stove.

I'm still not entirely sure what happened, but I think the wind might have been the issue. Since the reflectors were moving about frequently, there had to be a drop in the amount of sunlight that was getting directed into the cooking chamber. I found a solution to the wind problem on the Sun Oven website, but since my Sun Oven is only on loan, I didn't feel like I should be drilling holes into it!

When we have a sunny, calm day, I'll try again. This shouldn't be so hard!

Sun Oven owners: any input on why my soup didn't cook?  


  1. I have to say, you make the most entertaining comments. I have no solution to your soup problem, however, I too have a Solar Oven, earlier this summer I took a frozen Corn Beef Brisket plopped into a glass dish covered it with aluminum foil and placed it in the over, then covered it with the darkest towel I owned too. It was a windy day as well, so I had to place it on the ground to keep it from sliding off the table. It cooked within 7 hours at 250 degrees, and was the most perfect Corn Beef Brisket I have ever eaten. I did have a mess to clean up, since the juices steamed out and dripped into the oven. I really need to get a dark pot with a lid, where the juices drip back into the pot. Keep trying and I'll keep checking back.

  2. I'm sorry you're not having very good experiences with the Sun Oven. When we got ours, we did the cooking of the pot of soapy water and never had any smell or flavor problems after that. I live in Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains, and we've had problems with the wind just blowing the whole oven over. I blogged about our "solution" here:

    I've not used my sun oven a WHOLE lot yet, but I've made roasts, brownies, a potato casserole and baked potatoes, and was happy with the results. Tried to make bread one day but it got too cloudy so I had to make it indoors instead.

    The only additional advice I can offer is to use dark-colored pans and/or towels: reflective stuff like silver pans and aluminum foil or light colored towels will slow your cooking time immensely.

  3. My biggest concern would be that light colored dish towel. My solar oven (sport) is truly awesome and I have never used anything but dark lidded granite ware. I have a friend who is a big fan of wide mouth canning jars sprayed black with grill paint when real black pots aren't suitable for whatever reason.

  4. You can use bungee cords to hold the panels down during wind. No holes required and I found a pack of 3 at the Dollar Store.

  5. Oh and for the 225 degrees it will take quite a few hours to cook. If you put it in around noon it would probably be done at dinner time. I have noticed that I am having to cook earlier and earlier as the sun changes position for fall. In winter time we will have to be eating our big meal at lunch time like the pioneers did.

  6. I am so sorry for the multiple posts :) I just re-read you did put it in at noon. Did the window fog up at all? That is an indication that the meal is done. Was the back leg up at all to make a slight shadow in the front? I have to lift the leg a little in the fall to get the most sun and higher temps. Maybe that will help it get to a higher temp?

  7. Sorry about the winds. We have the same problem. Oh, and some of us Jehovah's witnesses do know what solar ovens are for. Just so you know.