Solar ovens are solar-powered contraptions used to cook food. Solar ovens retain heat from the sun and focus it in a container that holds the food and traps the gathered heat. There are a variety of methods and designs for achieving this effect. The three main categories of solar ovens are box ovens, parabolic ovens and panel ovens. (See References 1)
The most widely used style of solar oven is the box oven. It is the favored style by solar oven users around the world and they are especially popular in India. The typical box oven's shape and size allows it to hold multiple pots, making it a good style when cooking for large numbers of people or when preparing separate dishes. The box oven, which cooks slowly, uses a reflector to focus sunlight inside the box, where the sunlight's heat is trapped by plastic or glass that is wrapped around the box. (See References 1.)
Parabolic ovens are also known as curved concentrator ovens. In comparison to the other solar ovens, parabolic ovens create high heat and cook foods quickly. Parabolic ovens focus the sun's heat with rounded walls to the oven's base where the food is placed to receive the heat. This oven requires close supervision and regular adjustments in order to be used properly. Parabolic ovens are popular in China and tend to be used for institutional and commercial cooking more frequently than small-scale, individual cooking. (See References 1.)
A panel oven is a combination of the box oven and the parabolic oven, using panels to receive the heat and direct it to a separate container where the food is stored inside a pot or other cooking vessel. The inner container is made of glass or plastic and serves to trap the heat inside. Panel cookers are inexpensive to manufacture and are cheap to assemble. (See References 2.)
Benefits and Pitfalls
Solar ovens offer a sustainable, energy-efficient method for cooking. In amenable weather conditions, solar ovens can produce well-cooked food. Solar cookers require strong, enduring sunlight to produce sufficient heat to cook most meals. They cannot cook at night or on overcast days, making them impractical in some climates. Most solar ovens cannot produce very high heat, so foods that cook best when cooked quickly might be difficult to prepare. Positioning the solar oven to best receive the necessary sunlight can also prove challenging.
Tom Gresham is a freelance writer and public relations specialist who has been writing professionally since 1999. His articles have appeared in "The Washington Post," "Virginia Magazine," "Vermont Magazine," "Adirondack Life" and the "Southern Arts Journal," among other publications. He graduated from the University of Virginia.