Building a solar cooker for under $10

When evaluating the options out there for solar cooking, the equipment lists for building an oven can sometimes be a little daunting. At least enough so as to be a good excuse never to get started! Well, no more. Here’s an easy solar cooker that you can build without even owning a pair of scissors. It’s made from the humble windshield shade, and has been tested successfully around the world. Full construction details here at SolarCooking.org.

Yesterday, I purchased two silver windshield shades with highly reflective surfaces, exactly like the one pictured below at the 99 cents only store. (Boy, I should really buy some of their stock, as often as I end up plugging them!)

The equipment list:

A reflective folding car sunshade
A Cake rack (or wire frame or grill)
12 cm. (4 ½ in.) of Velcro
Black pot, bucket or plastic wastebasket
A plastic baking bag

While there, I also purchased a small metal colander to act as a support for the pot, some velcro dots, and a metal oven thermometer. Nearly everyone has a black pot with a top somewhere in their house, so you aren’t likely to need to spend for that. Even I was able to pull out an old pot with no top, and then a rice bowl (from a rice cooker), which fits onto the top and creates a complete vessel. Pictures of my whole setup coming ASAP.

Bill, so far: $5.35 with tax

The only thing I’m missing right now is a big oven bag, which seems to be the only thing that will cost more than a dollar in the whole getup.

Notes on cooking with your new $10 solar oven. It WILL get hot (try 350 degrees!), so long as you point it toward the sun. Also, solar ovens are built around the concept of the closed pot. If you try to bake things with an open-topped pot, you may be disappointed to find that the bag deflates around your (unfinished) cake. Always cook with a top on the pot for best results. This, however, will not stop you from making great “can” breads and other baked goods.

I’ll update you when everything is complete and I’ve cooked my first meal. If you build one of your own, and test it out, share your experiences here!

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12 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    [...] Here it is, my first solar oven. One successful project down, and many, many to go! This solar cooker required almost no investment, took about five minutes to make, and looks pretty much like the result shown in my previous post about windshield shade solar cookers. [...]

  2. 2

    Patty said,

    Oh, thanks for sharing this easy to make solar cooker. I’m just getting into this type of thing and I’m really excited to try it. I’m looking for other ways to get off the grid as much as possible and be more self sufficient too so any direction to sites that might help that you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

  3. 3

    solarious said,

    Hi Patty~

    Thanks for the kind words. This solar cooker is great for things like steaming veggies and one-pot dinners of various sorts… not so much for things like meat or eggs. My best advice is to shore up the walls as much as possible so that wind doesn’t become an issue. Overall, the windshield cooker is a great introduction to what you can cook with the sun! Check out the experiment section to see more about how the test recipes I did turned out with this and other cookers. You can also check out the links section on the right hand side of every page to see topical links to get you started down the road to greater knowledge. Welcome to the sustainable fold, glad to have you! Keep me posted on your milestones~

  4. 4

    Bruce K said,

    Very good article. Love the cost and simple instructions. Think the wind would be an issue with the “soft” sides, but this would be perfect for camping trips….fold into your backpack with a folding wire stand for the bag and pot.

    Here’s a link to another solar oven under $10, made with a cardboard box. It stands up to a bit more wind, but isn’t as portable as this unit.

    Keep up the good work!

    http://www.greenterrafirma.com/diy-solar-oven.html

  5. 5

    Jennifer said,

    Thank you for sharing this. I love the idea and have already went to the store to buy me one. I am also going to link to this article on my blog in an upcoming post about solar cooking.

  6. 6

    solarious said,

    yes, the wind IS an issue with this cooker. Eventually, I ended up upgrading to a more traditional box cooker (which still cost less than $10!) after a few toppled meals. I also upgraded this cooker with a cardboard “shell” pinned around the top (for easy removal), which cut down on the wind issue significantly. This cooker is best for low-heat applications like steaming veggies and warming soups, etc. For cooking meat or eggs, which require a higher temperature, I recommend the box cooker, pictures of which can also be found on this site.

    Here’s the “ingredients” list for the box cooker:
    2 cardboard boxes that are relatively shallow and the smaller of which fits nicely around your solar cooking pot.
    duct tape
    reynolds oven cooking bags
    newspaper or some other insulation material
    tinfoil

    nothing there that’s hard to come by! I’ve used this new cooker to cook yummy egg dishes, even seafood. It’s surprisingly quick at steaming things, too. Twenty minutes and you’ve got a nice plate of veggies, especially if you add a little cheese to the mix.

    Nothing can beat the ultimate portability of the windshield cooker though. If you have a few minutes and a bucket or bin to place it in, you’ve got an oven, even in the wilderness. And packing in a windshield shade is infinitely easier than a big box. =)

  7. 7

    solarious said,

    thank you Jennifer, I look forward to hearing how the cooker works out for you! Much success to you, your blog, and your culinary adventures!

  8. 8

    this worked i love the enviroment and solar cooking and science

  9. 9

    Tucker McCravy, Jr. said,

    Thanks for the info & pix.
    I am interested in baking bread which needs 400 degrees. Will this work for that? Do I need to encase the bread in a bag?
    BTW, what are “can” breads?
    Tucker

    • 10

      solarious said,

      Hi Tucker, you’re quite welcome, thanks for stopping by! I have not cooked a lot of breads with this cooker, but the temperatures in solar cookers can get surprisingly hot. 400 degrees is a temperature that parabolic cookers would have no problem with, and a well constructed box cooker either. You would definitely need to enclose the pan in an oven bag for this. Can breads are those like what used to be made by miners, etc, where you put the mix in a coffee can and bake it in the can, which acts as a mold of sorts. Many breads can be made this way. As with most foods, cooking is a relative taste process, and cooking in a solar cooker generally just takes a little longer than a conventional oven. I’d be interested to hear about your experiments with solar cooking! Best wishes~

  10. 11

    Tucker;

    Yes you can also increase the temperature by painting your forms in flat black paint and enclosing them in baking bag or Pyrex dishes to keep the solar gain high.

  11. 12

    we be doinn this stuff fo’ science class. yall be is trippin if yall think we is really gone be doinn this stuff ourselves . cuz we aint. we just copyinn yall rich white folk. yahh heard?


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