Top Solar Oven Designs for Survival

James WaltonJames Walton | Mar 10, 2020
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The first time I did a live podcast I did it on my phone! I shook for most of the conversation because of my nerves. I am sure the sound quality was terrible but WAY back in 2012 that was the stone age technology that we were working with at the Prepper Broadcasting Network.

One of the things I remember clearly about the first show was a certain commercial we ran.

Extend your fuel storage by harnessing the power of the sun…

Sun baked breads have unparalleled taste and texture…

The Sun Oven was my first exposure to this idea of cooking with just the heat and rays of the sun. Like most people who are uninitiated when it comes to cooking with the power of the sun, I didn’t think a solar oven could work half as good as it does!

Some time would pass before I saw a sun oven in and tasted the food they were capable of cooking without using any fuel. That was an eye-opening experience.

Fuel in all forms, even wood, should be conserved as a measure of general preparedness. So having the means to cook food using only the power of the sun has some serious benefits.

Cooking Without Fuel

For most Americans, FUEL is just not a concern. Gas prices are low and most of the other fuel we depend on is piped right into our homes. What percentage of people truly heat and cook with wood fuel?

When disaster strikes one of the biggest inconveniences is the supply of gasoline. It can be disrupted or gas runs can occur just out of the sheer fear that it could be disrupted.

No matter what the disaster is or what has been affected, you still need to eat. You will likely eat three times a day, at least, even in a disaster. To cook hot meals without electricity is going to use a lot of wood, propane, charcoal and the like.

The greatest allure when it comes to cooking with the sun is the conservation of fuel. It may even be the abandonment of gas and liquid fuels altogether.

There are a few systems that you can abandon to really actualize self-reliance and independence. Gas and liquid fuel is one of them.

How the Solar Oven Works

Because our sun is so small in the sky and we spend so much time worshipping the glow of our phone screen, we forget the sun’s power. This giant ball of nuclear explosions has more mass in its orbit than we can even wrap our heads around.

From planets to comets to the greatest civilization known to man, it all revolves around the sun.

Those of you who own a Fresnel lens understand that a moderate magnification of the sun’s rays is capable of starting a fire.

A solar oven harnesses that power and works through three basic principals.

  • Reflecting and Directing the Sun’s Rays
  • Trapping the Heat
  • Insulating the Vessel to Maintain Temperature

Because solar ovens work off these three simple principles you can create your own solar oven. You don’t even need to buy your own. However, those that are engineered for efficiency can sustain temperatures up to 360 degrees. There are even models that can reach 500 degrees!

We are going to look at a couple of DIY solar oven designs but those will never reach 500 degrees of cooking temperature. However, you are going to see, even in a basic design, the power of the sun.

DIY Solar Oven Designs

From cardboard to metal you can build a solar oven that cooks food in your own backyard. To the degree that you can affect those three basic principles of solar cooking, you will be able to generate heat.

The DIY Cardboard Solar Oven

“Do you think the bacon will cook?” Carter said to me as we walked back from the edge of our yard.

We were creating a solar oven from a couple of cardboard boxes and testing it out. This was actually for a client and an article that I was writing at the time. However, it’s not uncommon that I “bring the kids to work” i.e. have them help me with writing projects that require research or testing.

For this build, we used two boxes, one that was a little larger than the other. The smaller box requires most of the work and it’s a pretty fun little project.

Smaller Box:

First, we cut the four flaps off of this smaller box and reinforced the bottom of the box with packing tape.

We lined the interior of the box with black construction paper. This was to draw the sun’s light to the area where we would be cooking. We also placed a couple of bricks at the bottom of this box to sit our cooking vessels on.

I was also hopeful that we would be able to get those bricks to hold some heat.

Larger Box:

We opened to four top flaps and covered them in aluminum foil, paying close attention to keep this foil smooth and effective at reflecting the sun’s rays.

Shredded paper is not the best insulation but we covered the bottom of the larger box with it. Then we laid the smaller box inside, on top of the shredded paper. We also filled the space between the small and large boxes with shredded paper.

Finally, I cut a large piece of corrugated plastic to fit inside the large box and completely cover the small box’s opening. This was our heat trap.

I wish I could report that our version of the cardboard solar oven-fried up the bacon that we put inside. We stabilized around 170 degrees which meant the food we cooked when it eventually reached that temperature, was safe to eat.

In short, it was great for heating up the black beans but the bacon was just kinda warmed up and firmed up, kinda flaccid and unappealing. That said, it could be done much better with increased insulation and a smaller internal box. We could have used a better plastic for coverage, too!.

The DIY Metal Drum Solar Oven

This more robust option works off the same principles but requires a little more effort and some power tools.

Essentially, you take a metal drum and cut it in half then you line the inside with reflective metal. This creates a reflective metal environment that can harness the sun’s rays and heat.

I have seen people put cooking grates in the bottom of these drums to sit your cooking vessels.

With a thick piece of plastic covering the metal drum, you will have a way to trap that heat inside and get the temperature rising. You will also want to install a thermometer so that you can keep an eye on actual internal temperature.

NOTE: If you are cooking with the DIY solar ovens be sure you temp your meat and food after cooking, it might look done but it could be dangerous. You want most food to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Also, keep the plastic cover on at all times. Every time you remove that cover massive amounts of hot air spill out of your oven and it takes a long time for that solar oven to recover.

Top Solar Oven Designs

Making your own solar oven is a fun and engaging activity, particularly for kids to participate in. However, if you are going to depend on something that will maximize the sun’s power in a grid down situation, let the pros handle it.

There is a level of theatricality and novelty in breaking out the solar oven and making a meal but its ultimately something survivalists will use to cook food long after the gas has been shut off.

Top solar ovens are on the market and a few brands are really doing it at the highest level. We have three models to discuss in this article that are all capable solar ovens.

The Sun Oven

The Sun Oven has been a staple of the survival community for a long time. Not only does this model reach temperatures up to 400 degrees but it can bake boil and steam. The other great features, that I don’t hear people talk about much, is the fact that you can boil and sanitize water in a Sun Oven.

The Sun oven can also double as a dehydrator. It weighs in at just 22lbs and has more space than comparable models. There have been several iterations of the Sun Oven and it’s been modified over time.

Every sun oven comes with instructions for aligning perfectly with the sun and that makes all the difference when you are trying to maximize temperature.

PROS

  • Great Guidance
  • Made in America Product
  • Easy to Setup

CONS

  • Heaviest Model

GoSun Fusion

For every plan, there must be a backup plan and even our backup plans need backup plans. I think Batman said that once. but it holds pretty true for the prepping and survival world, too!

The GoSun Fusion is a powerful product that really harnesses the sun and uses its unique vacuum tube to hold heat and insulate what you are cooking. I love how portable the GoSun products are. They are truly what an evolution in solar cooking should look like.

All the GoSun models have tubes with some sort of handle so you can carry the food without getting burned. The GoSun Sport has this great wooden handle that should be on all their units.

The Fusion stands out because of its incredible backup 150-watt heater. This is the backup for the backup. This 150-watt heater makes the GoSun all-weather options in solar cooking. GoSun is undoubtedly a top solar oven.

PROS

  • Insulated Tube for Holding Heat
  • Built-in Heater
  • Safe Handles

CONS

  • Expensive

SolCook All Season

This massive cooking space gives you all kinds of options when it comes to cooking vessels and the amount of food cooked. The SolCook All Season can fit two large pots inside one unit.

One pot could be for cooking your 6-grain cereal while the other can be used to boil water for drinking. There is something to be said about efficiency when you only have a limited time before the sun moves from the optimal range.

You are going to need some experience with placement because the SolCook does not offer the type of guidance that a Sun Oven does with set up and alignment with the sun.

If you are already familiar with this or feel confident about learning that end of things than you will benefit from the SolCook All-Season and its great space.

The Sol Cook also breaks down and carries at just 2lbs. That makes it the lightest solar oven on this list, by far.

PROS

  • Lightweight
  • Great Cooking Space

CONS

  • Little Guidance on Setup

Conclusion

Fuel storage is an important part of prepping and survival. The conservation of these resources is key to getting the most out of them. Most Americans cook with a fuel source they have no control over, be it natural gas or electricity.

They don’t understand this issue because the energy flows like water from the tap. Unfortunately, when those sources of power are shut off people have very little options.

Building or owning a top solar oven is going to give you the ability to harness the sun’s rays and cook food. Some of these units will work at all times of the day even in the partial sun!

Aligning your oven with the sun and keeping your eye on temperature will give you the most success when it comes to cooking with the sun. There is more power up there than you can imagine. Cook meats or breads, it doesn’t matter.

While buying a brand name solar oven gets you the best performance, I would encourage you to take on the project of building your best version of a solar oven, too. This is a project that will help you understand how these tools work and perhaps be able to reproduce one in a disaster.

That’s assuming you don’t buy one of the great models we have listed above.

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Updated Mar 10, 2020

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