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Why solar cook

Solar cooking is the simplest, safest, most convenient way to cook food without consuming fuels
or heating up the kitchen. Many people choose to solar cook for

these reasons. But for hundreds of millions of people around the world who cook over fires fueled
by wood or dung, and who walk for miles to collect wood or spend much of their meager incomes
on fuel, solar cooking is more than a choice — it is a blessing. For millions of people who lack
access to safe drinking water and become sick or die each year from preventable waterborne
illnesses, solar water pasteurization is a life-saving skill. The World Health Organization reports
that in 23 countries 10% of deaths are due to just two environmental risk factors: unsafe water,
including poor sanitation and hygiene; and indoor air pollution due to solid fuel use for
cooking.[1] There are numerous reasons to cook the natural way — with the sun.
Where solar cook
Successful solar cooking is dependent upon access to sunshine and the right climate. Though
solar cooking is possible in many — if not most — countries, it is most practical for people living
in climates that are generally dry and sunny for at least six months of the year. Latitudes between
the equator and 40º are usually best, though solar cooking at high latitudes is possible, even in
the winter. The darker regions on the following map tend to have longer cooking seasons

Fuel Scarcities
One-fourth of humanity suffers fuel scarcities. Half of the world cooks with wood. Accelerating
wood shortages in many countries add new burdens to families, particularly in eastern and
southern Africa.

Families must be fed every day.

Rural women of all ages - including those who are pregnant and have infants, the elderly,
and very young girls who should be in school - spend more time and walk ever-longer
distances to find, then carry, heavy loads of wood.
Urban families in many developing countries now spend up to a third of their income for
cooking fuel.
Refugees in Kenya, prior to getting solar cookers, often barter away part of their food
rations to get fuel to cook the remainder.
Many families are unable to cook nutritious foods such as beans and maize, which require
hours of cooking, and substitute less nutritious, faster cooking foods such as pasta.
Families are also less able to heat/pasteurize their water and milk to reduce water borne-
diseases, the major killers of children. Solar cookers easily cook most foods and pasteurize
milk and water.
Fuel-gathering is one factor in the tide of migration to cities. A rural Zimbabwean summed
up the possibilities: "Today many young Zimbabwe women don't want to stay in rural areas
because gathering fuelwood is so difficult and time-consuming. Solar cookers can make rural
life easier for women so they'll want to stay there."
The annual per capita wood consumption for cooking in most parts of the world is about .5
ton (1.32 kg per day), or about 3 tons per family of six people. A solar cooker can save one
ton of wood per year.
The cost to replace cut trees in India is double the market price of cut wood.
Many governments including Zimbabwe and Kenya import and subsidize less sustainable
fuels at great expense.
edit Health and Sustainability
Current cooking methods are unhealthy, unsustainable and unavailable to future generations.

Cooking with fire means fire hazards and dangers of burns for small children
Smoke causes lung and eye diseases.
Future generations will have fewer options.
The slower, gentler cooking provided by many solar cookers preserves more nutrients.
The ability to pasteurize water with free solar energy can help prevent many diseases.
The energy for solar cooking is infinitely renewable and entirely non-polluting.
edit Improved solar cookers and training

Historically most solar cookers were either curved parabolic reflectors focusing intense
heat onto a single pot, or heat trap boxes with a window on the top and one or several flat
reflectors. Both types were too expensive for most people, cumbersome and sometimes even
dangerous to use.
A wide variety of new solar cookers are more convenient, much lower-priced, and now
competitive with alternatives such as wood, charcoal, and wood stoves. One such model, an
open reflector, has been widely tested and has proven useful in the USA, Kenya and
Zimbabwe. It pays for itself in fuel savings in two months or less and becomes a recurrent
economic benefit to individual households.
Developed in 1994 by an international team of volunteers and dubbed the "CooKit," it is
ideal for introducing the basics of solar cooking. It is easily hand-made and also is being
mass-produced in USA, Kenya and Zimbabwe with modifications to suit local needs and
Participative instruction quickly teaches solar cooking skills and trains local women to also
teach their neighbors.
Many millions are waiting for the simple, life-long skill that they can pass on to future
edit Cooking and Food Processing

Food needs little attention while cooking, leaving the cook free to attend to other matters.
Scorching is very rare, so clean-up is simplified.
Most of the preparation for a meal can be done early in the day, so there is less last-minute
While food cooks in the sun, the kitchen stays cool.
The gentle cooking preserves flavor and aroma, so the food tastes better.
Foods can be preserved for out of season use at no cost in power, either by solar
dehydration or, in the case of some acidic foods, by canning.
In some climates, the fact that a panel cooker has potential to be used at night as a chiller
could be very useful in preserving some types of short-term fresh foods or leftovers.

Solar cooking deserves new attention.

The three most common types of solar cookers are heat-trap boxes, curved concentrators
(parabolics) and panel cookers. Hundreds — if not thousands — of variations on these basic
types exist. Additionally, several large-scale solar cooking systems have been developed to meet
the needs of institutions worldwide.

[edit] Box cookers

Box cookers cook at moderate to high temperatures and often accommodate multiple pots.
Worldwide, they are the most widespread. There are several hundred thousand in India alone.
See Box cookers.

[edit] Curved concentrator cookers

Curved concentrator cookers, or "parabolics," cook fast at high temperatures, but require frequent
adjustment and supervision for safe operation. Several hundred thousand exist, mainly in China.
They are especially useful for large-scale institutional cooking. See Parabolic cookers.

[edit] Panel cookers

Panel cookers incorporate elements of box and curved concentrator cookers. They are simple
and relatively inexpensive to buy or produce. Solar Cookers International's "CooKit" is the most
widely used combination cooker. See Panel cookers.

Principles Most solar cookers work on basic principles: sunlight is converted to heat energy that is
retained for cooking.

Fuel: Sunlight Sunlight is the "fuel." A solar cooker needs an outdoor spot that is sunny for
several hours and protected from strong wind, and where food will be safe. Solar cookers don't
work at night or on cloudy days.
Convert sunlight to heat energy Dark surfaces get very hot in sunlight, whereas light surfaces
don't. Food cooks best in dark, shallow, thin metal pots with dark, tight-fitting lids to hold in heat
and moisture.

Retain heat A transparent heat trap around the dark pot lets in sunlight, but keeps in the heat.
This is a clear, heat-resistant plastic bag or large inverted glass bowl (in panel cookers) or an
insulated box with a glass or plastic window (in box cookers). Curved concentrator cookers
typically don't require a heat trap.

Capture extra sunlight energy One or more shiny surfaces reflect extra sunlight onto the pot,
increasing its heat potential.

Developing an intuitive feel for the dynamics of

solar cooking

Light fluffy materials are good heat insulators

Have you ever wondered why you yourself didn't come up with the idea of the solar box cooker?
Why didn't it occur to you or me naturally that a double-walled, foiled, cardboard box covered with
a sheet of glass could easily reach cooking temperatures? I think I know why.
We don't seem to have an innate grasp of what makes for a good insulating material. I remember
that when I bought my brick house in cold Seattle, it made sense to me that the bricks would hold
in the warmth during the winter. This turned out to be a completely false assumption.
On a cold day, imagine putting on a vest or shirt made out of tiles (analogous to small bricks).
You know that you would feel even colder. We know from our experience of trying to keep our
body warm that soft, light, fluffy materials work best. The food in the oven is like our bodies – an
insulating material that would make our body cold would also lower the temperature of the food
and reduce the cooking capacity of the oven.
Now that we understand that light, fluffy materials are good insulators, then let's see if we can get
a sense for how much insulating capacity the various components of a cardboard solar cooker
have. People newly introduced to solar box cookers find it unfathomable that such high
temperatures could be contained in such a simple box, perhaps made of only a few layers of
cardboard. Obviously the cardboard is able to keep the heat from leaking out. One way to access
our intuitive sense for this is to imagine that you have to pick up a hot pot handle with your bare
hand. That, of course, would be painful. What if you used a piece of paper between your hand
and the handle. You would probably be burned just as badly, only an instant later than before.
Now imagine using a piece of corrugated cardboard as a potholder. You could be pretty sure that
the heat would never reach your hand with enough intensity to burn you. Next imagine you used
two pieces of cardboard, then two pieces separated by a few centimeters of air space. You
quickly get a feeling for how much insulating effect such a configuration would provide.
We understand now how the cooker holds the heat, but why does so much heat build up inside
the cooker in the first place? We've all heard that this is due to the greenhouse effect. While glass
has been available for centuries, the idea that you could use it to trap enough heat to actually
cook food has occurred only recently. The greenhouse effect causes the heat from sunlight to
accumulate inside any closed space with a glazed opening (e.g., a parked car). Why was this
missed for so long? I believe it was because part of the greenhouse process is invisible to our
human eyes.
There are two principal kinds of light operating in the solar oven: normal visible light and invisible
infrared light. When you look into a solar cooker, the visible light inside doesn't seem to be that
much brighter or more concentrated than the sunlight striking us as we stand and look in. Our
bodies are certainly not getting hot enough to burn, much less cook, so intuition tells us that food
in the oven wouldn't cook either. Or intuition is right as far as it goes. The visible light isn't intense
enough to do the cooking, but an invisible transformation is taking place.
When the visible light hits dark-colored objects inside the oven, its energy is absorbed by the dark
object and then re-radiated out in the form of infrared light. We can't see this infrared light, but
can we sense it? Sure! Even when you stand many meters back from a large fire on a cold night
you feel the warmth of the fire against your face. The fire itself isn't touching you and the air
around you is still cold. What you feel on your skin are these invisible infrared rays.
We are left with one last question: What happens to the infrared light? Does it radiate back out of
the cooker through the glass? No. The infrared rays attempt to radiate back out through the glass,
but because these rays are of a different wavelength than visible light rays, they cannot penetrate
the glass. Instead, they are reflected back into the interior of the oven. The light energy then
accumulates more and more inside the oven until temperatures are reached that allow food to be
Why doesn't the cooker keep on heating forever? Well, as the temperature rises, a larger and
larger proportion of the heat leaks out through the walls and the glass. The temperature continues
to rise until the amount of energy coming in equals the amount going out.
As you can see, it isn't necessarily so complicated. You can use your eyes to see the visible light,
your skin to feel the infrared light, and your imagination to see the way the light is transformed
and then trapped inside the oven. In this way you develop an intuitive sense for how a solar box
cooker works. And we can use our intuitive sense of what would keep our bodies warm to have a
sense for what will also keep food warm inside the cooker.
People use solar cookers primarily to cook food and pasteurize water, although additional uses
are continually being developed. Numerous factors including access to materials, availability of
traditional cooking fuels, climate, food preferences, cultural factors, and technical capabilities,
affect people's approach to solar cooking.
With an understanding of basic principles of solar energy and access to simple materials such as
cardboard, aluminum foil, and glass, one can build an effective solar cooking device. This paper
outlines the basic principles of solar box cooker design and identifies a broad range of potentially
useful construction materials.
These principles are presented in general terms so that they are applicable to a wide variety of
design problems. Whether the need is to cook food, pasteurize water, or dry fish or grain; the
basic principles of solar, heat transfer, and materials apply. We look forward to the application of
a wide variety of materials and techniques as people make direct use of the sun's energy.

Heat Principles
The basic purpose of a solar box cooker is to heat things up - cook food, purify water, and
sterilize instruments - to mention a few.
A solar box cooks because the interior of the box is heated by the energy of the sun. Sunlight,
both direct and reflected, enters the solar box through the glass or plastic top. It turns to heat
energy when it is absorbed by the dark absorber plate and cooking pots. This heat input causes
the temperature inside of the solar box cooker to rise until the heat loss of the cooker is equal to
the solar heat gain. Temperatures sufficient for cooking food and pasteurizing water are easily
Given two boxes that have the same heat retention capabilities, the one that has more gain, from
stronger sunlight or additional sunlight via a reflector, will be hotter inside.
Given two boxes that have equal heat gain, the one that has more heat retention capabilities -
better insulated walls, bottom, and top - will reach a higher interior temperature.
The following heating principles will be considered first:

Heat gain
Heat loss
Heat storage

[edit] Heat gain

[edit] Greenhouse effect
This effect results in the heating of enclosed spaces into which the sun shines through a
transparent material such as glass or plastic. Visible light easily passes through the glass and is
absorbed and reflected by materials within the enclosed space.
The light energy that is absorbed by dark pots and the dark absorber plate underneath the pots is
converted into longer wavelength heat energy and radiates from the interior materials. Most of
this radiant energy, because it is of a longer wavelength, cannot pass back out through the glass
and is therefore trapped within the enclosed space. The reflected light is either absorbed by other
materials within the space or, because it doesn't change wavelength, passes back out through
the glass.
Critical to solar cooker performance, the heat that is collected by the dark metal absorber plate
and pots is conducted through those materials to heat and cook the food.

[edit] Glass orientation

The more directly the glass faces the sun, the greater the solar heat gain. Although the glass is
the same size on box 1 and box 2, more sun shines through the glass on box 2 because it faces
the sun more directly. Note that box 2 also has more wall area through which to lose heat.

[edit] Reflectors, additional gain

Single or multiple reflectors bounce additional sunlight through the glass and into the solar box.
This additional input of solar energy results in higher cooker temperatures.

[edit] Heat loss

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that heat always travels from hot to cold. Heat within
a solar box cooker is lost in three fundamental ways: Conduction, Radiation, and Convection
[edit] Conduction
The handle of a metal pan on a stove or fire becomes hot through the transfer of heat from the
fire through the materials of the pan, to the materials of the handle. In the same way, heat within
a solar box is lost when it travels through the molecules of tin foil, glass, cardboard, air, and
insulation, to the air outside of the box.
The solar heated absorber plate conducts heat to the bottoms of the pots. To prevent loss of this
heat via conduction through the bottom of the cooker, the absorber plate is raised from the
bottom using small insulating spacers as in figure 6.
[edit] Radiation

Things that are warm or hot -- fires, stoves, or pots and food within a solar box cooker -- give off
heat waves, or radiate heat to their surroundings. These heat waves are radiated from warm
objects through air or space. Most of the radiant heat given off by the warm pots within a solar
box is reflected from the foil and glass back to the pots and bottom tray. Although the transparent
glazings do trap most of the radiant heat, some does escape directly through the glazing. Glass
traps radiant heat better than most plastics.
[edit] Convection

Molecules of air move in and out of the box through cracks. They convect. Heated air molecules
within a solar box escape, primarily through the cracks around the top lid, a side "oven door"
opening, or construction imperfections. Cooler air from outside the box also enters through these
[edit] Heat storage
As the density and weight of the materials within the insulated shell of a solar box cooker
increase, the capacity of the box to hold heat increases. The interior of a box including heavy
materials such as rocks, bricks, heavy pans, water, or heavy foods will take longer to heat up
because of this additional heat storage capacity. The incoming energy is stored as heat in these
heavy materials, slowing down the heating of the air in the box.
These dense materials, charged with heat, will radiate that heat within the box, keeping it warm
for a longer period at the day's end.

edit Materials Requirements

There are three types of materials that are typically used in the construction of solar box cookers.
A property that must be considered in the selection of materials is moisture resistance.

Structural material
Transparent material
Moisture resistance
[edit] Structural material
Structural materials are necessary so that the box will have and retain a given shape and form,
and be durable over time.
Structural materials include cardboard, wood, plywood, masonite, bamboo, metal, cement, bricks,
stone, glass, fiberglass, woven reeds, rattan, plastic, papier mache, clay, rammed earth, metals,
tree bark, cloth stiffened with glue or other material.
Many materials that perform well structurally are too dense to be good insulators. To provide both
structural integrity and good insulation qualities, it is usually necessary to use separate structural
and insulating materials.
[edit] Insulation
In order for the box to reach interior temperatures high enough for cooking, the walls and the
bottom of the box must have good insulation (heat retention) value. Good insulating materials
include: aluminum foil (radiant reflector), feathers (down feathers are best), spun fiberglass,
rockwool, cellulose, rice hulls, wool, straw, and crumpled newspaper.
When building a solar cooker, it is important that the insulation materials surround the interior
cooking cavity of the solar box on all sides except for the glazed side -- usually the top. Insulating
materials should be installed so that they allow minimal conduction of heat from the inner box
structural materials to the outer box structural materials. The lower the box heat loss, the higher
the cooking temperatures.
[edit] Transparent material
At least one surface of the box must be transparent and face the sun to provide for heating via
the "greenhouse effect." The most common glazing materials are glass and high temperature
plastics such as oven roasting bags. Double glazing using either glass or plastic affects both the
heat gain and the heat loss. Depending on the material used, the solar transmittance - heat gain -
may be reduced by 5-15%. However, because the heat loss through the glass or plastic is cut in
half, the overall solar box performance is increased.
[edit] Moisture resistance
Most foods that are cooked in a solar box cooker contain moisture. When water or food is heated
in the solar box, a vapor pressure is created, driving the moisture from the inside to the outside of
the box. There are several ways that this moisture can travel. It can escape directly through box
gaps and cracks or be forced into the box walls and bottom if there is no moisture barrier. If a box
is designed with high quality seals and moisture barriers, the water vapor may be retained inside
the cooking chamber. In the design of most solar box cookers, it is important that the inner-most
surface of the cooker be a good vapor barrier. This barrier will prevent water damage to the
insulation and structural materials of the cooker by slowing the migration of water vapor into the
walls and bottom of the cooker.

edit Design and Proportion

[edit] Box size
A solar box cooker should be sized in consideration of the following factors:

1. The size should allow for the largest amount of food commonly
2. If the box needs to be moved often, it should not be so large that
this task is difficult.
3. The box design must accommodate the cookware that is
available or commonly used.
[edit] Solar collection area to box volume ratio
Everything else being equal, the greater the solar collection area of the box relative to the heat
loss area of the box, the higher the cooking temperatures will be.
Given two boxes that have solar collection areas of equal size and proportion, the one that is of
less depth will be hotter because it has less heat loss area.
[edit] Solar box cooker proportion

A solar box cooker facing the noon sun should be longer in the east/west dimension to make
better use of the reflector over a cooking period of several hours. As the sun travels across the
sky, this configuration results in a more consistent cooking temperature. With square cookers or
ones having the longest dimension north/south, a greater percentage of the early morning and
late afternoon sunlight is reflected from the reflector to the ground, missing the box collection area.
[edit] Reflector
One or more reflectors are employed to bounce additional light into the solar box in order to
increase cooking temperatures. Although it is possible to solar cook without reflectors in
equatorial regions when the sun is mostly overhead, reflectors increase cooking performance
significantly in temperate regions of the world. See Reflectors - figure 4.

edit Solar Box Cooker Operation

One of the beauties of solar box cookers is their ease of operation. For mid-day cooking at 20° N
- 20° S latitude, solar box cookers with no reflector need little repositioning to face the sun as it
moves across the mid-day sky. The box faces up and the sun is high in the sky for a good part of
the day. Boxes with reflectors can be positioned toward the morning or afternoon sun to do the
cooking at those times of day.
Solar box cookers used with reflectors in the temperate zones do operate at higher temperatures
if the box is repositioned to face the sun every hour or two. This adjustment of position becomes
less necessary as the east/west dimension of the box increases relative to the north/south

edit Cultural Factors

See main article: Solar cooker dissemination and cultural variables
In addition to the primarily technical aspects of solar box cooker design, factors including culture,
appropriate technology, and aesthetics play a major role in the successful technology transfer of
solar box cooking.
Through the centuries, the power of the sun has been tapped in numerous ways. With solar
cooking, as with other endeavors, some design approaches work better than others. Technology
that is designed to efficiently accomplish a given task while meeting certain energy use,
environmental, social, cultural, and/or aesthetic standards, is often referred to as "appropriate
Unfortunately, the field of solar cooking has its share of devices that fail these basic technical and
social tests. For example, parabolic cookers can cook food, but when compared to the solar box
approach, they are more difficult to build, require specialized materials and constant refocusing,
may burn food, and are not likely to be accepted in most social and cultural contexts. In fact,
because of the well publicized failures of these devices in several development projects in the
'60s, many still believe that solar cooking is not feasible.
The better a given solar box design meets appropriate technology criteria, the more likely it is to
be embraced by those using it. A very low-tech approach is to simply dig a shallow pit in the
ground, insulate the bottom with dried grass or leaves, insert the food or water in a dark container,
and place glass over the top. On the high-tech end of the scale, the very same solar principles
could be used with standard building and insulating materials and high performance low-
emmissivity glazing, to architecturally integrate a solar cooker into the south side of a
contemporary kitchen. The solar oven door could be on the wall at a convenient height right next
to the microwave.
Cardboard solar box cookers may be appropriate for many cultures because the materials are
widely available and inexpensive. But disadvantages of cardboard include susceptibility to
moisture damage and lack of durability compared to many other materials.
Aesthetics are usually important. Cultures having rounded forms as the norm may reject the
entire solar cooking concept because the box is square. And certain social strata may reject
cardboard as too "cheap" a material for their use.
It is important that the basic principles of solar design not be rejected because of the failures of a
particular solar devices or technology transfer methodologies!
Certainly, one of the advantages of people designing their own solar box cookers is that they will
apply the solar principles using their own materials and aesthetic sense. People that build their
houses and furnishings out of wood or bamboo, are likely to include these materials in their
cooker design. Surface decoration of solar boxes using various paints and textures also helps to
integrate cookers into a given culture. There are many forms that can follow the solar function.
Location of the solar cooker and the cooking activity, permanence or portability of the solar
cooker, time of day when it is used, and importance of cooking as a social activity are other
varying factors that will affect the design of solar cookers.
The solar box cooker project in the Indian Himalaya, sponsored by the Indo-German Dhauladhar
Project, is a successful application of the principles of solar box cooking to the needs of a
particular culture. The non portable cooker is built of earth and brick and is double glazed with
glass. An inner tin oven is fabricated from used ghee or oil containers. Husk from a rice sheller
provides insulation around the tin oven.
"Materials are derived from the market economy (glass, black paint, nails, etc.), the local
economy (labor, wood), and the non-monetary subsistence economy (mud bricks, bamboo,
fabric). Using familiar materials and skills makes it easy to train builders and to help people
maintain their cookers."
The Dhauladhar Project participants, through the adaptation of solar cooking concepts to local
needs and customs, demonstrated an effective technology transfer process.
Although it is somewhat beyond the scope of this discussion of design principles, other factors
critical to the successful long-term implementation of solar cooking deserve note.
In order to successfully transfer solar cooking technology from one culture to another, a durable
and long-lived bridge is critical. Individuals from both cultures form that bridge. People from the
transferring culture must have a high degree of cultural sensitivity and make a significant time
committment. Success is more likely if individuals from the implementing culture are leaders in
their own communities. How well these individuals work together will play a large part in the
success or failure of the process. Community is, by definition, a web of interconnected activities.
For solar cooking to become a part of local culture, it must be considered in the context of
community activities such as local economics, work, healthcare, social activities, energy
resources, deforestation, education, the technical infrastructure, and others.
Solar box cooking has already been practiced within a variety of cultures. But we've only
scratched the surface. The potentially dramatic benefit of this resource in terms of world hunger,
health, and deforestation has yet to be realized.
One of the primary purposes of Solar Cookers International is to further the cause of solar
cooking worldwide through information distribution and technology transfer. If you would like to
work with us, we'd be happy to discuss our work and any of your ideas. We also like to see new
designs and photos. Please contact us at the address on the first page of this paper.

Solar cooking hints

There is very little different about cooking in a solar box apart from doubling cooking time and
leaving water out when cooking fresh vegetables or meats. All foods are cooked in dark covered
pots except for roasting nuts and some baking. Use your own recipes and spices. By making
small adjustments in time or the amount of water, your favorite foods taste as good or better than
ever. The following approximate times are for 4-5 servings. Increase cooking times for larger
COOKED DRIED CEREALS AND GRAINS - (barley, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, wheat) : 2
hours. Start with usual amount of water. Next time adjust to your taste. If your sky conditions are
less than ideal, you may have better luck if you preheat the water and grain separately, as
suggested for pasta. This is especially helpful if the grain is either very slow to tenderize (brown
rice, hulled but not pearled barley) or gets mushy easily (quinoa, millet). To learn about using
barely-sprouted grains and beans, which take to sun cooking very well, see Sprouting seeds and
VEGETABLES - Add no water. Artichokes: 2 1/2 hours; Asparagus: 1 1/2 - 2 hours; Other fresh
green vegetables: 1-1 1/2 hours. If cooked longer they will taste fine but lose their nice green
color. Beans - dried: 3-5 hours. Usual amount of water, can be soaked ahead of time; Beets,
Carrots, Potatoes and other root vegetables: 3 hours. Cabbage, eggplant: 1 1/2 hours if cut up.
Eggplant turns brownish, like a cut apple, but the flavor is good; Corn on the cob: 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
The corn kernels will fade slightly if left longer in direct sunlight. The husk will hold the moisture in
and protect the kernels naturally. A clean black sock can be put over an ear of corn to help
absorb heat for faster cooking time. Squash, zucchini: 1 hour. Will turn mushy if left longer.
EGGS - Add no water. Two hours for hard yolks. If cooked longer the whites turn brownish, but
the flavor is the same.
MEATS - Add no water. If cooked longer they just get more tender. Fish: 1-2 hours; Chicken: 2
hours cut up, 3 hours whole; Beef, Lamb, etc.: 2 hours cut up, 3 - 5 hours for large pieces; Turkey,
large, whole: all day
PASTA - Heat water in one pot and put dry pasta with a small amount of cooking oil in another
pot, and heat until water is near boiling. Add hot pasta to hot water, stir, and cook about 10
minutes more.
BAKING - is best done in the middle of the day (9 or 10 am - 2 or 3 pm) Breads: Whole loaves - 3
hours; Cakes: 1 1/2 hours; Cookies: 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Do NOT need to be covered. Avoid bottom
crusts - they get soggy. Black socks can also be used to cover foil-wrapped garlic/herb breads.
Takes awhile for the heat to work through, but with the sock to dull the foil it eventually will, and
the sun makes wonderful fresh garlic bread.
SAUCES & GRAVIES MADE WITH FLOUR OR STARCH - Heat juices and flour separately, with
or without a little cooking oil in the flour. Then combine and stir. It will be ready quickly.
ROASTING NUTS - Bake uncovered. Almonds: 1 hour, Peanuts: 2 hours.
edit Cooking temperatures
Harmful food microbes, including bacteria and viruses, are killed when heated to 65°C (150°F).

This is called pasteurization. Food cooks at 82°C (180°F) to 91°C (195°F), and is therefore free
from disease-causing organisms when fully cooked. Simple solar cookers cook gently at
temperatures just above these, so foods maintain moisture and nutrients, and rarely burn or
overcook. Some solar cookers can cook at temperatures much higher than this.
With all cooking methods, certain bacteria produce heat-resistant spores that germinate after food
has been cooked. Therefore, cooked food should be kept at temperatures above 52°C (125°F). If
cooked food is allowed to drop to temperatures between 52°C (125°F) and 10°C (50°F) for a
period of time, these bacteria can spoil the food and lead to food poisoning. Food that stays in
this temperature range for more than four hours should be heated again to cooking temperatures
before consumption. (Even after reheating there is still a risk of illness. If you are unsure you
should discard the food.)

edit Important considerations

Solar cookers require direct sunlight to function properly. Shadows, clouds and inclement
weather limit their effectiveness. Solar cookers should be used on sunny days, in locations
where shadows are not a concern.
In most regions of the world there are a few months when simple solar cookers have
limited usefulness, due to low solar radiation intensity. In general, you can solar cook when
the length of your shadow on the ground is shorter than your height. This is an indicator that
the sun is high enough in the sky to cook. Some solar cookers, however, are efficient enough
to be used year-round.
You can typically solar cook two meals per day — a noontime meal and an evening meal.
You cannot cook early in the morning or after sunset. The sun is most intense between 10:00
a.m. and 2:00 p.m., which is when breads and pastries should be baked if possible.
And, of course, always wash your hands before and after handling food, and use clean
utensils and pots.
edit Eye safety
We periodically receive questions about solar cooking and eye safety. An eye specialist has
explained to us that individuals exposed to direct or highly-reflected sunlight for long periods of
time, such as sailors and fisherman, have an increased risk of developing cataracts as a result of
receiving excess amounts of UV radiation. Most users of solar cookers, especially panel- and
box-type cookers, spend relatively little time in the sun since food needs only be placed in the
cooker and left, usually without any stirring, until finished. Also, the intensity of sunlight reflected
by these types of cookers is somewhat less than that of direct sunlight. Certain curved
concentrator-type cookers (parabolics) are of a little more concern since they are designed to
multiply available solar radiation. And given the higher temperatures reached, stirring of the food
is often required, resulting in more time spent near the cooker. With a little common sense,
however, solar cookers can be used and enjoyed safely.
Below are some tips, sent in by Howard Boldt, for reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches
your eyes while solar cooking. If you have any expertise in eye safety, or have any experiences to
share, please contact Mr. Boldt and the SCI office.
Panel and box cookers

when inserting or removing food, place your body between the sun and the cooker,
creating a shadow across the reflective area. Alternatively, rotate the cooker away from the
sun briefly.
Curved concentrator cookers

when available, opt for a cooker with a low focal point (i.e. below the rim of the cooker)
when available, opt for a cooker with a device - such as rod on which the pot slides or a
"swing arm" on which the pot sits - to allow for pot access without having to lean over the
use the cooker in a fenced area to prevent unwanted access. Alternatively, the cooker may
be raised on a platform or used on a rooftop if feasible.
All cooker types

don't stare at the glare

if children will be in the vicinity, explain to them not to stare at the glare.
wear UV-blocking sunglasses if available
The history of solar cooking
An odd antecedent of the current solar cooking movement is the story of what Buti and Perlin call
"the burning mirror" (1980, Chapter 3). Greeks, Romans, and Chinese all explored the use of
curved mirrors, which they found could concentrate the sun's rays in manner that would cause
nearly any object to explode in flames. Interestingly, the use they perceived for this device was
military - could they focus the burning mirror, as example, on an enemy warship? Burning mirrors
were also used for less venal purposes, such as lighting altar fires and torches for sacrificial
parades, but almost no other applied use was found. The idea, now seen in concentrating solar
cookers, is in use in many parts of the world today.
A more direct route to solar cooking came from extensive efforts to harness the sun for
horticulture. Though found in Roman times in wealthy households, not until the sixteenth century
(Buti and Perlin, p. 41) did glass become common and cheap enough to be used for horticulture.
Travel and trade on a global basis had seen the transport of tropical plants and fruits to northern
countries, creating a desire for these products, which could not be raised in northern climates.
First the Dutch and Flemish, then French and English built greenhouses for this purpose, heated
only by the sun. Substantial horticultural activity focused on tropical flora and food crops, all
raised under glass, in greenhouses huge in scale. Using southern exposure and insulation as
needed, the greenhouse movement later inspired the use of "conservatories" or "sun rooms" in
homes, as well.
The principle of the greenhouse, the so-called "solar heat trap", was further utilized in what is
thought of as the very first attempt to use solar energy to cook. Many scientists of the era, and
laypersons as well, knew about the use of glass to trap heat, but Horace de Saussure, a French-
Swiss scientist, wondered why that commonly understood phenomenon had not led to additional
applied use. In 1767, he built a miniature greenhouse with five glass boxes* one inside the other,
set on a black tabletop. Fruit placed in the innermost box cooked nicely - and a new technology
was born (Buti and Perlin, p. 55). De Saussure continued his experimentation, using other
materials, adding insulation, cooking at different altitudes, etc. This European scientist, exploring
solar energy nearly 250 years ago, is widely considered to be the father of today's solar cooking
movement. Others followed his lead, including the Briton, Sir John Herschel, and American
Samuel Pierpont Langley, later head of the Smithsonian, both of whom conducted experiments
with the hot box, the forerunner of today's box cooker, probably still the most common design in
A French mathematician named Augustin Mouchot, working almost a century later, was eager to
ensure that the learning of the past not be lost. He was more interested in practical application
than in the number of interesting but not very useful solar devices which were appearing, using
the newly discovered potential of the sun (whistles, water movers, talking statues, etc.). He began
a search to use the sun's energy efficiently enough to boil water for steam engines, a venture that
was not successful. His second project was more successful; he combined the heat trap idea with
that of the burning mirror, creating an efficient solar oven from an insulated box, which when
further modified by adding reflecting mirrors, even became a solar still. Eventually, he did create
an effective steam engine, but it was too large to be practical; he turned back then to the cooking
challenge and developed a number of solar ovens, stills, pumps, and even electricity. His work
was however short circuited by the advent of improved coal mining methods and hence lower
cost fuels. His work, also, was caught in the situation of replacement by cheap fuels, rendering
solar usage unnecessary and thus impractical for the time.
Late in the 19th century, other pioneers in the development of solar thermal (heat generating)
technologies include Aubrey Eneas, an American who followed up on the work of Mouchot and
formed the first solar power company, building a giant parabolic reflector in the southwest USA.
Frank Shuman formed the Sun Power Company in Cairo to promote a solar driven water
pumping system, and later a parabolic concentrator generating electricity. Other solar innovations
have followed: motors and engines, hot water heaters, photovoltaic lighting, even crematoria. But
throughout history, as in Greece and Rome and the Mouchot story, progress has repeatedly been
interrupted by fluctuations in availability or cost of alternative fuels for all the above purposes.
More recently, Amory Lovins, writing in a Forward to the Buti and Perlin book, reminds us that
today ..." we speak of "producing" oil as if it were made in a factory; but only God produces oil,
and all we know is how to mine it and burn it up. Neglecting the interests of future generations
who are not here to bid on this oil, we have been squandering in the last few decades a
patrimony of hundreds of millions of years. We must turn back to the sun and seek elegant ways
to live within the renewable energy income that it bestows on us" (p. ix). He goes on to advise
that countless earlier cultures have experienced dwindling fiiel resources and then were forced to
rediscover earlier knowledge about practical solar energy, "bemoaning the absurdity of having to
rediscover and reinvent what should have been practiced continuously" (p. ix). This document
hopes, in some small way, to prevent that scenario from happening yet again.
In the early 1900s, a number of buildings designed to take advantage of solar energy were
constructed, using heat trap principles, but were soon forgotten, then revived in the 30s when
several largely solar heated office buildings were constructed. Double- paned glass assisted with
heat retention. World War II intervened, but after the war, the need for housing exploded, leading
to new attempts, including solar collectors on roofs.
The contemporary solar cooking movement began in earnest in mid-century, with a few isolated
attempts to create interest in the technology. In the late 1950s, the major personality, no longer
well known to most, was the M.I.T. scientist, Maria Telkes, whose work on solar cooking occurred
in the context of her professional activities in the housing field, particularly in using solar thermal
energy to heat buildings. That interest led her to construct a classic box cooker, an insulated box
of plywood with an inclined top of two layers of glass (with a small airspace between them) and
four large flared reflectors. The design is used, in infinite variation, to the present day. (See
appendix section on devices for diagrams of this and a number of current cooker models).
After that period, the years of the latter half of the 20th century show a number of individuals and
groups experimenting with, demonstrating the potential, and conducting small and large projects
using solar cooking devices. As early as 1955, a group of individuals in Phoenix organized
themselves into an Association for Applied Solar Energy and held their first conference.
Ultimately the group was the foundation of the American Solar Energy Society and its
international counterpart, the International Solar Energy Society. Growing fuelwood and other
energy shortages, coupled with expanding populations in China and India, encouraged
governmental research on alternatives in the 1970s, with China holding its first seminar on solar
cooking in 1973. [[China] began distribution of subsidized cookers in 1981. Additional impetus for
investigating the potential of solar energy came from the oil shocks of that era, with considerable
experimentation in both Europe and the U.S. as well as in Asia. The ULOG group in Switzerland
and EG Solar in Germany, as well as Solar Cookers International in the U.S., have origins in the
1980s. Also in the 80s, an Arizona woman, Barbara Kerr, with other colleagues, continued to
develop solar cooker models, to test their efficiency, to experiment with various materials, and to
promote the technology. In 1980, Barbara Kerr and a neighbor, Sherry Cole, designed a
cardboard box cooker "kit" that could be largely built by a customer, and was highly valued by
those who purchased one. This work of these two women inspired the formation of Solar Cookers
International. A few years later, the organization, again with the technical assistance of Barbara
Kerr, pioneered the introduction of a different type of cooking device, the panel cooker, a hybrid
between box and parabolic. This invention was a breakthrough, as it was less expensive and thus
able to serve the needs of the world's poorest inhabitants.
One might say that the founding of Solar Cookers International on July 11 *, 1987, was the
beginning of an effort to link solar cooking promoters everywhere in the networking sense, since
its intent was largely educational and networking. Coincidentally, on that day the United Nations
declared that the world population had reached five billion people (just 13 years after it had
reached four billion). The new organization declared then that at least one billion persons could
benefit from knowing how to cook with the sun. Obviously, the organization has been required to
up its goals routinely, as the world's population has continued to burgeon, to well over six billion
in 2004, meaning that today the target group is over two billion.
Of some historical interest is the fact that before the founding of SCI in 1987, a major
demonstration of solar cooking was supported in the Bolivian highlands, an area where wood was
already scarce. Two organizations, the then Pillsbury Corporation and a non-governmental
organization called [[]]Meals for Millions, jointly sponsored demonstrations of cooking and later
taught villagers how to build ovens with local materials. In 1988, Pillsbury, in cooperation with
Foster Parents (now Save the Children) sponsored a similar project in Guatemala. These projects
were among the early nation-to- nation projects, starting a long stream of such projects around
the world that continues to flow today.
Since that time, numerous other organizations have been formed to sponsor projects and
promote solar cooking activity. Their work, as known from written documentation, is detailed in
the chapters, which follow. This thumbnail sketch is only a small part of the history, much
unknown even to solar cooking supporters, of the many men and women who have caught a
glimpse of the potential of the sun to cook food and have attempted over the centuries to spread
that knowledge to others who can benefit.