by Todd Walker
This past April I was contacted by Billie Nicholson of All American Sun Oven asking if I’d be interested in testing their solar appliance. It just so happens that my 8th graders were getting ready to study solar energy.
“You bet! I’ll test it at home and with my students.”
Below are two tests I ran on the All American Sun Oven. First, school with hotdogs. Second, home with hot wings.
Too cool for school
The Sun Oven arrived in the middle of a unit we were teaching on solar energy. Perfect! I was immediately impressed at its quality construction, simplicity, portability, and general idiot-proof-ness (the one-piece reflector was genius). The shipping box contained the basic get-started paperwork plus an instructional CD with hundreds of suggested recipes and advice.
Being the frugal teacher I am, I talked my co-teacher into bringing the food for our first test. He brought hotdogs. Turns out he’s
cheap frugal too.
We set up just outside the classroom on a partly cloudy day. Focusing the oven to collect the most solar energy was easy. The Sun Oven has two alignment holes on the top of the oven to help you focus the sun’s energy for the best cooking temp. There is an adjustable alignment leg (self-contained in the unit) in the back to give the proper vertical angling of your cooker. Aligning the sun with the ‘focus’ holes on top and the up or down of the back leg, we were ready to cook in no time. For windy days, the cooker comes with two stakes to anchor the alignment leg to the ground.
I placed the oven out around 30 minutes before our class began. [Note: Follow the Pre-cooking instructions before you cook your first meal. They recommend you place a container with three cups of vinegar in the oven, place cooker in the sun, and wait 90 to 120 minutes before cooking a meal.] This brought the temperature up to 250 degrees with the sun peaking in and out of the clouds. When the sun cooperated, the temp would reach 300 plus with no problem.
We placed the cheap hotdogs in a Pyrex dish with a lid, set it on the Duel-Purpose Leveling Rack, shut the lid, and realigned the oven every 30 minutes. I was afraid that even a simple meal like hot dogs would not cook on a partly cloudy day.
I was wrong. We cooked the meal for an hour and a half with sporadic sunshine. The hotdogs were too hot to eat as steam rushed around the Pyrex lid when we brought the dish inside.
Most of the students were really impressed – as impressed as microwavable middle schoolers can be at the end of a school year.
The performance task for the solar energy unit was to build their own solar cooker. We had some creative and interesting units built. Below is one I was particularly proud of that was modeled after the All American Sun Oven. It turned a chocolate candy bar into mush. That’s all they brought to cook.
Sun Hot Wings on the All American Sun Oven
To test the Sun Oven at home, I prepared my chicken wings as I do anytime I grill hot wings. They marinate 24 hours in the special sauce before going on the Big Green Egg. I pulled six wings out to cook in the Sun Oven.
I focused the Sun Oven and left the wings to cook. The oven reached 315 degrees in my backyard. Tip: Find a spot that gets full sun for several hours so you don’t have to chase the sun with your oven. I had to move the oven three times to escape the shade cast by trees.
As the Sun Oven worked its solar magic, I cooked the larger batch of wings on my BGE. Dirt Road Girl and I enjoyed the meal and washed the dishes when I remembered the Sun Hot Wings outside.
One of the benefits of the All American Sun Oven is that your can’t burn your meal. The oven is designed to heat evenly and hold the moisture in the food. Good thing, because I forgot about my Sun Hot Wings. They’d been cooking for two hours.
Here’s the thing I hate to admit. The Sun Hot Wings were better than my standardly amazing grilled hot wings! The only drawback to the Sun Oven wings was they didn’t have the grill marks. Other than that, they were ‘fall off the bone’ tender and full of juicy flavor.
There’s so many uses for the Sun Oven. There’s many recipes on their website and even more on the CD that comes with the oven. From asparagus to turkey, if you can cook it in your conventional oven, you can bake, steam, or boil it on your Sun Oven. Even if the extent of your kitchen experience is ‘cooking’ a bowl of instant oatmeal, you’ll look like a real chef with the Sun Oven.
Off-Grid Cooking Benefits
- No fuel needed – runs on free sunshine
- No smoke or fire if OPSEC is ever a concern
- Compact, light weight, and user-friendly
- Even without focusing the oven every 30 minutes, it will still slow cook your meal like a crock pot
- A great cooking alternative for car camping
- Use the Sun Oven even with the grid operating to save money on electric or gas stoves
- Pasteurize or boil water to purify for drinking in an emergency
- Dehydrate food for long-term storage
The one con of the All American Sun Oven happens to be its most appealing feature – fueled by free sunshine. Without direct exposure to sun, you’ll have to use another method of cooking. However, free solar energy is the most plentiful and inexhaustible source of energy we have around.
The Sun Oven has been used around the world to provide off-grid cooking alternatives to people in all kinds of situations. From feeding orphans in Uganda, to North American hunters who love moist venison, it gets the job done. One of my favorites place the Sun Oven has been used is by Sherpas at base camp on Mt. Everest. Not any deadwood there for a camp fire.
I highly recommend one as an off-grid cooking alternative and long-term money saver if you have funds available. The basic model runs around $300. Their website offers more models and lots of other accessories you can check out here.
I hate to send it back to the company. I may have to save my money and keep this one. I’d always considered building a DiY solar cooker. But I don’t think I could match the All American Sun Oven’s performance.
Keep doing the stuff,
If you’ve made an effective DiY solar cooker, please let us know how it worked. Maybe you could share it on a guest post here.