Ever wanted to be able to cook without electricity, fuel sources, or heating up the house? Even in the Pacific Northwest, the Sun Oven is an amazing tool for every household.
The Sun Oven is an oven that allows you to cook with just solar power, your only fuel is from the sun. I got one a few months ago for free in exchange for my review and I've been using it, but I actually had a whole bunch of questions so I contacted Paul, the president of Sun Oven and asked him if he would be on the podcast with us today.
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I have to tell you I got really giddy when I got it out and started using it. My husband was actually laughing at me. I was acting like a kid at Christmas time. So Paul, welcome to the Pioneering Today podcast!
Paul: Great to be with you!
Melissa: So, the first thing is I have known about solar ovens and heard about solar ovens for quite awhile, but I live in the Pacific Northwest where it's usually quite rainy. In the summertime we have some hot days through July and August, sometimes into September, but generally our sunny days aren't really very hot, our temperatures kind of average between 50s and 60s for most of the year, so I just didn't think a Sun Oven would work here. I thought that Sun Ovens and solar cooking would only work where you have really hot temperatures with the sun like say Arizona or Texas or those kind of areas, but that's actually a misconception with solar cooking is it has to be hot out. Is that correct?
Paul: Yes, one of the wonderful things about cooking with the sun is that the outside temperature has no effect on the oven at all. It can be -10F and sunny and it can actually be better than a day when it's 95F and hazy, so it's the amount of direct sunlight that you have, not the outside temperature and as long as you have enough sun to cast a shadow. I always think of the groundhog; if you go outside and see a shadow on the ground then you're able to cook in your Sun Oven.
Melissa: Ok, yes because for years I had heard of Sun Ovens and seen people using solar, but I just thought well, I'm in the Pacific Northwest so it's not going to be hot enough for us up here.
How long does it take to set up?
I was really excited to learn that it's not the outside temperature like you said it's the UVA or UVV rays that are actually what's heating the oven. I also thought it would take a really long time for it to heat up and so I got it and we had some sunny days, actually in the Pacific Northwest, we've had an abnormal winter. It's been a lot nicer than normal and warmer with more sunlight, but I just thought, well, by the time I would be like oh I think it's going to sunny out enough today I thought I'm not going to have enough time to get everything set up and for it to preheat and so I didn't use it for the first month I had it because I just figured it would take forever, but how long is the average for it to actually heat up and preheat with the Sun Oven?
Paul: Well, with the Sun Oven the preheating time generally in reasonable sun it will get to 300F in about 20 minutes, so when you're preheating an empty Sun Oven, it doesn't take real long to get it up to temperature. One of the unique things about the Sun Oven compared to most solar cookers is that cooking time. Most solar cookers, you can only cook very slowly and with the majority of solar cookers your cooking time is anywhere from 3-4 times longer than it would be in a stove-top or conventional oven, but the Sun Oven is made uniquely; it has a gasket, in particular which is why it gets so much hotter and quicker.
Use the Sun Oven like a regular oven or a slow cooker
With a Sun Oven you actually if you choose to, there are 2 ways to cook in it. You can slow cook in it or if you choose to, if you do realign it to follow the sun every 30 minutes your cooking time is only 20 minutes longer than it would be on your stove-top or your regular oven for each time you open the door of the Sun oven. So, it can cook in close to the same time as normal time if you choose to refocus it every 30 minutes or you could slow cook all day if you choose to.
Melissa: Yes, it was amazing! I couldn't believe how fast it heated up actually because we set it up for the first time. We were leaving to go take the kids to go see a movie and I wasn't going to be home. I threw some baked potatoes in the Sun Oven for my test run because I thought that way if they don't get all the way done I can throw them in my own oven really quick.
I got it in my head in my head that it was going to be harder than it actually was. I got it set up and in position really quick. It preheated in 20 minutes and I didn't know if that was considered the average normal or not because it was my first time using it, but it was so funny because I love that it has the thermometer inside the oven that you can watch as the temperature increases. So, every 5 minutes I was running back over and so were the kids and I'm like oh my gosh, it's 200F and so we were like roll calling out the temperature degree as it climbed. So, it was pretty fun they were getting excited to watch it heat up and everything. My husband was really astounded and he couldn't believe that it reached 300F. It was about 22 minutes that it reached that temperature.
I put the potatoes in and normally when I do bake potatoes in the oven and I oil them all and everything and pierce the skin so they wouldn't burst, but I didn't even bother with oiling when I put them in. They were really large baked potatoes and sweet potatoes. We were gone about 2 hours and so when we came back there it was not quite dusk, but the sun was definitely going down and so I thought, oh I better go and check and see if the potatoes are done, they've been in there 2 hours, I didn't know how they'll do since I wasn't here to monitor it and that was one of my things I was thinking that I would really need to be hands on with it and I could not believe the potatoes were perfectly done there was no burnt or uneven spots they were cooked all the way through and so I was hooked after that first food and I thought this is awesome!
Sun Oven Safety Features
I don't like leaving things on when I on when I'm not home and I don't like to turn the oven even on low and bake things if were not here and so I was so excited and so I told my husband oh my gosh, this is the coolest thing ever. I can't wait to use this thing more and so I feel like I discovered this brand new secret that's so awesome I have to share it with everybody.
Paul: Yes, I know it's really amazing. Nothing burns in the Sun Oven and nothing dries out, so it's the most forgiving method of cooking you'll every find. So, you can do those potatoes if you'd stayed home and refocused it you could have done them in maybe half the time, but it almost doesn't make any difference.
One of the things we always teach in Sun Oven classes is that you never have to worry about dinner burning again because it's very, very difficult to burn things in the Sun Oven because it's a completely even heat. The whole chamber is the same temperature, that's why your potatoes cooked all the way through and you didn't notice any difference in one part of the potatoes being more cooked than the other.
Melissa: Right, because a lot of times, the center obviously isn't quite all the way done and it will have some little hard spots especially when they're really large potatoes, but yes I was very impressed.
One thing that I love because my husband my husband I were talking back and forth because this year here in the Pacific Northwest I'm on the west side of the mountains in Washington state in the foothills of the Cascades and we didn't get any snow this year at all at our house which is very, very unusual and we hardly got any snow up in the mountains it's one of the earliest openings we've had at the pass up above us. So, we've been looking at the snow pack and we're kind of like oh man it might be a very dry fire hazardous summer.
No fire hazard with the Sun Oven
The Sun Oven obviously won't heat up your house having your oven on because that's always the thing when it's hot out, but what I love about this is even if the burn ban is on you can use it outside and you don't have to worry about having fuel or sparks or anything like you would if you were cooking with a fire doing Dutch Oven with the charcoal and that kind of thing there's no worry about it being a fire hazard. I think that's a great feature going into the summer months with the Sun Oven.
Paul: Yes, there's no hazard of fire at all and as you probably noticed with the Sun Oven it's very safe in every way. I mean your kids aren't going to burn themselves if come up and touch it. The reflectors don't get hot and the box of the oven on the outside doesn't get hot. So, it's safe for virtually everything.
The only part of the sun Oven that's exposed that gets a little bit hot is the surface of the glass. We always say there's and advantage to the surface of glass getting hot because that gets hot enough to keep your neighbor's dog from eating your pot roast. Any animal out in the daytime will sense the heat and will stay away from the Sun Oven. So, safety is a really important part of the oven. We have them in a lot of developing countries around the world where oftentimes children get burned from cook fires and things like that. We've made the Sun Oven so, it's completely safe even with small children they're not going to burn themselves nor can it catch anything on fire.
Melissa: Yes, I love that! I was really impressed. When I got it out and we got it going, I kept saying to my husband, I cannot believe how well this works.
I had it in my head that it really couldn't be that efficient and I haven't really done whole lot of solar cooking before honestly. We've done a lot of outdoor cooking. We do a lot of Dutch oven cooking and open fire cooking, smoking meats and different foods like that , but I hadn't really done in solar cooking before of any kind and I was just amazed at how efficient it was.
Paul: You can actually do your Dutch oven cooking if you're going to slow cook in the Sun Oven. You'll find if you're going to, let's say make a chicken, there would be 2 ways to do it. You take a 3-pound chicken and you put in a pot and you move the Sun Oven every 30 minutes to follow the sun, you can cook it in 1 1/2 hours, but if you take a frozen chicken and put it in your Dutch oven and in the morning, put it inside your Sun Oven and just set the Sun Oven facing south where the sun is around lunch time, around noon. Come back at dinner and you'll have a cooked roast. The nice part about the Dutch oven and the Sun Oven is that once it gets hot, even if it started raining and the weather changed completely, the Sun Oven is extremely well-insulated, so the retained heat from the Dutch oven inside the well-insulated Sun Oven will allow your slowcooked meals to finish cooking even if the weather changed.
Time Saving Tips with the Sun Oven
Paul: Just like you did with the potatoes leaving it and going you can do that all day by using the Dutch oven. Now, a Dutch oven is going to take 1 1/2 hours longer to come up to temperature, than a thin pot will. So, you're not going to preheat a Dutch oven the same way in the Sun Oven. Your preheating time and everything is different, but for slow cooking it's wonderful to use inside the Sun oven.
Melissa: How awesome! Now, if you wanted to using the cast iron Dutch Oven if you wanted to kind of heat up that preheating time because I realize that cast iron is so much thicker that it's going to take it longer to heat up, but once it does reach temperature it keeps heat longer could you if you wanted to preheat that cast iron Dutch oven in a regular oven and then put it in the Sun Oven to speed things up or is that not ok?
Paul: Sure, you can do that. You can preheat the Sun Oven on a campfire, or preheat it on a stove-top or regular oven as long as you've got thick oven mitts or hot pads for putting that in the Sun Oven will definitely decrease the cooking time with it.
Melissa: Ok, well I love that you don't have to, but if you're in a hurry. I tend to sometimes get these great ideas and then I have like 10 minutes to actually do things before I have to go. So, I like that there's the option that you can do that. I did not know, I'm so excited that you told me that. I didn't know that you could once everything was heated up, if the weather did start to change that it would still continue cooking like that to finish it up because here there's a lot of times where we'll love to go to work or I'll go run an errand or something and the weather changes so quickly. You can come back in 2 hours it was bright and sunny when you left and the clouds starting to roll in. That's awesome that it will continue to keep the temperature.
Keep cooking even if the sun goes away
Paul: Yes, the key you don't want to open the door of the Sun Oven when you've got in essence the Dutch oven is becoming a heat sink in the well-insulated box and you don't want to open the door. Keep the door closed because the Dutch oven is heating the air. Food cooks or starts cooking a 180F. So if you look at the oven thermometer as long as you're at 180F-185F it's cooking. So, you're basically as long as your temperature stays above that you're in essence crockpotting cooking inside the Sun Oven. If the Dutch oven has gotten hot in the chamber the food or the mass of food inside of it stays hot usually after the sun disappears it will stay above cooking temperature for a good 3-5 hours.
Save Time by Cooking Frozen Meat
Paul: You know the danger zone if you're using meat, is you don't want have meat between 40F – 150F for 90 minutes. That's the danger zone for bacteria and things with meat. Even if you're cooking a roast in it when it finishes cooking, you can leave it in there and as long as and once the temperature goes to 150F you've got another 90 minutes that you'd worry about any kind of danger. So, pretty much you can leave it in there and it almost doesn't make any difference if come home from dinner at 5 o'clock or 7 o'clock your food is still going to be nice, warm, and safe. It will remain moist because of the airtight seal of the Sun Oven the food doesn't dry out.
Melissa: Yes, that I did notice like even cooking the potatoes which I didn't really think that they would very much moisture because they were the only thing that was cooking and I just put them put them directly on the rack inside and yes, there was moisture at the bottom when I pulled them out which really surprised me. I wasn't expecting to see that. So, I loved that your meats and everything are going to stay really moist. They're not going to dried out like if you over roast a chicken like if it's left in there too long and it's really dry.
Paul: One time in June, I cooked a chicken for 12 hours at full temperature in the Sun Oven and it got so overcooked it fell off the bone, but it was still more moist after 12 hours in the Sun Oven and falling off the bone than if I had cooked it for 1 1/2 hours in regular conventional gas oven. It's just amazing how moist the food is.
Bake Bread All Summer Long with the Sun Oven
Same thing with bread when you bake bread in the Sun Oven your bread comes out incredible and people tell us all the time they bake bread and forget about it and leave it in for twice as long as they normally would and it doesn't dry out. Bread will eventually dry out. You don't slow cook bread all day. I mean if you leave it in there for 4 hours or 5 hours, it's eventually going to dry, but it takes a long time and you can bake bread in almost the same amount of time as you do in your conventional oven in the sun. A lot of people like baking bread in the summer, find they pay for their Sun Oven just in what they save.
Melissa: Yes, because here normally we don't even have and there are very few homes that have air conditioning in them. My work does, so I'm lucky in the summer when I'm at my day job that we have air conditioning, but that's definitely a thing when I come home and we try to grill everything just because you don't want to heat the house up because it stays hot, but there's only so many things that you can grill.
You're not using electricity, so you don't have any cost. We happen to have quite a bit of acreage and so we have usually a couple of trees fall down every year, so we kind of have a renewable fire source here on our on property, but there is still the cost of chopping, splitting, aging, and stacking it and everything that's involved using that fuel source even though it doesn't monetarily really cost us a whole lot. So, the economical part of the Sun Oven really has me excited as well.
Paul: Yes, some people get Sun Ovens for emergency preparedness find they pay for them in a relatively short time on what they save air conditioning and a little bit on what they save on cooking fuel. Then they use the money they save to fund other preparedness supplies so the Sun Oven, unlike a lot of things that people get to be prepared for emergency is something that will pay for itself and then contribute to your budget as opposed to being a drain on your budget.
Melissa: Yes, so I have to ask you about this because I told this to my husband, who is like “Are you sure that would really be safe, I don't know about that.” That is that you said you can but a frozen bird or roast and it will thaw and be cooked and actually be all they done by the end if it's like a really sunny day.
Paul: Right, the reason we suggest a frozen roast if you're going leave it unattended is that when you put the food in the Sun Oven say at 8 o'clock in the morning and you're going to set it where the sun is going to be at noon and you're going to come home for supper at 5 or 6 o'clock. If you started with a defrosted roast I mentioned the danger zone of meat. Pretty much if you have it set to where the sun is at noon, from 8 to 10, you don't have any sun over the Sun Oven and so the roast is thawing out from 8 to 10, but then from 10 to 2 you'll have some sun overhead and your roast will cook and then it will stay warm.
We suggest starting with a frozen roast if you're going to slowcook it all day. So that you're able to and we suggest using a thick pot like a Dutch oven or a clay pot for that then you never have any point when you have your meat is getting between 40F and 150F for 90 consecutive minutes. That's why a frozen roast is recommended for slowcooking. You don't have to do it that way. Let's say it's 1 in the afternoon and you want to eat at 5. You can put your roast in the Sun Oven and set it where the sun is going to be at 3 o'clock and come back at 5 o'clock and it will be done than I would not want to use a frozen roast but if I was going to leave it unattended all day I'd prefer starting with frozen meat.
Melissa: Ok. I love that. I was thinking of the convenience factor of like oh I didn't take any meat out last night and now I'm leaving for the day and I wanted to see if it would still cook it. I wasn't even thinking honestly thinking about the food safety part of like you say when you're leaving it all day like that. You want the frozen to stay in the safety zone as it cooks, but I love it for the convenience factor because we raise our on grass-fed beef and so all my beef is in our deep freezer unless I canned it. So, usually if I haven't thought out meal plans for the week and taken stuff out to thaw the night before, then I'm thinking it's not going to be thawed in time for it to cook so I may have to move it to the next day. When I heard you say you say put in frozen in the morning I'm like oh my goodness my life just got easier I'm so excited about that.
One Pot Cooking with the Sun Oven
Paul: You know if you take beef that's frozen, potatoes, carrots, onions in with that frozen roast you can throw it all into one pot. Just leave it in there. You'll come home for supper. You'll have one pot to wash and a complete meal that's done. You don't add any moisture or take any moisture out. The juice from the meat will cook into your vegetables and you'll find that it will be delicious. Or if you wanted you can take your bake potatoes and do the same thing you did before just put them in a pot or put them on a rack around the pot. You can cook them that way and you'll find they come out incredible.
Melissa: I'm really excited to use it more. I've had it out just started playing with it. Oh my goodness there is so much I didn't realize that it could do. I've got learn everything about it because it really does a lot of different things. I know, I'm watching the clock and we're starting to wind down a little bit on time for the podcast and so I have more questions for you and there's so much we can cover on what the sun oven does.
I also love that it doesn't have smoke because we used to have a big BBQ on Mother's Day and also celebrating my daughter's birthday and we were roasting meat outside and stuff. When the wind is blowing a lot it blows smoke all in your face and your eyes are stinging. I still love campfires and we will definitely use that, but I love that this doesn't have smoke so I just had to put that in there that it was so nice not have to be waving the smoke from your eyes and trying to dance around the smoke and stinging.
With the Sun Oven you can also use to preserve food. You can do home food preservation with the Sun Oven on certain things. Is that right, Paul?
Paul: Yes, you can use to preserve food. You can use it for boiling water. You can use it dehydrate your food. If people have food storage that's freeze-dried or dehydrated it's the most fuel efficient way to rehydrate that because you don't have to boil your water first because you don't have to boil you water first. There's so many things that you can do with the Sun Oven.
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