One of the primary things to consider when buying or making a solar oven is; “what kind of foods are you planning to cook.”
This may seem obvious but it will have an effect on the ease of use, effectiveness and cooking results of different foods while using a solar cooker.
You can, of course cover all bases by building or purchasing one of each style of solar cooker,( as many people do) which would greatly increase you cooking capacity and reduce the length of cook time.
You might ask yourself; am I mostly interested in baked goods such as breads, cakes, cookies etc., or do I want to do more of the high moisture content dishes such as soups, stews, chilies and meats that are ideal for slow, low temperature cooking?
Most all of the solar cookers available in the three main classes can cook a large range of foods whether dry or moist, but some are more suited to specific kinds of foods than are others.
A good sized box cooker is capable of baking foods on a tray/baking sheet and at the same time can cook together a pot of fresh vegetables or a soup with the same satisfactory results.
Generally a box cooker, with the aid of panel reflectors, can reach very hot temperatures which are ideal for most general baking needs, but will do great for moist foods as well.
* Note: Most traditional method cookbooks will state specific temperatures for baking cakes, pies or cookies.
But you will soon find out that you can cook just fine; pretty much any kind of pastry, in a solar oven.
The most notable difference will be the lengths of time due to a lower cooking temperature…remember it just takes longer using a solar cooker.
…it is not always possible, nor is it necessary to maintain a cooking temperature of 300° F or higher in order to cook baked goods.
Higher temperatures indicated in traditional cook books are designed more for convenience, (time) and for browning, crisping, or setting of cakes and pastries. *
Solar Box cookers will usually maintain cooking temperatures between 200° F up to 350° F., depending on the type of food being cooked.
This style of solar cooker is also quite safe and usually requires very little supervision and guidance since it is difficult to burn or scorch the food.
A solar panel cooker will usually consist of a pot/pan with a plastic or glass enclosure nestled into a, three up to five sided, reflective panel for better concentration of the suns rays.
Most panel cookers are used for the cooking of foods with higher moisture content, as was previously mentioned.
But you can bake items in a panel cooker pot/pan, even though it is a little bit more challenging and restrictive with some items.
A panel cooker will usually maintain cooking temperatures between 200° F to 250° F, which is more than sufficient for most all foods.
A panel cooker does not require adjustment or alignment as often as say, a parabolic cooker.
A solar panel cooker is also one of the easiest and least expensive to make using common materials found in the home or at a hardware store.
Minimal ability and supervision is required to use a cooker of this style, and even some young children can be taught to safely use one.
Remember also, it is quite difficult to burn or overcook food in this kind of cooker.
A Parabolic Solar Cooker is generally capable of maintaining higher cooking temperatures than a box or panel style cooker and therefore can be used for grilling and even frying.
The single biggest drawback to a parabolic cooker is the need to adjust the angle and direction of the cooker more frequently than other styles of cookers, for maximum cooking efficiency.
Usually the amount of food that can be cooked at one time in a parabolic is less than in a box or panel cooker due to the size of the cooking pot or pan.
But, because the parabolic can achieve higher temperatures, and do so more quickly, foods can be cooked quicker, allowing for more individual meals to be cooked.
Due to higher temperatures and the more frequent need to adjust the cooker, an experienced user/cook is recommended while cooking as opposed to the lesser necessity with box or panel cookers.
The second most common drawback to a parabolic cooker is the higher complexity in design and build.
Many people have built very efficient and practical parabolic cookers from scratch using readily available materials, but most will admit they are more involved than other styles of solar cookers.
These cookers are usually more expensive to make, and the commercially manufactured ones, though of high quality, are also more expensive.
Well built cookers of all classes and styles though, will usually last you for years, and will provide many delicious meals if they are taken care of and treated properly.
For more information on practical application and use of the different kinds of solar cookers you can visit our site at solarcooker-at-cantinawest.com