What Is a Solar Cooker?

Drue Tibbits

A solar cooker is a device that cooks food using the heat from the sun. The most common designs use cardboard and aluminum foil in a box shape. The cookers reflect the sun’s rays into the box, trapping the heat and maximizing heat retention. They are lightweight, portable, and inexpensive to construct. Solar cookers are capable of cooking meat, boiling water, and baking bread.

Aluminum foil can be used to make a basic solar cooker.
Aluminum foil can be used to make a basic solar cooker.

The basic construction of a solar cooker uses a cardboard box. Aluminum foil is taped or glued to the inside of the box’s flaps. The inside of the box is painted black to increase heat gain. A cooking pot is placed inside the box, and a clear cover, made of glass or plastic, is placed over the cooking area. The box is then placed where it receives direct sunlight.

The basic construction of a solar cooker uses a cardboard box.
The basic construction of a solar cooker uses a cardboard box.

Temperatures inside a solar cooker can reach 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). This is hot enough to cook food but is a lower temperature than what conventional ovens reach. It takes longer to cook food using solar cookers, and food is usually placed in the cooker several hours before it will be needed. Large pieces of food, such as roasts, can be cut into smaller pieces to help them cook faster.

Solar cookers are used throughout the world. Outdoor enthusiasts use them while camping. Some people, in an effort to lower their carbon footprint, use them as their main means of cooking. The cookers are especially useful in undeveloped countries with limited forestation available for firewood. Humanitarian organizations often supply solar cookers, or the supplies needed to make them, to refugee camps and other areas without the means to cook food.

There are several advantages of using solar cookers over conventional cookers. They do not require electricity and do not use firewood. They are easily moved from location to location. Once the box is heated and the food is cooked, the solar cooker can be moved indoors without the risk of fire. Food can be left unattended while cooking because the heat inside a solar cooker is not hot enough to burn food.

There are situations where solar cookers are not effective. The cookers need sunlight to work, and cloudy or rainy conditions will prevent the cooker from reaching the necessary temperatures. Wind reduces the heat gain of the cookers and can result in longer cooking times. Cold weather will also reduce heat gain, although extra insulation and design adjustments can be made to improve heat retention.

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Discussion Comments


@MrsPramm - I do think that the contamination problem is worth looking at though, especially since the places you are talking about probably don't have modern sanitation in the first place.

The last thing you'd want is for people to get food poisoning from a solar cooker that hasn't been used properly or from faulty solar cooker designs.


@pastanaga - It's likely that you weren't using it properly, although I know that's easy for me to say. I have definitely seen solar cookers being used well though, especially in places where there is a lot of sun.

If nothing else, they can be really good for drying food, like fruit, for storage. But I've eaten bread baked in a solar cooker and it was just fine.

They are particularly good in areas where the only alternative is to cut down trees for charcoal burners. Not only do you end up with no trees left in the area, meaning that people have to either trek for miles, or buy it in, you also end up with all the pollution from every family cooking their food all day.

Solar cookers are definitely not perfect and not the answer to everything, but they can be a boon in certain areas.


Solar cookers, in my experience, are just not worth it. They never seem to cook anything enough to make me feel safe eating it, and you have to leave meat and things in there so long in the open that it actually seems to become less safe.

I know solar energy is the cleanest possible way to cook something, but I think you're better off getting solar panels and hooking them up to a proper stove.

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